There are two parts to the internet – The Surface Web which is accessed via the internet and without necessitating registration – it is “anything that can be indexed by a typical search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo”
and the Deep Web which is “anything that a search engine can’t find.” There is a huge amount of information out there on the internet that you simply cannot gain access to. It may not be dangerous and nearly all of it is legal. Then we have a subset of the Deep Web called The Dark Web. “The Dark Web is a small portion of the Deep Web that has been intentionally hidden and is inaccessible through standard web browsers” – it may be used by millions of internet users to access pro-democracy sites and information that is forbidden by despotic regimes. But best estimates are that about half of the activity around the Dark Web is illicit. Even when most of the illegal pornographic sites are on the Surface Web, the Dark Web is used for the purchase of drugs, weapons, for money laundering and to access extreme pornography
Being hidden from government oversight it is highly attractive to the underworld. Illicit commerce is occurring on a staggering scale, undreamed of before the advent of the computer age.
Activity within the Dark Web has created a focus for debate around whether the anonymity of the Web, at any level, is worth the effort. The widespread use of stolen credit cards to access illegal sites means that creating a registration system which de-anonymizes users may not be effective unless a central cache of all existing credit cards could be referenced every time the internet was accessed. That may threaten the security of e-commerce.
But instead of democratising societies the surface web enables unelected and despotic bodies to self-publicise in a way that gives them far greater power to influence than they deserve. As such they can subvert democracy and the societies in which they seek influence. The individual is empowered to levels of malevolent incitement that could never have been imagined prior to the dawn of the electronic age.
In the USA free speech was never meant to mean that an individual could act in such as way as to endanger others. The classic example is given that a person who shouts ‘fire’ in a crowded and darkened movie theatre is a threat to others and therefore, this is inadmissible as an example of free speech. Free speech is complicated by political passion and political fashion. It has been deified in progressive circles and by reactionary bigots alike so that it now provides carte blanche to anyone within a restricted hierarchy of privilege based on “oppressed” status. But this means that free speech does not universally exist. It is selectively applied according to the rules set out by a prejudiced group of devotees. It therefore epitomises the renunciation of principled free speech.
But it sounds impressive in today’s “progressive” world of self-abnegation.
There are multiple challenges facing us, how society views them will directly impact the quality of the future we enjoy:
Fake news is not simply a different opinion or creative interpretation of the facts. It is meant to deceive or to achieve that which would not normally be possible. Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) finance activities based on their wealth and can subvert that with which they disagree because standards of governance and oversight are less rigorous than organisations that are answerable to the public or the state. A recent article about university funding revealed the extent to which the Muslim World interferes in the Western Education system. It has poured billions of dollars into universities across the globe, but principally in the West, to influence how we think. And to bring prejudice out into the open where previously, it either lay dormant or did not exist. Morally delinquent universities are driven solely by money. Money enhances status, provides higher pay and better conditions. Academic responsibility towards truth while inculcating values with the next generation, is negotiable or of no importance. That is why this money, with its strings attached, is so great a threat to society.
People like the creator of Orientalism, Edward Said, saw Academia as intellectually, the battle ground. Winning it, disempowered the opposition. Honesty was of no relevance – Edward Said openly stated that only one thing mattered: “Taking the right side.” Similarly, essentialism, defined as reducing an argument to its bare bones (no matter how trite) resulted in the following: “If ideas or policies are not shaped in response to changing realities or interests but determined by immutable qualities.. (such as colonialism) then information is irrelevant, and debates are a waste of time for the central issue is always the same…” (The Strong Horse by Lee Smith, page 37) Or put another way: contemporary reality is unimportant because everything is always the fault of someone else.
Said used his Orientalism as an anti-colonialist, anti-Western and nativist kind of essentialism where multiculturalism was a crime against Muslims, but more specifically, a crime against the Arab world. His Aryan (proto fascist) Arab world was superior to anything the rest of the world could ever concoct and at its heart, the new Progressivism and BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement pays homage to this world view.
But there are other sources of unaccountable influence within society:
The state is being superseded, in many areas, by charities whose agendas are often at odds with natural justice and progress. Like universities, many charities exist, for the ego gratification of the donor and the manager. And their wealth is such that they operate across borders and to their own selective and prejudiced moral standards.
The internet has become a key, if not the key battle ground in this war because it is unaccountable, open to infiltration and control. The war is only incidentally about Truth. The war is primarily about Narrative, the stories we tell each other. Throughout history, fables and nursery rhymes were used as an instrument of education for the ignorant masses. Universal education did not exist. A privileged few were chosen to be educated but usually and solely, to support a position or a function. Universal education has meant that past conflicts between different gods and disparate theologies have either been super-energized or superseded by conflicts surrounding new ideas (such as the rejection of nationalism or cultural identity as motivation for cohesion within society). This competition for what we think, is leading us into darkness and ignorance. There exist the same powerful groups selling their wares – they have simply expanded their reach into the internet. Whether it is Islamic State, Palestinians in their war against Jewish rights, Conservatives or Left-wing Fascists they all of them peddle their wares on the internet to control it and through it, the message.
Social media has proven to be a false god and worse: a malicious and malevolent force for evil that can spread the big lie, any big lie, around the world in less than a day. In medieval times a charismatic leader would arise from out of nowhere to create violent discord, usually localised or at worst, a regional affliction. There were some monumental exceptions to the rule – such as the intermittent Crusades. The internet has made the rapid dissemination of propaganda and lies into a global enterprise. It has the potential for destroying the Golden Age the internet once promised. In its anonymity it has empowered a generation of narcissists and purveyors of hate for whom what is important is what they can get away with. The Lie as Truth is free for all to learn from, while violence is acceptable if it is politically sanctioned.
What we know is that we are less discerning in what we aspire to possess than even our illiterate ancestors were. It has created a cult of visibility – empowering the everyman and everywoman to achieve fame or infamy while the truth gets lost in the noise. Instead of using the internet responsibly we can celebrate venality, hate and the pursuit of anything trivial at the click of our electronic mouse. Instead of questioning everything the internet has helped us to codify our prejudices without interrogation of the facts as presented. Instead of being a means to initiate enquiries that unsettle our comfortable existences the internet is a means of validating chauvinism and bigotry. The internet has become comfort food for the bored and the foolish.
It is what Daniel Kahneman calls “associative coherence” (a self-reinforcing pattern of cognitive, emotional, and physical responses that creates a context for future developments). Psychologically, this is brainwashing. But we can choose to be brain-washed or not. Again, from “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Kahneman says that “we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.” Welcome to the internet.
The internet is a mirror of our own physical society except that through its anonymity it allows fascism, with its trio of apocalyptic riders: hatred, intimidation, and violence to spill out from its pages into our physical society. Intimidation as a means of silencing rivals is a key component of fascism. When we respond, we are told that we are silencing free speech. This argument is a perversion of basic human rights to self-defence but one that the enemies of peace have embraced with ruthless enthusiasm. Instead of being an instrument of contemplation, thought and analysis, it promotes chaos, narcissism, and self-absorption. The sanctification of the herd as a means of codifying popular prejudice sends us back to a much darker age but it also creates a comforting stupor in a world of increasing complexity.
In “The Internet as Agent of Chaos and Entropy (Part 2)” I will discuss how we can repair the internet before it is too late and why it is necessary to do so.