Imagine if 16th century Venice, which had a de facto monopoly on Gutenberg’s printing press technology, had managed to keep the world-changing invention to itself and simply cash in on surreptitious “upgrades” to the machine. We would still be in the dark ages.
Fortunately for us, the legal-corporate-intellectual property racket had yet to fully merge or even take shape in the minds of the ruling elites, and a global transformation ensued as book publishing flourished and expanded our consciousness.
That’s not to say Venice didn’t take advantage of the short time movable type was almost exclusively in their hands. In fact, they used this novel ability for mass publishing to literally bring down their mortal enemy, the Catholic Church.
The Reformation Op
Certain parts of history are forever kept from the eyes of the world, no matter how important or relevant to our own times. The story of Venice’s feud with Catholic Europe is one of those.
Venice, itself, is largely ignored in our text books. A tiny maritime republic on the Adriatic with an elected government, which thrived for over a thousand years in the midst of chaotic, monarchic European fiefdoms, was a veritable world power for most of its existence. Only the Western remnants of the Roman Empire, a.k.a. The Holy Roman Empire, was any sort of rival for the well-established and politically savvy Venetians.
For centuries, Venice held its own and the Church comfortably at bay. Their undisputed control of the Adriatic, the most important shipping corridor of the time, provided them both power and riches. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 16th century, that the Catholic Church was able to form a viable military alliance among its subject nations against Venice. Known as the War of the League of Cambrai, Pope Julius II – The Warrior Pope – led an anti-Venetian axis with Spain, Germany and Italian city states in a major European conflict. Although Venice is recorded as the victor, the war forced the majority of the Venetian elites and their fortunes into exile, migrating to the Low Countries and England.
The transition would take several decades, but the Venetian nobility had a long term plan to defeat their nemesis in Rome and establish what would eventually become the British Empire.
A rebel priest in Germany was identified by the Venetian operators; one of many disparate voices within the Catholic territories propounding alternate takes on the religion, more aligned to their own cultural proclivities. Martin Luther and his “disputations” were plucked out from the Teuton forests and given a platform by Venetian printers, spreading his message to virtually every corner of the realm. Without Venice, nobody would have ever heard of Martin Luther nor would have Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and his four subsequent wives (on the advice of his Venetian counselors), touching off the biggest religious schism in human history.
Marriage, the centerpiece of Catholicism’s social, political and economic power, was successfully subverted by Venice in what was the first case of information warfare, made possible by the latter’s control of the printing press in its early days.
This history is the key to understanding our current socio-political paradigm, as the United States is the direct inheritor and beneficiary of this episode in our not-so-distant past. It’s no accident that divorce plays an integral part of America’s legal system, nor that its foundational mythology revolves around religious “liberty”.
The Means of Information
Silicon Valley can be seen as a latter-day Venetian nobility, using their current monopoly on information technology to further agendas that favor them and their class.
Given the advanced state of corporate organization and its tight-knit relationship with the legal code, their capacity to maintain a monopolistic grip on the “means of information” is much greater now than ever. It’s also vital to their survival.
As I covered in an earlier piece, nothing strikes more fear in the hearts of our ruling classes than the ability of Joe Blowto report anything that comes to his (or her) attention. Hence, the relentless campaign against “fake news” and the concerted effort to get public opinion to support blatant censorship of anti-establishment voices.
In yet another, more recent piece, I delve into what their actual intentions for the Internet and social media platforms are. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we – the people – have an immensely powerful tool at our fingertips. One that rivals, and likely surpasses the power of the printing press.
Everybody on Twitter (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and every other app out there peddling user-generated content) is a journalist.
While this might offend some J-school graduates, assorted press-badge holders and newsroom editors, this is an undeniable reality and one which is at the center of the next transformation in journalism.
There was a time when to write a book, you had to belong to a monastery and take a vow of celibacy. Even then, you could rarely do anything but copy someone else’s work. Maybe years from now we’ll remember when to be a journalist, meant you had to sell your soul to the devil and report what your advertisers told you.