What Is Enlightenment?: Google, Wikileaks, and the Reorganization of the World

By Harry HalpinNovember 2, 2014

When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange

HAS THE INTERNET ENABLED HUMANITY to emerge from immaturity, only to become enslaved yet again by a regime of total surveillance? The question resonates in our everyday digital experience, whether people consciously realize it or not: from the way cookies are being sorted and tracked, to the NSA’s mass collection of email and telephone metadata, down to the increasingly uncanny nature of the advertisements showing up in our Google searches and Facebook streams. But one needn’t gesture toward the NSA for culpability. Insofar as it is increasingly hard to divide the world between the strictly digital and analogue, Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information” now increasingly includes the organization of life itself. We are all familiar by now with how Google is structuring the web via their search engine and our means of communication via their mobile devices; what is less known is that Google is clearly planning to reorganize structures of society as a whole. As declared by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and ex-State Department strategist Jared Cohen in their book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business: “In the future, people won’t just back up their data; they’ll back up their government” into digital institutions capable of surviving crisis. In a world marked by collapsing nation-states and neo-barbarians like ISIS, Google appears to be the katechon holding back the coming apocalypse of the Western way of life.

Not all the digerati are onboard with Google’s plan for the future. Julian Assange characterized The New Digital Age as “a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing.” Never one to miss an opportunity for a leak, the entrapped Assange has recently published the transcripts of his all-night discussion of the future of the internet with Eric Schmidt and a number of his associates in his new book When Google Met Wikileaks, which features beneath a detourned Google logo on its cover the rather snarky snipe: “I’m feeling evil.” On some level, what is at stake in this debate between Wikileaks and Google is whether or not our increasingly digital era will lead to a new digital enlightenment or a thousand-year reign of robot-enforced social control. None other than the founder of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, prognosticated the same in his The Human Use of Human Beings decades ago: “The hour is very late, and the choice of good and evil knocks at our door.”

The style of When Google Met Wikileaks is untraditional for a book. A mélange of short essays wrapping around the juicy main dish, the book offers a surprising neo-Socratic dialogue between Schmidt and Assange, where Schmidt serves as the modern Meno to Assange. Assange — clearly in his natural element — explains everything from Tor to Bitcoin to the quiet CEO, who seems strangely uninformed about the very internet of which Google has such a panoptic view, although his pointed and driving questions also hint that he does indeed command vast intellectual resources. Indeed, perhaps Schmidt was just playing his part: as Assange states later in the book, the entire visit may have been one giant phishing expedition for information on Wikileaks with Google acting as a proxy so that “the U.S. State Department had, in effect, snuck into the WikiLeaks command center and hit me up for a free lunch.”

And yet, the discussion between Assange and Schmidt also takes a comradely tone. While Assange writes off the possibility of traditional bread-and-butter radical organizing since everything from “how much energy they can harness, what food supplies they have” is “hard to influence,” he reasons out a new hypothesis of information-driven social change: namely that since what someone “know[s] can be affected in a nonlinear way […], you can change the behavior of many people with a small amount of information.” Via its anonymous platform, Wikileaks removes “bottlenecks” to the “business of moving information” (a business that, Assange notes, Google and Wikileaks share), allowing Wikileaks to release “information that governments are inclined to censor” so that “people will act on the information.” In other words, with the right information humanity can set itself free from the imposition of unjust governments. It’s a straightforward restatement of the Enlightenment’s sapere aude!, first launched by Immanuel Kant in 1784 and now repeated here 230 years later, anno 2014.

Wikileaks is founded on a strong belief in the inherent ability of humanity to both recognize injustice and try to eliminate injustice as soon as they are informed of it, for once the “plans that [powerful organizations] have are made public, the public would oppose them.” The self-evident Kantian objection to this hypothesis never comes up: that people, even with the right information, either do not act due to laziness or are terrorized from taking action by cowardice. Schmidt himself notices that there is a certain kind of social physics underlying Wikileaks’s theory of social change, commenting that by training Assange is “basically a physicist.” Assange’s open data theory of social change even seems congruent to Google’s vision of organizing the world’s information, as Schmidt himself goes on to state that “I’m trying to understand the case against your vision, which obviously we are sympathetic to.” Sharing the same data-driven positivism, what is it that actually prevents Wikileaks from just being yet another Google Idea for opening the world’s data to its search engine?

The line in the sand between Assange and Schmidt ends up being their vastly different ideas of sovereignty and truth. With ISIS’s prescient vision of the use of social media in the back of his mind, Schmidt is obsessed with the idea that reams of misinformation will be released on the web to fuel paranoia and even social dissolution. In contrast, Assange articulates what can only be called a big data theory of truth, noting that although Wikileaks is careful with redactions in order to avoid criticism, “if it’s true information we don’t care where it comes from,” so that Wikileaks will “let people fight with the truth, and when the bodies are cleared there will be bullets of truth everywhere, that’s fine.” With his background in the cognitively inscrutable amounts of big data that search engines broker, Schmidt believes less in the power of truth than the power of machines: Google’s version of truth is automated in “the modern story of ranking” as “the web is full of spam, but spam gets ranked low because of influence and the link structure and so forth.” Tempted as they are, Schmidt and Cohen cannot bring themselves to endorse Assange’s radical theory of information-driven social change, stating in their book that “Why is it Julian Assange, specifically, who gets to decide what information is relevant to the public interest?” Assuming there are kinds of secrets that states need to keep, Schmidt and Cohen point at a fully automated Wikileaks, since “so long as humans, and not computers, are running things in our world, we will face these questions of judgment.”

Likewise, neither Google nor Wikileaks truly supports a radically transparent society where absolutely everything from our sex lives to our genetic propensity for cancer is up for scrutiny by any member of the public. Despite the desire of Larry Page and Sergey Brin that there could be “Google microstates where Google is exempt from national laws and can pursue progress unimpeded,” Google is still in the final instance legally incorporated in the United States and so subject to US jurisdiction. In one of the more hilarious dialogues of the book, Assange asks Schmidt for a leak from Google of its Patriot Act requests. Schmidt responds that while he has personally “given a series of criticisms about Patriot I and Patriot II, because they’re nontransparent, because the judge’s orders are hidden and so forth and so on […] the laws are quite clear about Google in the U.S.” Nevertheless, Schmidt tells Assange — whispering to him — a leak of government information to Google would be illegal. Clearly for Schmidt and Cohen, there are secrets that governments should keep.

Schmidt and Cohen predict a totalitarian world of total identification. In order to keep order in the home front the population will have to be thoroughly identified, so they continue by noting that “to avoid identification, most extremists will use […] a range of obfuscating tools to cover their tracks” so that “hidden people registries” will be required for those that refuse to join a central identity service like Google Plus. In contrast, Assange ultimately comes out in favor of secrecy for the oppressed as “non-powerful organizations engage in secrecy, which to my view is legitimate; they need it, because they are powerless.” The great hope of the cypherpunk movement was that pure mathematics in the form of cryptographic tools like Bitcoin and encrypted email could radically empower individuals against nightmarish surveillance states. Nonetheless, it is self-evident that if technologies like Wikileaks make secrecy obsolete, then secrecy can neither remain a privilege of the powerful nor of the powerless … and in the most likely future scenarios, cryptography will be deployed by resource-rich governments and corporations Wikileaks opposes instead of grassroots activists.

Assange is at his best when discussing how philosophy intersects with the internet in surprising ways, asking for example how the philosophical question of the naming of things has been transformed into a practical engineering problem on the web: “We currently have a system with URLs where the structure we are building our civilization on is the worst kind of melting Plasticine imaginable.” As the largest informational artifact ever created, the web concretely embodies the best accumulation of our common knowledge, since our progress “is based upon our full intellectual record, and our intellectual record should be as large as possible if humanity is to be as advanced as possible.” The fatal flaw is that URLs (Uniform Resource Locators, where any item of interest can be given a name such as http://example.org) can have their content change or disappear without any notice or even archive, thus making the web a strangely suitable technological substrate for censorship. Of course, Assange would prefer to not have “to trust the underlying networks” and instead “name a video file or a piece of text in a way that is intrinsically coupled to the information contained there.” He outlines how this can be done via well-known cryptographic techniques that build the name from the thing itself.

Although there is no technical flaw per se in Assange’s proposal, this purely technical approach to solving the problem of assigning names has been more or less implemented in NameCoin and other similar systems, and has so far failed to gain uptake among all but hobbyists. Although the ability to name new people, places, and other things upon the earth was once the prerogative of the nation-state, on the internet the deciding body is currently the newly autonomous Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which ultimately wields the centralized technical infrastructure that assigns names to servers with the tacit support of the United States government. The problem of naming does not have its inner mysteries revealed so easily to engineers, for it is ultimately a problem not of technology, but of governance.

Assange has put thought into governance however: his virtually unknown pre-Wikileaks text Conspiracy as Governance takes the analysis of terrorist conspiracies as networks and inverses it on governments themselves: “We extend this understanding of terrorist organizations and turn it on the likes of its creators where it becomes a knife to dissect the power conspiracies used to maintain authoritarian government.” It was a stroke of genius to transform the very network analysis being used to detect terrorists against the behavior of nation-states themselves. Yet Assange’s implicit assumption is that the methods of network analysis are actually effective in disrupting terrorists, a rather problematic assumption given the failure of the “War on Terror” despite big data and the NSA. If we assume that conceptualizing the world in terms of networks actually is effective, is it also possible that the injustice inflicted upon ordinary humans by nation-states and corporations can also be stopped by means of network analysis? After theorizing various ways of tearing conspiracies apart in terms of network analysis, Assange enigmatically ends his text by stating that

later we will see how new technology and insights into the psychological motivations of conspirators can give us practical methods for preventing or reducing important communication between authoritarian conspirators, foment strong resistance to authoritarian planning and create powerful incentives for more humane forms of governance.

There never was a sequel, at least in English. As befitting a cypherpunk, Assange instead launched the working code of Wikileaks.


It is worth revisiting Assange’s view of the world as a conspiracy in order to understand the limits of When Google Met Wikileaks itself. The main hypothesis of the book is that there is a conspiracy afoot, namely the merger of the United States’s geopolitical strategy and the once-not-so-evil corporation Google. The hypothesis is meticulously well-researched: Schmidt is revealed to be on the board of the New America Foundation and an attendee at the Bilderberg conferences. Strangely enough, in a studious act of game-theoretical optimization, he even donated the precise same — if small — amount to both the Democratic and Republican parties. Worse, the Stratfor Wikileaks reveal that Schmidt’s ex-State Department sidekick Jared Cohen still parachutes to the Iranian border — and not just for kicks and extreme selfies — so he can help in “doing things the CIA cannot do,” a relationship all the more convenient as “the US Gov’t can then disavow knowledge and Google is left holding the shit-bag.” Is Google actively pursuing regime change throughout the world against countries like Iran, Russia, and China that censor the internet? If so, its enemies do align all-too-neatly with those of the US State Department.

Again, all may not be as it seems: the problem with conspiracies is that they are ultimately everywhere and nowhere. Whenever one looks for a conspiracy, a conspiracy can always be rather conveniently found. Roving correspondent Yasha Levine of PandoDaily was one of the first reporters to correctly note that Google was offering to help build surveillance mechanisms for the US government; his “Oakland emails give another glimpse into the Google-Military-Surveillance Complex,” a fact cited by Assange in his book. Tor, the anonymizing network that provides the basis for submissions to Wikileaks, also has attracted Levine’s attention. Levine reveals that “almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government,” including Assange’s long-standing comrade-in-arms Jacob Appelbaum. It is indeed a matter of Tor’s public record that the US government (and Google!) funded Tor, the very system that enabled both Wikileaks and Snowden. Sadly enough for Levine’s conspiracy-theory addled brain, an analysis of contemporary information-age geopolitics requires more than a quick Google search.

Something in Levine’s conspiracy theory rings hollow thanks to the Snowden revelations, which showed that the NSA itself is unable to truly de-anonymize Tor, and so instead relied on hacking the Mozilla Firefox browser. If there were some sort of secret way for government agents to de-anonymize and access the Tor network, they would not have had to go through the trouble of hacking Firefox. Given that Tor is an open source project, any trap the NSA lays in Tor could be discovered and independently verified by any technically-competent person that bothered to carefully inspect Tor’s source code in detail — as the revelations around many bugs in popular open source projects have recently revealed. Alas, this would be too much technical work for poor Levine. Levine’s conspiracy theory also neglects to mention that the US government, via the Office of Naval Research and DARPA, has funded nearly all computer science research in the United States, including the internet itself. Indeed, Tor should at least be applauded for being transparent on their website with their funders and for pushing that everyone — including government agents operating undercover but also including human rights activists — needs anonymity.

If Levine is looking for a pot of magical money that has not been touched by the evils of this world, he could always look at his own employer PandoDaily. Levine and PandoDaily are publicly funded by Greylock Partners, who share senior partners with In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA. So one could argue that the CIA funded Yasha Levine when he exposed that the State Department funded Tor in order to defend CIA agents. The problem with conspiracy theories — including any analysis of conspiracies as networks — is that one immediately runs up against the incommensurable reality of late capitalism: everything is actually connected. Like it or not, everyone is likely connected to both ISIS and Obama within a few links. Conspiracy theory is not theory, but the absence of a theory. Rather than interpreting the world, globe-spanning conspiracies inchoately point to a world that goes beyond the feeble conceptual structures of the conspiracy theorist.

Assange at heart has a rational and scientific mindset; he is troubled intensely by what appears to be conspiracies that have no grounding in primary sources, such as leaked documents: “I’m constantly annoyed that people are distracted by false conspiracies such as 9/11, when all around we provide evidence of real conspiracies, for war or mass financial fraud.” Even more bizarrely, one conspiracy theory states that Wikileaks is actually a US government operation to foment regime change in Tunisia and “programmed to attack China,” claiming that Wikileaks fulfills US legal scholar Cass Sunstein’s desire to engage in “cognitive infiltration” of the groups that produce conspiracy theories in order to weaken them. In other words, Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning — and Edward Snowden — are just a harmless sideshow to prevent us from understanding the supposedly real conspiracies, which no doubt to certain delusional 9/11 conspiracy theorists include a new edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the 21st century.

There are indeed real conspiracies, but the problem is that the relationships that rule our world are open secrets that are apparent for all to see, hardly requiring any classified documents. It should be relatively straightforward that a company as powerful as Google should at some point enter the ranks of the military-industrial complex, and thus engage in high-level lobbying and strategic alliances with the nation-state in whose legal jurisdiction they are incorporated. This behavior is particularly unsurprising in our troubling age where, after the onslaught of neoliberalism against the remains of social democracy, it is difficult to tell the difference between a state and a corporation. That is not to say that there are no real secrets whose revelation have world-historical impact, as one can definitely trace the fall of Ben Ali to Wikileaks’s revelation that the US government would no longer back Ben Ali; the Snowden leaks were definitely a surprise to many, including the NSA themselves. In this regard, there is no doubt that Assange, Manning, Hammond, Snowden, Ellsberg, and countless others have not risked life and limb for naught. If anything, the very concept of the leak has now moved into the mainstream with the release of the late Aaron Swartz’s SecureDrop, allowing almost any media outlet to become their own Wikileaks, and it is likely that soon journalism will always contain a link to its “primary source.”

The intensity of the seemingly panicked repression of the state against Wikileaks perhaps reveals a deeper truth: if the power of the state is ultimately not grounded in the defense of its citizens, justice, or rights, then the brutality at the heart of the United States’s response to Manning and Snowden becomes comprehensible as more than just the arrogance of power. The destruction of the very possibility of secrets signals the end the state’s only remaining integrity, grounded, as it has now become, in nothing more than the control of populations through terror. “The secret itself becomes the arcanum of political form in modernity” (Caygill, The Public Sphere from Outside the West, edited by Divya Dwivedi and Sanil V, Bloomsbury, 2015).

Is it possible that Wikileaks, in its quest for secrets like diplomatic cables or spy files, missed the point entirely that the great secrets of our age are the elaborate chains of production, distribution, and consumption of commodities that holds our information-driven capitalism together? For most people, it is a mystery of almost divine proportions how a tomato arrived at their local supermarket. The increasingly tight chain of global logistics may seem mundane but are stunningly complex; these are precisely the kinds of secrets needed to solve the problems of food, electricity, and shelter that nearly every country after revolution has faced. An inability to confront these more material problems has been the bane of the revolutionaries of Tahrir for example, who without this knowledge were eventually lured into surrendering their revolution to the military. The internet itself is not too far from these transnational global flows of all-too-material commodities, as the internet of things’ impact on just-in-time production is already revolutionizing logistics. From this vantage point, all of Google’s various maneuverings into global mapping, sensors, and pervasive monitoring make perfect sense, as a for-profit corporation of course would want to take advantage of the new market opportunities involved in this shift within capitalist value chains. Can either Schmidt or Assange even imagine what the “cognitive mapping” (à la Fredric Jameson) needed for a genuine revolution would entail?

The very indecipherability of the current world of the cybernetic revolution within capitalism can be contrasted with the less-developed circuits of capitalism of the earlier industrial revolution, where the production of commodities could at least be clearly linked to particular industrial factories. This insight fueled the earlier workers’ revolutions, as it was easily imagined that these factories could be autonomously self-governed. It was the analysis of the role of the factory within industrial capitalism at the end of the 19th century that ultimately propelled the supposedly “scientific” revolutionary theory of Marx to replace the earlier myriad conspiracy theories that dominated revolutionary movements from the 18th century onward, as “injustice […] does not proceed from the political rule of the bourgeoisie but, contrariwise, the political rule of the bourgeoisie proceeds from these modern relations of production” (Marx, Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality: a Polemic against Karl Heinzen). After all, if the workers could cognitively grasp how to run their factory, what use was the factory owner? Given the failure of global revolution after the industrial revolution, everyone from Stalin to various national liberation movements then theorized how they could at least seize the means of productions in a single nation-state. In the wake of the failure of all national and worker-based movements, what should be self-evident is that the revolution of the 21st century — of which Google is simply an exemplar — has yet to be adequately theorized, although various theoreticians such as Greeman to Lovink have begun the monumental task. With the death of the traditional workers’ movements and their industrial vision of a future free society, there seems no coherent global alternative imaginary, for “since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming ‘civil society’ into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length.”

Although the sickness has been diagnosed, the cure is missing. It is no accident that a global movement for transparency and justice, ranging from the Arab Spring to the Indignados to #occupy, appeared in the wake of the Wikileaks revelations. Indeed, one can discern none-too-subterranean similarities between this “Movement of the Squares” and previous revolutionary movements. Take for example the rudimentary class analysis inherent in the slogan of “the 99% versus the 1%” and the reappearance of what appeared to be traditional workers’ councils in the plazas of nearly every city, albeit workers’ councils without workers or even a factory. This whole generation of young unemployed yet technically-adept people thus naturally adds a new factor to previous tactics in social struggles in factories, as witnessed by the events of Tahrir and Mahalla. As the blockades of the means of distribution quickly faltered, it became clear that the Occupy movement had become proletarianized in the sense of Bernard Stiegler rather than Karl Marx. The surplus population of the occupied camps had been stripped of their own knowledge of how their world worked, and so slowly but surely the Occupy movement fizzled out as it was unable to articulate a revolutionary strategy and so delved further into conspiracy theories involving the Federal Reserve. The function of conspiracies was used to justify their own weakness by shifting the blame for their problems to some mysterious global cabal.

The difference between a conspiracy and a revolutionary theory is that any revolutionary theory must be based on a systematic analysis of the open secret of everyday life that includes not only the flows of capitalist commodities but also the structures of the police, the school system, the law, and even the internet. This world can be interpreted and thought anew in order to provide realistic ways forward to tackle the multipolar crises, ranging from mass unemployment to global climate catastrophe, facing coming generations. By laying blame on particular governments, corporations, or individuals (or even races!), conspiracy theories deflect attention from the actual structural sources of the problem. Que se vayan todos! — the revolving door of new particular political leaders in Europe demonstrates how little real control particular individuals have in governance. If the United States of America itself was to collapse due to devaluation of the dollar tomorrow, one would expect that China would likely simply rise up to play the same role on the global stage. Trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange therefore resembles nothing more than Auguste Blanqui during the myriad failed revolutions of the 1840s and 1870s, imprisoned by the authorities at the moment when the Paris Commune needed him. They both share an unshakable sense of social justice mixed with a certain fatalism about the prospects of winning, a farcical run at elected office from afar, and even a belief in technology. In his day, Blanqui extolled the printing press as a revolutionary technology, as “the source of progress is the communication of thought. Evil is thus all that opposes this communication, and good all that favors and multiplies it.” However, Assange falls short of Blanqui when he, in his focus on exposing the conspiracy from above, fails to mention that what is needed is a conspiracy from below in the spirit of the long-forgotten secret societies that served as the heart of the Paris Commune, from the Society of the Seasons to the “les pétroleuses.” As said by a friend, revolutionaries are naturally those that enjoy to conspire. Given that Assange is likely currently under investigation for conspiracy and espionage by a United States grand jury, it may not be in his best interest to admit this truth.


While falling into despair against the totalizing surveillance state may be expected, already the insurrections of 2011 — continued in this present moment in Hong Kong — have shown that a “generational shift” is underway where, as Assange has written, the interconnected and unemployed youth are in the process of becoming a “demos — a people with a shared culture, shared values, and shared aspirations.” Given that the majority of this large swath of humanity is literally surplus to an increasingly automatic global capitalist society, one would suspect that the solution to what Schmidt’s sidekick calls the potential “radicalization of internet educated youth” is perhaps more dangerous than even Assange realizes. As a search engine, Google could easily transform from the selection of not only digital memories to the selection of populations. As the Germans remember in their seemingly futile quest to preserve privacy, the great danger of any system of surveillance is that in order to maintain social stability it will become a killing-machine. Nonetheless, today the youth are more interconnected, more intelligent, and quicker to maneuver than any previous generation. What holds them back more than anything is the total lack of strategy and a common vision of a future world.

What is needed is a comprehension of the possibilities the internet offers that transcends both Google and Assange; strangely enough such a vision has been at the heart of the internet since its inception. Douglas Engelbart, a humble engineer who is mostly known today for helping create the early internet and the mouse, realized that as “the complexity and urgency of the problems faced by us earth-bound humans are increasing much faster than our aggregate capabilities for understanding and coping with them,” we need to create the web in order “to maximize our Collective IQ […] to accelerate the natural co-evolution of our Tool and Human systems.”

An open-ended digital dialectics that realizes the web is simultaneously the greatest threat facing humanity and its last redemptive hope is the kind of theoretical apparatus needed to guide us through these turbulent times. As put by Bernard Stiegler, the web is not only a new step in the storage of our memories, but also a dangerous pharmakon whose effects on everything from our neurological capacities to our social organization is not yet grasped. Although we can glimpse the two sides of the internet’s contours in the books by Schmidt-Cohen and Assange, if we remove ourselves and look at the phenomenon itself from above, we may be able to recognize that the web is not just a battleground of good versus evil, but a force that is transforming the very categories we have inherited from the Enlightenment — the individual, reason, the public, cognition — into a yet amorphous constellation of concepts around collective intelligence, algorithms, crowd-sourcing, and big data. We can influence the transformation of these concepts into the new material a priori of human social organization via social struggle over the technical development of the internet, paralleling the great conceptual and social upheavals that accompanied the advent of the industrial factory. As Snowden put it in his support of Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of a “magna carta” for the web, privacy and anonymity can be inscribed into the code of the web itself. In the course of this struggle, we can discover new possibilities for life to overcome the crisis, since the crisis is as much in our philosophical apparatus (or lack thereof) as it is in the political-economic infrastructure we have inherited from the 19th century. We must fight in this present day for a web that helps humanity obtain the open horizon of freedom to act on these possibilities.

The opposition between Wikileaks and Google is far more complex than it appears in terms of strategy and tactics, and more profound than a simplistic battle between the personalities of Assange and Schmidt. Although technologies like Bitcoin may present the techniques for creating a more decentralized future, the obvious titanic force that could restructure society — including the US government — is obviously Google’s massive technical apparatus itself. At the very same time Google was creating its massive engines of surveillance, a Google employee served on Wikileaks’s advisory board and commented on an early design for its infrastructure. Recently, a Google employee built in their spare time some of the most usable, if still experimental, anonymous communication tools.

In the Ecuadorian Embassy with Julian Assange, I asked him whether or not his ideal audience was in fact not the general public, but Google employees themselves. Exhausted after a guest appearance as a giant hologram at a meeting to US dignitaries where even Eric Schmidt was in attendance, Assange cracked a smile as he contemplated my question. Assange noted that it turns out that he is offering his book at a 20 percent discount for Google employees. May a thousand conspiracies bloom! 


Harry Halpin is Postdoctoral Associate with the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Visiting Researcher at the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation du Centre Pompidou, France.

Correction: The sentence "Levine and PandoDaily are publicly funded by Greylock Partners, who share senior partners with the In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA." was updated. It originally read "Levine and PandoDaily are publicly funded by Greylock Partners, who are senior partners with the In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA."

Second correction:

"So one could argue that the CIA funded Yasha Levine when he exposed that the State Department funded Tor in order to defend CIA agents. The problem with conspiracy theories — including any analysis of conspiracies as networks — is that one immediately runs up against the incommensurable reality of late capitalism: everything is actually connected. Like it or not, everyone is likely connected to both ISIS and Obama within a few links. Conspiracy theory is not theory, but the absence of a theory. Rather than interpreting the world, globe-spanning conspiracies inchoately point to a world that goes beyond the feeble conceptual structures of the conspiracy theorist."

originally read:

"So the CIA funded Yasha Levine when he exposed that the State Department funded Tor in order to defend CIA agents. The problem with conspiracy theories — including any analysis of conspiracies as networks — is that one immediately runs up against the incommensurable reality of late capitalism: everything is actually connected. Like it or not, everyone is likely connected to both ISIS and Obama within a few links. Conspiracy theory is not theory, but the absence of a theory. Rather than interpreting the world, globe-spanning conspiracies inchoately point to a world that goes beyond the feeble conceptual structures of the conspiracy theorist."

We thought the "one could argue" was implied, given that it is a paragraph precisely about how easy it is to spin conspiracy theories from isolated facts; Paul Carr at Pando.com tweeted repeatedly that we were defaming his publication,  wrote to us to cease and desist defaming it and copied his attorney, and so we have made what was obvious and implicit more explicit here. He also thought it important that we note that Howard Cox is not listed as a "Senior Partner" on  Greylock's website; he is, in fact, listed as a "Founding and Special Partner" and "Advisory Partner" on the site. We call him a senior partner, which is not a title, but a description.

LARB Contributor

Harry Halpin is Postdoctoral Associate with the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Visiting Researcher at the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation du Centre Pompidou, France, as part of a European Commission–funded Marie Curie PHILOWEB project. His research interests range from the complex dynamics of tagging to the philosophical foundations of Anonymous. He is the author of Social Semantics: The Search for Meaning on the Web (2012), which analyzes the impact of the web on theories of semantics.


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