The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast

Peter Ludlow, on Systemic Evil, Whistleblowers and Hacktivism

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Peter Ludlow is a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and writes frequently on digital culture, hacktivism and the surveillance state.

i was inspired to invite him on as a guest because of this article he wrote for the NY Times, The Banality of Systemic Evil.  The article starts off: 

In recent months there has been a visible struggle in the media to come to grips with the leaking, whistle-blowing and hacktivism that has vexed the United States military and the private and government intelligence communities. This response has run the gamut. It has involved attempts to condemn, support, demonize, psychoanalyze and in some cases canonize figures like Aaron Swartz, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

In broad terms, commentators in the mainstream and corporate media have tended to assume that all of these actors needed to be brought to justice, while independent players on the Internet and elsewhere have been much more supportive. Tellingly, a recent Time magazine cover story has pointed out a marked generational difference in how people view these matters: 70 percent of those age 18 to 34 sampled in a poll said they believed that Snowden "did a good thing" in leaking the news of the National Security Agency's surveillance program.

So has the younger generation lost its moral compass?

No. In my view, just the opposite.

Clearly, there is a moral principle at work in the actions of the leakers, whistle-blowers and hacktivists and those who support them. I would also argue that that moral principle has been clearly articulated, and it may just save us from a dystopian future.

In "Eichmann in Jerusalem," one of the most poignant and important works of 20th-century philosophy, Hannah Arendt made an observation about what she called "the banality of evil."

My very rough interview notes-- mostly my questions.

Can you talk about the Banality of Evil and Hannah Arendt


Let's talk about systemic evil.

Moral Mazes book-- 

You're a guy who studies writes about words. Can you talk about "Evil."

Dignity-- I recently interviewed Robert Fuller, who speaks about Dignitarism. 



resistance to bottom up

Internet can be used to impose order in a top down manner-- as a surveillance tool. 

Why is metadata the most dangerous thing to give up?

Easy to identify leaders. I wonder if they use that info to disrupt communications-- literally screw up email. 

What do you mean by "impose order?"

Private intelligence organizations  like Stratfor". monitor orgs, use military strategies. 

So a lot of the order you're talking about is identifying emerging threats to the existing system or order.

This makes me think of Don Siegelman, how there are thousands of ways to disrupt and undermine 

Justice Potter-- 

Stratfor-- irregular warfare--  Jeremy Hammond did a dump of Stratfor info 

Barret Brown did a link 

Talk a bit about Stratfor and H.B. Garry

It looks like the government is spending 60% 70% on private contractors, so, the FBI has become these private companies.

Tim Sherrock book-- private intelligence business

Intelligence community that is un-regulated

Booz-allen, Stratfor, 

Have you thought about that group of people and how they fit into this picture (psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists) 

So, these systems or organizations get the psychopaths to manifest more openly, or create them. 

It seems that things are getting worse- we're not stopping the 8 million sociopaths, we're promoting them. 

We're promoting psychopaths. 

In your article you talk about the millennials-- it seems there's something hopeful happening there. 

"There is a new way of thinking about these things. " Talk more about that. 

Institutions we're supposed to trust are not trustworthy. 

Talk about heroes-- today, if a young person wants to be a hero, he should get a job, then tell the truth. 

I gotta say that I DO care about what a hero is. 

But your reference to the heroic action is central to what it is to become a hero. 

You've written about hacktivism. Can you talk a bit about that?

Repurposing technology for purposes for which it was not originally intended.

Hacktivism seems to be a very bottom up kind of activity. 

Are Cass Sunstein's ideas on using sock puppets and fake  personas on line examples of hacktivism.


Denial of service attack that shuts down a website, like a sit-in. 

What are the different mechanisms in hacktivism

    Distributed denial of Service attack

   penetration of a system-- 

   helping people to communicate with each other outside the purview of orgs attempting to suppress them, like Chinese firewall. 

so, in  a sense, hacktivism involves providing defense against organizations like the NSA

      any system of power. 

Hacktivists have the ability to expose the secrets of empire---

Hedges-- hacktivists have the ability to expose empire and show how rotten it is and showing how it is completely rotten. 

Connection to job as a professor?

Philosophy of mind and cognitive science-- tie in with what we've been talking about?

What are you going to write about next?

Book from Oxford university press-- how we shift or modulate word meanings

Book on trolls-- "griefers"

scatologica and transgressive-- Barrett Brown was a griever in "Second Life."

Are you saying that griefers or trolls have some  positive aspects. 

You're talking more about digital court jesters.

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Rob Kall is editor-in-chief, publisher and site architect of, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor. He hosts the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, aired in the Metro Philly area on AM 1360, WNJC. Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the

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Rob is, with the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

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I am honored to be mentioned in an interview with ... by Robert Fuller on Saturday, Oct 5, 2013 at 4:38:46 PM