Selection from Philippe Breton, relating to Wikileaks

Litwin Books will soon be publishing an English translation of Philippe Breton’s 2000 book, Le culte de l’Internet: Une menace pour le lien social?, under the English title: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies. Here is a bit from Chapter Four that comes to mind for me in relation to the Wikileaks discussion:

In the world of the new information technologies, the theme of “transparence” frequently returns under forms more or less vulgarized. Transparence is at work from the beginning: computers, then the networks, the new magic wands, are supposed to make transparent whatever they touch. One often hears it said, for example, that informatics and now the networks are capable of “making government transparent.” For a long time the same thing has been said in reference to business. The Internet thus presents itself as a tool enabling the struggle against “opacity,” the key anti-value of that universe.

That value has also erupted in the world of politics. Thus, the Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, at the inauguration of the 19th Summer University of Communications on the 25th of August 1998 declared that “the entry of our country into the information society” corresponded to “more access to knowledge and culture, more employment and growth, more public service and transparence, more democracy and liberty.” Here transparency is put on the same level as these other values judged to be fundamental. Transparence is an ideal that serves to exalt, but also, above all, to exclude: what is transparent is, by nature, more evolved, more advanced. “Power,” because it is assumed to be the retention of information, is on the side of the dark and the old. “Cooperation,” a notion even much more abstract, is on the side of light. “Start-ups” are presented as models of non-hierarchical societies where everything is transparent in every respect. On the side of power, law is more and more presented as an obstacle to putting in place a global information society. In cyberspace, one hears repeated in unison that there is no need for law, least of all national or international laws.

In order to carry out their mission, which is to support the light, information systems themselves must be transparent. From this perspective, all desire to separate systems, to protect them from “external intrusion,” is therefore considered antinomian. A good system should be open, transparent. The new religiosity is profoundly antagonistic to the constraints and necessities of what the professionals call “information security,” which is simply a variation of the security of goods and persons.

As one can see from some of the examples cited, the pursuit of an ideal of transparence implies the negative equalification of everything which is secret, of the hidden, the private, the intimate, the profound, the non-visible. The actual annihilation of the “non-visible,” deemed opaque, cannot help but be an attack on barriers, frontiers, on all separations which impede the flow of information, the “generalized interconnection” and the final transparence of the world.

Many of these barriers would be particularly valuable to target and become the object of a will to subversion, as for example, to take the most important of these, that which separates public from private life, law and juridical norms, all the norms which would impede the “free circulation” of information on the network, and finally, last but not least, the embodiment of speech as an obstacle to free communication. The ideal of transparence above all takes the form of a war against opacity and obscurity. The new religiosity takes us into a new time through a binary vision of the world. On the one side, information, openness, light; on the other, closure, entropy, disorder, Evil. In one case, a “solar” mode (the planet described by Asimov was aptly named “Solaria”), in the other, shadows.

The struggle against shadows is a real fight, step by step, even if the participants do not always discern the scope and the stakes of the battle. Some are often more concerned with the abolition of the “insupportable frontiers” between the private and the public, others more motivated by the desire to make a leap over all the barriers to access to different parts of the great information network, while, finally, still others are particularly indignant at the restraints to the free circulation of ideas which are national laws, the institution of the rights of the author, or, in another area, the presence of numerous middle-men (teachers, businesspeople, journalists) who “interpose” themselves between producers and consumers.

Watch for this book this Spring.

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