Monday, December 22, 2008

"Why Liberating Information is Part of the Modernist Project"

There is no need to liberate information for post-moderns. They have no faith that information as a discrete entity is worthy. It is all relational. No one bit of information is unrelated to its position to another. Moreover, the very integrity of information is called into question: The slippery slope that information provides in an ever shifting context. But, this modernist wants them to understand the context I study: suppressive and repressive state power, a powerful entity situated in the FBI.

Politics demand that we position the activity of the state in full context, and the full truth of their conduct must be studied and exposed. Information is integral to power. I am trying to construct a bottom-up, lived experience and point of view which challenges dominant government practices. (Now, I am aware of the difference between suppression and repression. I use these words carefully.) State power in America is suppressive on a mass level. It is repressive on on small level.

Liberating information from the government is a peoples' project. People are at the heart of modernism. People's rights, human rights in a democratic society, matter greatly and liberating information is part of a "reckoning" with the past. In the U.S., we need a truth commission to investigate the crimes by the state. More broadly, information access is critical to democratic, "open" societies.

Can the idea of an "open society" fit into a post-modern framework? I subbornly think of openness as one modernist counterstrategy by people without power to ensure that those at the top represent their interests. What use is openness when we are viewing a shifting, unstable, nonpermanent, and relational society, the post-moderns argue in my head.

What happens when an "open society" advocate is forced to encounter the secret FBI? My politics changed to open society advocate around 1998, when I went online for the first time and began researching the history of civil liberties, the FBI, and surveillance practices. At this time, I acted in politics: I started to use the Freedom of Information Act in an activist ways with multiple requests for FBI files. A decade later, I have have filed about 85 requests to the Bureau, using the information I get as primary sources in my writing.

Open society in a post-Cold War context is a progressive cause. During the long and wasteful Cold War, only right-wing conservatives discussed open society. They called it political freedom, embracing the U.S. government's wasteful fight against domestic and international Communism. An outlet such as Freedom House, although founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, echoed the worst elements of the Red Scare. Suppress dissent; suppress views in opposition to the government; equate disagreement with disloyalty. For them, freedom exists only in the context of conservative capitalist democracies.

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