Seeking Light in Dark times

There is a place for everyone on the internet. The internet has something for everyone.   But there are issues of privacy.  The internet never forgets.   It keeps the traces of our presence on it.  It makes us vulnerable and our will power can be hacked.  But there is  a space on the web  that protects  our anonymity  and we can  transact with  ‘masks’.   It is   a dark web.  It remains unknown to us.  It is a set of websites that can be accessed only through some special routing software.

The dark web is the unseen side of the internet. Maybe at these dark times of coronavirus, we can draw our attention to something that remains hidden to us about the internet.  We can breakdown the internet into three separate categories: surface web, deep web, and the dark  web. The surface web is anything that we surf on the web like youtube, twitter, Facebook , etc.  Everything that is available in the surface web is indexed by search engines like  google search or bing .  The surface web seems to be  massive. In terms of pure traffic, almost everything that we do is found here. It is open and available for all.

Next is the deep web.   It is that content on the internet that is not indexed by search engines but is afflicted by surveillance and spying.  The deep web is the most massive part of the internet. It contains 96% of everything that is there on the internet.  The dark web is one that is completely hidden to us. It uses strong and secure encryptions like onion routing.  Because of onion routing, we have darknets like Tor,  Freenet, I2P, ZeroNet, GNUnet,  etc .  It intentionally keeps the sites hidden and encrypted. Tor allows users to exchange information anonymously.   This means both publishers and visitors to this sites remain anonymous. It hides the IP addresses of the users as well as the geographical location of the websites that they access.

Tor is said to be funded in part by the US government. It was in fact produced undercover  by  the US navy.   US intelligence uses  the dark web for its operations.  Several governments and journalists and whistleblowers are using the darknet.  It has web pages that not available to the general public.  They are not in our usual or  but dot.onion type.  It is not always easy to access these dot.onion websites. We need routing software to do it.  Besides, some are hidden behind login walls.

The dark web is both cool and dangerous.  The dark web has places that sell fake passports, drugs, and arms. It seems to be a place for criminals.  People can trade on the dark web. But normal digital currency cannot be used as it can be tracked and those that engaged in it can be located and punished by the Governments.  This is where cryptocurrencies like bitcoins come handy.  Actually, the dark web led to the rise of bitcoin.

There are websites on the darknet that sell the personal data of the politicians, celebrities, and even ordinary persons like you and me. We can do very little about it.  There are still darker things on the dark web. There are services that claim to kill anyone you want in the world for a little sum. Some of them have been shown to be scams that cheat people.   There are also services selling real human organs. How they acquire them we can never know. Sites of child pornography also thrive on the dark web.

There are several other things on this deep and dark corner of the web.  It is populated by real people. They are next to us in the shopping centres, travel transit points, or even workplaces.  At first sight, it seems to be a huge criminal underground.  There is truth in this but the dark web is not entirely only a hideout of criminals. It being an uncensored webspace does provide the truth that powers that be would not want to be told.  There is no fear of censorship as well as physical threat.  It has become a great resource for whistleblowers.  We can find an uncensored Wikipedia on the dark web.  Journalists, scientists encrypt their communication on the dark web.  There is legitimate use of the dark web.

We do not really have privacy on the surface web. The dark web protects it. But it can be used   in a positive and negative way. It is up to the users. This is why  the dark web may not be dark by itself.  It is manner of its use is what renders it dark.  It can stop governments from overreaching their boundaries. It can keep people and their ideas safe.  We know that the internet never forgets. That is why the darknet becomes a secure space where one can work without sacrificing ones privacy.  Some say that darknet is space on the web that fights for our privacy.

Besides the dark web, we have the deep web.  It takes a vast space on the web.  It contains un-indexed websites.  Here there is personal information of people such as payrolls or heath records as well as private data of the corporations.  This un-index data is one that ‘Google does not know and care about’.  This means the deep web is not actively hidden but people and cooperates do not care about it.

How are we to respond to the theft of our privacy on the surface net?  Maybe we have to go dark.  There are options. We may have to use tools that protect our browsing activity. This is done by tools like tor and virtual private networks.  We may need PGP and encrypt services that keep emails private.  We need to encrypt our phone calls too.  Desire for privacy, anonymity, and security is becoming big business.  Privacy is fundamental to being a human being. It is our privilege and it is worth fighting for.

Observed life is not free life.  Technology can both enable and disable free life. Maybe we have to choose what we want. It appears that  the dark web has a promise to protect our hackability  to some extent.  A sight error on the part of the criminals in the dark web has proven costly for them.  Some of them got found out and got arrested.  For now,  we still have to carefully face the hackability of our life. `

Seeking Light in Dark times…….2

Finding light in the dark web is quite a task. The media has painted it as a place of complete darkness. There are indeed bright spots in the darknet. The New York Times has set up anonymous whistleblowing people to voice out government and corporate malfeasance. Political dissidents make use of anonymization and encryption networks to share their ideas. The dark web also shares the knowledge that empowers people. In fact ‘to go dark’ does not entirely mean to something completely wrong. It means to protect one’s privacy and intimacy. Going dark has to do with anonymization and encryption. Going dark thus means avoiding overly public channels of communications.

What makes dark web dark or bright depends on the builders and users of the websites. Dark web whether in its proper or criminal use is always wrought against the powers that be, particularly the state and the corporates. There exist a community that works on the dark web. We cannot ignore it. We cannot simply broad brush every one of them as having morally evil intend. Darknet is not totally morally dark much the same way the surface is not simply morally black or white. Maybe we may think of it as morally grey.

There are dark and bright spots in the darknet. It is certainly a crypto-anarchist space that disrupts power monopolies by disrupting how knowledge equations. To due moral connotation of the term dark, Tor tried to call it onionspace. There are other terms also that try to sanitize the dark web by calling it an invisible web, hidden web, or anonymous web. But these terms have not caught on.

Dark web radiates and emanates power. Who welds power and with what effects is an important question. state or government has a monopoly on power. They can use physical force on their subjects with a given territory without many questions. Max Weber defines a state as a human community that claims the monopoly of legitimate over the use of physical force within a given territory. This means State is considered to be always making the right use of violence.

Similarly, corporates also claim that their enterprise is proper and stand within the ethical values of the community. Both, the state and corporate need the media to legitimate their practices. Legitimize thus means to authenticate. This means both the state and corporate self-authenticate themselves and access their practices of power. These practices of power are basically practices of inclusion and exclusion. Exclusion embodies the practices of delegitimation. In this sense, the state and corporate establishment constantly delegitimate the dark web.

These monopolizing powers of determining what is legitimate for the citizens are countered by Philosophy of dark web. It simply allows complete anonymity for its users to bring about a broad range of freedoms that can enable people to contest state power and monopolies of the corporates. In other words, dark web developers claim that their work opens possibilities of countering accesses of the state and the corporates.

Paradoxically, state and even corporates use the dark web to further strengthen their monopolies. Yet the builders and developers of darknet follow their libertine philosophy with a dash of agorism which thinks that the state is illegitimate because of its monopolization of violence.

This is why we can see the founder of the notorious Silk in dark web Road, Ross Ulbricht said that his fundamental aim was to blow the concept of the state. Of course, the state has not been destroyed by the dark web. The Silk Road is shut by the state authorities showing how the dark web becomes a bubble where its users can immerse themselves and stay beyond the panoptic/ all-seeing vision of the state.

This means the dark web is fired by its own political philosophy. It is chiefly marked by agorism that sees freedom in the absence of coercion of all kinds. This is why agorist wish to destroy the monstrous state. To achieve their objectives they think that the establishment of a counter economy is the best way to starve the state of its monstrous powers, A kind of agorism is also animating the free market economy where the state is reduced to a night watchman.

In several ways, the dark web is drawn by the drive to delegitimize state power. It is a kind of a hidden agorist practice. But to dream of doing away with the state and build an entire market-based society and thinking that it is freedom is actually chaining ourselves with new market monopolies that are grounded in libertine egoisms.

It is their alliance to libertinism that drives people to use the dark web as a space that stays beyond the monopolies of the state and the market. These manifest extremes of individualism and appropriation of the logic of the state itself. This is why we need to critically understand the philosophy that animates and legitimates the dark web. But we cannot stay in the dark about the dark web.

There is a limited point in agorism. we cannot see it only as an overblown egoism. It can become a great antidote to nationalism that dissolves into a form of statism. But open political agorism is viewed as anti-nationalism and hence, goes it often takes shelter in the dark web.

Seeking Light in Dark times …3

To trace some light in the dark web, maybe it is important to look at  agorism which  seems to be the driving force behind most of the dark web. Agorism comes from the Greek word Agora which means market.  Therefore, for an agorist market is ultimate. To them is an expression of freedom and peace.  The father of agorism is  said to be  the Canadian thinker, Samuel Edward Konkin. It is a form of libertarian anarchy and is disruptive in character.

Agorists are  advocates of market freedom and anti-state.  They wish to destroy the state though a peaceful means.  The weapon that they use for this purpose is free market that is totally consensual and not under the control of the Government.  This is the way they try to starve the Government of it revenue that comes from the taxes. Tax evasion is fully encouraged and the process of doing so is called counter economics.

We divide the market into white, grey, black and red.  White market is legal market that functions under active supervision of the Government.  These includes sale of goods and services that are taxable. Grey markets sell goods and services that are not illegal but the goods are sold without the supervision of the state and therefore not taxed. Black markets sell goods and services that are declared illegal by the Government but are sold voluntarily by some people. Red market involves human trafficking, hit men/ hired murders/ supari killers,  Money extortion and other coercions etc.

Agorists think that red market includes everything that a state does on daily bases but punishes its citizen for doing it.  They do not indulge into red market and think of it as unethical. This is why their activity of counter economics is entirely focussed on grey and black markets. They advocate growing their own food, use solar panels to power their homes and home school their children to remove the influence of the state from their life.

Bitcoins and crypto-currency are of great importance to the  agorists  because other forms of currency are under the direct control of the state.  They hold that all power of the state comes from its control over money. This is why they think that bitcoin is a serious counter to that power. They view the dark web as safe source for grey and black markets although it is not viewed as the only one.

The libertarian values are based on freedom, consensus and non-aggression. This sense of freedom and consensual voluntarism open these markets for things that include drug sales and prostitution. We can see how the Silk Road portal in the dark web provided a platform for drug dealers all across the world and thought that it was bringing  peace by avoiding drug battles. The main battle of the Silk Road was against the state and it used market platform that is not controlled by the state to fight its enemy, the state.

Agorists are anti-statists and anti-political. they do not participate in politics and elections. But their acute libertarianism becomes anarchy. They are anti-capitalists as they deem capitalism is state controlled and is not just a mutual exchange.  This is why they promote anonymization of markets and anonymization of the operators  where  only mutual exchange is the only thing that is sacrosanct.  One can see how the Silk Road actualised this philosophy in the dark web. It became a platform to buy anything in the world online under anonymity.

The dark web  is also space for the anti-statists to pursue what can be thought as non-participatory form of civil disobedience and anti-collaboration with the Government. This society of the open market place is completely different from the free market advocated by globalization which wants minimum interference from the Government.  Agorism is simply an underground market based on  collaboration and cooperation among individuals. It is a form of a profitable civil disobedience that starves the state of its financial revenues.

Once can see how some part of the dark web is married to an ideology that we may link to agorism and libertarian anarchy. But everyone on the dark web is not an active follower of this ideology.  There are others who are activists, investigative journalists and even researchers who desire to keep their information sharing in secrecy. Although, the ideological architecture of the dark web  may be thought to be intimately linked to agorism, the people that populate it may not be its adherents.  They simply use the benefits of countering surveillance of the Government and use the secrecy that is available in the dark net to protect their privacy.

It is space that is free from censorship and the prying eyes of the Government.  This free space on the internet is the dark net for many people who are not having alliance with the agorists.  It is not a simple joy of becoming invisible and untraceable for one’s dealings in the darknet that draws people to it.  It may be because people value their privacy.  Most of us do not like surveillance which has become the backbone of politics as well economics today.

Agorism and libertarianism can accommodate people who wish to escape the eye of surveillance. This is because of their anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideals. But darknet was not created by the agorists. It was actually created by the American Government to encrypt and protect communication of state secrets by its intelligence agency.  It shared  this space with the general public to make this secret communication even more difficult to be hacked. Today the dark web is both a space where people try and dismantle the influence of the state on their lives and at the same time, paradoxically it has Government intelligence agencies that hide important information away from the people.  The darknet is inhabited by two main forces: one that protects the state and the other that checks its powers over private and intimate lives of people.

We can trace statists as well as agorists and libertarians in the darknet. This is why we can say that darknet is truly a digital underground.  It is animated by statism as well as agorist libertarianism. Agorist libertarianism tilts towards anarchy which is essentially anti-statism while the statists who are controlled by the propaganda of nationalism live and die for extension of state power. When we are looking for light in these dark times, it is important to understand the extremism of these philosophies and critically assess  how they are operate in our society and  life.

Seeking Light in Dark times …4

It appears that we can only access  the dark web with the help of some elite computer skills of navigation. It is for some chosen people to inhabit the dark web.  There is indeed a firewall between ordinary mortals and communities that inhabit the dark web.  There is a sizeable population within this open society that is paradoxically closed to several of us and operates on principles of full openness that remains somewhat shut.

When anonymization becomes the oxygen for all dealings on the dark web, we are into this closed openness.  It is as if we can fully open ourselves by fully closing ourselves. We need this closed openness in our daily life. All our seeing is selective seeing. To focus and see something, we have to stop seeming everything else. Closed eyes seem to open our eyes. But to push this logic to the extreme produces a condition where everyone engaging undercover has the opportunity of only focussing on the transaction and not the transacting persons. Pushing this logic to the extreme, we arrive at the flowering of agorist vision that sees agora or market as above humans.

The dark web is paradoxically also populated by Government intelligence agencies who pursue the statist ideals that keep the state above ordinary citizens.  On one side, the statist agencies are trying to hide an empire and on the other side,  the agorists try to block the rich of the empire.  These are two exactly opposite motives yet they can live in the dark web in a parallel mode of existence.  This is admirable about the architecture of the dark web. Although it is elitists, it allows pursuits of common objectives for people with whom we may  share common ideologies and values.  Thus, those that hold that state as evil (agorists) and those that hold that state as everything (statists) can pursue their objectives in the ecology of the dark web.

There is an open conflict between the two yet they can go on with their objectives.  Thanks to the firewalls of  the dark web that keep them insulated.  There is a clear political divide between the two just like the left and the right.  This political divide is also an ethical divide.   This is why we need to examine both extremes that they try to serve.  Both are totalitarian in their vision and mission.  One group totalizes the market while the other seems to totalize the state.  But in the quest of this totalization, we can notice that there is a subtraction of integral dimension of humanity.

The statists think that individual humans are  merely  cogs in the wheel of the empire/ the state while the agorists with the privileged libertarianism/human freedom, think about human as nothing but embodied freedom.   This is why ethical calculus that calculates what they deem as human good is indeed flawed.  There is an objectification of the human in both cases.

We need the market as well as the state but we cannot absolutize either of them. Both of them have enslaving and oppressing sides to them.   We need to fight all violence and coercions  of all shades and colours and promote peace and voluntary cooperation among all humans.    But we cannot really ensure this peace and voluntary cooperation by absolutizing the state or the market.  The sate produces cooperative behaviour by force of power it holds and  the market produces the same by benefits and rewards that we receive for our transactions.

While the agorist idealism is  based on the belief  that humans are naturally corporative beings,  the statists  idealism is based on the reverse thought that believes that humans are egoistic and will not corporate naturally.   The truth seems to exist somewhere in the middle.  Rousseau seems to have articulated it when he said, “ man is born free but is in chains everywhere”. There is a human factor that needs to be considered.  Neither market absolutism nor state absolutism seems to critically consider it and  therefore they both jeopardize human life. Both these ideologies create levianthans of the Thomas Hobbs.

Humanity is better off without the violence of statism as well as  the anarchy of agorism.  We  certainly need less of the state. It has to be only a night watchman that guarantees that none of us are exploited and oppressed. Although this is all most an impossible ideal, we cannot simply guarantee the same at the back of the state even under  an architecture of anonymization that prevails in the dark web.

This is why we have to understand that the divide between statism and anarchism. This divide  is  not the mother of all other ethical divides as Christopher Greene would want us think.  The divide of anarchism/ masterless condition as well as state / the big bulling master is born  through an ill-conception of the human factor. Humans are capable of doing enormous good as well as able to do tremendous evil.

The major players in the dark web forget the human factor that is the das Ding of being human. It is important to understand our human side.  Forgetting our finitude or exaggerating it are both dangerous.  Statism seems to be exaggerating our finitude and agorism is forgetting it.  We do not so much need the utopia of market voluntarism or state absolutism to produce a just society.  We can still produce a just society on the basis of realism that  takes the human factor seriously. We need to factor in the human factor while we consider the morality of what we do on the dark web.  We cannot be blind to this side of our humanity nor exaggerate it and animalize humanity.  We cannot hyper-normalize the extremes of the logic of statism as well as agorism. If we stay with these extremes, the dark web will  indeed become a dark space.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao