Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker! But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us at the expence of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.
~ John Adams, Essay on Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
There is a problem in Freedom communities that underlies all others. For at least a generation, we have become complacent. We have accepted “conveniences” of all kinds, especially in the realm of technology, without much thought to the consequence. Services that didn’t exist 10-15 years ago suddenly seem like something we cannot live without, and nobody thinks twice about it because “it doesn’t cost anything.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It is said that “if a product is free, YOU are the product.” This means that companies do not provide services to you as an act of altruism. The “free” products that we use every day are provided in exchange for troves of information, including personal details, usage data, buying habits, political interests, and social connections. This is in addition to the digital property itself, meaning any writings, documents, pictures, etc. that you store in “the cloud” (someone else’s computer).
Signing up for a “free” email account for example, can give the provider insight into everything about you, and this is before factoring in the tracking and surveillance measures used against you, even after you’ve left their website. This data and metadata is filtered through powerful algorithms that give the company (and everyone they sell your data to) the ability to know you in a way that you likely do not even know yourself. This cannot be understated.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Most have no idea that there is a war engaged for their minds. Without this knowledge, we are susceptible to the manipulation and will of those who perpetrate that war. You may be thinking, “that’s not me, I’m on the front lines of the info-wars!” At a FreedomFest panel on the problem of “Big Tech Oligarchy,” I asked the crowd for a show of hands of those who use tools from companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. It may not have been 100%, but any hands that were not raised were lost amongst the sea of those that were. I then asked the crowd to keep their hands up if they had read the Terms and Conditions upon signing up to those services. One hand remained. These are voluntary contracts that we enter into without even reading them. This was not 100 random people off the street, this was a passionate group of Liberty-minded individuals.
We have against us… timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty…
~ Thomas Jefferson, Extract and Commentary Printed in the New York Minerva (1797)
“I’m not gonna read that,” one might say. Why not? As outlined, we are handing over a wealth of personal information and providing all kinds of data that is being weaponized against us for the monopoly of our time and attention, our most valuable (and only truly scarce) resources. If we are being honest with ourselves, there can be only one answer: laziness. We want the service, and we simply do not care about the consequences. You may feel an emotional response boiling up at this point. How dare I say such a thing? Because I know it in myself. I know that I have, in the past, downloaded software, signed up for services, participated in government programs, and enrolled in financial schemes, not just without full knowledge of the contracts I was signing, but with hardly any understanding at all of what I was agreeing to.
The current landscape of creeping fascism is largely the fault of its apathetic and complacent participants. This is not to say that perpetrators of violence, manipulation, censorship, etc. are not morally culpable, as they certainly are. The bigger point is that we have been enabling them.
This is a falsifiable claim. When we look at the current digital heirarchy (a reflection of our ‘meatspace’ realm) today, what do we see? Can anyone make a logical and reasonable claim that the biggest companies in tech today prioritize Freedom on their platforms in the slightest? The notion is laughable to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. We are”reaping what we have sown.” So, what then, is the solution?
The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.
~ Samuel Adams, Essay in the Boston Gazette (1771)
Responsibility (response-ability) means, quite literally, the ability to respond. Say you keep a handgun for your self-defense. What happens to your ability to respond to a violent situation if you were to entrust that property to a third party (no matter how trustworthy) for “safety?” You have none. In the digital realm, it is not only common, but the default, to hand over our digital property to third parties (knowing them to be untrustworthy, and even antagonistic), often with the idea that it is “safer.”
It is common today to see a video or user account disappear from a major media platform. When watching or reading something, many of us may think, “this will be gone in a week.” Download it! When you find content that is valuable to Mankind, save it! If you saw a child that couldn’t swim fall into a pool, you would reach out a hand for them. It’s even easier to save information (see resources below this esssay). This doesn’t mean you need to archive your entire intake of information, just the best, most powerful information to you. This will be different for everyone; together we will be archiving a wide variety of material for future generations.
For every tool that spies on you and collects your data, there is an alternative (usually several alternatives), often as good or better, that respects your Freedom. Use and support them! They are often free of charge, but even a small donation can mean a lot. If you’re low on resources, give the developer some feedback! Let them know about a typo, a feature that you would like to see, or just that you appreciate their hard work. This can mean a lot to someone that is building from principle, as they are rarely noticed, let alone praised for their efforts. See the resources addendum at the bottom of the page to find these tools.
Use an ad-blocker! Online ads are not only annoying, they steal your attention, drain your energy, and contain malicious software that tracks you across the internet. I highly recommend the uBlock Origin browser extension for added sanity and security on the web.
We are fortunate to live in an abundant world, and in the digital realm, powerful technological tools are available to us at little to no financial cost. We must be humble and have care to understand and use the solutions that liberate instead of enslave.
AlternativeTo.net – Find Freedom-Respecting Software (prioritize Open Source options)
LinuxNewbieGuide.com – Learn about Linux, a Free and Open alternative to Mac and Windows
Firefox.com – Firefox is a Free and Open alternative to Chrome, Edge, and Safari
uBlockOrigin.com – Block ads on the web
Start9.com – Run your own private “cloud,” no advanced technical skill required