There are other strategies, there's like guessing passwords and there are vulnerabilities that you can get into a system using computational tools. But the other end of hacktivism is helping people to communicate with each other outside the purview of whoever is oppressing the. So one group did a lot of work with individuals in China for example, first of all because of the firewall for the internet in China and they wanted to help people get through that and to communicate through that and to receive information through the rest of the internet.
They've also done things in support of the protestors in Tunisia during the initial Tunisian revolution in which they were helping people to carry on their communications without the government intercepting those communications so a lot of it is basically providing logistical assistance and so forth to keep the lines of communications open for individuals that are being stomped on by their government whether it's Tunisia or China or wherever the case might be.
R.K.: So in a sense hacktivism involves providing activists with defenses against organizations like the NSA?
P.L.: Well the NSA or the Chinese government or the Tunisian government at the time. Basically any sort of system of power. See here's the thing, it doesn't, we focus on the United States or we talk about it because we're in the United States, that's the power center that is most salient to us, but you could be in Putin's Russia or you could be in China and you would face the same problems, and the issue here is why are all of these governments so afraid of hacktivists? And the answer to that is that hacktivists have the ability to expose the secrets of Empire and the secrets of power systems.
And they have the ability to show us how, and this is something that Chris Hedges said, I love the way he put it, Hedges put it like, this is almost word for word what Hedges said that hacktivists have the ability to expose empire and show how rotten it is and what they're exposing is that it's completely rotten.
They're showing us, what they're doing is like the Wizard of Oz where they're showing us behind the curtain and they're showing us what Oz is really like, only it's not like the loveable guy from the Wizard of Oz but the people behind the curtain are, let's face it, they're the sociopaths that you were talking about earlier.
R.K.: They're the sociopaths. So, I'm curious, you are professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and are the topics we're talking about part of your professorial work? Your research? The things you do at the school or is this something else?
P.L.: It's more of a sideline. I have taught a course on hacktivism but there the concern is to make sure that students are thinking critically about what hacktivism is and if they do engage in it or if they do engage in fighting it, I mean I give the same lecture to the students that I would give to potential FBI agents at John J College, is that whatever you do, whether you're going to be a hacktivist or you're going to fight hacktivism, you need to think critically about what's right and what's wrong when you do it, so that's one class. But mostly I'm doing things like in philosophy of language or philosophy of mind or cognitive science. Something along those lines.
R.K.: Does that relate at all to this philosophy of mind and cognitive science?
P.L.: Not directly. It might be, I mean there are certain things that I must be getting informed of from it, I mean one way in which it's related is I sometimes teach a course in epistemology which is the theory of knowledge and what traditionally, when philosophers think about theory of knowledge they want to know, what can I do to make me better at accumulating knowledge and avoiding error?
If you think about it, then well if you're living in an age where people are out there actively looking to deceive you, then your epistemology has to be a lot more sophisticated than it perhaps is at this point. You have to start thinking about what kinds of things defeat knowledge, what kinds of systems of deception are out there trying to present an illusory reality to you, and how do you undermine that?
R.K.: And cognitive science?
P.L.: Well I don't know that there's a direct connection but obviously you can see that if you understand, it's helpful to know what kinds of things can successfully deceive us and cognitive science is concerned with how we perceive the world and the kinds of things that do deceive us, right?
So certain kinds of illusions, for example, some optical illusions are the sort of things you would study in cognitive science, and you're interested in how people form the opinions that they do, and what kinds of things and strategies can change somebody's mind. So if you understand more about how the mind works then you're understanding more about how you can be tricked.
If there's a connection with cognitive science, that would be the connection.
R.K.: Okay. That's not much... but it's interesting because I've had a couple of conversations with Noam Chomsky who is one of the fathers of psycholinguistics and I have been relatively unsuccessful in getting him to tie in any connection -