Interesting post. I think he makes several good points.
On Fri, Oct 05, 2001 at 08:32:23PM -0700, Michael M. Butler wrote:
> As I think about the forms of defense that could protect us from
> repeated intense threats from insane but powerful small groups of
> people, I see few strategies that are appealing. We could try to live
> in something like an immune system instead of a state with it's
> attendant army. It's plain, after all, that a traditional army is
> ill-matched to the present threat. The immune system metaphor is
> revolting to us, however, because we've all struggled so hard to
> cease to be racist or to otherwise divide the human family into the
> similar and the foreign.
I find it interesting that he views the immune system as inherently
xenophobic. I know he bases this on how the actual immune system works
(anything not belonging to the self must be destroyed or expelled), but
to me the immune system conjures up the concept of something
distributed, pervasive and adaptive rather than xenophobic. One can
protect a society without being xenophobic, and the ideal way of dealing
with small groups of enemies is to be good at detecting them on the
individual level rather than look at overbroad classes.
Transparency is a first order such system: there are sensors for
mischief everywhere. In order to retain an open society these have to be
aimed not just as potential terrorists but at everybody, especially the
powers that be. It is no coincidence that David Brin talked about the
immune system of democracy when he discussed the people keeping checks
on the powerful (for good and bad reasons); what could be needed is to
extend this system into an overall system of mischief detection, both
external, internal and autoimmune.
Of course, that won't stop people from communicating by strong crypto.
But it is not the evil thoughts that matter, it is the evil deeds. If
everything done in cyberspace remains secret but everything done in the
real world can be monitored, we still have a pretty good defense.
> There is also a McLuhanesque thought that has occurred to me. In the
> last few years, the Arab world has encountered its own mass media for
> the first time, in the form of satellite television stations. I've
> seen a little of the material, and it is inflammatory. It might be
> the case that societies require some years to get sufficiently used
> to mass media so as not to be driven insane by it. World War II might
> have had something to do with the West's early experience of the
> power of mass media and modern propaganda. Over time one grows
> somewhat immune to it. In this light, cynicism is seen to be not only
> a good thing, but a mental habit that is necessary if any society is
> to survive in an age of potent media.
I found it ironic that the US has asked Quatar to rein in the arabic
satelite channel based there, on the grounds that it could supply
information to Afghanistan. I sincerely hope they do not bend to that
pressure. That satelite channel has caused the ire of most governments
in the area, since it actually sends its own news that doesn't follow
any party line (except not criticizing the government of Quatar - that
was part of the deal they made; everything else is fair game) and does
some serious journalism on its own (it has correspondents in Afghanistan
right now and has in the past uncovered quite a few embarrasing truths
elsewhere in the arab world). So far Quatar has not done anything, and I
hope they will be even less persuaded by the US than Saudi Arabia.
The point is, all the other mass media in the region are state
controlled. You can figure out what that means. Open societies need free
media, and the US seems to be making a grave mistake if they try to
limit the only existing free media in the region.
> Is our way of marketing science and technology part of the problem? I
> must emphasize that it's the marketing that I worry about, not the
> technological capabilities or scientific theories. I'm thinking of
> the way we market computers as living things and Darwinian
> interpretation as an oracle. Some of this must play very strangely to
> people who are poor and wonder what will happen to them as the elites
> in the West soar into uncharted heavens on the wings of Moore's Law
> and the genome, hoping to leave even the most basic rules of life as
> it was known behind.
> Is violent fundamentalism in part encouraged by a sense that science
> and technology are ruining faith in the soul?
> I'm not talking about any notion of an immortal soul. I just mean the
> sense that a person is somehow really there, conscious, that when one
> communicates with other people they are similarly really there. I
> know many of the respondents on edge.org believe it's only a mental
> confusion to feel alive, but I beg you in this instance to reconsider
> your position. You can do so without harming science in any way, and
> you'd be more honest for having done it.
This is a very good point, although I doubt the problem is really the
soul in his sense, but rather the more extended feeling that science is
unweaving the rainbow and promoting a divided and meaningless world
painted with the "colorless all-color". That is clearly something we
need to deal with, both in showing that it is not true (not by denying
it but by showing how the enlightenment world is actually vibrant with
meaning and connection) and to avoid the technoshamanism it is so easy
to fall into.
Lanier is a critic of transhumanism, but in many ways a good critic. He
points out weak points in our program or in how it is presented (which
is just as important), and it is up to us to show him that he is wrong
or adjust our actions to make him wrong. He is on the enlightenment side
like us, unlike Leon Kass and Jeremy Rifkin, and he appreciates the
benefits of technology and freedom far more than Bill Joy.
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