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Let's liberate information: Information Liberation: Challenging the Corruptions of Information Power

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  • Zapopan Muela
    Martin, Brian. (1998). Information Liberation. Challenging the Corruptions of Information Power. London: Freedom Press, 189 p. ISBN 0 900384 93 X. Online
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2004
      Martin, Brian. (1998). Information Liberation.
      Challenging the Corruptions of Information Power.
      London: Freedom Press, 189 p. ISBN 0 900384 93 X.
      Online fulltext, HTML:
      Online fulltext, PDF:

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      Albert Einstein wrote in 1949 in his famous
      article "Why socialism?" in the first issue of
      the communist U.S. journal Monthly Review:

      "Private capital tends to become concentrated in
      few hands, partly because of competition among
      the capitalists, and partly because technological
      development and the increasing division of labor
      encourage the formation of larger units of
      production at the expense of smaller ones. The
      result of these developments is an oligarchy of
      private capital the enormous power of which
      cannot be effectively checked even by a
      democratically organized political society. This
      is true since the members of legislative bodies
      are selected by political parties, largely
      financed or otherwise influenced by private
      capitalists who, for all practical purposes,
      separate the electorate from the legislature. The
      consequence is that the representatives of the
      people do not in fact sufficiently protect the
      interests of the underprivileged sections of the
      population. Moreover, under existing conditions,
      private capitalists inevitably control, directly
      or indirectly, the main sources of information
      (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely
      difficult, and indeed in most cases quite
      impossible, for the individual citizen to come to
      objective conclusions and to make intelligent use
      of his political rights."

      "Production is carried on for profit, not for
      use. There is no provision that all those able
      and willing to work will always be in a position
      to find employment; an "army of unemployed"
      almost always exists. The worker is constantly in
      fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and
      poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable
      market, the production of consumers' goods is
      restricted, and great hardship is the
      consequence. Technological progress frequently
      results in more unemployment rather than in an
      easing of the burden of work for all. The profit
      motive, in conjunction with competition among
      capitalists, is responsible for an instability in
      the accumulation and utilization of capital which
      leads to increasingly severe depressions.
      Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of
      labor, and to that crippling of the social
      consciousness of individuals which I mentioned

      This crippling of individuals I consider the
      worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational
      system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated
      competitive attitude is inculcated into the
      student, who is trained to worship acquisitive
      success as a preparation for his future career.

      I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate
      these grave evils, namely through the
      establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied
      by an educational system which would be oriented
      toward social goals. In such an economy, the
      means of production are owned by society itself
      and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned
      economy, which adjusts production to the needs of
      the community, would distribute the work to be
      done among all those able to work and would
      guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and
      child. The education of the individual, in
      addition to promoting his own innate abilities,
      would attempt to develop in him a sense of
      responsibility for his fellow men in place of the
      glorification of power and success in our present
      society." (see the online version at:
      http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.htm or read
      it at: Albert Einstein. Sobre el humanismo.
      Escritos sobre pol�tica, sociedad y ciencia.
      Barcelona: Ediciones Paidos, 1995)

      In 1996 Herbert Irving Schiller, a marxist U.S.
      sociologist, economist, and critic, wrote in one
      of his most stentorean critiques against the U.S.
      informational capitalism, Information Inequality:
      The Deepening Social Crisis in America:

      "The spectacularly improved means of producing,
      organizing, and disseminating information has
      transformed industrial, political, and cultural
      practices and processes. Manufacturing,
      elections, and creative efforts are increasingly
      dependent on informational inputs. This has
      conferred great value on some categories of
      information. The production and sale of
      information have become major sites of profit
      making. What had been in large measure a social
      good has been transformed into a commodity for
      sale.� (Schiller, H.I. (1996). Information
      Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis in
      America. New York; London: Routledge, p. 46.
      Chapter: Data Deprivation.)

      �The American Library Association�s assessment of
      the inadequacy of market forces in providing
      social needs has been demonstrated across five
      centuries of global, and two centuries of
      American capitalist development. Whatever social
      improvements have occurred (e.g. shorter working
      day, Social Security, elimination of child labor)
      have come mostly from social struggle. Market
      forces systematically ignored �where they did not
      combat�the needs of the majority. The current
      enthusiasm for market forces, hardly a popular
      phenomenon, is no long-standing affair.� (Ibid,
      p. 82, Chapter: The Information Superhighway:
      Latest Blind Alley?).

      �All this is not to suggest that social struggles
      in the world at large are on the wane. On the
      contrary! Sooner or later, probably sooner, all
      the continents will be swept by intense conflict,
      taking diverse forms. People everywhere will
      rebel at conditions that violate human respect
      and dignity. As the gaps widen between the
      privileged and the dispossessed in one country
      after another, and between countries as well,
      bitter and prolonged struggles may be
      anticipated, the inevitable outcome of market-led
      development.� (Ibid, p. 138, Chapter: �The
      �failure� of socialism and the next radical

      �Closer to the modern era, the Paris Commune in
      1870, the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Chinese
      Revolution of 1949, and the Cuban Revolution in
      1959 �despite current efforts to disparage these
      events�were brilliant markers, though only that,
      foretelling the next momentous historical step.
      This will be the one that will take human
      existence beyond commodity relationships and its
      present need to �master� nature.� (Ibid, p. 142,
      Chapter: �The �failure� of socialism and the next
      radical moment�).

      In 1998 Brian Martin has written this book,
      Information Liberation. Challenging the
      Corruptions of Information Power, and it really
      challenges the reader. It is an energetic call to
      take action towards the liberation of

      From the back cover can be read:
      Power tends to corrupt, and information power is
      no exception. Information Liberation analyses the
      corruptions of power in a range of crucial
      current areas in the information society,
      including mass media, intellectual property,
      surveillance, bureaucracies, defamation and
      Reform solutions seldom get to the root of
      information problems. Information Liberation
      examines radical alternatives that undermine the
      power of vested interests. Alternatives include
      replacing mass media with network media,
      abolishing intellectual property, and changing
      social institutions that create a demand for
      surveillance. The book canvasses various
      strategies for moving toward these alternatives,
      focussing on grassroots action.
      Information Liberation is provocative. Most
      readers will find something to disagree with.
      That's all part of the process. Everyone needs to
      be involved in discussing information policies
      and practices, rather than leaving the issues to
      experts and vested interests.
      Brian Martin lives in Wollongong, Australia. He
      trained and worked as an applied mathematician
      before switching to social science. He has been
      active for many years in the radical science,
      environmental and peace movements and is the
      author of numerous works in many fields.
      Email: brian_martin@...
      Web: http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/
      This is the chapter 10 from the book:
      �Toward information liberation�

      Information seems like the ideal basis for a
      cooperative society. It can be made available to
      everyone at low cost, and a person can give away
      information and still retain use of it. In
      practice, information is an important part of
      struggles over power, wealth and authority. Some
      people are able to speak through the mass media
      while most others are only listeners. Bureaucrats
      control information in order to control
      subordinates and clients. Surveillance is a
      process of collecting information in order to
      exert power.

      In order to bring about a more just and equal
      society, struggles need to be waged over
      information. It would be nice to call the goal
      "freedom of information." Unfortunately, that
      phrase is already taken over by legislation that
      is supposed to allow citizens access to
      government documents. FOI legislation has not
      been very successful in opening up government to
      public scrutiny. Politicians and government
      bureaucrats have restricted access in various
      ways, including charging fees that make a mockery
      of the name "freedom of information." Even if FOI
      worked perfectly, it is a very limited freedom,
      since it does nothing about corporate secrecy,
      defamation law, surveillance and ownership of

      Since the expression "freedom of information" has
      been degraded, perhaps it is better to talk of
      "information liberation," which is the general
      project of using information to move toward a
      society free of domination. It doesn't make much
      sense to say that information itself is
      oppressed. Rather, information is often a means
      of domination of both humans and the environment.
      The goal is to make information into a tool for

      Information liberation should be thought of as a
      process rather than an end point. What helps
      today in one place to move towards a better
      society might not be appropriate later or
      somewhere else. However, even though there's no
      universal strategy, it can be helpful to look at
      some lessons from the previous chapters. I
      present these ideas as tentative proposals, for
      discussion and debate.

      Live the alternative
      One powerful way to move towards an alternative
      is to begin behaving as if it already exists. If
      the goal is a society based on interactive
      network media, then it is helpful to support and
      use those media. If the goal is a society in
      which there is no censorship to serve vested
      interests, then it is helpful to support free
      speech and not to resort to censorship or
      defamation proceedings oneself.

      It is always easy to criticise someone else's
      attacks on one's own speech. It is much harder to
      recognise the corruptions of power when one has
      the power oneself.

      Work on the inside and outside
      Setting up alternative media is valuable but it's
      also necessary to operate within mainstream media
      to bring about change. To change bureaucratic
      controls over information, an alliance of
      employees and outside activists is quite
      powerful. There is no single best location for
      action for every person. Some people are
      independent of institutions and free to make
      strong statements or take public actions. Others
      are inside powerful organisations and can best
      bring about change by working carefully behind
      the scenes.

      There are traps for both insiders and outsiders.
      The big danger for insiders is becoming part of
      the system and serving to prop it up. How many
      managers in publishing or biotechnology firms
      seek anything other than maximum intellectual
      property rights? How many police or marketeers
      seek to restrain surveillance? On the other hand,
      if insiders go too far in questioning the system,
      they may lose their influence and perhaps their
      careers. Challenging things from the inside is a
      delicate business.

      From the outside, it's possible to be much more
      outspoken. But there is a risk in becoming
      negative and self-righteous--in speaking out in
      order to feel good but without being effective in
      bringing about change.

      Be participatory
      If the aim is open organisations, free speech,
      interactive media and useful ideas, then it's
      important to involve as many people as possible
      in the process of bringing them about. It's not
      wise to rely on experts to do the job. Experts on
      defamation law reform or on avoiding surveillance
      can be very helpful, but can't bring about change
      on their own. If speech is to be freed from
      defamation threats, surveillance and bureaucratic
      controls, plenty of people must exercise their
      speech in the process of bringing about the

      Naturally, there's always a role for the
      individual activist, such as the whistleblower
      who speaks out when others are afraid. But the
      lesson from the experience of whistleblowers is
      that most of them are severely penalised and lead
      to no change in the problem. A collective
      challenge is far more powerful. Building a
      campaign that can involve lots of people is the
      only way that major systems of information power,
      such as mass media and intellectual property,
      will ever be transformed.

      Change both individuals and social structures
      Individual change is vital to social change. So
      part of the process is engaging with friends,
      neighbours, colleagues, clients and others in
      order to raise ideas and try out behaviours.
      Support groups and campaigns can be effective in
      bringing about individual change. A campaign to
      challenge defamation law or promote
      community-oriented research is a tremendous way
      to learn about the issues, sort out ideas and
      learn how the system works.

      Included in individual change is one's own self.
      It is one thing to bring about change in others
      and another to bring about change in one's own
      beliefs and behaviours.

      Individual change is important, but so is change
      in social structures, which includes families,
      governments, capitalism, racism and patriarchy,
      among others. Within these big and pervasive
      social structures, significant changes are
      possible, such as in laws, bureaucratic mandates
      and products. Social structures are not fixed.
      Instead, they are just ways of talking about
      regularities in actions and ideas. They can be
      changed, but it's not easy.

      Individuals affect the dynamics of social
      structures, which in turn affect the way
      individuals operate. So it's important to have a
      process of changing both.

      These four suggested ideas for bringing about
      information liberation are not the final word.
      There are always exceptions, such as occasions to
      use the mass media or rely on experts.
      Furthermore, there are frictions between the
      ideas. Working for change on the inside of a
      large media organisation is valuable, but it is
      not exactly living the alternative. That's to be
      expected. Total self-consistency would leave
      little room for creative approaches.

      My final recommendation is to have fun along the
      way. Trying to bring about a better world can be
      depressing, with constant reminders about the
      massive amount of corruption, injustice and
      violence that exists. Yet part of the goal of a
      better society is one in which there is more joy
      and laughter. Living the alternative means having
      fun along the way, whether that means exposing
      the absurdities of defamation law or
      bureaucracies or designing humorous stunts. There
      are certainly plenty of opportunities in the
      process of information liberation.

      End of chapter 10 and the book.

      Thus, the liberation of information cannot be
      conceptualized in the vacuum. Einstein�s �Why
      socialism,� Schiller�s �Information Inequality�
      and Martin�s �Information Liberation� are three
      different positions for a common phenomenon:
      since capitalism exists social inequalities have
      deepened in every social aspects. Informational
      capitalism at its ultimate expression is not the
      exception. Always was clear of the use of the
      vesanic and irrational military force of the
      governments of capitalist states in order to
      defend the market-driven economies and demolish
      by all means �nuclear bombings, invasions...
      etc.-- all others non market-driven. Perhaps
      never was as clear as today when the US and
      British and allies brutal, ferocious and
      rapacious military force is destroying Irak
      �worst than a wolf destroys a little rabbit; the
      wolf does it to survive, these megalomaniacs do
      it for the pleasure of controlling and ruling the
      world their way-- for the sake of controlling
      the oil industry; that is, the brutal and insane
      military state apparatus for the destruction and
      extermination of the people, the ecology, and the
      general well being of all species and the
      environment, it is the same horrendous force
      backing the �marvelous and paradisiacal� market
      forces committed to �alleviate the hunger and all
      ills of the world�, included the informational.
      But nothing not even a Hawking�s quark closer to
      the truth. Military and market-forces are sisters
      of their only greedy and rapacious mother:

      That�s why the worldwide librarians should take a
      firm position against the market-driven forces
      which are trying now more than before to invade,
      destroy, demolish, control and enslave �as
      everything that comes to their way�information,
      the information commons, the information as a
      social good. That�s why worldwide librarians,
      following the example of the American Library
      Association recorded by Shiller, should say no to
      the market forces and maintain a free,
      gratis�free of charge--, democractic, unhampered,
      unrestricted, open and egalitarian access,
      storage, distribution, and use of information.
      That�s why worldwide librarians should take a
      firm and convinced position towards the never
      ending liberation of information from the insane
      market-military driven forces.

      To learn more about many initiatives towards
      true, free and free of charge universal
      availability, access, storage, distribution and
      use of publications, consult the following:

      Free Online Journals:

      Free Access Theory:

      Free Access Online Archives:

      Free Sofware Foundation (in 30 languages with
      about 3,000 free �they may be free of charge or
      not-- software solutions):

      A final word for the military-market driven:
      �Put down that Weapon� Midnight Oil

      Zapopan Muela
      P.S. Don�t forget to participate now at the
      Social Forum of Information, Documentation and
      Libraries, Buenos Aires, Argentina (online, now,
      and in presence from 26 to 28 August 2004). If
      you cannot attend it does not matter, but your
      participation it does matter, you might send your
      papers or opinions electronically in several of
      the themes of the conference. For more
      information see:
      Themes and papers already registered:
      Grupo de Estudios Sociales en Bibliotecologia y

      Circulo de Estudios sobre Bibliotecolog�a
      Pol�tica y Social

      Zapopan Muela, PhD Student Dept. of Information
      University of Sheffield 211 Portobello Street,
      Sheffield, S1 4DP U.K.
      T:+44 (114) 222 2631 F:+44 (114) 278 0300
      --------------------------- *
      "Any man who read a lot and uses a little his own
      brain falls into lazy mental
      habits.� Albert Einstein (S. Thorpe. How to Think
      like Einstein, p. 214)
      --------------------------- *
      "Cualquier hombre que lea demasiado y utilice
      poco su propio cerebro cae en
      h�bitos mentales perezosos.� Albert Einstein (S.
      Thorpe. Como pensar como
      Einstein, p. 214)

      "no necesito hacer hincapie en que la libertad de ense�anza y la libertad de opinion en la literatura y en la prensa son las bases para el desarrollo natural de cualquier individuo" -- Albert Einstein. Sobre el humanismo. Escritos sobre pol�tica, sociedad y ciencia. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidos, 1995, p. 68.

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