The Power of Knowledge
In the long run there is only one direction -
the upward direction.
When we look at the history of our society, perhaps the clearest trend we find is the accelerating rise of our standard of living. Thousands of years ago death and suffering were constantly present and the only thing we had time to focus on was survival. Today many of us are able to spend much of our time on creative work, friendships and entertainment, and to eliminate a huge portion of the suffering we used to experience in the past.
The reason behind this trend is easy to understand. By learning from our experiences and sharing our little pieces of wisdom with each other we have built a huge collective of knowledge which helps us to overcome many of the problems we encounter.
For example by knowing how to make fire we can cook food and by knowing about bacteriae we can avoid diseases. And by writing our ideas down to a paper or nowadays on an electronic memory we can make them immortal.
In contrast to material goods, for example a meal, the work needed for acquiring a particular piece of knowledge, for example a recipe of the meal, only needs to be done once. After the recipe has been invented it can be distributed with virtually no cost to be used by each and every human being on Earth.
Today there are very many forms of immaterial goods that can all be considered as knowledge, such as literature, computer software, blueprints, results of scientific experiments and big databases. Every piece of technology helping us, for example a cell phone, a washing machine or a ball-point pen, is just sytematic use of different kinds of knowledge - we could very well say that technology is knowledge.
A bunch of legislation has been developed to allow creators of knowledge to benefit from their work. These include copyright laws, which give authors exclusive rights to copy their books, movies and other works, and the patent system, which gives invetors a right to exclude others from using technology they have invented. Collectively these laws are often called intellectual property laws.
The disastrous downside of these laws is that they seriously retard the spread and evolution of existing knowledge and implementing and initializing technology. Often intellectual property owners like to charge shameless amounts of money from using their knowledge, and even if the user could pay the prize, loads of bureaucracy are still on the way.
For example good textbooks are usually very expensive, so poor students cannot afford them which leads to education lower than what could be possible. It would be cool to just download the books from Internet, but that is prohibited by law. It could be said that intellectual property laws force people to do things in stupid ways instead of wise ones.
A shocking example of patenting is the genome of an organism. Corporations like Monsanto own patents on genes of plants they have modified genetically. One can imagine a dystopic picture of future in which a mother commits a crime by having a certain gene in the genome of her child.
In worst cases these matters lead to suffering and death. In our world in which a large fraction of population lives in poverty, these worst case scenarios often get realized. For example a drug is often far too expensive for many because a drug corporation owns a patent on the structure of the drug molecule. Consequently there are curable diseases that nevertheless kill lots of people in many countries.
We also have other lethal affairs like starvation, thirst and accidents in our world. It would not be impossible to eliminate them almost completely if technology for efficient food production, water purification and ensuring safety were available for everyone.
When the situation gets very bad, the ancient instincts of survival rise their heads leading to violence and to even greater suffering and mortality rates. This is a story we hear every time we bother to watch the news.
The problem I'm talking about is a very serious one. Starvation, diseases and violence are very real and very common heralds of extreme misery which do not belong to our world at the third millennium. We cannot call our society humane as long as we allow them to be with us.
Another problem: megacorporations
Capitalism rules our world. Stock market allows the ownership of a company to be distributed on several people or on other companies. Due to this fact we have corporations evolved into enormous faceless megacreatures in which individual human beings, for example laborers or a CEO, are only pawns.
Those pawns serve purposes of stockholders, the owners of corporations. For stockholders a corporation is just a money factory, so the ones who get chosen as pawns are the most efficient money making robots available.
A corporation needs to own the souls of its critical pawns, namely the CEO's and other chief officers, as completely as possible, to prevent them from doing ethical instead of profitable decicions. To achieve this the corporation is ready to pay extremely high salaries.
From billions of people there will always be found individuals willing to sell themselves. Their profitable solutions, considered as 'wise' in the context of capitalism, often lead to inhumane working conditions, ridiculously low salaries for the mass pawns, child labour and dumping waste into nature.
Even if the stockholders wanted an officer to make not only money but also sustainable decisions, he or she would soon be replaced by someone who makes more money and manages to look even more ethical. The system intrinsically favors dishonest, irresponsible, arrogant and greedy people to sit at the highest seats of corporations.
Rich people can buy larger volumes of stock and therefore are able to make even more profit. And because of their natural characteristic is greediness, they are eager to do that. Rich get ever more rich. This is exactly what has happened in our world - the richest one percent owns about half of the total wealth of the whole world.
Even worse, along money comes political power. Only the rich are able to finance campaigns of politicians. Without a funding a politician is pretty much nothing, so they basically must defer to serve the financer. Here we have an effective dictatorship of the wealthiest citizens, eventhough in a naive sense most countries are still democracies.
Right now a concrete example of this is visible. Mostly secret negotiations are being carried out on several mulitnational free trade agreements like TTIP and TTP. Contents of these kind of agreements are mostly dubious, but one clause is especially nasty. Both TTIP and TTP feature so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which gives a corporation a right to press charges against a whole country if the countrys policies cause the corporation to loose profit. Such a deal basically means that countries participating in it hand over their independence to corporations without getting nothing back. The question of why any country would like to make such a deal has a simple answer: the politicians carrying out the negotiations and the expert consultants, also known as lobbyists, do not serve their countries but are bought by the rich elite.
Corporations make profit by offering people solutions to problems they encounter. If a problem goes away, some corporation looses money. There are private prisons that need prisoners, warfare industry that needs war, drug developers that need sickness and food farms that need hunger. Corporations are generally totally dependent on problems of people and are desperate to prevent them from disappearing. Politicans co-operate with smiling faces.
The swamp turns out to be even deeper when one realizes that major television channels, news agencies and social media are all large corporations living in the stock market. Therefore they serve the interests of the rich. They do it for example by broadcasting an admiring picture of wealth and encouraging people to pursue it. Blatant examples include reality shows The Apprentice and Dragon's Den.
As a result a faith in capitalism has been hammered tight into our skulls. The hammer has been waving for all our lives. We worship wealth, admire rich people, fight each other and are ready to sacrifice our friendships, families and mental health on the altar of money.
Our social system is therefore badly corrupted. What is striking is that this corruption is not illegal at all - it is just a natural phenomenon occuring in a society based on free enterpirising market. No conspiracy is needed. The equation seems to be almost hopeless.
Nevertheless we should not judge the stockholders. They are no less pawns than the laborers or a CEO; they may be even worse. They are the ones who have taken the hardest hits of the hammer and have become pawns of money itself. They may seem to be living a perfect life with their yachts and private jets but in reality their addiction to money and power totally prevents them enjoying life in much the same way a heroin addiction does. A yacht rarely sails with its owner onboard.
It should be kept in mind that as things are developing into more and more perverse directions, the possibility of a total economic collapse due to super fast inflation is becoming more realistic. It would mean that the purchasing power of money drops to zero, markets freeze and violence takes over streets. The 2008 bank crisis and the stock market chrash in China this year are warning signs.
In addition to these matters we have a third problem which may be the greatest of them all.
How do we treat our Mother Earth?
For very long time we were able to act like Earth was infinitely large. We could breed as much as we could, burn stuff as much as we wanted and gather natural resources as fast as we needed.
However, now we have colonized pretty much the whole planet. There are nowadays about seven billion of us of which very many has adopted the outrageously consuming and polluting western lifestyle developed during the last century.
Oil is running out and rainforests have shrinked. The amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxede has increased. In some cities air is so thick that people have to use respirators. Massive amounts of plastic float in the oceans hurting sealife. Also thousands of years lasting lethal nuclear waste is constantly being buried underground.
At the same time the average temperature of our planet is getting up and a mass extinction of species, the Holocene extinction, is taking place. Even though proof that would convince everyone of us may be difficult to find, it is very hard to believe that these phenomena were not connected to our habit of raping Earth.
Antarctica is melting due to the global warming. If the same trend continues, Antarctica will eventually melt completely causing the sea level to rise and coastline to withdraw. Huge areas of land in which people live would become seafloor. Even more importantly, the change in temperature may distract the ecosystem in unpredictable and disastrous ways.
The mass extinction itself is a bad thing for the diversity of nature. But it may have extremely dangerous consequenses on the ecosystem if for example some keystone species went extinct. Massive changes would take place in our environment threatening our food sources.
These problems may not yet be very visible in our everyday life, but if we continue our style, we will face the consequences. Due to the nature of our capitalistic social system, environmental issues are the last things on the minds of corporate executives. They are perfectly happy to rip everything off the ground and dump their waste into soil, water and air as long as the general public do not understand to rise against.
A utopy: world of free knowledge
Imagine that we somehow managed to set all existing and forthcoming knowledge free for everyone to use and develop further. We removed restrictive copyright laws and shut down the patent system. In short, we killed all intellectual property laws.
It would mean that a student could always draw from the best books, a scientist use any existing study as a basis for new research and an engineer start from any existing blueprint needing to do only necessary additions or changes without re-engineering anything.
There would be no more legal battles on copyright and patent ownership issues. In general all bureaucracy concerning knowledge usage and ownership would disappear as totally unnecessary.
Because any manufacturer could always legally copy any product of any other manufacturer, competition would force prizes of material goodies down to only consist of their real material manufacturing costs. Mass production is very efficient, so often this would mean products virtually free of charge like toothpicks are now.
For example most drugs and electronic devices are very cheap to produce in high volumes, so everybody could afford basic medical treatment and telecommunication facilities. People all over the world would have equal abilities to educate and treat themselves.
In particular automation systems which do systematic work tirelessly and with extreme precicion would become cheap. In consequence boring, intelligence-humiliating jobs at production lines would vanish. Child labour would spontaneously disappear due to its bad efficiency and accuracy.
With cheap devices implementing sophisticated technology we would gradually become able to produce most of the materials we need locally near the needs. For example electricity could be gathered with wind turbines and solar panels and heat could be produced by burning waste or by pumping it from the environment.
A beautiful example is a 3d-printer, which prints three-dimensional structures using digital blueprints. Blueprints of course being free we would be able to print ware with practically no cost. It is fun to think of a 3d-printer printing parts of a 3d-printer.
Water could be recycled or extracted from for example soil by using biological purification. Even food could be farmed locally and very effectively by using aeroponics, a method in which a plant is hung in the air with carefully chosen nutrients spred on its roots. Virtually all plants can be farmed aeroponically independently of the season, with very short growth cycle and small water, nutrient and space usage. In aeroponic cultivation dramatic efficiency can be achived without genetic modification of plants or using pesticides.
Such local solutions would let us be independent of large energy and food companies. Corporations would predominantly be needed to supply the devices which are used for the production, which is not a continuing need, and possibly for their repair service.
Much of the infrastructure we now have to maintain, like sewers, water supply network, electrical grids and centralized water purification plants, power plants and food farms would become unnecessary.
Local production would also render the need for transporting materials low. The remaining transportation could be carried out with drones, trains and self-driving electric cars. With modern battery technology electricity can be easily stored, and since sophistication means less consumption, we could stop burning oil forever.
Localized production is also robust. With no centralized systems there could not be large failures affecting large number of people. Only local failures with local consequenses would be possible.
No more money!
Eventually everything would become so cheap that everybody could afford everything needed for a high standard of living. Issues concerning money would become irrelevant; we could even forget the existence of money. There would be no rich nor poor - people would be just people.
Because there would effectively be no money, the concept of debt would stop existing. We would not anymore be bombarded with biased news or disturbed by advertisements. Corporations could not anymore use power and we would recover democracy.
Nowadays almost all crime, like theft, drug business, human trafficking and most violence, is in a way or another connected to money. Because money would be no issue, there would also be no money related crime. The remaining crime, like passionate violence and sexual abuse, is related to mental health problems. Evidently in a healthy society such problems would be rare, and so all crime rates would very small. The need for police, judiciary and prison would be minimal.
General health and safety would be so good that the need for doctors and rescuers would be smaller than now. All work related to financing would disappear and boring work would be done by automated robots.
In general there would be very little work to do. That work would be interesting, so voluntary workers could take care of it. In contrast to money motivated workers, volunteers really want to get the work done well. They do not need to cheat their bosses or pretend they are doing something valueable.
In short, all of us would enjoy a very high standard of living with virtually no need for doing work. We could spend all our time on being with friends, nursing and raising children, enjoying and creating science, technology, art and entertainment, travelling, meditating or anything we just want.
Because things would be so very well, we would finally have time and energy to truly appreciate our Mother Earth and think about how we treat her. Some of us would make an interesting hobby of cleanin seas out of plastic, dismantling and recycling old-fashioned infrastructure, making warfare harmless and eliminating other miserable and dangerous relics of the time when one could end up in prison for sharing knowledge.
We are talking about a true paradise.
Copyrights and patents expire so even if we did not change the legislation we would eventually get into that moneyless paradise. The phenomenon is the same which in biology is called evolution: good genes slowly replace bad ones in a gene pool. In society good ideas, or memes, replace bad ones leading to sophistication and co-operation.
But right now when the planet is tearing apart we have to hurry. If we do not act we may find ourselves in the middle of a third world war, an unprecedented environmental crisis or a mass riot of the whole population.
On the other hand, if we really did free all knowledge, the change to the paradise would obviously take some time. During the change we would probably face some...
Why would anyone seek knowledge if there were nothing that would guarantee profit from doing so?
First of all, any piece of knowledge would be many, many times as useful as it is in the precence of intellectual property laws. In principle nothing would be needed to do twice. Therefore a much smaller amount of knowledge work would do the same that our do today.
Second, great innovations and masterpieces have always been manifestations of pure passion welling from pure inspiration, with no monetary motivation. They would not became less frequent.
Removing intellectual property laws does not require forbidding hiring people to produce knowledge. Such policy could still be reasonable in some situations, for example if the employer knows that the work benefits it more than the others.
The most important thing, however, is that we alredy have an enormous amount of knowledge fragmented here an there; the shards are just locked into uselessness by law. Try to imagine how many technical devices have been engineered over the years. Right now the most important thing is to use the existing knowledge to give everyone a good life - which it could easily do - not to produce more fairly useless locked knowledge.
"American Dream" is a concept whom essential content is that everyone should have equal opportunities to pursue wealth and success. Despite its name it pretty well encapsulates the capitalistic worldview everywhere around the world.
Setting knowledge free makes it difficult to harness inventions to make money. Is it right to hamper pursuing "American Dream"?
The idea that everyone should have a chance to get rich is an old one. It is rooted in a time when the standard of living was lower, an end of labor was not in sight and the limits of Earth were not yet widely recognized. Faith in "American Dream" pushed people to their limits.
The situation is not the same anymore. There are not anymore limitless amounts of work nor resources; on the other hand we now know how to set up a good standard of living. In 2015 we should be eager to focus on different kinds of things. Things that make us human beings, like knowing and feeling oursleves and each other deeply. Sadly the Dream does not encourage us to these kinds of things.
Another sad thing is that the properties that help an individual to pursue the Dream are mostly nasty ones. The most succesful individuals usually are greedy, miserly and arrogant people. Did we want it or not, they are these properties that separate economic winners out of loosers.
In practice we have here an inequality of people which favors financially intelligent nasty people and discriminates the rest which is the majority. It is difficult to see such a concept as a good thing from any point of view.
More generally, I cannot really see any reason why anyone should have a right to have more money or be in any other way richer than the average. Uneven wealth distribution is not inequality only in the sense of standard of living but also in senses of political power and social status.
Any kind of inequality is against the very foundations of what we call "humanity" and so we should bury the "American Dream" forever.
Another question is how would people who continue to do fulltime knowledge work and other volunteers make their living?
This is a great problem, because they are the most precious citizens around here. They are the ones who do not suffer from the decease of money addiction and who therefore have energy to try to build our world towards a better direction.
Technically they would be unemployd and jobless. But they would not be the only ones. Unemployment - simply due to the fact that there is not enough paid jobs - is already a major problem of the world of today.
There is not enough jobs because technology has advanced and machines are taking care of much of the work we used to do by ourselves. Even if we did not set knowledge free, technology will advance and unemployment rates rise. Without intellectual property laws this change would be just faster.
We can always try to create new jobs or to save existing ones, but this is all just fighting windmills and does not solve the problem in the case of volunteers. Furthermore, it sounds like a very stupid idea to invent work that never needed to be done in the first place.
Many unemployed feel bad even if they get unemployment compensation which allows them to have a decent standard of living. This is due to our work ethic according to which a human being is worthless, bad and pathetic if they cannot make their own living.
This is totally wrong! A human being can have an enormous value as a friend, a companion, a parent, a volunteer worker, a thinker, an artist et cetera even if they do not get paid. Our ancient work ethic does not recognize these things because a long time ago we did not have time to focus on them.
To ensure that our society will be humane and egalitarian, we must take care of the unemployed. Unfortunately the unemployment compensation system which some countries have is usually inadequate or at least difficult, bureacratically heavy and humiliating.
A beautiful solution would be if people who have some surplus money donated it to the unemployed who need it. It would be an utterly humane solution since donations are based on compassion, respect and trust. The same cannot be said about payments which are based on cold agreements.
We see same kind of behaviour in everyday situations in which it is known as kindness. We say hello, smile, give pieces of advice and so on without requiring monetary response or signing contracts. No one questions the sanity of smiling without getting paid. It is just about extending this altruistic behaviour to new regimes.
In the case in which the unemployed is a voluntary knowledge worker this is not so far-fetched as it sounds - the fascinating thing is that the work of one individual may help millions. From millions of people it is not so very unlikely that a couple of donors giving a fair living would be found.
However, in the case of other unemployed the average attittude of a citizen does not yet make that possible. I believe that the attitude will slowly change, but before that we need a system which takes care of the situation.
An elegant solution would be that the state acted as the donor. To maintain an equality of citizens, everyone would get the same amount of money regardless of their other income, education or other things.
Such monthly payment is called basic income. It is basically a salary earned by merely being alive and existing. Basic income is a manifest of humanity; it screams that everyone is a good and precious individual worth a fair living.
Basic income is bureaucratically simple; no social workers would be needed to decide who would and who would not get it.
It could of course be asked that is it right that anyone is allowed to live good with doing nothing. The view that it is not is rooted in the same issues that "American Dream" is. But nowadays the situation is such that we have the resources to foster the ones who do not want or are not able to do paid work. And in any case there is no paid work for everyone.
If we decide to not to foster those who are not willing to do paid work, we basically subscribe to a punishment policy. Punishment creates hate, distrust and self-loathing, so if possible, we better not do it.
Glimpses of the utopy
The picture I've been painting is definitely somewhat dreamy. But we can already see some of its colors sparkling here and there around us!
Decades ago polio was considered as one of the greatest threats to public health. In 1952 a vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk. But he did not want to own a patent; instead, he decided to give the vaccine to everyone for free. Consequently polio virtually disappeared from the world.
Some basic income experiments have been conducted. For example in Canada in the seventies an experiment called MINCOME was carried out. Its results were positive. Netherlands will try basic income in 2016. In Finland something like three quarters of the population advocates basic income and there is a basic income experiment written to the 2015 government programme.
There is a service called Gratipay which lets users to set weekly donations to people and organizations whom work they appreciate. Gratipay does not take a fee from donations; instead it gets its funding through its own Gratipay account.
Gratipay is so-called open company, which means that it shares information as much as possible, charge from its serviced as little as possible and does not compensate employees. Open companies are companies of the future - their foundation is trust and they exist for the benefit of the whole society.
In 1983 Richard Stallman, one of the greatest free software activists, founded the GNU project, which aims to build a computer operating system entirely out of free software. In 1985 he also founded the Free Software Foundation which promotes four software freedoms, which are a freedom to use, a freedom to study and modify, a freedom to distribute and a freedom to distribute modified versions of a software. Establishing these freedoms require the source code of a software to be open and accessible.
The GNU project is a triumph. Stallmann himself wrote some important software like programme compiler GCC and text editor Emacs, and in 1991 Linus Torvalds released the Linux operating system kernel as free software, which became a part of the GNU operating system. Nowadays there are completely free GNU/Linux distributions like Debian Linux which can be used virtually for any task.
Free software is generally more stable, more elegant and more functional than proprietary software like Microsoft Windows is. For these reasons people often prefer free over proprietary software even if they had no ideological biases.
A very large portion of proprietary software is heavily based on free software. The reason is obvious: because free software is free, software companies can use it as material for their own products. For example Google Android smartphone operating system has a Linux kernel. Without free software we would have nothing but a small fraction of the proprietary software we now use.
The concept of freedom fits very well into software because using and testing software requires only an access to a computer and a little bit of electricity, and because software engineering is easy to do in little pieces by a large online community. However, the spectacular success of free software and the GNU Project points a direction for all forms of knowledge.
Wikipedia was founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales. It was based on a reckless idea: anyone, literally anyone, could edit it and write to it. I think that in the beginning there were only a few people who dared to believe in the concept.
However, nowadays, fourteen years later, Wikipedia has become by far the most important everyday source of information. Someone always questions its reliability, but in practice the Wikipedia community is so large that if somebody writes there some misinformation, it will be corrected quickly. How many times have you run into errors or vandalism in Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is so good that it is used also by professonals even though it is often not accepted as a reference. It is a signpost of the power of opennes, freedom and co-operation.
Wikipedia serves millions of people and therefore needs lots of server computers and staff. These naturally need some financing. As a free project Wikipedia does not show ads - instead, it gets its financing completely from voluntary donors.
Wikipedia is only one of many wikis, or websites that anyone can easily edit. Many communities have built their own wikis around their special topics. Like free software, wiki has been proven to be a very powerful way to cultivate knowledge.
During the recent years a new way of financing creative projects, crowdfunding, has arised. There are several crowdfunding platforms of which Kickstarter is the most succesful.
At Kickstarter one introduces a project, be it a film, a tech gadget or anything, sets a funding goal and a deadline and then seeks backers to pledge money. If the project reaches the goal by the deadline, the backers are charged and the project gets funding. If it doesn't reach the goal, no money is transferred.
Crowdfunding is based on trust and on the other hand excitement. People back projects they find inspiring and which they believe may be succesful. The backers are typically promised some reward, for example a copy of the product the project aims to develop. Crowdfunding platforms are like boiling soups of imagination spitting bubbles of innovation to our ever-increasing pool of knowledge.
Kickstarter is a real success. Since its launch in 2009 nearly two billion dollars has been pledged funding 90 000 creative projects from a halloween costume to a glowing plant. Almost half of all the projects has reached their funding goals which is pretty impressive. The most pledged project is Pebble Time smartwatch which got over twenty million dollars.
A very interesting crowdfunded project is CHIP by Next Thing Co., a nine dollar real fully functional computer which has not only open source operating system but also open source hardware. The pledgers are promised to get their own pieces in the early 2016. Next Thing Co. asked for fifty thousand but got over two million, so people really believe in CHIP. I am eager to see what happens.
CHIP really is something extraordinary. If there were such a computer available it would not make much sense to buy an average Windows machine for 400 dollars. Furthermore, a nine dollar computer would be affordable nearly anywhere in the world.
Did Next Thing Co. succeed or not, which I believe they do, CHIP really shows the direction of the world today. Soon we will see a nine dollar smartphone, a nine dollar computer nine times better than CHIP, and the original CHIP for one dollar. In short, computers will become effectively costless.
In practice the technology we use for spreading our knowledge is Internet. As it has become more and more widespread and fast, other communication technologies, like telephone lines, have died out and now Internet is along with the GSM network practically the only communication technology we use. Also GSM is fading out slow.
This means that we have become very dependent on Internet. It broadcasts our news and mediates our WhatsApp messages. Internet becomes especially vital in crisis situations in which the line between life and death is often drawn by newscast.
The structure of Internet is such that a client, for example a smartphone, makes contact with a router, for example a commercial 4g mast. The router then connects to another higher level router and so on reaching finally the other end, for example a website server machine. Nearly all routers and transmission lines are maintained by commercial network operators like AT&T.
Internet therefore heavily leans on networking corporations. This is scary because if a total economic crisis takes place, along other businesses the one of network operators freezes. The operators collapse taking Internet down with them. The situation could not be worse: there is a crisis going on and the vital facility, the newscast, does not work.
There is also another problem. In 2013 Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, leaked a large amount of classified documents that revealed that USA and other countries have been spying ordinary citizens in an enormous scale by secretly hiring network operators to listen Internet and GSM traffic, social media services to record messages and user behaviour and software corporations to create backdoors to their products.
For example NSA's massive surveillance tool PRISM collects private data via productsa and services of Microsoft, Google, facebook, Apple and many other companies. Our e-mails, facebook messages, geographic locations, website visits and numerous other things are recorded and sent to spying agencies.
In hindsight it seems totally idiotic that we needed Snowden to tell us that these kind of things happen. If the people in power have such an easy opportunity to gather information on millions of citizens, why wouldn't they exploit it?
Many people respond to the spying problem by just saying 'I've got nothing to hide!' I believe you don't. Me neither. I believe that at some point in the future we understand each other so well that we do not need any privacy at all.
But the problem is that the government - or perhaps I should just say the rich elite - has an exclusive access to the spied data which it can use to promote its own interests. The people cannot do the same and so the legal effective dictatorship of the rich gets a heavy illegal boost.
Actually the response to Snowdens's leaks seems to be quite absurd: corporations are now more insolent than ever and tell people that they spy on them as can be read for example from the user agreement of Windows 10 and the general public accepts that.
The part of the spying problem which comes from malicious software on users device, like Microsoft Windows, can be handled by switching to free software, for example Debian Linux on traditional computers and Replicant on mobile devices. Free software is safe because of the freedom to study the program. If somebody tried to inject a spying piece of code into a free software someone would soon notice and report it.
The part of the problem which comes from using social media like facebook can be overcome only by avoiding such services. The new social media Minds seems to be a safe option.
A third free trade agreement under negotiation, TiSA, features an attack on free software. It prohibits a country from enacting open source software mandates.
The vulnerability of Internet in crisis situations and governments ability to listen our data traffic comes from one single feature of Internet: its centralized nature.
The solution is so-called mesh network. In a mesh network there is no centralised routers or transmission lines; instead, clients are directly connected to other clients. In a mesh network your cell phone would be connected to cell phones of people near you and those to cell phones near them. In this way a connection to any device which is reachable by a series of devices can be made.
In a mesh network there is an equality of devices. There are no centralized routers or transmission lines so spying is way much more difficult and expensive than it is in Internet.
Because a mesh network depends only on its client devices but not on any commercial network operators, it works as long as there are clients. It is not touched by economic collapses.
The decentralized nature of a mesh network also makes it difficult to establish cencorship or by brute force disturb communication. In short, a mesh network is extremely robust and reliable.
The problem of mesh networks is capacity. It is difficult to find a path to the other end of the world and it is difficult to transfer lots of data through a chain of smartphones or similar devices. Streaming HD video through a mesh network over a long distance is not in sight.
However, the most important form of information is text which does not require broadband network connections. Vital pieces of information like news in a crisis situation can be very well transmitted through a mesh network. A realistic solution is that a mesh network is used as a robust backbone and Internet communications as shortcuts for high-speed data transfer.
Pieter Hintjens, the author of the book Culture and Empire, is interested in developing a global mesh network.
So what should we actually do?
We must simply favor free knowledge so strongly that intellectual property fades away. So read Wikipedia instead of Encyclopaedia Britannica and use Linux instead of Windows. Whenever possible, choose to use and enjoy free over proprietary textbooks, software, design and so on.
In politics support and vote parties like Pirate Party whom central theme is to lighten intellectual property laws. Pirate Party may have a provocative name, but it understands the power of free knowledge. If you can, resist the free trade agreements in which the word 'free' does not point at freedom of an individual but at a freedom of a wealthy corporation to enslave citizens. The TTP agreement includes fortifyings to the present intellectual property law - completely the opposite of what we should target.
If you have some surplus money, donate it to someone who has some use for it. It doesn't make sense to sit on a stack of money while somewhere else there are desperate needs for it.
It is not so important who you are donating to; just make sure they need the money more than you do. Your jobless friend in hospital, starving children in Africa, the GNU project, Wikipedia, Wikileaks, World Health Organization, World Wide Fund for Nature. Countless interesting crowdfunding projects.
It is also good to educate yourself about the modern world. We are living an age of rapid changes and the things traditionally taught at history and social studies classes at school are not enough. Today we need to understand the roles played by information technology and corporate power.
There is one opus which has had an impact greater than any other on my understanding of the modern world. Pieter Hintjens' book Culture and Empire, free and readable online at cultureandempire.com, conducts a deep analysis on the importance of knowledge, psychology of communities, co-operation, telecommunication technology, intellectual property laws, modern corruption and privacy issues.
Spread the word
Most people are not truly conscious about our present problems, like inequality, corporate overpower, surveillance and pollution nor the solution to these problems, namely killing the concept of intellectual property.
It is therefore very important to make noise. Tell your friends, schoolmates, colleagues and family about these issues, use social media, and if you happen to be a celebrity, take advance of it.
Make your life an example. Show that you can live better, happier and freer and be a more precious citizen if you do not compete on monetary wealth, power and social status! Be brave to hold tight on truly important things and to relinquish others.
If you find yourself having some thoughts of your own, write them down or shoot them on a film. Climb on the roof of a building and scream them out loud.
The Zeitgeist Movement announces some of the issues I've been talking about and the movie Zeitgeist: Addendum is a good introduction to the issues of the modern world. However, TZM is a movement, and as such in danger to became just a name with no content. I prefer to stay independent and promote just values and thoughts.
Among all the things an individual can do one holds a special position.
Give your knowledge to the world!
If you ever get an idea, write a book, compose a song, code a software or design a machine, in general, if you ever manage to bring any new knowledge to the world, set it free and give it to the world! It is simply the most powerful way of driving our world towards a world of free knowledge.
Contribute to free knowledge projects like Wikipedia, GNU or Replicant, which is a free software smartphone operating system. Use Minds, a secure option for rotten social medias like facebook. Learn about mesh network projects.
We have a good amount of free software and we have Wikipedia. What we do not have much are free blueprints for devices for local production. Found a project designing such! If you need money, try crowdfunding. And don't underestimate the power of co-operation. Contribute to Libredence, a wiki focusing on methods for producing all our basic needs locally.
It is not completely obvious how to make a piece of work free. An ambiguous statement like "you can freely use this work" is not courtproof and people may feel unsecure about using your work.
Because of that there are well-written and lawproof copyright license statements which can be used by anyone to specify the terms and conditions of usage. The famous GNU General Public License was written by Richard Stallman in 1989 to be used for free software.
For other works than software, for example books, Creative Commons offers several license statements. Using a copyright license is easy, you just clearly mention in your work that it licensed under a 'this and that' license.
Our future is a future of freedom, truth, equality, compassion, trust. How long it is going to take to get there is up to you and me. But what ever happens, future will come.