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Information Sovereignty (lrb.co.uk)
60 points by prostoalex 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments





You could write a very similar article from the Russian perspective looking at the West.

Just like you can dismiss the Russian ideologies of collectivism as a retroactive justification for authoritarian control, you could argue that the West's ideology of freedom is a retroactive justification for oligarchy of the affluent. Even going back to the colonial days "freedom" meant freedom for white protestant land-owning men so was it ever really about freedom?

I'm not sure either side of that argument is completely right or completely wrong.


You could write that article, make the argument. The ability to do so does not imply equivalence, a balance of "completely right or completely wrong," in which no morally superior position is available.

This piece makes the key point against this view:

"Conspiracy has replaced ideology [in Russia], and for the most part that serves the Kremlin very nicely. You can argue back against an ideology through its own logic: Communist leaders could, at least in theory, be accused of failing to create the ideal society they promised. Conspiracy negates all criticism by accusing the critic of being a front."

Even if one notices the hypocrisy of Western history in view of liberal ideology, one is still supposing that the latter exists to guide the former. This is true even if a conspiracy towards oligarchy exists! The earnest and shared belief in a consistent vision of just society creates the political consciousness prerequisite for revolution or reform.

In contrast, to suppose that all actors' motivations are conspiratorial, all espoused values a sham for self-interest and power that cannot be acted upon, is to foreclose the possibility of reform - it is a false consciousness.

The kleptomaniac & self-contradictory 'Russian values' quoted here from Russia's new strategy paper expect such conspiratorial thinking from Russian citizens. The text's internal hypocrisy - and its hypocrisy in view of Russian history - do not matter. The response to such criticism is singular, and you have said it: "[all ideologies] are retroactive justification for [oppression]." None have any meaning or application.

Pomerantsev enlightens us by showing how this particular nonsense of 'Russian values' exists specifically to justify 'Information Sovereignty,' a euphemism for preventing Russians from hearing foreign ideas - an ancient tactic of oppression by enforced ignorance, dressed here in the finery of 'National Security.'


>to suppose that all actors' motivations are conspiratorial

>a euphemism for preventing Russians from hearing foreign ideas

Is it all ideas or foreign ideas that suffer there?


Since when ideas have nationality?

When they are propagated in pursuit of national interests.

No, that does not assign nationality to the idea.

How is that so?

I am good at free market economy. I naturally propagate free market economy's good things. How is that not advancing national interests? You may claim that one does not intentionally advancing national interests, but you cannot deny the objective national interests embedded in those ideas.


I said it does not assign nationality to the idea, not that it's not advancing national interests. You can advance state interests with foreign-originated ideas too.

That's not very clear anymore, by adopting foreign ideas you make tradeoff between domestic interests and foreign interests. Being a vassal and a suzerain, the interests are linked, but at a cost.

I don't make any tradeoff by adopting ideas that resonate with me. I'd be making a tradeoff by adopting ideas - foreign or domestic - that I don't agree with and don't align with my interests. I couldn't care less about the origin of an idea.

It's actually not even an ideological or moral issue. Modern Russia is not particularly collectivist; influences of liberalism and Christianity are strong, if not stronger than the Communist collectivism of Soviet times.

It's purely an issue of sovereignty. For NATO/Washington, it does not matter how a country is run as long as it is run with significant influence from Western interests.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that brutally limits freedoms and butchers dissidents, yet it gets to be in the "democracy" club, because it does not attempt to defend its sovereignty (i.e. it lets Washington build military bases and control private industry on Saudi soil).

Russia, Syria, et al. are democracies, yet are in the "authoritarian" club because they do attempt to defend their sovereignty.


> Russia, Syria, et al. are democracies, yet are in the "authoritarian" club because they do attempt to defend their sovereignty.

And yet they all have a net brain drain to the US. Interesting to see people simply... voting with their feet!


> And yet they all have a net brain drain to the US.

And you can tell that they move not because US is free, it's because US has a better life. One evidence: H1B workers cannot vote for at least 5+ years.

I am one example.

And again, that's exactly why US don't want other to have a better economy, and only want them to have a free society. Apparently some people making policies in US understand how to sustain the leadership position. They are truly the patriot of US. And I deeply admire their dedication.


Excellent comment until the last sentence. My advice: don't try so hard to pick sides, when both sides are terrible.

No, it fell apart earlier. Saudi Arabia does not get to be in the "democracy" club. It may get to be in the "our allies" club, but nobody confuses Saudi Arabia with a democracy.

Also: Syria may have elections. That doesn't make it a democracy.


And yet when the Atlantic elite talks about "advancing democracy", regime change in Saudi Arabia is never on the menu. Funny that.

I'm not the Atlantic, but it's not on my menu. Not because the government of KSA is decent, but because of how strongly I suspect that it would be replaced by something worse.

That so-called logic didn't apply to the over 100 instances of regime change by the US in the past century did it? From banana massacres to Iran, Guatemala, or Timor.

Sure, make yourself a reasonable force in steering your nation's government, and then come here to lecture us how you are against the authoritarian regimes, and want them disappear. I'll be very happy to work with someone who has the actual power to make things happen, not some half-assed bombing and then nothing changed except the rubbishes on the ground...

Does that same logic apply to Syria?

It might.

Churchill once said "If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons." Both sides might be imperfect, yet it may have perfect sense - obligation even - to pick the right side.

How am I picking sides? Regurgitating NATO's narratives about "authoritarian/totalitarian" (utterly vacuous terms) states means picking sides.

How is Syria any less a democracy than USA?


Syria defends their democracy by bombing the opposition voters though

...according to the "democracy" club. Syria in the last decade has been the target of one of the most ambitious disinformation campaigns involving NATO governments and media (including Reuters, BBC, Bellingcat)[1], so I would exercise extreme scrutiny with regards to these claims.

[1] - https://telegra.ph/OP-HMG-Trojan-Horse-Part-4-Undermining-Ru...


I guess all those refugees are hired actors. The whole Western world must be in on the conspiracy! I tip my tinfoil hat to you, sir, for uncovering the truth.

The world is not black and white.

I'll believe Russia is a democracy when Putin is no longer in control.

Democracy means the people fundamentally have the power; it does not mean "X year term limits" or "/u/pitaj is the supreme leader".

Yeah, but the people are not exactly "fundamentally in control" if opposition candidates and critics keep mysteriously falling out of windows, drinking plutonium tea, and accidentally getting jailed.

Maybe those candidates wanted to take fundamental control away.

What on earth are you talking about?

Putin disappears his opposition on a regular and ruthless basis. Russia is no more democratic than China, they've just got better PR.

Actually, Russia and China have awful PR compared to the West. It's so bad that every time you hear something good about either government, you automatically assume it is fake news propaganda.

Putin does not disappear his opposition. That is an insane allegation. Are you referring to the Navalny circus?


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_journalists_killed_i...

I don't know if you're being facetious or naive, but Putin is a ruthless dictator whose regime is responsible for a galling number of blatant political assassinations. Not to mention Ukraine and nuke testing and state sanctioned hacking. Or the total corruption of democratic reform in Russia.

Litvinenko was one of the most high profile, with radioactive tea playing a novel role as a murder weapon.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvi...

Oh, and China is clearly just misunderstood, they're actually really good for the world! /s

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/meghara/china-camps-pri...

https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4250097

It's curious how many people reliably show up to defend either Russia or China on this forum.

Civilization in modern times is a game of good faith. Both of these countries have unendingly demonstrated their total lack of good faith, without any regard or respect for their erstwhile partners in the west, their geographical neighbors, or even their own citizens. It baffles me that so many in silicon valley are so willing to abandon any pretense at ethics or moral values, of even the most basic humanistic variety, to simply earn a few bucks on the backs of sino slave labor.

But carry on, you were telling us all that the concentration camps and political assassinations and imperial aggressions and all that is just propaganda...


> https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4250097

Please, at least get the source for MSM in US.

Taiwan media famously claimed that most Chinese mainlanders cannot afford pickled vegs [1]. Taiwan media outlets are the laughing stock of democratic reporting, they are money- and attention-grabbing, and without much respect for anything.

[1] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3022190/taiw...


So Russia bad and must be killed with fire?

Well that escalated quickly.

I'd like to see a great enlightenment and progress toward a post scarcity, humanist, democratic, liberal, freedom loving future in which people can live their best lives, as free as possible of pointless suffering at the hands of assholes.

I mean, call me radical, but with reality now as one end of a spectrum, and the above utopic fantasy as the other, it should be obvious what humanity should be moving toward.

The history of all of the most free and liberal societies hold great suffering and sacrifice in their past. The bloodshed and revolution that purchased their freedoms might not be an option now that the tyrants have nukes, so that leaves intellectual revolution as the last feasible option for human progress.

It's the greed and cynicism of the wealthy and powerful that perpetuate the status quo. Ideologues and selfish exploiters create space for massive corruption. These regimes may be effectively unstoppable, since the west is so eager to capitulate at the first sign of profit. It may be the best and only thing we can do to simply talk about the crimes and abuses of those in power, and never let up.


The road to post scarcity isn't without risks, once we have enough technology for total control, but not enough for post scarcity, that will be a twist.

It is crystal clear that you are proceeding from the preconceived notion that Russia and China are essentially "evil", rather than arriving at that conclusion through critical scrutiny of available evidence and historical trends.

To you, any allegation from a Washington-aligned media source is a) unquestioningly true and b) evidence of the respective government's bad behavior. You do this automatically, without considering the alternatives.

Do these media sources have an incentive to misrepresent their foreign subjects? For example, to maintain good relations with Western governments, or to score lucrative contracts. If so, why would they not act on that incentive?

Do Western intelligence services have an incentive to manufacture evidence against their opponents? Why would they not act on this incentive? Indeed, there are countless well-established historical examples of this behavior, from the USS Maine to the OPCW cover-up. Yet to modern Western chauvinists, that behavior is eternally in the past and could never explain present controversies.


Way to go with the attempt at obfuscation, but China is actively engaged in imperial encroachment on Taiwan, abused Hong Kong and is suppressing any and all dissent, and are imprisoning people based on ethnicity and religion in concentration camps. They also threatened Japan with nuclear first strike just in the last 96 hours.

The Africa situation, the spread of misinformation and obstruction with regards to covid, and the endless parade of human rights abuses in their manufacturing infrastructure are also front and center in the world's eyes.

By all means, though, continue with your narrative. Obviously China is just a force for good in the world, and is just misunderstood because of all that nasty CIA propaganda.


>The policy logic does not stem from a coherent set of ideological precepts that require censorship and control to protect them, but the other way round: you want to impose control and censorship, so you invent a sort of ideology in order to justify it.

Obviously, only those evil Russians do this.

edit: doh! sarcasm! I forgot about Poe's law. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law


I find this particularly naive.

There are lots of reasons why Russia becomes this since the collapse of USSR.

If, imagine, somehow the privatization worked out wonderfully, every Russian is as happy as as their counterparts in US, UK etc. (In fact, that would not be sufficient...) Do you still think Russia would do this?

If you think they still would do this, then it must be the free will of the country?

Now given what's happening, should this be treated as a natural reaction to the fact that learning from a foreign system is not working, and the nation are trying something else?

Remember, when you claim someone else is inventing certain ideology, that means there is a concept of ideology. The moment this concept is created, it naturally applies to the accuser, I.e., someone else inventing a different ideology than the accuser.

Then, it's obvious that the foreign ideology was regarded by the ruling group as not suitable.


Right. Not like Americans do this...

Taken further: if some people can't get what they want because legitimate moral obstacles get in the way, then they rationalize their desires in an attempt to give them a patina of legitimacy. However, that desire already functions as a summum bonum. So there's the real religion behind the scenes and then there's the public facing ideological curtain that conceals it.


> Russia needs ‘information sovereignty’: a de facto Firewall. But to justify it, you need an ideology

Pretty much the core point of the piece but I'm not sure this is true. China of course has a national ideology "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and countless of phrases but often you also hear the straightforward argument that informational sovereignty is necessary for security, economic development and territorial integrity.

An even stronger example is probably Singapore. A very tightly managed society, but completely depoliticized with almost no ideology to speak of, Gibson famously called it "Disneyland with the death penalty" in his piece that got Wired banned from the country.

Traditionalists and other factions I think try to capitalize on the security state and to co-opt or capture it but I don't think the state is necessarily in control or happy about these movements.


> A very tightly managed society, but completely depoliticized with almost no ideology to speak of

Where did you get the impression that Singapore is completely depoliticized?

Take a look at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Kuan_Yew and see the struggle of Lee family's rise to power. And the economy power controlled by the family https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Ching

Human together is politics. You cannot depoliticize unless everyone lives in complete isolation.


I wrote a rather lengthy thesis on Russian data localization and how it plays a role in the country's information security doctrine.[1]

The push for data localization in Russia was a response to the domination of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (the latter is blocked). The ideology here is state sovereignty; he who holds the data, has control. Pomerantsev is correct to say that Russia just doesn't want to play by foreign rules.

Data localization has the added effect of bolstering the IT industry as a whole in Russia and spurring data center construction, even in Siberia, where cooling isn't much of a concern. The legal effect is to maintain a database of Russian citizens' online activity on these western platforms in case the FSB wants to build a case against a dissident or suspected criminal.

Meanwhile you see since roughly 2008 a more ideologically hostile and "civilizational" discourse in Putin's speeches, those of his ultra-nationalist wing, and in some of their publications (look into Izborsky Club, and the writings of Alexander Prokhanov and Dugin). The Russian military doctrine and information security doctrines were later updated to prioritize shielding or protecting its populace from certain discourse and ideas (pro-LGBTQ, pro-democracy NGOs) and favoring a "patriotic" information sphere to uphold "spiritual and religious values".

So the ideological basis for this information security policy is to bolster the "Russian world/Russkiy Mir," an imagined community of individuals beyond Russia's borders, including former Soviet sphere citizens and ethnic Russians abroad.

And of course the utility in silencing the propagation of certain ideas and viewpoints is to minimize protests (the most destabilizing of which was likely Bolotnaya in 2011). So this ideology doesn't stop them from prohibiting or banning groups and discussion about Russia's biggest problem: corruption.

The concerning point for me as an American is that in the past two-ish years we've seen our social media companies turn more draconian with the censorship and cooperation with our intelligence agencies, especially since Jan 6th and what the Biden administration is calling "misinformation". The U.S. was the survivor of the Cold War for many reasons, but the most compelling of which was that America represented a far more moral, humanitarian, and tolerant society, especially compared to the unfree, amoral, and atheist superpower. I'm getting off topic here, but I think you can see what I'm getting at. Ideology matters, just as much as ideological consistency does.

[1]: https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773...


> the most compelling of which was that America represented a far more moral, humanitarian, and tolerant society, especially compared to the unfree, amoral, and atheist superpower.

> far more moral

In what sense? As a nation, US conducted equally atrocious things inside and outside of its country. Korean war Vietnam Cuba invasion Capitalism exploitation on south American

> humanitarian

See above.

> tolerant society

Sure

Aside tolerance, there isn't much superiority in USA from cold war.


There is one huge point that you both missed: after World War II, USSR was a mess. It lost half of its industrial infrastructure, IIRC. Meanwhile, the US profited greatly. This means the starting point for both was very different.

Same for China.

KMT moved majority of the intellectuals and wealth into Taiwan, and left the mainland with rubbish.

If China and Russia chose a different route than what they did already, are there a plausible pathway for them to reach similar economic prosperity (let's put aside the political well being for a bit).

My so far limited conclusion is: NO.

There has no plausible path for Russia and China to achieve their economical growth without the brutality and sacrifices. The rapid industrialization requires centralized wealth. Those are not collected through the immoral and brutal colonization by the modern industrial nations. Those were not possible at the time when Russia and China start their industrialization. They unfortunately have to turn their brutality towards their own people.


I agree, but I'd argue it's even more interesting why we even bother with this question in case of China and Russia, but never with USA, which was built in equally immoral way, by killing off the natives, stealing their land, and then kidnapping slaves to work it.

It's emotionally hard for one to accept their own identified group's wrongdoings. For this, I always start with the history of China and then followed by pointers to US histories, if the conversation flow allows.

There is also a persistent danger that this flow eventually leads to political nihilism where there is no meaning in trying to dissecting the historical facts, and everyone is as bad as everyone else. That effectively moves the discussion back to the starting point, i.e., one has to look for something else to settle the original discussion anyway.


The rest of the Western world (yes Russia should be counted as part of it) seems to have become obsessed with the evils of Russia ever since the Russian Revolution, probably because it's a threat to the capitalist system dominating elsewhere. But the structure of Russian power has been oppressive since long before then, even when the espoused ideology was different.

Russian power has been oppressive since long before communism but it was communists who managed to turn that oppression into full fledged genocide machine killing 20 million people in USSR alone with further tens of millions going though the Gulag system of slave labour (quite deadly as well). It was absolutely unparalleled in the Western world and only matched (also by communists) in China.

Communism is a threat to humanity itself, not just capitalism.


You’re not aware of what US have been doing to natives, and then slaves, I guess?

US still maintains its own Gulag, with the world’s highest incarceration ratio, and also uses it as slave labor.


Communists didn't invent genocides, prisons, concentration camp, slavery, or forced labour. But they do hold the world record.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Book_of_Communism


Because it’s not fashionable to count victims of the US. Otherwise you would be able to find a book on that, right?

Quite the opposite. It's extremely fashionable nowadays. There are countless books on slavery, Indian genocide, and related subjects.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_1619_Project

However, American imperialism simply doesn't hold a candle to Russian or Chinese communism. When it comes to genocide or other mass atrocities, communists are usually in a league of their own.


This is only about slavery - and even that doesn’t count the modern American Gulag of private prisons, or victims of American wars.

Also, you’re repeating over and over the “doesn’t hold a candle”, but you failed to quote any numbers.


I assumed you would know since you're interested in the subject. In general, the whole colonization of the west was a fairly understaffed affair.

For example, the French and Indian War involved well under 100 thousand combatants, maybe even just 50 thousand. At the same time, during the Seven Years' War in Europe over a million people were mobilized. In multiple battles Europeans took about as many casualties as the North American theatre had participants.


War in Iraq alone is about one million deaths. And given that you’re counting deaths of famine as victims of communism, you’d have to add victims of American sanctions around the world, as well as victims of American lack of welfare.

You still hadn’t quoted any numbers.


> Traditional Russian ... values are under active attack from the USA and its allies, as well as from transnational corporations and foreign NGOs,’ ... It defines ‘Russian values’ as ‘life, dignity, rights, freedoms’ as well as ‘high ethical ideals, a strong family, prioritising the spiritual over the material, humanism, kindness, justice, collectivism and patriotism’.

I cannot disagree with much of what is said here (even that I guess that strong family is just a short hand for anti-gay, so maybe I am missing other 'eufemismes'). But, to reduce corruption would be the first step. As 'prioritising the spiritual over the material' is not compatible with corruption. Life, freedom and dignity are not compatible either with executing journalists and opositors.

I can understand the will for information sovereignty. But it just seems an excuse to avoid international accountability.

Facebook is not cited in the article, I guess that USA corporations are not so bad if they are willing to share data with the Russian government.


Weak family aka divorce revolution is a radfem idea, see e.g. Barbara Ehrenreich in "Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex" (1986) https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385184999/

"Independence, even in straitened and penurious forms, still offers more sexual freedom than affluence gained through marriage and dependence on one man".

https://www.amazon.com/Abolition-Marriage-Destroy-Lasting-Lo...

"Marriage is disappearing as a cultural norm in America, with disastrous consequences for the social and economic stability that depend on it".


> even that I guess that strong family is just a short hand for anti-gay, so maybe I am missing other 'eufemismes'

Pro-family is anti-LGBT only incidentally as a conceptual consequence. It is not as if pro-family was some invention confected just to stick it to the gays. According to natural law theory, the family (traditionally understood) is the basic unit of society, the rest of society and the human race functioning as the extended family ("natural" here means entailed by human nature; we can do all sorts of unnatural things, but they are harmful to us and do not help us in genuinely flourishing as human beings as conformity with nature does). The only reason something like "pro-family" has become a term is because the natural family has become the target of ideological attack.


“Pro-family” is an euphemism used pretty exclusively by religious extremists to condone homophobia. Well, sometimes also to draw attention away from the fact their role models are child rapists.

If anything, the anti-LGBT actions are against the family: their only purpose is to make life harder for LGBT families.


> high ethical ideals, a strong family, prioritising the spiritual over the material, humanism, kindness, justice, collectivism and patriotism’.

It is interesting how in Slavic countries where corruption is on high rise government peddling same propaganda (my origin is Slavic country so I know)

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others".

I am not saying that western countries are any better, just saying that they can be recognized by the narrative of those at the top, which is always very similar. While they hoard majority of wealth they will use propaganda of spiritual over the material, humanism, kindness, justice, and especially patriotism...


[flagged]


Please could you clarify - what does he stand to gain here? In your Mongol analogy, motive is clear. Here, not so much.

Sure. Information sovereignty was pioneered on a national scale by China's Great Firewall, upon which Bill Clinton famously commented, “There’s no question China has been trying to crack down on the internet. Good luck! That’s sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.”

A Russian GFW would make Pomerantsev's job--spreading anti-Kremlin disinformation to benefit NATO's geopolitical goals in the region--very very difficult. He would have to work harder for fewer results. Like the Mongol raider, this is bad for his job security and quality of life.


> "That’s sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall"

More so every day. It's amusing that US pundits appear to have believed Clinton was dead wrong about this just a few years ago.

The analogy is apt, the Jell-O may seem initially to have been successfully fastened in place for now, and then you are distracted for a moment and it's slipped to the floor again.


You seem to overestimate the effectiveness of national firewalls. Sure, they'll squash you like a bug if you start saying the wrong things publicly, but China hasn't exactly succeeded with keeping ideas and information out of the country.

These aspiring totalitarian systems are quite porous.


Virtually every country suffers from online disinformation crises. China is one of a handful that has it mostly under wraps. The GFW has been enormously successful in this regard.

Societies with high amounts of internal distrust will not be able to compete in this century. They will fall apart. That is why the US is taking it so seriously and cracking down on disinformation (see Google this week). The GFW must have been visionary if Western governments are now playing catch-up.




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