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Okay. First of all, I am not afraid of effective collective action. It's right there in what I wrote: I gave what I consider a shining example of powerful, positive effective collective action: the American Civil Rights Movement. (This documentary is excellent: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/ - I use it as point of reference to reflect on modern political activism.)

Secondly, I am actually not saying that I think that, within a week or two, people will be calling for actual blood/lynching. What I'm trying to do is flesh out my sense of a trend which, though driven by the impatience and quick mouse-fingers of internet-users, is a lot slower than that. I think the Aaron Swartz hullabaloo will peter out. But I have noticed a gradual, albeit strong, trend of increasing pressure being wielded by the great undifferentiated masses of the internet. Anonymous. We The People. KONY. Avaaz. These are all facets, I reckon, of the same trend: slowly, a structure is forming which can link together and focus the emotion of the many against the few. Anonymous' Low Orbit Ion Cannon is not a bad example. Anonymous users can join together to attack prominent, exposed individuals or groups. Governments, celebrities, corporations, whatever. The balance of power is stark: targets have little recourse - isolating one individual or another from the crowd is practically useless.

Now, because LOIC is a pretty dramatic example, I should be clear of something: I am not saying that this trend is categorically a bad thing. But I do think it has the potential for evil - not now, but later. You say that what is happening is of little "real" consequence - I would argue that perhaps now that is true (though should be willingly sacrifice a man's career to the appetites of the crowd if he is innocent?), but what about next year, or the next? I am not stupid. I know that there is a buffer between these petitions and the government. That won't disappear overnight. But people are working hard to develop, all the time, these tools of "direct democracy." SOPA was stopped. Action has been effective, and governments do seem in some ways relatively impotent, lacking the technological know-how, focus, flexibility and downright cunning that can be mustered by engaged citizens.

Again, I should be clear: I'm not imagining some cartoonish image of crowds marching through the streets with pitchforks. However this manifests it will suit the manner and technologies of this time.

Also, I'm not defending the status quo. Really. I haven't considered the flipside to these arguments in depth, but it involves something along the lines of the ability of large organisations to negotiate agreements with other large organisations, to engage the bureaucratic infrastructure of society, and develop and deploy large-scale surveillance technologies. I'm not sure how these forces balance up, or how they will pan out, or who's good and who's bad, or who I think should win. I'm mostly playing with ideas at the moment.

Anyway, in this corner of the web, we spend a lot of time worrying about democracy and the rights of the people, standing on soap boxes and shouting about injustice - but what if we're part of a game, what if we're not as pure as we make ourselves out to be? The concept that our actions might be aggressive, confrontational, threatening, is counter-intuitive - a lot of what I'm saying is counter-intuitive (which is why I think people here are reacting so mixedly to it) - but what if this is our blind spot? What if we are the aggressors here - or what if we are the force growing into the role of aggressor/oppressor? What if governments and corporations turn out to be weak before the anger of the crowd?

Well. I don't know, but I think it's interesting to consider. I'm not afraid of effective collective action. But I am opposed to poorly-thought-through collective action. 1) because it tends to flop (Occupy) 2) because it needs to grasp for easy enemies and 3) because it can be destructive. I see that potential today in modern internet behaviour. Maybe tomorrow I might see another side. Who knows.

Above all: I like to know where the crowd is heading before I join in the rush. It seems difficult to get a coherent answer from a lot of these modern cause célèbres.




> "Again, I should be clear: I'm not imagining some cartoonish image of crowds marching through the streets with pitchforks."

If that is really the case, then maybe think next time before you start off by making comparisons to lynching.

Yeah yeah, I know. "Why not LOIC him?" doesn't carry the same juicy emotional punch...


I'm surprised I need to explain this.

I made the comparison to lynching for two reasons. Firstly, because I think the basic social DNA is the same, though the phenotype is different. To whit: an angry crowd jumps to a snap decision and demands rapid, extra-legal retribution. In the case of lynching, the crowd is a group of people in a single place whose only mechanism of demanding this retribution is face-to-face and physical. In our situation, the crowd is a dispersed group of people who can interact in relatively anonymous digital channels, and do not have as clear a mechanism to gather together physically and demand retribution in that fashion. (Luckily - this practical difficulty hampers the groupthink tendencies of the internet.)

Secondly, I made the comparison to lynching because it is an effective rhetorical point. Lynching is something which most people today would find shocking and unacceptable. By drawing and defending a comparison between lynching and this current behaviour, I am attempting to reframe and destabilise this modern trend of calling for blood. People that find lynching shocking might eagerly support calls for the firing of Ortiz or Heymann, but if they are confronted with a logical link between the two activities, they may reconsider their motives and actions.

And broadly I am doing all this, as I have explained, because I think while this behaviour is relatively innocuous now, it's growing teeth, and could turn ugly.




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