Monday, October 17, 2011

And then what?

On October 10th, the hacker group Anonymous failed to take down the NYSE website.  Whether they ever made a serious go at it is unknown.  While there are some advantages to being a fully decentralized organization, it's limits include a lack of ability for anybody, including itself, to ever know its full agenda or action plan.  Insofar as it ever existed, the planned attack was apparently an attempt to show solidarity for the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters.

I will confess that I remain confused over the ultimate aims of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and especially about how anybody (including themselves) will know if they've "won".  But I'm especially confused about the purpose and presumed benefits of executing a denial of service attack on the NYSE website.  What, exactly, is the point?  If it succeeded, NYSE might be forced to buy a couple extra servers to beef up their capacity.  Maybe they'll dream up some additional security measures, although there's really not too much you can do against this type of attack.  Some system administrators would be mildly inconvenienced (although they'd also gain some additional job security), and life would go on.

I'm not opposed to protests and revolutions.  But I'm a big picture guy, and a systems thinker to boot.  I'm wildly unpopular at cocktail parties, because I refuse to concede that the ills of the world can be accurately summarized in a few sweeping generalities.  If you knock down an existing system or institution, that immediately raises the question "And then what?"   If you believe that our country is being compromised by a network of good ole boys in a system of "crony capitalism", then I can appreciate that.  But if you think that you can change that system by taking down the website of the NYSE, then that's pathetic.  What you need is to have a deep understanding of the economic, social and psychological factors that have created that system.  Certainly there is much that might be done by addressing legal issues such as corporate governance, director accountability, accounting standards, capitalization ratios, and financial transparency.  You might choose to tinker with the minimum wage, or campaign finance law.  But a denial of service attack?  Come on.

The American revolution was won on the battlefield.  But it's a critical mistake to believe that victory in war created a new nation.  The nation was born in the painstaking hours of drudgery spent in Philadelphia and elsewhere as delegates from across the colonies argued complex points of philosophy, law and history to create the compromise that became the legal framework of the United States of America.

So tell me your manifesto, what you think the problem is, and prove to me that you understand the complex system that has created it and perpetuates it.  I may or may not join you.  But I'm not going to believe youre worth joining unless you can, at a minimum, answer the question "And then what?"

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