I am on an elite advisory board having to do with nanotechnology. In that discussion I engaged in a review of some topics many of you have heard before, but I think I did it pretty well this time, summarizing a lot of ideas more compactly. Anyway, it should be archived and available - so I'll post it here before returning to the essay on gerrymandering. Remember, I do accept comments on grammar and spelling!
(On the CTF discussion) Mike quoted: "Are nation-states really the right
object of focus? Or is it is more likely to be a
multi-national mega-company or a small group of
Sometimes it makes sense to generalize a little,
before getting back to specifics.
What are we talking about here? Will you bear with
me through a riff that may seem a bit lectury. It
really will become relevant to the topic at hand.
Each of us in this group was raised in a culture
that’s featured a weird propaganda program Nearly
every novel and hollywood film has promoted Suspicion
of Authority (SOA). Often two subsidiary messages
accompany SOA. These are Tolerance of Diversity (TOD)
and Personal Harmless Eccentricity (PHE).
Often, in a movie, the protagonist will bond with the
audience in the 1st five minutes by (1) exhibiting
some quirky eccentricity to establish individualism
and (2) having a run-in with some dislikable authority
figure (often over the eccentricity.)
And if you want to establish viewer dislike of an
authority figure, by all means let him perform some
act of intolerance commensurate with the comeuppance
you plan him to receive later on. (If the intolerance
was verbal, he may “learn a lesson”. If he kicks a
dog, sucka gonna die.)
I raise this here because it is important for us to
recognize the cultural roots of our worry. Not only
do these three themes express
value sets. They are also rooted in the Scientific
Pragmatism that has been a successful guiding
principle for a century. (Also called “modernism.”)
SOA is not, in itself, completely wise. Many people
in our society take the SOA message and use it as an
excuse to dive into cycles of addictive self-righteous
indignation, often focusing extreme “suspicion of
authority” toward on one side of an insipid,
ill-defined and fundamentally unhelpful metaphor...
the 300 year old French “left-right political axis.”
(For more on Indignation addiction, see:
This simpleminded version of SOA tends to be
blinkered and myopic. Such people tend to minimize or
ignore the dangers posed by the authority figures on
That’s the immature version of SOA (which is fueling
the so-called “Culture War.”
At its more mature end, Suspicion of Authority is
simply an expression of the fundamental lesson of the
Liberal Enlightenment -- that we are master
self-deceivers. We fool ourselves - as Feynman said -
all-too easily. Therefore, truth and decency cannot
be delivered by hierarchically-empowered kings or
priests, who have proved they can rationalize doing
anything they want and calling it the Greater Good.
Instead, the Liberal Enlightenment says that both
truth and good behavior can only come from markets of
interaction, in which free players are empowered to
hold each other accountable through CITOKATE .
(Forgive me. CITOKATE = Criticism Is The Only Known
Antidote To Error. )
Elsewhere I talk about the four biggest
“accountability arenas” -- Markets, Democracy, Science
and Courts -- each of which handle the process of
reciprocal accountability very differently.... but
with similar underlying processes. (See:
In fact, the SOA is a very important part of how these
four arenas work. It empowers players to resent
established centers of orthodoxy, giving many of them
the balls to jump in the arena as challengers.
Can you see that this supplies a contextual framework
for what we’ve been discussing?
What the previous discussion shows is that, IN GENERAL
each of us fears seeing MM or other breakthroughs
monopolized by some set of elites. (The difference
between a liberal & conservative is often over WHICH
elites you fear trying to become Big Brother. The
irony is that both sides are often right!)
Naturally, we feel less threatened by “the United
States” developing such powers first, in part because
it is home to most of us and partly because of Pax
Americana’s (until recently) above average record as a
fairly benign imperium, by historical standards.
Also (until recently), the principal modus for
error-prevention (or palliation) in the US was open
criticism. How many of those other elites instead
base their methodology on secretive central control?
The prospect of others taking a leap in this massively
empowering technological area naturally seems
worrisome. Not only other nation states, but other
elites, such as unaccountable multinationals, criminal
gangs, terror groups, mad billionaires, mad
HAVING LAID THAT OUT, let me ask this; is our fear
best expressed in specific terms, e,g, about China,
India or Rubert Murdoch getting MM technologies and
taking over? Or might it be better to look at it the
* What fundamental cultural tools should be in place,
in order to assure that is DOES NOT MATTER who gets MM
(or any other disruptive technology) first?
Implicit throughout our discussion has been some
degree of fealty toward the basic assumptions of the
liberal enlightenment. That competition, reciprocal
accountability, openness, skepticism, criticism (error
detection) and flattened access hierarchies, are all
We can see from history that the rate of grievous
ERROR in a society is inversely proportional to the
presence of these traits... even though every one of
them runs counter to human nature and the
self-interests of leaders.
The question is this. Can openness and reciprocal
accountability prevent terrible mistakes and abuse of
nanotechnology? Ray Kurzweil thinks so. I agree,
provisionally. In contrast, many thinkers, ranging
from Francis Fukayama and Bill Joy to the Unabomber
and Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood believe our
only hope is to reject and repress whole areas of
The Fermi Paradox seems to be saying that SOME kind of
worrisome mistake may wipe away intelligent life
forms. Is this it? Nano stuff? Is Crichton right?
Hell, I am loyal to the Enlightenment.