poly: A civilization in transition + Exhortation+enhancements

From: d.brin <brin@cts.com>
Date: Wed Feb 25 1998 - 01:14:56 PST

Steve wanted to discuss 'the failure of exhortation' (as I expressed it in
my book)... the idea
>that sages have preached to us for millennia to behave, and be nice, and
cohere. I contend that it doesn't work very well,at least not alone

>>Don't want you to ruin the suspense, but do you talk about what does work?
>>I can think of a couple situations where exhortation works:
>>Where people have just about made up their minds to do what you want
>>and they need one more authority or just a jolt.
>Where people have all the evidence already and you put it together
>clearly and compellingly.
>Where people already believe what you're saying but you give them a
>model for why, or "intellectual ammunition" (here it doesn't "work" as
>exhortation but does serve a purpose).

I agree. Exhortation has been effective under many circumstances. But it
is LEAST effective where it's most needed, at altering the malignant
behaviors of people who self-justify harming others. Against such
behavior, the sole effective remedy has always been accountability. We are
lousy at holding ourselves accountable, but pretty good at shining the
light on the other guy, when circumstances allow it. Therefore
accountability is inherently adversarial.

The interesting thing is that all three of society's greatest inventions,
science, democracy and free markets, depend utterly on adversarial
accountability mediated by open information flows -- what I call
transparency. All three fester when info flows are strangled, which elites
ALWAYS try to do, whenever they get a chance. (Of course, whatever group
YOU are a member of does not need more light shining on it, while your
adversaries, of course, do.)


Re: Transhuman engineering, note that there will be a one day conference on
human germline alteration at UCLA on March 20. Enquire of

I am a big believer in reasonable consensus solutions that try to give both
sides what they need, if not what they want. Hence when it comes to human
germline modification, I see merit in complaints about the inevitable
'fads' that will give children feathers... but I would find it tragic if we
therefore denied ourselved a way to get better by design.

In a hundred years, Robert Heinlein may be best known not for his novels
but for the 'Heinlein Solution' to the problem of human genetic
engineering. It can be found in his utopian novel Beyond This Horizon
(which alas, also has a silly Code Duello with guns everywhere). In his
future, actually CHANGING the germline is disallowed, but husband+wife are
helped to sift ALL their sperm + ova to calculate which combination they
want to use, thus having the best possible 'natural' child... one they
might conceivably have had anyway. A brilliant notion... if it were
technically possible. Look up the novel, it's a kick, especially in
showing that the libertarian Heinlein had a quirky socialist side...


Speaking of libertarianism... (agh!) avoiding a toe-to-toe logic-fest with
Perry seemed wise, since he eloquently expressed determination to reject
my every statement, a line-by-line. (Why should I bother, then?) Still, in
fairness, he did ask for evidence of my contention that states are showing
early signs of withering away, and that's a reasonable request. Others may
find it interesting

Jeff Cooper of SAIC contends that states have traditionally relied on five
(1) legitimate use of violence,
(2) promulgation of views through propaganda,
(3) establishing a firm currency and setting exchange rates,
(4) access to cutting edge technology, and
(5) expertise and credibility.

Today we see the power of states eroding in four out of five of these
categories.The new wired world offers vast alternatives to state
propaganda. Private currency-brokers are now more important than state
bankers at establishing rates of exchange. New technologies enter the
civilian realm so quickly that armed forces now buy many items straight off
the shelves. And expertise is spreading at unprecedented rates. Again,
examples of a 'withering away' that purist libertarians cannot note, amid
single-minded obsession with budget figures.

The chief questions we face are:
        (a) whether we really want category number (1) -- the legitimate
use of coercion or violence, to be "deregulated" or "privatized;"
        (b) whether there aren't plenty of jobs left for government, even
if Cooper's monopolies are broken; and
        (c) whether the loss of state control in categories 2-5 will be a
democratic dispersal, or wind up simply giving these powers over to the
hands of other elites.
        In a society that is mostly transparent, former monopolies 2-5 may
become so widely distributed, among so many players, that the accumulation
of tyrannical power may never become likely again. This could result in
nation states that are far less relentlessly dominant in our lives than
they were in the past. That does not mean nations will necessarily go
away, or even lose great importance in helping mediate consensus approaches
to solving great problems. One role they can serve is as the centripetal
centers of common loyalty that bind together all the diverse, spinning
"tribes" of interest we will be joining. A core identification of
citizenship that people share.

Here's a metaphor. Human societies have always had two ways of getting
things done. The 'left' hand is that of unified effort, acting as a
coordinated tribe-group-nation -- the 'consensus approach I mentioned
earlier. The other is the 'right' hand of creating market rules that
incentive an uncontrolled network of self-interest behavior so that
problems go away. Economists like Robin know that both hands are needed.
Alas, socialists tried to amputate the right hand. Radical
anarcho-libertarians want to chop off the left.
        Any reading of history shows that each hand has major
accomplishments to its credit, and each is lousy at doing other things.
        Besides establishing basic services like defense and courts, the
left hand is principally good at solving ACUTE problems. Kill Hitler! Go
to the Moon! Feed these particular children right now! It is lousy at
solving CHRONIC problems, like creating a self-sustaining space
infrastructure or setting up general circumstances where hunger goes away
for good.
        If the left hand is given chronic tasks, the result is often a
useless, self-sustaining bureacracy. When the left hand is hijacked by
some clique, it can be turned to the chronic task of guaranteeing despotic
power. Nevertheless, amputation seems rather drastic compared with the
option (never tried) of giving the left hand only jobs that it is good at..

It works both ways. The right hand (self-interest) has fueled far more
tyrannies than the left hand could ever hope to match, from despotic
marriages to empires and priesthoods. But in recent centuries we've
learned how to unleash its potential for creativity in free markets. It
could also, in theory, eliminate the need for left-handed solutions like
the FTC, OSHA, the FDA etc. Barry Goldwater envisioned insurance companies
being re-incentived to compete with each other to make people live longer,
competitively providing many of the safety-related services now
(inefficiently) performed by govt.. But alas, he got no support from the
right wing, which would rather just bitch and bitch and bitch about evil
yucky icky govt than actually think about how to create fresh, original
free market methods of solving human problems.

I know none of this will convince Perry, but the rest of you might find it
interesting to contemplate the left and right-handed metaphor. Only now,
after millennia of self-deception, are we finally finding out what each
hand is good for and what each hand should be kept away from. But any
reasonable person knows one thing -- both hands have helped to do great
things in the past that we have reason to be proud of. Spasmodic amputation
ain't the answer.

One last point on this subject: Perry expressed adoration of the culture
that raised him with relentless pro-individualism propaganda to be the
cantankerously opinionated fellow we all love... while at the same time he
expressed utter hatred of government.
        He utterly separates the two.
        Fascinating. A culture is made up of people. Those people have
repeatedly, for many generations voted for an evolving system of governance
that is no more separable from the surrounding 'culture' than the lymphatic
system can be from a living body. The Platonic contortion, declaring ex
cathedra that they are separate entities, is based on just one thing....
        Utter contempt for the huge mass of fools who are deceived into
voting (and fighting) for the great big parasite that's been riding their
backs all these years. Too blind and stupid to see how enslaved and
downtrodden they are. Brainwashed into supporting the use of a left hand
to solve 'problems' that don't exist. Funny thing though, these are the
very same fools who comprise and manifest the culture that Perry professes
to love.

Talk about having your indignant cake and eating it too. Funny thing
though. Each of these fools thinks of himself or herself as being just as
cantankerously individualistic as he does.

== other stuff ==

Hal Finney>>
Even today, where people use anonymous email, analysis of style and
word usage could probably identify many of the authors, if people cared
enough to look.

Hal, you always show a willingness to re-assess and consider the other
side. I agree that this is just one more factor making it foolish to
depend on artifices like anonymous remailers... which will mostly be police
fronts or run by cyber-cliques in Anguilla. Either way, I'd rather base my
safety on being able to see the other guy.

RobinHanson wrote>> It seems to me that to have a long-lived yet private
virtual persona
> requires an unusual discipline regarding keeping this persona's behavior
> uncorrelated with your other ones. To most people, I don't
> think privacy is worth this effort.

--> This relates to a passage in my book that I'll snip-insert here:
Anonymity also pervades the vast and popular realm of chat rooms,
discussion groups and "multi-user worlds" on the Net. Author Dorian Sagan
describes how, while researching a range of Internet experiences for an
article, he felt liberated by portraying various personae online, including
playing the role of a 13 year old girl. "On the Net, you can work your
personality like a novelist imagining a character. The only caveat is that,
like the novelist, you must be consistent in your lies if you want to be
taken seriously...the longer you talk to people lying about their
identities, the greater the chances that you will cross them up in their
lies: while electronic transvestitism is admittedly easier than its
real-life counterpart, it still takes effort, motivation, and skill to put
up a convincing false front for any length of time.... To make the most of
my new identity I had to do what other fly-by-nights and pathological liars
do -- I had to escape from the limited audience of those who were getting
to know me all too well."
        Sagan appreciated "cyber-reality's ability to reproduce the erotic
atmosphere of a Renaissance masquerade, since behind our masks we are no
longer as inhibited as we would have been had our real selves been on the

Hal>>The issue of whether privacy will be possible seems to depend on still
unresolved questions of what technologies will be available in the
future, and how they will be used.

I think privacy will be possible so long as most people who are inclined to
snoop feel that there is a large (though imprefect) chance that they might
be caught and held accountable for snooping. This is exactly the root
basis for most privacy that we have today. In other words, privacy is a
product of (1) citizen sovereignty and (2) transparency. It may at first
seem counter-intuitive, but transparency creates situations in which
defense has the advantage over offense. Secrecy does the opposite, and
will ultimately kill privacy..

The fundamental point is not which approach is more desireable, but which
helps to (1) ensure dispersal of power and (2) is more ROBUST against
future changes. In a society based on secrecy, new technical advances will
be clutched close to the chest by one little conspiratorial clique or
another. While everybody else continues to have faith in their fave crypto
package or remailer, that clique will have a quantum petaflop deciphering
engine, or a brain-pattern reader, or a lie detector... or whatever... It
doesn't matter if the clique is the NSA, the Mafia, or a bunch of crackers
like in the movie SNEAKERS. It's still an unaccountable accumulation of

OTOH, in a society based on openness, technological advances are seen by
all and widely discussed. Attempts to conceal them will be revealed by the
evil genius's own henchmen, in a culture that rewards and idolizes
whistle-blowers. This is a far more robust situation.

David Brin
Received on Wed Feb 25 09:09:49 1998

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