/ / Attack Surface, Little Brother

In an interview in the LA Review of Books, Technology and Politics Are Inseparable: An Interview with Cory Doctorow, Eliot Peper digs into the backstory and ethos of the Little Brother books in general and Attack Surface in particular:

Attack Surface explores how technology is not the solution to social problems, but a morally neutral accelerant to political action, and that ultimately only politics can solve social problems. How did you learn this lesson? How did it change your worldview? What does it mean for someone who wants to contribute to building a better future?

I started in politics — my parents are activists who started taking me to protests when I was in a stroller. But in 1977, when I was six, we got our first computer (a teletype terminal and acoustic coupler that let me connect to a DEC minicomputer at the university my dad was studying at). I never thought that computers on their own could solve our political problems — but I always thought that computers would play an important role in social and political struggles.

Technology and politics are inseparable. There’s a kind of nerd determinism that denies politics (“Our superior technology makes your inferior laws irrelevant”). But just as pernicious is the inverse, the politicos who insist that technology is irrelevant to struggle, sneering about “clicktivism” and “solutionism.” I have logged innumerable hours wheatpasting posters for demonstrations to telephone poles. I can’t believe that anyone who claims networked computers don’t change how politics work has ever wheatpasted a single handbill.

Cryptography cannot create a stable demimonde that is impregnable to oppressive, illegitimate states — over time, you and your co-dissidents will make a mistake, and the protection of math will vanish. But the fact that it’s not impregnable doesn’t disqualify cryptography from being significant to political struggle. Nothing is impregnable. Crypto is a tool — not a tool for obviating politics, but a tool for doing politics.

Moreover, the existence of crypto — the fact that everyday people can have secrets that can’t be read without their consent — changes the equilibrium in oppressive states. The privilege of the powerful — secrecy — has spread to the general public, which means that leaders who are tempted to take oppressive action have to take account of the possibility that the people they oppress will be able to plan their downfall in ways that they will struggle to detect.