Wicked is the story of the Wizard of Oz as told from the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Although I’d read (and loved) the book several years ago, it wasn’t until I finally got to watch the excellent musical adaptation in the West End last month that I realised just how much of an allegory it is for our time and the challenges that we face.
In Wicked, we discover that Elphaba, far from being ‘the bad guy’, is an activist and whistleblower working to protect the rights of Animals, whose liberty is threatened by The Wizard and the aristocracy that rule Oz.
In return, she is painted as a terrorist by Oz, sent into exile, and the myth of the Wicked Witch is created and reinforced by the media of the time.
Rachel Tucker as Elphaba in the West End productions of Wicked
In short, Wicked is a beautifully subversive, feminist, and progressive telling of the Wizard of Oz which, while written over ten years ago, resonates ever more strongly today as the cracks in the dominant narratives we’re fed become impossible to ignore in the face of unconscionable systemic inequality and impending environmental catastrophe.
After the show, I was talking to lead actress Rachel Tucker and she told me she was very much aware of the parallels, saying she had had goosebumps as she was performing the role following the election of Donald Trump as president in the US.
If 2016 has shown us anything, it should be that we are truly living in a topsy-turvy Bizarro World where Orwellian doublethink has become the norm. We’ve created a corporatocracy and called it democracy. We’ve constructured a panopticon and named it freedom.
President-elect Donald Trump discusses fuck-knows-what with Silicon Valley tech leaders from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Palantir, and many others who, collectively, know more about all of us than anyone else on the planet.
Our smart phones, smart watches, smart televisions, smart homes, smart cars, and smart cities are getting increasingly smarter about us.
And yet they are not ours.
We do not own or control them.
They are owned and controlled by corporations and all of the intimate insight they have into our lives are accessible to governments. Instead of a system where technology enables us to get smarter about ourselves, we’ve built one where a handful of giant multinational corporations and their long-tail of hungry startups are getting smarter about us.
2016 is 1984 and Big Brother is Big Data.
I’m not here to convince you of any of this. It would be silly to waste another moment trying to explain how the system is broken when we have already done so many times and clearly and eloquently. This is the time for action and it’s time for you to decide whether you are part of The Resistance or part of the problem.
Yours truly, making the case, dare I say, clearly and eloquently. As have others. Footage courtesy Doku:Tech, Kosovo.
If you’re still here, good, welcome to The Resistance!
Here’s what we do:
Regulate via technology. Build tools for everyday people that protect them from mainstream Silicon Valley technology. Better is an example of how Laura and I are trying to help at Ind.ie. (Better blocks web trackers on Safari on iOS and Mac. It’s seamless to install and run and doesn’t require any investment of time to learn or operate.)
Regulate via law. Support politicians working to remove the influence of lobbying – of corporate finance – in public policymaking. We must reduce the institutional corruption that defines policymaking at bodies like the European Commission if we are to have a chance to effectively regulate the worst abuses of Silicon Valley.
Fund and build ethical alternatives. The best defence is offence. We must fund and build ethical technology that is owned and controlled by individuals. Let’s build a technology commons in the EU based on an interoperable, commons-based, decentralised, zero-knowledge base.
If all that sounds like too much, don’t despair. You don’t have to solve it all yourself.
Everything you do or do not do, however small, matters.
If you work in technology, vote with your body.
If you work at a company like Google or Facebook or <insert names of the ~3,000 adtech companies that exist today and farm people>, look around for alternative companies you can work at. Look for a company that sells products, not people. Eric Schmidt once told me, "if we [Google] become too evil, we won’t find anyone to work for us" – let’s prove him right!
If you don’t, vote with your dollars, or euros, or what-have-you.
Ask companies ‘what is your business model?’ Or, simply, ‘how do you make money?’ If they cannot give you a straight answer, or if the answer isn’t ‘by selling our products’, move on.
Avoid ‘free’ (zero cost) products unless they are also free (as in freedom) and open source. Steer clear of the products of people farmers like Google (e.g., Android phones, Chromebooks, Home, VR, etc.) and Microsoft (Windows 10, etc.) Apple’s products are a good stop gap (Apple makes money by selling products not people) but also look at free (as in freedom) alternatives like the gorgeous Linux laptops by Puri.sm that ‘just work’.
In 2017, let’s not waste a single moment trying to change the incumbents of Surveillance Capitalism, because that is futile. We are not going to make organic farms out of factory farms. Let’s focus our energies on protecting people from the abuses of Silicon Valley. And let’s fund and build an alternative, commons-based, decentralised, interoperable, zero-knowledge, free and open infrastructure.
I’m not going to end by wishing you a better new year but by imploring you to action to help us create a better new year.
In Wicked, when Elphaba learns the truth about The Wizard of Oz, she decides that she must resist, even if it means defying gravity.
That’s our challenge for 2017.
Here’s to The Resistance…
Here’s to defying gravity!