Review (Guest): Ralph Peters on The Open Source Everything Manifesto – Transparency, Truth & Trust

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Robert David Steele

Brave, provocative and valuable June 6, 2012

By Ralph H. Peters

Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase

Read this compact book in an evening–and think about it for a year. Robert Steele long as been one of our most interesting and challenging thinkers (although his writing is clear–a reflection of clear thought), and this book is a cri de couer, his “Give me liberty, or give me death!” demand that our government, our system and our citizenry rethink the far from benevolent disorder into which we have lured ourselves.

My review cannot do justice to the richness of thought compressed in this book. Nor do I agree with every proposition the author raises–that’s not the point, which is to spur us to liberated, creative thought. But I very strongly recommend this book to every citizen, no matter his or her political hue, who is unafraid of facing the future and who dares to embrace change.

There are many points I’d like to raise from the book, but, to me, an effective review should be reasonably succinct, so I’ll limit myself to briefly noting a few of the topics that particularly engaged me: A basic point of Steele’s is that “The U.S. government does not study anything holistically. Everything is studied in isolation from all else.” As someone with extensive government experience, I certainly can attest to the painful, destructive truth of this point: We’re like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, except that we’re legions of blind men and the elephant has already fled the zoo by the time we complete our analysis.

Some sections of the book are, to me, worth the full price by themselves, not least his discussion of “liberation technology” and his provocative views on how its spread can better aid humanity. Next, his discussion of “panarchy,” interconnected self-government(to over-simplify the concept)moves several steps beyond current notions of the viability and utility of connectivity. Another aspect of the book to which I can bear witness is the extensive “fraud, waste and abuse” in our intelligence system (as well as in our government, overall). Steele has made his case for open-source intelligence in previous works, but never so crisply and immediately as here.

Wisely, he warns that “Dangers increase as man creates complications and misdirects his energy and resources,” reinforcing my own point that an African village would be more resilient in a global crisis than the hyper-complex and hyper-centralized socio-economic system of the United States (this is not a matter of quality of life, but of existential robustness–that village could feed itself long after our national food distribution system had broken down). And as a Sierra Club member, I certainly concur with his statement that “We are deluded in our belief that we can control complexity and predict the outcome of perturbing large systems such as the climate.”

Much of this, of course, is the result of the “fragmentation of knowledge,” of over-specialization and compartmentalization that plagues government and academia as much as it does the intelligence community (which isn’t really much of a community in the classic sense). And his call for “intelligence minutemen” has already found preliminary echoes in US hackers who, on their own initiative, have responded to foreign cyber-bullying. I’ve already pushed this review far beyond an ideal length, so I’ll close my inadequate praise of this remarkable, stimulating, sometimes infuriating (in the best sense) book by citing two of his conclusions that go to the heart of the author’s concerns: “Empowered by open software, hardware, spectrum, data access, and intelligence, we are within reach of open democracy.” And, above all, “Connected we are one.”

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