|Montreal, August 3, 2002 / No 107|
by Daniel M. Ryan
How will the events of our time be described in the history books that our grand-children and great-grand-children will read? Using a still secret technology developed by Canadian scientists, we have managed to retrieve from the future the following fact sheet for a high school history class in the school year 2025-26.
THE AGE OF THE INTERNET BARONS
Prof.: Anne-Marie Thangarajah-Harrison
The Internet came to humanity as a result of the United States government, although mutual international agreements between Canada and the United States of that time indicate that Canada had an influence. Through an agency known as ARPA [the Advanced Project Research Agency], it was decided that government information should be distributed over a wide variety of computers and be accessible all over the country. The early use of ARPAnet was for scientific and research purposes, and the return of Internet content to the control of the universities, through post-secondary institutional representation on the advisory councils of the Ministry of Information and Technological Development early this century, is clearly a homecoming for this technology.
To understand why the Internet went from its original design to facilitate the exchange of information to an anarchic jungle, you might have to refresh your memory with the previous sheet, The 1980s: Decade Of Greed. It's a sad fact that the computer sector as we know it was started by a group of very sheltered youths, and their growing greed got so prevalent that the "Open Source" movement debuted. Although this spontaneous co-operative was itself smothered by the rampant greed of the time, it paved the way for more viable co-operatives, organized nationally. The Canadian Computer Code Project, established in 2008, is one of them. Its mandate is to distribute work and earnings fairly to all qualified computer programming professionals, provided they are not disruptive through competition injurious to the public's peace. Even though this new agency of the federal government was an adaptation of the Computer Developers' Networking Association enacted by the United States, the Canadian influence behind its development is both stronger and easier to trace, as one of the driving forces compelling its enactment was Canadians-turned-Americans who left Canada out of greed and were later disillusioned.
This greed was reflected in gratuitously aggressive verbal behaviour in a kind of now-obsolete technology called "bulletin boards." Sometimes, the level of greed grew so high that competitors would engage in something called "flame wars," which reached their peak in the early 1990s. It was at this time that spreading computer viruses was established as well; one early case, of a disgruntled programmer who was angry at his programs becoming warezed, shows the motive. This programmer spread his virus around 1990 through a disk and was copied by many of the greedier lone wolves later in the decade.
These viruses are now gone because the Internet is regulated. Private enterprise was deemed to be too inefficient in protecting the average user, not only because of cost barriers but also due to lack of availability. This lack became even more intolerable when bankruptcy laws were made less permissive and more restrictive and therefore cut off access to credit cards. This made regulation of the Internet the most viable solution to meet this problem because the interests of the lenders had to be considered as well: they agreed to the necessity of regulation out of respect for the public peace, which is consistent with how all other regulatory bodies have formed in Canada in the last ninety years. Too many opportunities would have been lost had the Internet became a crown corporation; such was the decision of the public.
The anarchy of information had its roots in criticisms of the modern age. There was even a philosophical defense of literal anarchy in a school of economics that is now dead: the Austrian School. According to Austrians, the need for government is a delusion rooted in humankind's primitive past and is not needed now that the free market has been discovered. The flaw in this came to light as a result of anthropology, which has clearly shown that market and government co-existed harmoniously in these "primitive" times. The market is as old as government and both are necessary.
Another critic of the modern age was a novelist by the name of Ayn Rand. She, like the nineteenth-century Russian novelists who influenced her, believed that a novel had to include a philosophical component to be thought serious. Essentially satire, her two most known novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were deconstructed early in this century as being criticisms of the modern system of governing put in place in the United States in the 1930s. It was this critical element that made them so popular, as Americans have a known tendency for reading anything "anti-Washington," regardless of its positive value.
A third movement attacked another now-dead school of economics, Keynesianism. According to Keynes, the government should confine itself to demand management, through control of the money supply and through government spending decisions, and leave the rest of the economy alone. We now know that the flaw in Keynes was his ignorance of supply management, which is now in our current textbooks. But for these critics, the "goldbugs," the only solution was the opposite – namely, economic anarchy. They advocated a return to a gold standard and complete removal of government from the economy, which seemed plausible due to the Keynesian system breaking down in the 1970s.
A fourth movement was the environmentalists. Like the three above, they were critics, as their solution was the abandonment of the technology which keeps us all alive. But the force of their criticism, combined with the many lives they saved from unbalanced industrialization, had a great influence on the government policies of late last century and the early part of ours. It is for this reason that, unlike the others, they are recognized as heroes by the public.
What all of these movements have in common was their lack of practical measures to deal with the decay of the modern system; their reliance upon easy answers; and their critical passion which captured the minds of people that were frightened.
The Internet was full of bright promises and cruel disillusionment. The few pioneers who succeeded in building their empires, also known as "Internet Barons," were of the habit of urging all people to join them in the field of Internet business, a clear case of verbal aggression as the business world is competitive, not co-operative. It is possible that some were influenced by the anti-hierarchial Utopianism which began in management consultancy [see The 1980s: Decade Of Greed for more details], but the economic record of the big companies when compared to the small is clear evidence for a charge of "constructive cruelty," at least.
As is normal under business anarchy, the distribution of size of Internet businesses was staggering. Most of the Websites considered to be the among the top 200,000 couldn't pay for themselves while the biggest companies were raking in billions. There is evidence that anyone making the top 200,000 was considered lucky.
The greed that was inflamed by the Internet Barons led to a multitude of criminals defrauding the public through the Net. Most of them were chain letter schemes, which were declared illegal by an expansion of consumer-protection laws in Canada forbidding the operation of any business whose independent contractors received renumeration of any sort in exchange for successfully soliciting another independent contractor into signing up for the program. A later amendment banned "forced matrixes" (as some of these schemes were called) by requiring any compensation between a company and any independent contractor to be based solely on that contractor's individual performance of a task other than those forbidden above. This new law made it clear what a pittance the average participant in these programs were making for the time they spent.
At the time, there were counter-arguments that these programs were in part educational, but the public decided that "education" of this sort is clearly a case of constructive abuse. By limiting a person's "band of trust," it not only impaired their personal development by unnecessarily constraining their quests for experience, but it also drained their self-esteem.
One taste of the anarchy of the time can be had by the reader through him or her imagining the plain sense in the body of the above paragraph to be not worthy of consideration.
The defense of anarchy at the time tended to revolve around a no-compromise format. It was asserted that the only choice was between anarchy and tyranny, and when pressed, the defenders of the 1990s always brought up a movement called "political correctness." This was an attempt by the more advanced universities in the United States to prepare their students for multicultural America by such measures as politeness codes and requiring the students to at least familiarize themselves with points of view previously treated with contempt. In essence, they codified many practices which Canadians see as simple good manners, and this movement can be credited with the enactment of hate crime laws.
As the teacher discussed in class, this movement was short-lived. Nevertheless, it formed the basis of a whole myth enforcing a gang-like false consciouness on the early Internet users. There was even a serious attempt to make the consumer feel as if he or she was a "citizen of the Internet," or "Netizen," so as to implant a fear or dislike for dealing with the relevant authorities in the consumer's own country of residence.
Another kind of defense revolved around "globalization." This one asserted that the anarchy of the Internet was a complement of globalization policies such as managed free trade, unification of currencies, and global law. The last policy of globalization rendered this argument implausible, as a global system of laws and anarchy obviously cannot co-exist.
It may seem hard to believe that as simple an act as filing a complaint with the Competition Bureau or the Consumer Ministry was considered a sign of approaching tyranny, but this is indicative of the confusion of the time.
The first source of confusion was the resistance to political correctness fuelled in large part by status anxiety. White males, no longer dominant in their traditional sphere, salved their dignity by trying to create a "new world" where their dominance would be unchallenged. Since many of them still believed in the 1980s ethos of greed, their hostility towards the new multicultural world in America blended quite well with the greed of the Internet Barons which began to assert itself after the Internet was de-regulated in 1993. These self-called "Netizens" were so ridden with short-term thinking that it was not infrequent that a new Internet website would go from 100,000 page views in one month to less than 100 two months later. Most of the Websites with a durable readership were either pornography or search engines, largely used to find porn, and other sites judged to be sensational by the early surfers hidden in their rooms. Many of these sites were white supremacist.
The second was the change in popular music at the time. Many new bands, using political correctness as a popularity-garnering device, sang songs filled with anger, alienation and nihilism (the denial of all values). This movement was deeply anti-heroic; the only achievement respected by these bands was becoming rich. Such denial of all values in entertaining forms, reinforced continually throughout the decade, added to the confusion and the resultant gang-ish ethos which deeply distrusted all governing. It might be interesting to note that many of these bands themselves began paving the way for Internet regulation by appealing to their respective governments for redress due to copyright infringement. They still insist today that all they were after was to have their individual rights respected, but this clearly shows they were socialized in the Decade of Greed. Like all pioneers, the only values they couldn't successfully impunge were their own.
The third came from the Internet Barons themselves. They claimed that anarchy facilitated innovation, and that regulation would stifle it. Like many arguments based on class interest, this became more heated as the substantive number of innovations dropped. Public waning of interest, combined with the increasingly obvious predatory streak of the Internet Barons, made that argument more and more easy to see through. By the beginning of our century, it was assumed that the only people who really believed this were gullible fools, which is not uncommon with arguments based on class interest.
The destruction of the two towers of the World Trade Center by the terrorist group Al-Qa'ida in 2001 brought to the attention of the public the dangers of Internet anarchy in a way that was inarguable. The necessary security measures, enacted both in the United States and in Canada, made it possible for the confusion to be lifted from the mind of the public.
The successful regulation of the Internet in the United States for national defence purposes under the new Homeland Security Agency paved the way for the regulation of the Internet as a whole once the public made the connection between professional terrorism, amateur hacking, and predatory commerce. By 2005, it was realized that all three were examples of the same anarchic trend that cumulated with the massacres at Columbine High School and the growing number of murders and suicides (prompted by bullying) in Canadian high schools as well. An Internet connection was both easy to prove and, in retrospect, obvious.
As the friendliness of the authorities became increasingly clear to the young at the time, so did the underlying anti-sociality of anarchist theory too. Any remaining criticism was answered in 2010 by bringing the Internet back to its rightful home, the universities, all of which were eager to foster innovation within their walls. The federal government aided this containment with grant disbursements. And this is how the Age of the Internet Barons came to an end, to be followed by the era of equity and fairness we still live in today.
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