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on the social taboo/stigma
consider the recent events surrounding cigarettes. various laws
were passed for many decades that made them more difficult to
obtain and sell. regulations increased. yet they have not
seen major effects in sales until relatively recently in history.
why is this?
because of the social taboo and stigma associated with them.
this taboo and stigma only recently arose. and its efficacy
is attested to by the figures on the sales of cigarettes, which
have gone down considerably in the US. (yes I am aware of what
is happening in foreign markets-- please stay with me for a minute).
we have tobacco executives virtually being put on trial. their shame
what I would like to try to draw to your attention here to something
very powerful. it is the social taboo or stigma, and in some ways
it is the only long-lasting, enduring landmark of social
consciousness. laws may come and go. people may obey or
not follow laws. what is the
difference? I think it is clear that it is not taboo to break
some laws in the public's mind. (prohibition is one example).
laws can be viewed as an attempt to create a social taboo or
stigma via legislation. it is effective for the most part. but
it can be unreasonable and public opinion can diverge from the
what is the cpunk relevance? well, I am trying to point out that
taboos and stigmas are very powerful weapons. a government may
have physical weapons, but not use them because of international
stigma. the reaction of other countries might be so great that
the "benefits" (a horrific term in this case) are not worth the
loss of accommodations given by other countries, which would
social stigmas/tabboos are very important in gauging the psyche
of a public. you can psychoanalyze the public at large by
determining what they consider taboo or stigmas. mass social
movements represent shifts in taboos and stigmas. consider
the sexual revolution for example. in some ways, the taboo
or stigma in a person's psyche are the root measure of their
behavior, not laws. if someone perceives there is no
taboo or stigma ("not getting caught" is related to this) there
is no deterrent.
here's the application. if cpunks wish to achieve certain goals,
one way is to try to create stigmas and taboos where none previously
existed, or tear down those that already exist that are obstacles
to the cpunk agenda. so, for example, a "stigma" about exporting
unapproved cryptography could be turned into a badge of honor. likewise,
we could create a "stigma" about working in the NSA.
this is the main them I want to nail in this letter.
many people are in jobs that some may consider ethically reprehensible.
they believe they have no choice. consider the tens of thousands
of very intelligent people (some of the most intelligent on the
planet) that are *right*now* creating horrendous weapons of
destruction in the name of "defense". they know in their hearts
that these weapons are stretching the concept of defense to the
"indefensible" so to speak. that is, they could only have
offensive (in all senses of the word) applications.
moreover, even if they have defensive capabilities, they have
absolutely no way of ensuring their government would not misapply
them. anyone who thinks otherwise is pathetically naive. there
were famous scientists who developed the atom bomb who had
major turns of thought after they saw how it was applied. but
does anybody listen today? I encourage anyone working on their
ingenious defense research to get the slightest historical
clue about atom bomb development. how smart do you really think
you are, if what you are developing can be misused, and you
are merely a pawn in a big machine?
I am writing this letter to all those people who are *right*now*
channeling their own human energies into sinister applications.
you might be working for the NSA. you might be working in the
defense industry. whereever, whatever. you have pangs of conscience
that you don't want to face. you can go a whole lifetime not
thinking about it. your superiors and everything in your environment
encourages you *not* to *think* about it.
I am asking you to *think* about it. I am asking you to realize
that governments cannot go in the direction that they are not
supported. if tomorrow everyone who worked in the NSA said,
"I am fed up, I don't have to take this job, they can intimidate
me but this is a free country, I have skills that are valuable
channelled elsewhere and not in constricting freedoms"-- the NSA would be
dead. you don't need laws or to create revolutions or governments
to get social change. in fact revolutions are typically intrinsically
beyond laws, and new governments arise only when society's thoughts
everything, *everything* that cpunks rail against is being held
up by other *people*. these people are not evil, they merely
think differently. many of them react to mass social pressure
and stigma. can the public successfully create new, effective
stigmas that pressure government to reform? it appears to me this
is already happening. I suggest we focuse not on laws or institutions,
but on the people holding them up, and their beliefs.
I suspect there are people such as I am alluding to on the cypherpunk list.
I think there are a lot of very talented programmers, for example,
working on applications of highly questionable moral value (such
as weapons of mass destruction). does anyone have any idea how
much tax money goes into so-called "defense" projects? what evils
have been perpetrated under the guise of "national security"?
I believe that the value of the cpunk list is that it has successfully
created some new taboos and stigmas (associated with spooks),
and removed others (such as criticism of the government, etc.)
I think that we need to create some new stigmas and nail them
down emphatically. such as,
"know that what you are working on is going toward
a greater good" (i.e. a stigma or taboo associated with the
lack of this), not "keep your mouth shut and don't ask any
questions". consider a programmer union that had recommendations
to its members such as these. "I will not work on code that
can be misused for violence. I will not work on code that
does not have adequate safeguards against its use" etc.
do you know what all your friends and neighbors are doing?
can we make it so that its really *uncool* to be supporting
rotten institutions via one's labor, instead of having some
kind of warped charisma associated with being a "rocket scientist"?
to borrow an ominous phrase, I call on the oppressed workers of
the world to unite. I call on you to discover your own power
and conscience. I call on you to have a philosophy
that you have thought out, and
to adhere to it. consider what you are applying *your* energy
to. and consider the possibility that even though you think you
have no choice, that is the lie that keeps you as a secure
brick in the wall of oppression. all the rotten structures of
power would collapse in an instant if those who held them up
stopped doing so.
if nobody will work on his software, Big Brother cannot exist.