Re: Brin's World

Sean Hastings (
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 13:30:42 -0600

John K Clark wrote:
> On Wed, 18 Dec 1996 Sean Hastings <> Wrote:
> >The social pressure caused by the people hosting the
> >"transparency meme" reinforces the meme and creates an ESS.
> There is NOT a symmetrical relationship between the transparency
> meme and the privacy meme. Consider the 2 extremes, Brin's world and
> Anti-Brin's world, both are equally unlikely but it's useful to examine polar
> opposites when discussing ESSs.
> In Brin's world if it is discovered that I have a secret it is assumed I
> have something evil to hide and I am feared, hated, and shunned. This is
> certainly a disadvantage, but there are compensations, shunned though I may
> be, I still know all about your plans and you know nothing about mine,
> and that is an advantage.

This is a classic case of opposing forces which find a dynamic
equilibrium (or, in a continuous time chaotic system, produces a strange
attractor.) Therefore you are not arguing against the relative stability
of the transparency values of this variable in our chaotic system, but
that this "stable" range can never be reached. Your argument to that end
proceeds as follows:

> In Anti-Brin's world if it is discovered that I do NOT have a secret, it is
> assumed I that I am a fool and have no chance of being financially successful,
> I am ridiculed and held in contempt. This is certainly a disadvantage, but
> the situation is made even worse because you know all about my plans and I
> know nothing about yours, and this is a double disadvantage.


I question the ability of the people of Anti-Brin to determine that you
do NOT have a secret. I maintain (and so do you) that a secret can be
held secret up until it is acted upon.

If they went about holding those that were so private that the fact that
they had secrets was a secret (as per your analysis of secrets exiting
even in Brinís World) in scorn, then they would be scorning the most
subtle of the population. Not a safe thing to have been doing when their
secrets were finally acted upon.

A person who had no secrets would not be scorned, but more likely
admired by those assuming (because of the nature of the prevailing meme
structures) that everyone had secrets, and that his were just especially
well hidden. Perhaps they would elect him to be there leader. Did you
ever see the Peter Sellers movie "Being There"?


An interesting additional counter force to secrecy occurs in Anti-Brin.
With total secrecy, as Brin pointed out, one loses accountability. And
accountability is one of the reasons people keep secrets. If you tell
someone a secret, and he deems that it is in his best interest to tell
others (because they will pay him for it, or for some other reason), one
thing that might keep him from doing so is that he is accountable to
you. He risks your anger, or at the very least your failure to share
future secrets with him. The old phrase "A secret shared is no longer a
secret" applies in a much greater way in Anti-Brin where total privacy
makes the odds of your discovering that someone has betrayed you
approach zero.

Timothy C. May wrote:
> Combined with emerging information markets, crypto
> anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material
> which can be put into words and pictures. And just as a
> seemingly minor invention like barbed wire made possible the
> fencing-off of vast ranches and farms, thus altering forever the
> concepts of land and property rights in the frontier West, so
> too will the seemingly minor discovery out of an arcane branch
> of mathematics come to be the wire clippers which dismantle the
> barbed wire around intellectual property.

What is a secret if not a piece of intellectual property surrounded by
metaphorical barbed wire?

> >Do you have some black magic by which you can make use of a
> >secret without revealing its existence?
> As a mater of fact I do. There are ways of putting information in a form so
> that it is useful to me and nobody else, or if I prefer, I can make it useful
> to you and me and nobody else. There are ways I can prove that I have a
> certain piece of secret information without giving you the slightest clue as
> to what that information is. There are ways of using DC nets so that you not
> only don't know what I'm saying you don't even know who I'm talking to.
> There are ways of using Steganography so you not only don't know who I'm
> talking to, you don't even know I'm talking.

Yes, but if the eventual effects of the secret are never felt by anyone,
then the advantage to having the secret was nullified. If they are felt,
then the secret can be inferred. Ooh, I just had a flash. Perhaps Brinís
world has people accusing each other of holding secrets the way people
were once accused of witch-craft! Thereís no proof, but the cowís milk
did curdle for no apparent reason!

> It just keeps sounding better and better.

Indeed. I think we have just talked me out of any possibility of
supporting such a thing. Lets see:

If secrecy becomes not normal, then tolerance of other normal behavior
increases, and tolerance of abnormal behavior increases because it can
be easily seen to cause no harm. Secrecy itself, however, is an abnormal
behavior, the effects of which can not be easily seen, so it is feared.
Since secrets, by nature of being secret, are not easily detectable
people will end up fearing secrets irrationally where none exist and
chance successes or failures will be blamed on secrets. (What is chance,
after all, but an illusion caused by an inability to be able to perceive
all the relevant information acting on a system?) Less successful people
will persecute the successful (well, that happens now) as holders of
secrets thus reducing their success.

It still looks stable to me, but its pretty horrifying in a lot of

> >The real question is not whether a transparent society is
> >possible but whether it is "better or worse." [...] In fact,
> >personally, I find the whole transparency meme pretty
> >abhorrent.
> I'm not sure why were arguing. Whether Brin's world is possible or not is an
> objective question, whether it would be nice or not is subjective. It
> nauseates me but your mileage may vary, at any rate, I worry about it about
> as much as I worry that gravity will reverse direction.

Your right, were arguing the objective here, but I am using the process
as a means of trying to shed light on the subjective; at least for

Were arguing partially because I think Brinís world, or something close
to what we are calling Brinís world is possible and you donít -
partially because if it is possible, I would like to see if it can be
"good" (I donít think it can, but Iím more than a little concerned about
the lack of accountability under Anti-Brin as well) - and partially
because I just like to argue. (Arguing the other side would equally well
serve my purposes for being here.)

--Sean H.
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