Summary: Moldbug on the Aaron Schwartz affair. Power is a very real thing with real consequences for activists, yet many people don't understand the nature of power in modern times. People like Noam Chomsky get great fame doing bad epistomology about who has power, and as a result do great harm to idealistic nerds who don't read between the lines to selectively target their attacks at weak institutions (Exxon, Pentagon) instead of strong ones (State, academica incl. MIT).
Here he returns to a theme that is one of his real contributions to blogospheric political thought: that victory in political competitions provides Bayesian information about who has power and who doesn't. If your worldview has the underdog somehow systematically beating the overdog, your epistemology is simply wrong - in the same way, and to the same extent, as a geocentrist who has to keep adding epicycles to account for anomalous observations.
The truth is that the weapons of "activism" are not weapons which the weak can use against the strong. They are weapons the strong can use against the weak. When the weak try to use them against the strong, the outcome is... well... suicidal.
Who was stronger - Dr. King, or Bull Connor? Well, we have a pretty good test for who was stronger. Who won? In the real story, overdogs win. Who had the full force of the world's strongest government on his side? Who had a small-town police force staffed with backward hicks? In the real story, overdogs win.
"Civil disobedience" is no more than a way for the overdog to say to the underdog: I am so strong that you cannot enforce your "laws" upon me. I am strong and might makes right - I give you the law, not you me. Don't think the losing party in this conflict didn't try its own "civil disobedience." And even its own "active measures." Which availed them - what? Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
This means that activists like King, Schwartz, and Assange are only effective in bullying the weak, not standing up to the strong (despite conventional narratives that misassign strengths to institutions). When such activists stop following the script, and naively use the same tactics to attack strong institutions, reality reasserts itself quite forcefully:
You know, when I read that Assange had his hands on a huge dump of DoD and State documents, I figured we would never see those cables. Sure enough, the first thing he released was some DoD material.
Why? Well, obviously, Assange knew the score. He knew that Arlington is weak and Georgetown is strong. He knew that he could tweak Arlington's nose all day long and party on it, making big friends in high society, and no one would even think about reaching out and touching him. Or so I thought.
In fact, my cynicism was unjustified. In fact, Assange turned out to be a true believer, not a canny schemer. He was not content to wield his sword against the usual devils of the Chomsky narrative. Oh no, the poor fscker believed that he was actually there to take on the actual powers that be. Who are actually, of course, unlike the cartoon villains... strong. If he didn't know that... he knows it now!
...But had Aaron Swartz plugged his laptop into the Exxon internal network and downloaded everything Beelzebub knows about fracking, he would be a live hero to this day. Why? Because no ambitious Federal prosecutor in the 21st century would see a route to career success through hounding some activist at Exxon's behest...
But when you take on a genuinely respected institution - whether State or MIT - your "civil disobedience" has all the prospects of George Wallace in the schoolhouse door.
Then he takes his beliefs seriously, and speaks actual truth to actual power. Well, ya know, power doesn't like that much.