Romans, the Internet, and the Hive Mind (plus #badBIOS summary, Snowden update)

Eben Moglen has a long but well-put commentary on parallels between the US and the Roman Empire. Of course, if you’ve observed the American national-security apparatus for a while, it’s quite clear that the US already thinks of itself as Rome 2.0. Internally, this analogy is used explicitly.

In that respect Snowdenleaks might well be viewed as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.

(Funny, the biggest disclosures so far *have* centered on Germany… and you can argue a parallel between Snowden and Arminius/Hermann. Those who learn history are destined to watch others repeat it?)

But putting “panem et circenses” aside — carbs and Reddit/HuffPo as population control is a subject for another message — there’s a point subtly hidden in this long speech worth drawing your attention to.

…what happened at the beginning of the twenty-first century was that we acquired a new way of communicating in the human race—the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the nervous system we are building in which each human being is a neuron in that great hive-mind called humanity.”

I disagree. This business of building a hive-mind in which each human being is a neuron and subject to the whole has been tried several times in the 21st century. And earlier.

Consider an obscure bit of Roman civilization called the fasces. You’ll find it all over US official logo, and many other places too. What does it mean?

“[The fasces] symbolized the process of binding many into one under the power of the state.”[1]

In other words, “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one. A motto you associate with the US, but a concept used as much or more by its traditional adversaries. When Mussolini wanted to unify the Italian people under his rule, he used the fasces as his flag… and indeed Communism and Nazism ultimately had “unify the world” and “unify Germans” as their goals too.

Even Putin flies the “unity” banner, in the name of his “United Russia” party.

Oddly enough, if you consider the death tolls of 20th century war, you might well conclude that efforts to “unify” humanity or at least subsets of it are distinctly hazardous to our health. (Freedom, too.)

Personally, I find Anonymous funny as hell, and I’ve certainly enjoyed some of their antics. But, their incredible cruelty suggests that an “Internet hive mind” on a world-wide scale would be every bit as bad as Bolshevism.

I would therefore point to another observation in Moglen’s speech… that the power of the Roman emperor came from his access to knowledge and information. If — instead of treating the Internet like a “hive mind” to which we should be assimilated — we instead treat it like a tool that exists to serve us, we start to see a better solution: bringing us the information we need to sieze power as individuals, rather than putting us under the yoke as some kind of “collective 2.0”.

Of course, given that I’m skeptical we’ll ever have solid secure communications over the Internet (unless Snowden 2.0 exfiltrates Suite A) we should just see it as another stepping stone in the never-ending search for “a better way.”


#badBIOS summary:
“It looks like the state of the art in intrusion stuff is a lot more advanced than we assumed it was.”
Excellent summary of events from Ars Technica.

Here’s also a summary of dragosr’s reports:

Snowden’s new job is some hybrid of development and tech support. Probably at vKontakte, as Yandex and have denied hiring him.

However, it looks like the Russians won’t let Snowden testify in Germany in the Merkelphone business, at least not easily. His visa expires if he leaves, so Germany would have to become his new host country. And the Russians seem to think testifying would be a violation of the “no disclosing new damaging information” rule Putin made.!126575/

And, in a sign he’s become the Internet’s version of a British celebrity, ZOMG WE HAVE A NEW PHOTO OF SNOWDEN, look at his hat! OH EM GEE. But, looks like he’s still hanging out with Sarah Harrison (I’m reasonably sure that’s her next to him) and he seems to have got some contacts.!news/122039

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