Manifesto of Congress for Cultural Freedom

Drafted by Arthur Koestler, who delivered it in Berlin in 1950.

1. We hold it to be self-evident that intellectual freedom is one of the inalienable rights of man.

2. Such freedom is defined first and foremost by his right to hold and express his own opinions, and particularly opinions which differ from those of his rulers. Deprived of the right to say “no,” man becomes a slave.

3. Freedom and peace are inseparable. In any country, under any regime, the overwhelming majority of ordinary people fear and oppose war. The danger of war becomes acute when governments, by suppressing democratic representative institutions, deny to the majority the means of imposing its will to peace.

Peace can be maintained only if each government submits to the control and inspection of its acts by the people whom it governs, and agrees to submit all questions immediately involving the risk of war to a representative international authority, by whose decisions it will abide.

4. We hold that the main reason for the present insecurity of the world is the policy of governments which, while paying lip-service to peace, refuse to accept this double control. Historical experience proves that wars can be prepared and waged under any slogan, including that of peace. Campaigns for peace which are not backed by acts that will guarantee its maintenance are like counterfeit currency circulated for dishonest purposes. Intellectual sanity and physical security can only return to the world if such practices are abandoned.

5. Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance.

6. No political philosophy or economic theory can claim the sole right to represent freedom in the abstract. We hold that the value of such theories is to be judged by the range of concrete freedom which they accord the individual in practice.

We likewise hold that no race, nation, class or religion can claim the sole right to represent the idea of freedom, nor the right to deny freedom to other groups or creeds in the name of any ultimate ideal or lofty aim whatsoever. We hold that the historical contribution of any society is to be judged by the extent and quality of the freedom which its members actually enjoy.

7. In times of emergency, restrictions on the freedom of the individual are imposed in the real or assumed interest of the community. We hold it to be essential that such restrictions be confined to a minimum of clearly specified actions; that they be understood to be temporary and limited expedients in the nature of a sacrifice; and that the measures restricting freedom be themselves subject to free criticism and democratic control. Only thus can we have a reasonable assurance that emergency measures restricting individual freedom will not degenerate into a permanent tyranny.

8. In totalitarian states restrictions on freedom are no longer intended and publicly understood as sacrifices imposed on the people, but are, on the contrary, represented as triumphs of progress and achievements of a superior civilisation. We hold that both the theory and practice of these regimes run counter to the basic rights of the individual and the fundamental aspirations of mankind as a whole.

9. We hold the danger represented by these regimes to be all the greater since their means of enforcement far surpasses that of all previous tyrannies in the history of mankind. The citizen of the totalitarian state is expected and forced not only to abstain from crime but to conform in all his thoughts and actions to a prescribed pattern. Citizens are persecuted and condemned on such unspecified and all-embracing charges as “enemies of the people” or “socially unreliable elements.”

10. We hold that there can be no stable world so long as mankind, with regard to freedom, remains divided into “haves” and “have-nots.”  The defence of existing freedoms, the reconquest of lost freedoms, and the creation of new freedoms are parts of the same struggle.

11. We hold that the theory and practice of the totalitarian state are the greatest challenge which man has been called on to meet in the course of civilised history.

12. We hold that indifference or neutrality in the face of such a challenge amounts to a betrayal of mankind and to the abdication of the free mind. Our answers to this challenge may decide the fate of man for generations.

13. The defence of intellectual liberty today imposes a positive obligation: to offer new and constructive answers to the problems of our time.

14. We address this manifesto to all men who are determined to regain those liberties which they have lost and to preserve and extend those which they enjoy.

Networked blindness

When it comes to defence of the common knowledge in a democracy, disinfo research that focuses primarily on networks can be problematic.

Just look at recent history.

Since the Kremlin interfered with the US election in 2016, the focus of democracy’s defence has been “the network.” Researchers look for and find malicious accounts there.  

But in the era of the attention economy, even focusing on the network can distract us from where we should be looking. 

In 2020, a coterie of public figures, including former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, helped push deceptive statements, linked back to Russia, into the American political debate, with the goal of hurting Joe Biden’s candidacy.

By using an ‘influencer’ strategy the Kremlin’s proxies simply cake-walked past the Maginot Line of defense erected by the disinformation research community.

Years earlier, in 2016, the White House’s (and much of the public’s) attention was on the networks of cybersecurity

But at that time, it was the content on those networks, not the networks themselves, that was the primary target for meddling and mayhem.

In the years ahead, you can expect the venue of the mayhem to change again.

In other words, guessing the vector of an “information attack” is nearly impossible.

So our best long-term defence may not be in patrolling networks.

Crypto assault on the post-Bretton Woods order picks up speed

The New York Times recently published a story: “Crypto’s Rapid Move Into Banking Elicits Alarm in Washington” that highlights the speed with which the industry is challenging the regulatory ability.

Unlike inventions like Facebook or Uber, which come from Silicon Valley (a physical place), cryptocurrency, starting with the mysterious paper by Satoshi Nakamoto, comes from the internet. 

It basically comes from everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. So there is no central place to address it, view it, support it, oppose it, or stop it. 

This everywhere-reality will factor into how governments respond to it in coming years. At this point, whatever regulators do will act a bit like the engineering of the cryptocurrencies themselves, helping to adjust its trajectory in the coming months and years.

For that reason, crypto’s emergence as a sticking point in the US infrastructure is a moment of disruption

To the degree that there is thought behind much of the industry, the hope is to challenge, erode and supplant the power and legitimacy of traditional banking. For real crypto activists, the hope is to challenge central banks and the system of currency stability put in place at the end of World War II.

For a look at one scenario of cryptocurrency, have a scan of what’s going on in Lebanon. As the economy and currency crumbles, cryptocurrency and its associated businesses fill in the gaps. 

Cryptocurrency promises the ability to conduct transactions with zero trust. But what problem does this solve? Or whose problem? People who live in incredibly low-trust environments such as post-Soviet states, hackers, etc. 

You can’t point to many successful societies where almost no social trust exits. So the problem crypto, and its associated businesses, solves is one found in a low-trust society. 

For that reason, undermining the legitimacy of government and central banks (especially) is the core of the sales pitch of crypto. 

You don’t buy a new mattress if you’re content with your current mattress. So, a mattress sales campaign shows you that you are indeed missing a better world through better sleep made possible through the new patented technology used to produce the new mattress. It solves a problem you didn’t know you had. 

Likewise, cryptocurrency’s sales pitch claims central banks are systemically inflating away the value of the public’s savings held in fiat currency, leaving behind the “unbanked”, and that this is the generationally new way of doing business that represents a kind of new and better world. 

If you’re shut out of the housing market and stable full-time work, the promise of a better world offered by cryptocurrency (to say nothing of the change to access quick wealth) could nonetheless be attractive.