I eagerly anticipated the release of this book. The chance to be a fly on the wall during a conversation of four of the world’s most influential “hack...moreI eagerly anticipated the release of this book. The chance to be a fly on the wall during a conversation of four of the world’s most influential “hackers” and internet activists doesn’t happen everyday. And that is exactly what we are presented with in Cypherpunks. The book plays out in conversation format, with Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmerman discussing their own points of view regarding the state of the Internet and the role of government in today’s always-connected society. They each bring their own interesting perspective to the table during the discussion. Reoccurring themes in the book include the encroaching and totalizing force of social networking, the extent of government surveillance programs, and (of course) the threat that organizations like WikiLeaks pose for those in power.
This book presents us with a “crossroads moment” in the advancement of our technology. The concentration of vast amounts of information by unaccountable corporations like Google and Facebook pose a danger in themselves. However the book highlights the very real problem of “bulk interception” — governments capturing all data communicated on certain channels and storing it for later use. As many communications systems and social networking platforms are based in the United States, they are subject to the United States government law, and ultimately, its physical control. Furthermore, the law governing the privacy of this information is loose and often simply ignored. The capability for bulk interception is very new, and coupled with the fact that we are sharing more information more publicly than ever, there is tremendous cause for concern that common individuals might be targeted for nothing more than using their right to free speech (“Ten years ago this was seen to be a fantasy, this was seen to be something only paranoid people believed in, but the costs of mass interception have now decreased to the point where even a country like Libya with relatively few resources was doing it with French technology”). Free communication and the exchange of political ideas are also at risk from the chilling effects of censorship (“They see the internet like an illness that affects their ability to define reality”). Other important implications are studied, such as the risks posed to freedom of association and economic exchange.
I am very pleased to say that this book does not fall into the trap that so many “cypherpunks” and internet activists have fallen into before it: the libertarian fantasy. The never-ending dream within the tech community often focuses on the state as the sole enemy, and tells us that “If only we had a truly free market, the consumer would rule, and we would never have any problems with surveillance/privacy/etc.” This hogwash is largely avoided in this book. The merger of state and corporate power is given serious treatment, and the authors pull no punches when it comes to the role that unmitigated capitalism and economic exploitation play in the systematic infringement of rights. While the phrase “free market” is tossed around quite a bit — almost uncomfortably so — the authors make it clear that the “economic freedoms” they emphasize are not predicated on vertically-organized hierarchies of exploitation.
The four authors do an excellent job of exposing the present architecture of the Internet and modern communications, and demonstrating why every individual should be involved in changing it. Aside from the introduction, the book is not written in a polemic style, and it benefits from the clear and level-headed way in which the authors outline just what is at stake. But at the end of the book we are left with a bit of a black hole. Julian’s powerful statement in the introduction (“Cryptography is the ultimate form of non-violent direct action”) implies that we merely need to encrypt all of our information everywhere and that will somehow make the surveillance state stop trying… or something. I would like to have read more details about the potential alternatives to the present system. The book is short on specifics for actually encouraging change, both within the “hacker” and tech enthusiast community, and outside of it. There are mentions of some possible actions, like working for more decentralized Internet architectures, however this book is more focused on large-scale demonstrations of “where we are now” rather than how we can get to where we need to be.
That being said, I found Cypherpunks to be a very enjoyable and enlightening read. Even though I do not consider myself a layman in the subjects the book presents, I learned quite a bit by reading it. Most of the book is presented in a way that is easy to read and understand, naming and explaining all the acronyms and references that come up for those who may not be as well-versed in the subject matter. I would recommend Cypherpunks to any political or tech activist interested in learning what the new wave of communications — both for better and for worse — will look like.(less)
One of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's more substantial written contributions, Manufacturing Consent details a framework dubbed the "propaganda model...moreOne of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman's more substantial written contributions, Manufacturing Consent details a framework dubbed the "propaganda model," which can determine or explain many factors of media reporting found deficient, biased, or just plain incompetent. I found this book to be a poignant and effective review of a period in which media was supposedly keeping an "adversarial stance" towards those in power -- while the contrary continued to be the case.
Even for those who do not believe in the "propaganda model" as explained by the authors, Manufacturing Consent remains an important work for pointing out many circumstances of media bias and societal constraint during the turbulent times of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For those who understand the model to be a reliable framework for viewing the behaviour of the media, it is easy to find many circumstances of institutional malfeasance throughout recent decades and up to the current day. For example, while the anti-communist filter, as mentioned, has evolved somewhat into being a general "anti-socialist" dogmatic brick wall, it continues to show itself in media across the spectrum, notably at outlets like Fox News.
I found the principles outlined by the authors described very well and backed with an exhaustive investigation of evidence, in all circumstances evaluated. Furthermore, the book's framework continues to show its relevance. Even though the rise of the internet has 'cracked' corporate media's grip, it still holds fast, as the vast majority of news consumed around the world is produced by corporate media. The version with the updated acknowledgement includes additional information to keep the text relevant in the modern day, including references to internet use, media consolidation and additional examples of the model's effectiveness.
For these reasons, the book is a very compelling read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in broadening their knowledge of how their world really works.(less)
A well-balanced, captivating, and sometimes prescient work, detailing the modern travails of the human brain and the historical progress of technology...moreA well-balanced, captivating, and sometimes prescient work, detailing the modern travails of the human brain and the historical progress of technology and enlightenment that brought us to this point. Nicholas Carr's analysis of the Internet as a phenomenon is by no means singular, but is exceptional for its compelling and cohesive take on how our modern way of thought is adapting to new technologies -- rather than the other way around. The book delves into many topics, including modern neuroscience, 'plasticity' and the study of memory, and connects these to both modern technological developments AND past groundbreaking inventions, to provide critical historical analysis. I especially appreciated the author's demeanor towards the subject: it would have been easy make the topic a Philistine criticism of technology, but he not only expresses the need for the new technologies we use, but focuses the book on how a balance of thought is critical for adapting to this new environment, rather than reactionism or one-sided dependence. However he treats the topic with the seriousness it deserves. The book is a must-read for anyone who has felt themselves mindlessly surfing Wikipedia before (i.e. everyone), or anyone who is genuinely interested in how technology becomes an adapted extension of the self.
I recommend the 2011 paperback edition, including a special Afterword outlining the experiences of the first "connected generation" in how they are developing through the information onslaught.(less)
This tract by Žižek is another solid addition to his continuing work on ideology in contemporary society. While the book tends to flow with the effici...moreThis tract by Žižek is another solid addition to his continuing work on ideology in contemporary society. While the book tends to flow with the efficiency of a falling brick, due to Žižek's unique style, the point of the book is clear -- the ideology of 'utopia' is no longer isolated to modern conceptions of communism, but in fact it is a vital part of liberal-democratic capitalism. It starts with a critique on modern political and capitalist rhetoric, then flows into a rather disjointed (but typically Žižek) analysis of everything from Starbucks to classical Marxism. Žižek's proposed response to this "ideology in the age of post-ideology" to continue a call to "get back to work" at establishing a new communist "Idea" for the twenty-first century, one that can escape the failings of twentieth-century experimentation, and one that works in modern-day social relations and structures of labour -- a continuation of Badiou's work on a new "communist hypothesis."
I found the book to be a great read, with tons of compelling points made, and would recommend it to anyone who has more than a passing interest in these ideas. At only 157 pages, it is easy enough to finish in a few days, great for a light introduction to the "new school" of modern communist philosophers.
For those who are not familiar with Žižek's work, he draws a lot from the concepts of Jacques Lacan and Alain Badiou, so it would be helpful to at least have a familiar knowledge of their core concepts before jumping in to this book.(less)
While I wouldn’t exactly describe this book as having the force of a “Das Kapital of the 20th century” [like the cover notes indicate], Society of the...moreWhile I wouldn’t exactly describe this book as having the force of a “Das Kapital of the 20th century” [like the cover notes indicate], Society of the Spectacle is surely an important work in the field of modern cultural critique. Originally written in France in 1967 by Guy Debord, an influential member of the Situationists movement, the book’s concepts are still as relevant as ever, as it is with many books that relate to topics of modern capitalism and consumerist “programming.” It starts with a basic outline of the definition of the “spectacle,” which is simply the idea that our conception of legitimate fulfillment (and participation) in our society has shifted to a purely superficial level. The capitalist forces of advertising, marketing, and public relations have transformed the utility of consumption into the “spectacle” of consumption, which drives us to consume and participate in this spectacle in ever intensive ways. The mere idea of consumption has replaced our conceptions of what self-fulfillment should be, and our internal worth is often measured on the “model of life” as reinforced through the capitalist order, to what Debord argues is a quasi-religious degree of reverence. Furthermore, this order is reinforced by our desire to appear “well-connected” with our selection of expensive gadgets, for example, or with our taste for specific stylish clothing brands, projecting our image which is alienated from our specific realities. This is all aided by our “separation” from the physical world of the products we produce, with the separation between worker and product playing an important role in how we feel about commodities in general. All of this results in a general degradation in our quality of life, to say the least. The book also goes on to discuss how our conception of time has changed with the advent of our participation in capitalist production, a section on class struggles against the spectacle, as well as a compelling critique of modern revolutionary ideologies and ideas.
My short summary certainly does not do the entire idea justice, of course. Debord’s profound analysis of the intersection between social phenomena and capitalist consumerism is only the tip of the iceberg. As the book is organized into small passages within larger chapters, many of these verses leap off the page as noteworthy and prescient bits of brilliance. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in consumerism, class struggles, and the state of the modern consciousness.(less)
The book reads simply and is certainly geared to a centre-left American Democrat perspective. This being the case, it simplifies most arguments that i...moreThe book reads simply and is certainly geared to a centre-left American Democrat perspective. This being the case, it simplifies most arguments that it makes into very simple statements, making heavier use on countless anecdotes and personal experiences than on citable facts and statistics. One might be able to tell this by the repeated references to the general "European model." One shouldn't look to this book for a more in-depth analysis of economic systems (as I did for some reason), or for a defence of the principles of social thought, but for an analysis of a system where labour hasn't collapsed -- as it has in America -- and can still deliver on its philosophy and promise.
To people picking up this book for the first time: don't let the initial slowness, dizzying use of anecdotes or lack of "hook" get you down. Even if you hold different opinions from the author or his ideas, you will likely learn quite a bit about how modern capitalism functions, and how it is moving into the future in different markets.(less)
An extensive and interdisciplinary look at the foundations of political order and organization, starting with biological origins and continuing with a...moreAn extensive and interdisciplinary look at the foundations of political order and organization, starting with biological origins and continuing with a systematic look at the origins of the state, rule of law and accountability.
Fukuyama's main contributions include the formation/refinement of several notable theories: such as the three requirements for a foundation of a _successful_ democracy, the theory of political decay, and the conditions needed to break a society free of agnatic, patrimonial links to promote individualism (a theory that differs from the interpretations of other notable sociologists, like Marx). The author's work here certainly does an excellent job of adding and combining new ideas to a field of work already populated by some great thinkers, like Malthus, Weber, Rousseau, Durkheim, etc.
This book is exhaustive in its scope of analysis and explanation of certain concepts. This is a benefit as the book obviously gets into some abstract concepts, such as the bare foundations of the rule of law and the biological foundations of altruism. But, as other reviewers have noted, this book is almost overly cumbersome, in both its wordiness and repetitiveness. The organizational style can often be confusing as well. When reading an overview that needs to bring such broad disciplines together to create cohesive theories, it's a bit too much to be citing the same things (almost verbatim) several times per chapter, as if they were new to the reader.
Regardless of the writing style, the content of the book is certainly strong. Fukuyama's theories are compelling, well-studied, and contribute well to a long list of works that attempt to bring science to political order. Taking the theory of "political decay" alone, it can certainly change the way you view the state of modern politics.(less)