The pen, as wisdom goes, has always been mightier than the sword. In fact, a symptom of civilization has been the wielding of the pen in preference to the sword, when both options were just as feasible. The printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1439 had made the written word far easier to brandish than the metal working that was needed to craft fine swords. Gutenberg had invented the modern information age―the age of books―and along with it modernity.
Post-modernity began, likewise, when Tim Berners Lee invented the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) just as the Cold War was ending, in 1990, enabling what we know as the World Wide Web (WWW). As a young graduate student in the fall of 1990 using UNIX newsgroups and email over the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored internet at a university, WWW was a word-of-mouth technological leap on college campuses as it happened, only to be followed by the Mosaic web browser invented by a computer science undergraduate named Marc Andreessen shortly thereafter, in 1993. Berners-Lee and Andreessen had together heralded the information age by making knowledge even more widely accessible than the Gutenberg printing press of around 600 years before.
The Church in Rome was wary of the bibles being churned out on the cheap to their north in Germany. They had good reason to be worried. Gutenberg had unwittingly unleashed direct access to God as people began to learn to read rather than relying on the scribes and the priesthood. Martin Luther reformed the Church in the north by bringing about the Protestant Reformation. Global living standards improved dramatically in the 600 years following the invention of the printing press.
This same establishmentarian resistance to the explosion of access to information and knowledge is once again, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, accompanying radical technical change to provide that access. Today’s “Church” are the governments around the world, almost all of them democratic, including the United States, attempting to reinterpret or define or redefine their processes of governance in the name of social stability to frustrate another great reform that is underway: global development―the aspiration of the world’s peoples to live better lives and for prosperity to be distributed more justly around the world.
In America government vigilance is subtle, sophisticated and puritanical. Since 9/11, the government has been routinely and brazenly breaking the law without reforming legislation transparently as needed, as long as it cannot be proven or if it can invoke national security as a legal excuse. A security-industrial complex to succeed the military-industrial complex of the Cold War has taken hold in the United States in a manner that is increasingly becoming intertwined with an identity crisis the country is experiencing. Prosperity in the world’s wealthiest democracy is becoming increasingly unevenly distributed and Americans are taking recourse in race and religion to see themselves as Americans rather than in the Constitution and the rule of law. Surprisingly, both these trends have been acceptable to Washington and Wall Street. Peaceful and constitutional mass movements for change and reform whose intent it is to hold the government accountable, in contrast to militant activities which are usually and justifiably watched, are being dissuaded by the political elites from both parties as potentially socially destabilizing.
On the other side of the Cold War divide, Russia and China have formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The authoritarian political elites of the SCO who are the counterparts to the American and European democratic political elites in the West, in the name of a stable transition to market-oriented authoritarianism from communism, are also seeing the technologies of the information age as a threat to their hold on power. These two camps congregate every year in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum (WEF) to broker the path of the post-Cold War world, with little regard to their peoples’ lives. America in their view must ‘catch down’ if the rest are to ‘catch up.’ The elites on both sides would benefit if that occurs. Hence the American and European economic stagnation and the tenuous development in the emerging markets.
The failure of both capitalism and communism will transition the world, according to the WEF, to some form of Franco-German socialist Shangri La: large welfare states run by entrenched elites cultivated in handpicked educational institutions around the world, as if Project [Plato’s] Republic would be complete in a spectrum of cultural flavors, from the occident to the orient. Little does the WEF understand The Republic, for it is moving toward burying the world deeper inside the cave instead of liberating it. The shadows have become the reality.
Freedom and individual liberty now have a price tag and citizen rights are becoming cosmetic. The grand irony of the great game is that American constitutionalism has become the casualty of the information age―an age among the ages of Man―its last or its forever.