InfoShok: Power

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“I heard the General whisper to his aide-de-camp, keep watchful for Mohammed’s lamp.”--Warren Zevon, Mohammed’s Radio.

This has been called the “information age”, in contrast with the “industrial age” of our fathers. Why is it an ‘information age’? Because our entire lifestyle is the result of the increased quality of, quantity of, and access to knowledge.

When Warren Zevon cries for his dad to bring “lawyers, guns, and money”, he’s asking for the three main sources of worldly power: knowledge, violence, and wealth. Alvin Toffler (?) compares it to the sanshu no jingi, the heirlooms of the Japanese royal family: sword, jewel, and mirror. Power is held through violence, wealth, and knowledge, and not necessarily in that order. The order changes depending on the age.

Today we are in the midst of a powerful shift in the distribution and form of knowledge, as well as the usefulness of knowledge in the power triangle. Between the early 1600s and the late 1700s, a similar shift in the distribution and form of violence came about with the invention of easily-used personal firearms. The Glock in my safe is the personal computer of 1776. Guns in the hands of the common person erased the monopoly on force that had previously been held by the state, and the result was a series of popular revolutions around the world, including the United States. The American revolutionaries knew where their power came from. Their leaders knew as well, and were to later write such things as:

The advantages of being armed... the Americans possess over the people of all other nations... Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several Kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. (?)

The soldier in the field knew it, and like the Marines today, praised their rifles in song: (?)

Why come ye hither, Redcoats? Your minds, what madness fills?
There is danger in our valley and there’s danger in our hills.
Oh hear ye not the singing of the bugle wild and free?
Full soon you’ll hear the ringing of the rifle from each tree.

For the rifle, Oh, the rifle,
In our hands will prove no trifle.
Oh, the rifle, Oh, the rifle,
In our hands will prove no trifle.

Ye ride a goodly steed, ye may know another master,
Ye forward come with speed, but ye’ll learn to back much faster
When you meet our mountain boys and their leader Johnny Stark--
Lads who make but little noise, lads who always hit the mark.


Had ye no graves at home, across the briny water,
That hither ye must come, like bullocks to the slaughter?
Well, if we the work must do, why, the sooner ’tis begun,
If flint and powder hold but true, the sooner ’twill be done.


Their enemies knew it as well: the ‘shot heard round the world’ at Lexington was in response to a British attempt to disarm the colonists at Concord. The troops that Paul Revere cried warning of were out to destroy the assault weapons of the minutemen.

The new distribution of power in the form of violence did indeed finally send the British ‘home, across the briny water’. Individuals now had a more powerful say in how they were governed, because the governors were no longer the sole holder of powerful arms. This was the principle embodied in the Second Amendment to the United States’ Constitution. Arms in the hands of individuals brought about a free state, and by God, arms in the hands of citizens would maintain that state of freedom:

“Congress have no power to disarm the militia... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state government, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” (?)

Some of this may sound dangerous to you. Despite my public opinions on the matter, it even sounds dangerous to me. Even more dangerous is that, as much as personal gunnes changed the world of the eighteenth century, personal computers and their networks will change the world of the twenty-first century. The computer modem is the rifle of our age.

Toffler calls it “the dawn of the Powershift Era. We live at a moment when the entire structure of power that held the world together is now disintegrating.” (?)

Toffler’s own books prove an example of this shift in the ownership of knowledge from government to individual. The Polish government published an abridged version of his book The Third Wave in Poland. The Solidarity labor union then published an ‘underground’ copy of The Third Wave with the missing parts restored. A hundred years ago, readers would probably not have noticed that the book was abridged. What would they compare it to? Even if they had noticed, the technology to recreate the book, unabridged, was not available to the individual on a mass basis.

This happened a decade ago. The government was running a risk; they might have gotten lucky and succeeded, although they didn’t. There is today no possibility of success should such a venture be tried again. Publishing and reading technology now crosses--no, it supersedes--the boundaries of countries. A modern personal computer can print anything that a government press can, and probably with better graphics.

Germany tried to ban a comic strip that ran in Radikal, a “left-wing” publication. The cartoon was quickly replicated across the net, appearing on fifty sites world-wide. Rather than suppress the information, they spread it further than it would ever have gone if they’d just ignored it.

A modern personal computer can read anything that anyone else has put on the ‘net’. All it needs is a connection to the net, which it can get through telephone lines, or, if the telephone lines have been cut, through radio waves. Radio does not believe in borders any more than the infobahn does, and there are already net ‘feeds’ through computer-oriented Amateur Radio operators.

What does the future hold for the information revolution?

  1. Personal computers make it easy for individuals to take different data and combine them into a document. That is, a personal computer makes it a snap to write an article or even a magazine or a book, as professionally as any on the newsstand, if you and your contributors have the writing skill.
  2. Computers are cheap and easy to build.
  3. Networks make it easy for individuals to publish information of any kind, as well as get to information of any kind. Networks are not quite cheap yet, but they are very easy to build, and will become incredibly cheap to set up once they become necessary.
  4. Public Key Encryption makes it easy for individuals to converse over these public networks, and keep their conversation private, even from the powerful computers that governments have access to. Public Key Encryption is cheap, and well on its way to being as easy as pie. And as American as pie, or, the rifle.

In short, the new age will be one in which an individual can exchange information with any other individual in the world, and do so without fear of prying eyes.

Any government that wants to lie to citizens who own computers would do well to ‘disarm’ those citizens of their computers--and their guns--first. And their cash as well.

There is some very strange and heady talk making it’s way around the Internet these days. Nick Hull, the “Glockist” (!) is promoting modern Committees of Correspondence. As ‘secretary’, he posted an opening salvo to talk.politics.guns. Here are a few excerpts:

History is quick to point out that no one has ever voluntarily given up power. Traditionally, democracies degenerate into dictatorships. We have an opportunity to make the USA an exception to that rule. We must prepare for a revolution before we slide into a dictatorship of the bureaucracies.

Note carefully I said prepare! In 1776 our Forefathers launched a revolution with little thought other than independence. We have to do much better than that. We must see further because we stand on the shoulders of giants who preceeded us. A revolution without a clear goal is an invitation to disaster.

This is not a call to grab a gun and start a revolution, but a call to grab a pen and discuss ALL methods to repair the USA. If this frightens politicians, so much the better. Only by including revolution in the possibilities will we serve notice that we are serious. Go back and re-read the entire Declaration of Independence and it becomes obvious that the federal bureaucracy has replaced King George and tyranny has returned to America.

In fact, if only 25% of gun owners would rise up against the government, the revolution would be over in a week. This document is clearly intended to encourage gun owners to take direct action.

We think a revolution is coming eventually no matter what any of us do. If we take action now, maybe we will be able to direct any coming revolt onto constructive channels.

Hull may be right; he may be wrong. But he’s taking a time-tested idea. Samuel Adams and John Hancock had the idea well over two hundred hears ago. While they started in Massachusetts, (!) “the idea spread to all the colonies. Soon, groups of citizens everywhere were swapping revolutionary tips, like Britain’s latest heinous deeds, and how to wash blood out of your shirt: soak in cold water immediately.” (?)

On talk.politics.guns, tips include such things as how to bury your weapons for a “rainy day” (use PVC piping-- it won’t rust), where to get the supplies (your local hardware store has everything you need), and whether there’s a point to it anyway:

“If our forefathers had said ‘The British are coming - Let’s bury our muskets!’ instead of ‘The British are coming - Let’s kick some ass!’ we would still be under British rule today.” (?)

True, but at least our guns would be clean and safe from harm. When the various Internet Committees of Correspondence decide to meet ‘face to face’, they have no further to go than the same computer keyboard they’ve been using to send mail; they’ll just use it to head on over to a MOO or MUD virtual world.

Then as now, the power of the Committees was the exchange of useful information. For it to be useful, the knowledge must eventually be translated into action, or threatened as an action--even if that action is as benign as scaring the bejeebers out of the next politician who happens to stumble onto the infobahn. The infobahn threatens to join together Committees from across the continent, and even across the world. Score “Lawyers” and “Guns” to the people. “Money”, as we’ve seen, is still up for grabs.

  1. Alvin Toffler, PowerShift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century . 1990.
  2. James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 26, quoted in The Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Report of the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-seventh Congress, Second Session, February 1982.
  3. From Jerry Silverman’s How to Play the Guitar, pp. 38-39.
  4. Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788
  5. Alvin Toffler, PowerShift, p. 3.
  6. A Glock is a brand of handguns, the same brand as the .40S&W I own. Quoted from an article posted to talk.politics.guns by [g--ck--t] at [], January 11, 1995. It is, of course, all taken out of context.
  7. With its annual riots, paranoid minutemen, and bombastic organizers, Massachusetts was easily the talk.politics.guns of the colonial era.
  8. Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the United States, p. 71.
  9. Robert Kesterson, talk.politics.guns, January 13, 1995.
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