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[liberationtech] Monolithic views of government and the military: Good or Evil?

Shava Nerad shava23 at
Tue Dec 6 00:37:24 PST 2011

On Tue, Dec 6, 2011 at 12:48 AM, Yosem Companys <companys at>wrote:

> Interesting coincidence that while liberationtech was talking about
> funding and net activism, the hacker spaces (e.g., Noisebridge, HackerDojo,
> etc.) have been having a similar discussion...
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Christie Dudley <longobord at>
> Date: Mon, Dec 5, 2011 at 8:30 PM
> Subject: Re: [hackerdojo] DARPA Funding for Hackerspaces: Good or Evil?
> To: hackerdojo at
> To throw some fuel on the fire here, I'd like to point out that the Tor
> project, an important privacy tool that is used worldwide by dissidents and
> ordinary people has received funding from, among many others, the US Navy.
> Now, I fully trust that it's in no way compromised by this or Jake
> Applebaum would never work on such a project. The Navy's goals just
> happened to be in line with the freedom of expression goals of the project
> and they accepted funding.
> The question is whether the funding was accepted judiciously. Are there
> strings attached? Would they ask you to do something you would not be doing
> anyway? If so, does it enhance or detract from your own goals? Does it
> enhance their goals in ways you're uncomfortable with? Does it further
> their goals in ways you're uncomfortable with. I think these are more
> interesting questions than "should you work with them at all?"
> I am definitely against war. I also think the military that we currently
> have is outrageously overextended for what we really need to protect our
> territory. However, I'm willing to minimally participate in an effort if it
> has the potential to save taxpayers money and American servicemen's lives.
> I mean seriously, that's OUR money they're spending so carelessly out there.

I imagine Andrew Lewman might respond here with similar or variant opinions
on just the Tor points having to do with this rant, but let me chime in my

Please bear with me; I've been thinking about these points a great deal
lately.  I do invite feedback -- even strong feedback.

This is, in fact, the third time the question of Tor's funding has come up
in more or less this exact sort of "ooo, ikky" sort of context here and
elsewhere this month, and it just seems like the greater questions it
suggests (at least to me) in the community of practice are large.

First, the direct response, regarding Tor and funding sources:

As some of y'all may know I was executive director of Tor when the project
went from unincorporated open source project to US 501c3 (US tax service
NGO/registered charity status), so that's pretty much my fault. ;)  My goal
early in that process was to emphasize Tor's use in free press/free
speech/human rights/democracy/... sorts of purposes, and to seek
sustainable funding from those sources -- a very liberationtech sort of
agenda, and fitting with my rolodex in public interest Internet going back
a couple decades or so, depending on how you want to count.

As a third generation activist, at least, I come from a strong strategic
and tactical family culture having to do with negotiation, funding,
interested parties,...  It's actually the family business.  So my goal with
Tor was to get the project in the position where funding came from a
variety of sources, none with strings that would compromise integrity, and
no funding that we couldn't drop if it tried to compromise integrity.  So,
that means no funding source, ideally, should ever be more than 10%, at
very most 20% of project funding.  Also, personnel should understand going
in that if funding earmarked for a project gets borked by "strings" that a
contract will be broken rather than continued.

With a culture of integrity -- where the continuation of the organization
is focused on the integrity of mission rather than the continuation of
budget -- you actually have more freedom to pick up funding from more
sources if you are willing to take heat from people who won't like who you
take money from.

Now, let's examine this in the light of a project that is not Tor but was
like Tor -- I'm going to make stuff up here.  Say there were a group that
was providing Internet circumvention training to activists in the Middle
East and North Africa.  Now, say they took funding from the US State
Department.  Oh, that's bad.  A lot of people don't like the US, in MENA.
 But then, say they took funding from Hamas.  Oh, that's bad.  A lot of
people don't like Hamas.  But then, say a Jewish philanthropist decided
that democracy in MENA was a road to better possibilities for good faith
negotiations for peace with Israel, and gave a large donation, and talked
about this to the press, and the organization took the money, said this
man's agenda was not their agenda, but that they would use the money for
exactly the same things they always meant to in the first place.  Oh,
that's bad, the man is Jewish, and look what he's saying about Israel and
stuff, and look at what he's said in the past about two state solutions and
all that and about Jerusalem, and all.  And then say they took money from
the Saudi royal family -- so why, do you think, someone in the Saudi royal
family would be giving money to this charity that's funding organizers in
the Arab Spring (et al) movements?  Suspect...!

Do you see?  If you restrict money for a project that is used by
controversial parties, eventually there is no source of funding that is
uncontroversial.  Eventually, the *only* sane solution is to take money
from people who seem sane, ethical in a reasonable sense (I personally
sometimes referred to this as "slime quotient" - an obviously precise term
of art), were legal in the US where we operate, and produced low and
acceptable PR risk.

>From here on, I'm entirely on my own, and diverging from anything remotely
having to do with Tor.  Here on out, consider this a rant.  As a
disclaimer, I define myself as a "Suntzu pacifist."  This is to say, war is
a terrible waste, and a horror, and I wish I lived in a world where it
never ever happened.  And Suntzu, in the Art of War, points out that by the
time combat is engaged on the field, well over 90% of the victory
conditions have been abandoned.

Anything that could be gained by diplomacy, intimidation, trickery, royal
marriage, whatever -- there are so many things that are preferable to
spilling blood.  It's by definition the last recourse a soldier *or* a
general wants to take.  War is horrible.  It is noble to be willing to face
unavoidable horror on behalf of others, but it is not desirable, ever.

Any time combat is engaged, it represents a failure of diplomacy, trade,
cultural exchange, and all the many measures that allow us to live in a
globalized world that is, in large part, peaceful.  But these failures,
however they come to be, seem to happen, and with whatever lack of
transparency to true casus belli, they represent some powerful interests
throwing the military into the bloody field.  The military is not hungering
to die or to kill, for the most part, although there are individuals that
do, just as there are in civilian life (and perhaps in greater
concentration).  But demonizing the military is the greatest error that a
peace activist can, IMO, make.

Beyond that, another factor is what I think of as the monolithic fallacy of
government, including the military.  It may seem anaethma to some, but a
great deal of basic research and innovation has been channeled through the
military in the US during war and peacetime for many decades.  DARPA is
responsible for the Internet's inception, GPS, and a lot of other things
you probably know less well, like timesharing systems, VLSI chip design,
and a whole lot of computer tech -- and well beyond that, I think this
crazy thing called the helicopter, which I still don't understand how it
works and a bunch of other useful things.

Then there are terribly wasteful and scary projects like the so called
"Star Wars" space defense project in the 1980s.  When I was on the staff at
MIT, my then-fiance and also my best friend from college worked for a
charming material sciences genius, Jim Cornie, who worked in metal ceramic
material composite wires.  Just wires.

As he said, they could be used in satellites, or baby carriages.  Jim got
the biggest Star Wars grant in the northeastern US, and the public
television station in Boston, WGBH-TV, decided to invite him to a debate on
whether Star Wars would work as a missile defense system, and he said sure,
he'd be happy to participate.  Jim was a buddhist and a pacifist.  He was
also the world expert at making...wires.

So he showed up at the WGBH studios, and there were two peace activists on
one side of the moderator podium, and a gent in uniform from the Office of
Navy Research on the other side, and a seat for Jim next to him.  And Jim
pointed and he said, "You put my seat on the wrong side," to the moderator.

Flustered, the moderator said, "What do you mean?" but the moderator was
not nearly as flustered as the guy from ONR.

"I don't believe for a moment that the Star Wars system as a whole has a
chance in hell of working as a missile defense system," said Jim.  "But I
do think my wires will make better satellites.  Better baby carriages too.
 Better TV satellites, too.  Doesn't matter.  They're wires."

As I remember, 'GBH ran a repeat of some news special that hour, rather
than the debate as scheduled.  The ONR guy refused to go one against three.

It was hilarious.  I loved him.  But he was the best guy at making that
kind of wires, in the whole world -- and they didn't yank his funding.  He
was right -- his wires made better satellites (and baby carriages).

So, on top of this, there are a lot of folks in the military -- and many of
you will not believe me, but I have family in the US military (in fact, a
son at Norwich University) -- who want less war.  Maybe no war.  They would
love a sunset clause, but don't see it in their future.

They see the casus belli as external to the military, and the military as
the tool of those external powers, to a very large extent.  Now, you can
think of "military funding" as the "love of money" root of all evil of the
Military/Industrial Complex, but in fact it's often the consolation prize
thrown to science and society amid the waste and horror that much of the
money goes to.

It would be nice if we had a way to split pure research money out, or
crypto money out, or whatever money out that we take as the bone tossed to
us, but if we get that bone tossed, as a pragmatist, I say take it --
because we will not change the system from outside, and my nonviolent
organizing training says that the only way to change a system is by
understanding the culture, the needs of the members of the culture, and
being able to negotiate with the folks on the other side of the table in
their own language with credibility.

So if you hate war, and you think the military is bad, perhaps you should
be (and perhaps you already are) studying military history, military
budgets, military culture, getting to know people who work for the
military, military contractors, who decides who goes to war *really* and
who determines how troops are deployed and when they are withdrawn, how the
State Department interacts with all of this and how diplomatic measures are
used and by-passed or eroded by Congress or Executive Branch measures
(speaking in terms of the US here), and so on.

I have the outline of a book in draft called "Study War More."  If you can
imagine the cover, imagine a protest sign with the old spiritual,

Ain't Gonna
War No

But with the words Ain't Gonna and No crossed out.  This is what we have to
do to reduce war.  In the 60s, the civil rights movement was highly
disciplined -- both the nonviolent and violent sides, for the most part --
because that was a civil war. There was a far higher chance of ending up
dead in the deep south or LA than even at somewhere like Kent State or the
Chicago Democratic Convention.  The SCLC and the Panthers were a bit less
casual than most of the anti-war movement.

I shock some of my students by defining formal nonviolent social change
movements to be where the charismatic leadership of a weaker force in an
asymmetrical civil war uses moral principles to enforce discipline around
eschewing violence in order to shame the greater force into reducing
casualties where the military advantage is overwhelming; where the goal is
to win hearts and minds of the general population and to reintegrate into
one society on the cessation of conflict, by use of truth and
reconciliation if there is a victory for the weaker force.

In this sense, formal nonviolent social change is the opposite of domestic
terrorism, and more powerful and pervasive, and that is why governments
prefer insurgencies, in my opinion.  But true formal nonviolent movements
of critical mass are hard to organize and maintain.  We don't see them
often, and more often see small formal movements surrounded by autonomous
informal nonviolent and perhaps even violent movements either of which can
compromise their effectiveness.

The anti-Vietnam War movement of the late 60s was not a formal nonviolent
movement in the sense cited above.  It did not have disciplined leadership
in the same sense (SCLC-style) -- it was anarchic.  I don't mean that in a
perjorative sense -- my grandparents were syndicalists.  But it does mean
that there were not measures taken, from inception, to prevent demonization
of The Other.

So The Establishment -- pigs, suits, military, teachers, bureaucracy,
politicians, whoever -- were made alien and bad, and when the war ended,
there was no reconciliation.  A huge slice of young people from the 60s and
early 70s in the US went from anti-war to apolitical, disaffected from
civic life, immediately disillusioned by Watergate, ensconced themselves in
cul-de-sacs and raised their genX and genY kids with no sense of civic
engagement at all.

Meanwhile another cohort of boomers who considered the anti-war college
kids to be damn hippies, the lot of them, dug in and raised their kids to
distrust shallow intellectuals and "activists."   Two generations later, we
have confused Tea Party and Occupiers, all weaned on 180 second TV news
(and sometimes YouTube), and teachers that are afraid to teach history or
civic affairs in depth.

And we have peace activists that hate the military, rather than just hating
war (even if you don't define yourself among them), such that people of
good character and liberation-minded folks wouldn't think, generally, of
careers -- as a peaceful insurgency -- in the military or law enforcement,
or perhaps in civil service, politics, or various other bits of The
Establishment.  A tattered liberal heritage of the 60s -- before the 60s it
was not liberal or conservative to be in the military, even war was not the

So, this has ranged a great deal -- but if we are to speak of liberation,
and revolutions, and often the wars and insurgencies that accompany them,
then perhaps war and military affairs, and diplomacy and governments, and
government funding, and the cleanliness of such things is cogent to our

There is a romance that says rebellion is good, and establishment is bad;
static is bad and revolution and change are better.  It is not always so.
 The Balkan Wars can be seen in a lens where genocide could be seen as a
change, a revolution.  Many fascist movements are "taking back" something
"for the people," which can be seen supported by some of the most amazing
artists and poets in the 30s in Europe as a liberating philosophy, if you
read the history of the time.

We need to be sober and deliberate in our judgement of what is liberation,
what is war, what is peace, what is clean and good and what is bad and
unclean.  We will always ALWAYS live with ambiguity (and God knows, working
with crypto tools, and anonymity systems, you learn to come to peace with
that!) -- you learn about two edged swords, and balances of power, and
civil liberties used by people you hate.

But when we find ourselves judging that something is, absolutely, good or
bad, because a class of people, an institution, a group, a movement, is
good or bad -- we need to watch, to check our generalizations, to look for
our scope and our level of granularity, to look for habits and places we've
been conditioned to think a particular way, to question the media we've
been fed, to look for varying sources and weigh their reliability.  We need
to find good counselors and mentors who have experience on the ground in
areas of practice where we have less experience, people who we decide have
uncommon amounts of common sense, and lean on those people -- people
ideally we know in real life, not just online, who we feel are grounded and
whole and sane in their capacity for judgement.

We are often making decisions here that can touch lives, tap hoops that
move movements.  Each one of us is a trust, in our own way, so this list in
some ways is a "sangha" -- a company of seekers of liberation (if you'll
excuse the pun) -- and I hope a safe place for people to question, question
each other, question how things are, where they are going, and how they
should be.

Thanks for sticking with my midnight rant.


Shava Nerad
shava23 at
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