Thursday, 28 April 2016

Piratism, Edward Snowden and Iceland's vision for a better world



Much like how Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight was the saviour of Gotham before he transformed into Two-Face, Edward Snowden – whose whistleblowing revealed global mass surveillance by Western governments –  is the hero that Britain and indeed Europe deserves. Snowden has been a driving force behind the online and real life protest movements calling for the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, following revelations from the Panama Papers leaks that Cameron was a beneficiary of offshore tax avoidance involving his late father, which he previously publicly lied about before being forced to admit the facts. Given that Snowden is currently fugitive in Putin’s Russia, from where a number of oligarchs have settled in England and benefited from offshore banking and real estate policies favourable to their vested interests, the ever brave Snowden is probably once again putting himself at risk by speaking out so stridently against the corruption of the UK establishment.


Snowden has advised that Britain should follow the revolutionary example set by Iceland, the people of which have managed to force new elections and depose Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson after the Panama Papers revealed that he, like Cameron, was a beneficiary of an offshore banking scheme. But Iceland is a nation that is already well-acquainted with velvet insurrections against the corruption of its elites. In many European countries – including the UK – the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 led to the imposition of brutal austerity policies, following the bailout of the financial institutions that caused it through their reckless greed and crashed European economies into direly reducing government revenues.


But this was not the case in Iceland, where mass protests in 2009 led to a peaceful revolution that successfully resisted public money being used to bailout banks or take out usurious loans from institutions that have ravaged countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal. A number of Icelandic bankers have actually been jailed for their corruption, with the perceived leniency of the criminal punishments meted against them being one of the reasons for the current protests.


The 2009 revolution also led to the creation of a citizen-led constitutional convention that formulated laws such as expanding suffrage by allowing voting in national elections via the internet, declaring the national resources of Iceland public property, allowing national referenda on an issue if 15% of citizens supported it, and introducing term limits for the president. These laws were formally ratified in 2012.


The political party that has harnessed and pioneered the revolutionary spirit of Icelandic politics has only existed since 2012, but has rapidly become a major player in the Icelandic political system. The Pirate Party of Iceland (PPI), party of the broader global Pirate Party movement, was set up by a group of anti-corruption activists and open culture advocates. It won three seats in the Althing (national parliament) at the 2013 general election, and since then it has at some points led in the national opinion polls. Most Pirate parties are fringe and unrepresented, but in Iceland they are a serious candidate for a party of government.


As proponents of pirate politics, the Pirates established their party to advocate policies in keeping with the values of the 2009 revolution, pivoted around freedom of information, government transparency and protection of the civil liberties of Icelandic citizens in opposition to the War on Terror trend of the surveillance state. Appropriately they sponsored a bill to grant Snowden refuge and citizenship in Iceland.


Since their foundation, the Pirates have developed a full manifesto of a broadly economically communitarian and socially libertarian persuasion. So fundamentally they are anarchist in orientation – with founding member and MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir using the anarchist symbol to represent the A in her name on Twitter – but inspiringly present a vision for an anti-authoritarian society actually functioning in practice.


In a broader context the Pirates’ idealism and policy planks are relevant on an international scale. Our world is more technologically advanced than ever before and continues to develop at a rapid rate, yet both our political and economic orders lag stagnantly behind, leaving millions in chronic states of social immobility, and political disengagement and disillusionment. At worst this amounts to the extreme poverty that up to a billion people languish in, while multi-trillions are hoarded in offshore tax havens by a fragment of the top one percent. The widening inequality and ongoing revelations of maleficence among the global elite only continue to worsen these drastic economic and political gulfs.


The key values that the Pirates propose for Iceland is direct democracy, and rebalancing and utilisation of resources, actually relative to the progress of technology and expansion of wealth. As proponents of open culture and open information, they believe in a reform of copyright and patent laws to ensure that intellectual property is protected, while lifting public restrictions on scientific discoveries and technological innovations unhampered if the research into and building upon them was facilitated, rather than obstructed in the vested interests of a few major corporations.


In terms of economic and social welfare policies, the Pirates are among the most high profile campaigners for a universal basic income (UBI), a policy that has also been proposed in Switzerland and is advocated by the Green Party in the UK. UBI was one of the key demands of the recent Four Demands anti-austerity match in London. It would replace the invasive bureaucracy of the welfare state with a system in which every citizen would receive a fixed financial sum to ensure their basic standard of living and mobility – a fair redistribution of wealth considering the ravaging of European treasuries and economies by the financial sector. UBI would be a transitional step towards a humanistic society in which we could live our lives without fear in pursuit of our natural abilities and interests, to the broader advantage of our societies and communities as well.
Similarly, the Pirates believe in a holistic education policy in which with curriculums are based around cultivating the unique abilities of each student from childhood, rather than being fixated on class indoctrination and meeting arbitrary quotas, and where tuition-fee universities focus on teaching and research to benefit society, rather than operating as factories driven by student debt and vested for-profit interests.


Another of the Pirates’ notable key policy points is reform of drug policy – advocating altering drug laws to treat drug addiction as a public health rather than a criminal issue that pointlessly penalises vulnerable people for suffering with drug dependency. As with the UBI policy this compassionate approach is emblematic of a worldview that seeks to address the core problems resulting in mental and physical illness, and social breakdown, rather than simply managing the decline that defines grossly unequal Western societies.


And finally, while Iceland is not a member of the European Union, the Pirates take a neutral approach towards any hypothetical future EU membership. In keeping with its belief in direct democracy, it believes that citizens should have the right to openly review and analyse the internal workings of the EU in order to fairly consider their country’s place within it. This would be a welcome step towards an EU representing a more Social Europe rather than one defined by bureaucrats imposing a neoliberal agenda on behalf of multinational financial institutions; something for the left to consider in relation to the UK’s upcoming EU referendum, regardless of whether supporting a Remain or Leave vote.

As revealed by the likes of Snowden and the Panama Papers, it is clearer than ever that corruption, injustice and poor quality of life thrives under the imposition of draconian, corporatist and technocratic secrecy and elitism. The Pirates of Iceland are showing their southwards neighbours in Britain and Europe the way a more just, humane, healthy and cutting-edge order of things.  Let’s join their movement and set sail to a new and better world.

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