Information Wars – Offa Whitesun
Regimes across the Middle East are toppling and modern technology is playing a significant part in that process. Even states which have complete control over the media cannot prevent people from filming events and posting them on You Tube. Similarly, no amount of state propaganda can keep people docile when they are able to share their grievances with each other over various social networking sites. Of course, this is all being portrayed as ‘people power’, ‘democracy’, and such like. But could the unprecedented extent of information dissemination have other consequences?
One of the more interesting challenges to those who seek to control information in 2010 c.e. was the exponential rise in power of Wikileaks. The whistle-blowing website began in 2007 c.e. with the intention of exposing the behaviour of oppressive governments. In the last year it has released video footage of an American attack on civilians and journalists in Iraq, 90,000 documents concerning the Afghanistan war, 400,000 documents concerning the Iraq war and 250,000 secret American cables. All of this has resulted in huge publicity and a genuine challenge to existing power structures.
By the end of the year the American government appeared to be running around like headless chickens in an attempt to shut down Wikileaks. In December Wikileaks suffered a major cyber-attack, possibly carried out by the American government, and switched its server to Amazon. Amazon quickly dumped Wikileaks after the American government applied pressure. Mastercard, Paypal, Bank of America and other companies also refused to service Wikileaks after the American government had written to them stating that Wikileaks was an illegal organisation. Many supporters of Wikileaks retaliated by carrying out cyber-attacks against companies which had dropped Wikileaks, resulting in some of those companies’ websites crashing.
Clearly, there are major forces at work, expending vast amounts of effort and money, who wish to stop Wikileaks. Why should this be of interest to us? The currency that Wikileaks deals in is information. In this respect it is no different from spies and whistle-blowers from earlier times. Mark Felt, for example, fed information about the Watergate break-in to the Washington Post resulting in the resignation of Richard Nixon (as dramatised in the film All the President’s Men). The distinguishing feature of Wikileaks is that it has now become possible for vast amounts of data to be copied onto a tiny device and then leaked anonymously on the internet. The whole process has become easier, quicker, more efficient and more difficult to trace due to the nature of modern technology. These information wars can also be looked at from a more esoteric angle.
More than twenty years ago an English occultist named Ramsey Dukes was developing a theoretical idea which came to be known as Johnstone’s Paradox. Dukes was associated with the Chaos Magick scene and was particularly interested in computer technology and what it could mean for our ideas of human consciousness. He was an early explorer of the concepts of virtual reality and artificial intelligence before they became commonplace terms.
Johnstone’s Paradox is concerned with what computer technology might have to teach us about our consciousness and its place in the universe. In brief, Dukes takes the proposition that the universe is a purely material construct. Everything consists of matter, and so therefore intelligence and consciousness are merely the effects of chemical reactions in the brain. There is no magic, no spirit, no soul, just material processes which give rise to the perception that those things exist. Consciousness is a natural result of vastly complex neural networks. If this materialist proposition is correct, Dukes continues, then it means that it is theoretically possible to reproduce these neural networks in a computer model and thus to reproduce consciousness in a computer. If it is theoretically possible to reproduce consciousness in a computer it would seem almost certain that this will indeed happen at some point in the future. Similarly, if human consciousness could be modelled in a computer then it would seem equally likely that at some point there would be the creation of multiple intelligences who would interact with each other. From here it is not a large leap to imagine that whole towns, countries or worlds could be modelled in a virtual reality environment with complete populations who are possessed with the illusion of consciousness – “illusion” because they are really nothing more than information in a computer.
Now for the paradox: if it is likely that, in a materialist universe, there will be a plethora of virtual universes created, then it becomes extremely unlikely that we, ourselves, happen to be living in the one “real” universe; instead, it is almost certain that we inhabit one of the many virtual universes. Thus, the materialist paradigm disappears in its own logic. Dukes makes the point that it is not the actual truth or falsity of the paradox that is important, but the fact that, as we become more accustomed to such ideas as artificial intelligence, more people will believe that we live in a virtual world. The popularity of the film The Matrix seems to support this view.
An exoteric counterpoint to Dukes’ theory is the Holographic Theory of the Universe. To summarise as briefly as possible, this scientific theory came about when trying to explain what happens when something is pulled into a black hole. It appears that a black hole will consume anything, but that when it does it leaves absolutely no trace of it whatsoever; the information simply disappears, in contravention of physical law. In order to explain this apparent anomaly, the Holographic theory suggests that when something falls into a black hole its information is projected holographically to the event horizon of that black hole, where it will appear invisible to outside observers. Our universe is seriously considered, by many physicists, to be a holographic projection of a dead universe, projected onto the edge of a black hole. Our universe is, therefore, ‘unreal’: pure information. The truth or otherwise of this theory, and of Johnstone’s Paradox, is less important than the fact that it seems to be an inevitable outcome of a belief in a purely materialistic universe. The materialistic serpent consumes itself and a new age dawns.
For most Westerners these ideas will be extremely challenging, if not downright preposterous. The idea that the world is nothing but a holographic projection, or a computer simulation, seems to defy common sense. But there are many people who follow Traditional religions for whom the idea that the world is an illusion will be a familiar one.
In this regard, Dukes makes an interesting comment: “It could be much easier for some other cultures to accept artificial intelligence simply because their more recent animistic traditions would allow there to be a ‘spirit’ in a computer, just as easily as in a tree or a river. If this is indeed so, we might soon find information technology romping ahead in the Far East, while we in the West still struggle against the limits imposed by our conviction that these are ‘mere machines’.”
This is a prescient observation. Wikileaks and the American government are not the only major players in the information wars. Two years ago a US army officer stationed in the Middle East found a discarded memory stick. He put it into his laptop and it appeared to be empty. In fact, it contained a Trojan virus which embedded itself into the American military computer network and was able to send secret information for weeks before being discovered. It is believed to have originated in China. Not long afterwards, the American National Grid became infected with a virus from China designed to shut it down. And in an incident in 2010 15% of the world’s internet traffic was hijacked by Chinese servers where it will have been copied. In 2009 there were co-ordinated cyber-attacks launched against military, banking and media sources in South Korea. The obvious guilty party would be North Korea but these attacks can be impossible to trace to the source. When the South Koreans investigated the matter they found that the attacks were launched from six computers scattered around the world, with the order to attack coming from a server in Brighton.
Apparently, the Chinese are way ahead of the West in these sorts of cyber-attacks, being able to develop and implement new computer systems far more quickly. This may indeed show that the Far East is ahead of the West in its understanding of the new information wars.
As is the case with terrorist attacks, conventional defence budgets are of no use in defending us against cyber-attacks. We only have to consider how many of our basic services are entirely dependent upon correctly running computer systems to realise how vulnerable we are. This vulnerability can also be highlighted with another example. A few months ago, shortly after the General Election in this country, the Dow Jones Share Index in New York fell briefly by 9%. The cause of this drop was apparently a “fat finger” error, when someone who was trading shares in Procter & Gamble accidentally typed a ‘b’ instead of an ‘m’, turning ‘million’ into ‘billion’.
It is important to be aware of how vulnerable all of our basic services are due to their being embedded in a global information web. Even without foreign powers, terrorists or hackers actively trying to crash these networks, they can be vulnerable to accidental and unpredictable factors. There need be no obvious build up to a dramatically deteriorating apocalyptic scenario; in fact we are constantly only a few days away from it, and it is just luck that prevents it from coming.
It is essential therefore to be as well prepared as possible for a situation where computer networks cease to function and essential services consequently fall into chaos. The necessary preparations are explained in many places throughout Woden's Folk’s literature. Although few people will be carrying out every single one of these preparations it is essential that we try to implement as many as possible. A good way to test your preparedness is to try living without gas, electricity and petrol, and without visiting any shops, for a few days. How would you provide light in the evening? Would you have enough warm clothing to be comfortable? If not, and you were unable to buy any, is there someone in your family who would be able to make clothes, either by knitting or by some other means? If so, would you have enough material to hand? And so on.
These preparations are essential for our physical survival, but we must also be prepared for the fact that we are likely to face challenges to some of the most basic assumptions that underlie our view of the world.
It is, therefore, also essential to prepare ourselves spiritually by having in place an alternative narrative to the present Western myth of endless progress. Again, this can be found in the new mythology of Woden's Folk, based as it is on our Traditional ways of being. This spiritual dimension is not an optional luxury. Just consider the fact that if there are prolonged problems with the technology used in hospitals then many more people will start to die. More mothers and babies will die in childbirth. In such a situation most people will be unable to make sense of what is happening as they are only aware of one possible reality: the myth of continual Western progress. Just consider how many people now blame the government for floods, rain, snow and other natural phenomena. When healthcare starts to fail most people will wait for the government to solve the problem, but we are really now beyond the point where our societies can be saved. In such a situation it will only be people who can see things in a religious context who will have some understanding of what is going on. This spiritual dimension is mostly derided in our secular society but it is likely to be an essential weapon in coming decades.
All of this is intended to show that many of the things we take for granted will not always be so. Materialism and technology are rampant now, but they contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. When they implode it will create huge challenges. But if we are sufficiently prepared we may yet be able to seed a new world from the ashes.