Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Time Is Now Part 3: The Critical Battlefields Part 2

In the previous essay, I commented on the thrusts freedom lovers must undertake in the field of education. Educational efforts are inherently long-term efforts; they bear fruit only as the newly enlightened rise to their majorities and to political power. But our next topic is one with a nearer-term effect.

Today, let's discuss communications.

Americans are accustomed to an ease of communication unprecedented in world history and unknown practically anywhere else on Earth. We have a wide variety of ways to reach and talk to one another. All of them are private or can be made so, with a small number of exceptions under the law.

It's unlikely that those many routes toward one another will be legally foreclosed in an absolute fashion. (Imagine the reaction were cell phones to be declared illegal, or perhaps placed under a may-issue licensure regime!) But a regime determined to protect itself against organized resistance needn't do anything that drastic. Its principal need is to engender atomization: that is, to make it harder to each of us to find kindred spirits, and to trust them.

In this regard, consider the parallel case of the barter club. At one point such clubs were on the rise, and dramatically so at that. They appeared to be the next big weapon for the resistance of oppressive taxation. Yet not long after they began to become popular, the trend reversed, such that today organized barter clubs are almost extinct. Why?

The reason, of course, was infiltration by tax agents and their boughten collaborators. When Smith doesn't know who's listening to his attempt to barter his eggs for Jones's time-share, he can't be certain he won't be betrayed and prosecuted. Even the suspicion of such surveillance was sufficient to put a severe damper on the re-emergence of barter in the underground economy.

The barter club's fatal weakness was an open door. There was no need for a new participant to "make his bones," such that he would be legally vulnerable to the loss of others' good will. So for Smith to observe that Davis, with whom he isn't personally acquainted, is paying a shade too much attention to his dickering with Jones will create a significant risk in Smith's mind.

Another example comes from the way the Left strove to insert racial agitators into TEA Party rallies. Once they were identified as such, they had to be removed, lest the group and the larger movement be tarred with the stain of the infiltrator. Attempts to degrade communications among opponents of the Omnipotent State are likely to use similar tactics to prevent resistance groups from forming and to undermine the cohesion of existing groups. Of course, the possibility that a new, unknown participant is a paid agent of the State must not be discounted either.

The communications problem may be decomposed into these elements:

  • Finding sincerely like-minded persons interested in collaborating on specific topics;
  • Organizing for whatever action is appropriate;
  • Preventing unwelcome exposure and infiltration by persons opposed to the group's agenda.

Let's imagine that our old friend Smith is interested in assembling a group for mutual aid via barter -- e.g., "I'll fix your furnace if you'll resurface his driveway so he'll mow my lawn" -- such that the increments to the participants' well-being wouldn't register as taxable income:

  • His first problem would be finding suitable others to join in the arrangement.
  • His second problem would be setting the rules of the association, including who may invite others to join it and under what conditions.
  • His third problem would be contriving a defense against unwelcome attention.

Of course, it would be best if the solution of these problems were a group effort, such that all the members contribute insights and efforts. However, at this point we confront the "80-20 Rule:" 80% of the work of any given organization is done by 20% of the membership. In organizations composed of "volunteers," the ratio is often far worse. Still, let's imagine that Smith gets such enthusiastic buy-in for his concept that everyone who elects to participate agrees to help with the burdens involved, at least by adhering to the rules that are agreed upon.

Clearly, Smith cannot profligately broadcast his intentions and activities to the world; he must seek out those persons he thinks would be suitable participants and address them privately. He and his fellows would then have to agree on how the exchange of mutual services would work: e.g., what each service is worth in comparison to others. They would also have to agree on constraining exposure to outsiders, such that anyone subsequently invited to join could be trusted. Finally, they would have to allow for the possibility of unwelcome exposure and plan how they would react to it: how the discoverer of a "mole" would confirm his discovery, inform the others, and plan a response. None of these things could be made to work if their exchanges could not be kept private.

An oppressive regime would be aware of this, as well. It would strive to open all communications pathways to its surveillance, rendering it impossible to have confidence in their privacy. It would create incentives for the betrayal of confidential arrangements "detrimental to the State." And of course, it would attempt to insert its agents into any organization that tries to keep its internal operations private.

Given the accelerating oppressiveness of Washington under either party's control, the effort to create secure communications pathways that we can defend must begin at once.

The Internet has been a mixed blessing. The opportunities it offers for anonymity and "identity management," while cherished by some, endanger anyone who seeks collaborators in an underground of any sort. He whose identity is concealed simply can't be trusted, nor can he whose bona fides can't be reliably established. So in the search for participants, the Internet will not be useful. It must be conducted by more secure means, with personal acquaintance being strongly preferred.

Once a group has coalesced, the problem changes somewhat. Public-private encryption schemes such as PGP can provide adequate security to email exchanges, with some caveats:

  • Messages must be kept short,
  • The keys must be changed frequently,
  • The exchange of public keys must take place in the flesh rather than over any communications medium.

Other approaches are all too vulnerable to trust.

Finally, the problem of unwelcome attention and infiltration by would-be traducers is principally a matter of not becoming visible. Good approaches to the first two problems will reduce the probability of a breach. However, it's unwise to trust to good fortune, especially given that the State will create incentives for the venal to infiltrate and expose such groups. Thus, the group must arrive at a means by which trusted members can be informed of a suspect member, and the suspect member can be isolated without further damage to the group. Unfortunately, in a situation such as the one proposed, a presumption of innocence is not prudent.

Communications is arguably the most immediately urgent of the freedom movement's challenges. The above is mainly an exposition on "why;" it's light on "how." But in this connection that's a virtue; with many groups pursuing individual approaches, we're more likely to come up with some good ones than if a single approach were imposed, top-down, on all.

More anon.

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