Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mandela was a great man

Mandela was a bad revolutionary. His side committed atrocities fighting against Apartheid.

Being a victim doesn't make one great. Just because he languished in jail for almost 30 years doesn't make him a great person.

What made Nelson Mandela one of the greatest people of the last 50 years is his presidency. In Africa, revolutionary leaders regularly became worse despots than the colonialists they replaced. What would have normally happened after the end of apartheid would have been righteous anger driving the country into ruin.

Instead, Mandela set his country on a path toward reconciliation, setting up a commission that exposed not only the evils of his political opponents, but the evils of his own side. He created a system to help blacks prosper on their own rather than confiscating the prosperity of whites.

And then, and this is the important part, he stepped down, and ceded power to the next president.

I point this out because of the way that "cyber activsists" glorify the wrong people, or glorify them for the wrong reasons. Che Guevara t-shirts are the norm at conferences like DEF CON. That famous picture of Che wasn't of him in a jungle fighting oppression, but him as the oppressor. It was snapped shortly after Che presided at show-trials, purging Cuba of anybody that opposed the rule of him and Castro. These t-shirts celebrate despotism, not revolution. 

When people in our community win power, they turn despotic. Julian Assange is a great example. Wikileaks was built by the contributions of many people, most notably Daniel Domscheit-Berg. But, in exactly the same way that Stalin purged Trotsky, or Napoleon purged Snowball, Assange purged Berg, becoming the sole person responsible for Wikileaks.

Likewise, I saw the same thing at Occupy Wall Street: no matter how petty the power, people tend to abuse it.

Our community glorifies the likes of Weev and Jeremy Hammond because of their unjust treatment at the hands of the law. While we should indeed be angry at the system, the individuals kinda suck. Weev is a nasty troll, and Hammond is evil, attacking free speech rather than standing up for it. Moreover, the reason for their unjust treatment at the hands of the law is as much their fault as the law's. They intentionally antagonized the courts to receive worst sentences. Weev is in jail for 3 years because he tried to maximize his jail term, not minimize it. These people seek adoration for being victims, not for being heroes. This in turn sets legal precedents that endanger all of us. In the long run, this may be the best strategy to effect change, but that doesn't make these people heroes, just jerks.

What we should learn from Mandela is that what made him a great man is that when in power, he behaved with principle, rather than letting the power corrupt him. We should all strive to be that type of person, rather than the corrupt revolutionary or the corrupt victim.

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