Ten years separate the talk given by Frank Rieger and Rop Gonggrijp at the 2005 Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin and the one given by Peter Sunde of Piratbyrån and The Pirate Bay at Transmediale in the same city in 2015, but their message is the same --- we lost. We, who believed the Internet could change society, that technology could take other paths than surveillance, centralization and consumerism. The battle is lost and the juggernaut of the security industry, power and capital has been unable to stop.
What is also lost is the potential of the now so popular artistic hacking practices at a time when the tech industry on the one hand supersedes any artistic attempt at parody of it when they make themselves look like idiots in more extravagant ways every day and on the other hand continues to be able to incorporate critic and creativity to make itself stronger.
Realizing that you lost can be a powerful thing both depressing and liberating.
There are different reactions to the realization that you lost. The first impulse is to give up. Giving up leads to cynicism, disconnection from social contexts or postponing any action until you "figured things out". Needless to say this is a dark path. But equally bad is denial of loss. Believing that if you just keep going, the next time you will really show them. It's just around the corner, just a few more projects away. Just have to try a little harder next time. The longer time passes the more the feeling that it won't happen keeps creeping up on you. The new projects and ideas seem just a little bit more hollow than the last ones. You should have stopped already a long time ago.
The more active reaction is to shut down. Determined, proactive, and with intent. There are different ways of shutting down. Piratbyrån burned the file sharing debate in a big book burning when it had run its course. KLF burned a million pounds when they left the music industry. Both The Pirate Bay themselves and their adversaries have been trying to shut it down for years but it keeps being reborn. Only by quiting forcefully before it is too late can a loss be turned into something else than a defeat.
But there is never a good point to shut down. Either you are too early and people think you are making a fuss about nothing and are just destroying the party with your negativity, or you are too late and no one cares anymore. The shutdown becomes a fade away and looses its liberatory powers. You need to shut something down that you still care deeply about. If you can't decide if it is the right thing to do or not, it probably is.
The context of the talk from Chaos Communication Congress of how we lost the war came out of the last great battles for privacy and against biometric identification in a Germany with the cold war still fresh in memory and from the fight against surveillance in a terrorism-frightened Netherlands. In the talk they project forward ten years to 2015. Technological limits for data retention that existed in 2005 are done away with and technical capacities for surveillance are infinite. Yet they also postpone the hope of a new resistance ten years into the future. Maybe in 2015 people have had enough and ten years of capacity building for technological resistance can change society. It is these promises of a large "prosecution of the criminals of the security industry in 2015" that sound the most depressing today. Ten years later we catch up with those predictions in Peter's talk that comes a few months after he came out of prison and his exhaustion from ten years of activism against copyright laws, trade agreements and in the backwaters of massive leaks of information about surveillance that led to absolutely nothing.
It would be unwise to predict ten years into the future again. But one thing is clear, tactics of the last 5 years whether legal, political, activist or artistic have resulted in little progress and have not kept up with the latest control measures. There's no use banging our heads against the wall anymore. Either your head will explode or they will simply open the door and let you in. Either way, no house will come crumbling down. It was as true in 2005 as when Peter says it in 2015. Let's face it, we lost, we all lost.
"We Lost", from F.A.T. GOLD: San Francisco. By Magnus Eriksson and Evan Roth.