Back from Paris where I spoke on a panel at Vox-Internet’s conference with Herbert Berkert, who was wry, penetrating and charming as always.
It was very interesting to meet a representative of the free software tribe, who was vociferous in criticism of Assocation for Progressive Communications, and particularly what he saw as their 4 reps on the WGIG. The passion was undeniable, but also the complete lack of diplomatic skills.
He and Herbert confirmed in my mind that 3 incompatible systems (in the LUhmann sense) are trying to co-exist in the Internet governance discussion. First, government reasserting its sovereignty over the Internet, what Herbert calls the ‘repatriation’. domestication or ‘regeographicisation’ of the net (including DRM, IPv6 and firewalling. But also biological/trusted identity creation). He also called it the postmodernisation of the infrastructure, because all these dainty old-fashioned techniques are reimposed on the 21st century, rather like stressed steel and plate glass being topped by fake spires and cupolas in architecture. Not surprising, and demonstrating that we have moved forward, from ‘code is law’ to ‘code is not law’ – and certainly not back to ‘l’etat c’est moi’ (and my corporate feudal lords) as some French Foucaultists claim.
Second, civil society – in the post-ideological state, the politically correct rainbow coalitions are everywhere – even in the UN. This is not new, the World Social Summit is 5 years old, the actions against the MAI from OECD were almost a decade ago, the resistance to the New World Order is passionate – as Herbert said, it’s déjà vu all over again, to NWICO in the 1980s and the anti-capitalist movement then.
Third, the nweebs, the tecchies – and the Stallmanites will lose, just as the Cerfs are reduced to well-meaning advocates wrapped in corporate clothes. Cerf or Stallman, Andreesen or Ted Nelson – visionary loses to pragmatist. The problem is that most of these guys have no social or political skills.
In contrast, the civil society advocates have lots of political skills – and have taken over from the techies. Given that the functionalists in the ITU are anti-IP, or at least pro-capitalist, and that leaves few places for free software to go (despite its merits and integrity). So Lessig might try, but increasingly ‘law is code’ is the future. Herbert called it the Law of the Suppression of the Radical Potential of Technology’ after a book of the mid-80s, ‘Misunderstanding Media’, and it’s true. With ITU seeing next generation networks absorbing IP into its carrier-class networks, is the Internet over?
So the beast is tamed by the power system and by its failure to engage in the language of politics. Might is right, and political correctness more important than technical correctness. JP Barlow would weep…