Robert Steele: Itemization of Information Pathologies

Culture, Economics/True Cost, Ethics, Knowledge, P2P / Panarchy, Politics
Robert David STEELE Vivas

In support of the Berkman Center's conference on truthness, below is an extract from THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Book / Evolver Edition, 5 June 2012).


I now realize that neither governments nor corporations are “fixed” obstacles. In a world of constantly changing information, it is impossible for any structured organization to dominate a larger network—a hybrid network. Such broad, flexible governance without governments being “in charge” is where we need to go.[1] The objective: to implement transparency, truth, and trust across all boundaries.

David Weinberger, cited earlier,[2] is a genius on this point: not only can no one person or even one organization or one country “know” what they need to know to make an informed decision, but if they fail to understand, respect, and “jack in” to the knowledge network with full transparency as the method and truth as the objective, they will make very bad decisions.  Of course this does not address the issue of corruption, and the raw fact that most governments and corporations could care less about objective truths, seeking instead to optimize profits for the few at the expense of the many, but their ignorance is our advantage.  That is why We the People must recommit ourselves to Open-Source Everything, its underpinnings (transparency and truth), and its outcome: trust you can bank on without a bank.

I will say that again in a different way: the persistent unethical and ignorant emphasis on secrecy and on making decisions for partisan advantage or to pay off campaign contributors and select insiders is not sustainable.  We the People have an opportunity to embrace this manifesto of Open-Source Everything and bury “rule by secrecy.”  This is this is why I am optimistic about the future.

New, open-source, populist-based, information-era strategies will also serve our increasingly complex lives better in future situations of crisis such as natural disaster, war, and social disintegration. Collapse is cultural, systemic, a failure of process, not of any discrete event, institution, or location. The industrial-era model of command and control cannot adequately process information for a complex system, but an information-era model of distributed localized resilience can.

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Collaboration and consensus is the Epoch B way, but from the philanthropic foundations to the non-governmental organizations to all others, there is still a dearth of information-sharing that is both expensive and incapacitating. While the United Nations has committed itself to coherence, with the meme of “Deliver As One,” they do not have the intelligence—or the integrity—to actually do that. Similarly, governments talk of “whole of government” operations, and corporations of “matrixed management,” but these also fail the intelligence and integrity tests.

Much has been written about how mass collaboration—alternatively called Collective Intelligence, Smart Mobs, Wisdom of the Crowds, Army of Davids[3]—has not been possible in complex situations in the past because the industrial era introduced (imposed) a cumulative series of information pathologies that deprived the group of access to all relevant information, while favoring an elite few with privileged access that allowed them to concentrate both power and wealth. In the public domain, many artificial—that is to say, contrived—obstacles to informing the public emerged in the past century, such as the following, each a book title:

Fog Facts.[4]  These are facts that are “known” to some and publicly accessible but only if you know where to look.  The mainstream media “blacks out” this knowledge.  Modern examples include U.S. government support for dictators and U.S. government tolerance of massive fraud, waste, and abuse in return for fractional campaign contributions to presidential and legislative candidates who strive to remain in office “at any cost.”

Forbidden Knowledge.[5]  This includes both knowledge forbidden for public consumption by governments (e.g. restrictions on pornography) as well as corporations (e.g. concealment of known pathologies such as the effect of tobacco on cancer, or toxins associated with household goods) and religions (the triumph of dogma over consciousness).

Lost History.[6]  The most prominent modern example is the deliberate classification as secret of clandestine and covert operations by the U.S. government such that a modern history of foreign relations cannot be written—this is the documented complaint of the historians responsible for this task on behalf of the Department of State.[7]  The role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the introduction of massive amounts of cocaine into the USA under the pretext of supporting “strategic” operations “at any cost” is especially frightening to anyone upholding the Constitution.[8]

Manufacturing Consent.[9]  Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman first discussed this aspect of a modern democracy, and now, decades later, their work has been updated by Sheldon Wolin in his book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.[10] Corporations now “own” not just the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, but the judiciary as well, with the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United being the more reprehensible evidence of the corruption of the highest court in the nation.

Missing Information.[11]  Bill McKibben did something never done before—he recorded all the television channels being broadcast in his area in one twenty-four-hour period, and watched them all over the course of time.  He then spent twenty-four hours alone in the wilderness.  Comparing the two experiences, he produced a truly brilliant exposition of how much “missing information” there is in our lives.

Propaganda.[12]  Propaganda, put most simply, is the development of manipulated (i.e., not truthful) information and the delivery of that information to an audience in such a way as to impress upon them views and beliefs that are not rooted in fact or deliberative dialog.  Propaganda, which includes advertising that itself fosters an appreciation for planned obsolescence, waste, and toxic foods and goods, is the antithesis of transparency, truth, and trust.

Rule by Secrecy.[13]  As we have all now realized, and as Occupy is now confronting on Wall Street and around the world, secret banking networks, not governments, have been making decisions about war and peace, poverty and prosperity.  It is banks that profit most from wars, followed by the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex, and We the People that suffer  most.  Government secrecy enables massive lies—such as the 935 documented lies[14] delivered by Dick Cheney that took us into a multi-trillion dollar losing war in Iraq[15]—and this is one reason why I have committed the balance of my life to Open-Source Everything: transparency, truth, and trust are the true currency for human transactions, and everything else is a cancer.

Weapons of Mass Deception.[16]  Whereas Rule by Secrecy is about secret cabals making decisions on the truth as they know it, Weapons of Mass Deception are about blatant lies—many of them allowed to go unchallenged by the media, think tanks, university specialists, and all others who should be thinking in the public interest but instead choose to “go along” out of a selfish and unethical dependency on funding from the government doing the lying.  A form of mass hysteria is achieved, one best illuminated by the manner in which the three singers of the band Dixie Chicks , were treated when they publicly protested and questioned the veracity of the White House.[17]  Now, years later, as with Jane Fonda on Viet-Nam, we know that the White House was committing treason, and the Dixie Chicks were both ethical and correct in their protestations.  Mass hysteria – and mainstream media corruption – prevented the broader public from recognizing the truth at the time.

Weapons of Mass Instruction.[18]  Underlying the ability of a treasonous White House and a complicit Congress (which must abdicate its Article 1 responsibilities when going along with known lies to permit an undeclared war at great cost) is a national educational system that is at best mediocre and at worst a crime against humanity.  We are imposing on children of the Internet era—digital natives—an industrial-era system that is mindless: rote learning of old knowledge, sitting silent for hours on end, listening to lectures best left silent and so easily replaced by more vibrant multimedia communications.  Teachers and the educational stakeholders who are complicit in the criminally negligent continuation of a retarded educational system are a foundation for an uninformed, unengaged public.[19]


[1] Two useful books on this concept—but devoid of understanding of collective intelligence and advances being made in information sharing and analysis technologies, are Wolfgang Reinicke and Michael Armacost, Global Public Policy: Government Without Government (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998), and Wolfgang Reinicke et al, Critical Choices: The United Nations, Networks, and the Future of Global Governance (Ottawa, ON: IDRC Books, 2000).  I did not realize, until searching for the above two books, that James Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel, Government without Government: Order and Change in World Politics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), was an earlier book on this topic.  At a practical level, the best book I have found to date on actually “doing” global governance “around” government, is Ken Conca, Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institution Building (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005).

[2] Supra note 12.

[3] Supra note 19.

[4] Larry Beinhart, Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (New York, NY: Nation Books, 2006).

[5] Roger Shattuck, Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography (New York, NY:  Mariner Books, 1997)

[6] Robert Parry, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ (Chicago, IL: Media Consortium, 1999)

[7] Stephen R. Weissman, “Censoring American Diplomatic History,” American Historical Association, September 2011.

[8] See also Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 1999).

[9] Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York, NY: Pantheon, 2002)

[10] Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

[11] Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information (New York, NY: Random House, 2006).

[12] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (New York, NY: Vintage, 1973)

[14]The 935 Lies They Told Us About Iraq,” truthdig, 23 January 2008.

[15] Cf. Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008).

[16] Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq (New York, NY: Tarcher, 2003)

[17] During a London concert ten days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Maines said “we don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas”. The statement offended many Americans, who thought it rude and unpatriotic, and the ensuing controversy cost the band half of their concert audience attendance in the United States. The incident negatively affected their career and led to accusations of the three women being “un-American”, as well as hate mail, death threats, and the public destruction of their albums in protest.  Source:  Wikipedia/Dixie Chicks citing film “Shut up and Sing,” and “Dixie Chicks Shut Up and Sing in Toronto,” MSNBC, seen 10 Aug 2006.

[19] Cf. Karen De Coster, “How the Public Schools Keep Your Child a Prisoner of the State,”, 31 January 2012; and also “19 Crazy Things That School Children Are Being Arrested For In America,”, undated.