AARON SWARTZ AND BRADLEY MANNING: HOW THE US GOVERNMENT CONTAINS THOSE WHO WOULD FREE INFORMATION
“Remember how they outlawed acid soon as they found out it was a channel to something they didn’t want us to see? Why should information be any different?”
So says paranoid, stoner gumshoe Doc Sportello to the protohacker Fritz in Thomas Pynchon’s stem-winding psychedelic noir novel Inherent Vice. Doc’s referring to ARPANET, an early form of the internet. Pynchon may just have been playing to countercultural nostalgia, but then again, as any Pynchon nut will tell you, the hermetic author has always been on the side of misfits, running his subversive types through a gauntlet of endless Menippean carnivals.
But here’s the thing that Pynchon misses (maybe it’s just a function of Doc’s stoned operating filter): information has always been, in some form or another, outlawed. Did the good doctor forget prepsychedelic human history? Perhaps Doc’s naïveté is irrelevant when we consider that the internet and psychedelics—likened to one another by Tim Leary, Terrence McKenna, and others—blow information and consciousness wide open.
When Doc asks Fritz when the government is going to outlaw ARPANET and thus information, Fritz responds, “What. Why would they do that?”
Western civilization’s democracies will likely never outlaw the internet (they need it for the free market, you see)—but they have declared war on those who would use it to free once-secret information. And so it was with Aaron Swartz, and thus shall it be with Bradley Manning, the young Army soldier suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with its diplomatic cable dump. One is dead, the other contained (for now).
Manning knows the dimensions of his prison cell well. Since his arrival in 2010 he’s probably surveyed every dimple and crenulation of his cell’s concrete walls during his daily 23-hour isolation sessions.