Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Snowden, Sousveillance and Social T Cells

==Another look at Snowden==

wired-snowdenWired has a long form interview with Edward Snowden: The Most-Wanted Man in the World. A must-read... as far as it goes. Only keep ahold of your ability to parse complexities and contradictions, because my reflex is always to point out aspects that were never raised. I refuse to choose one "side's" purist reflex.  So should you.

Let's start by stepping waaaaaay back.  I speak elsewhere* in terms of social T Cells — preening bachelor males who (in every known society, across recorded time) are seen doing risky things to get noticed — it's darwinistically advantageous for a non-alpha male! Because it has (across millions of years) elevated some of these risk seekers to alpha status. To do this requires a kind of daring, prideful ego and a willingness to throw the dice. 

Many harmful men do this… but also heroes. Indeed, it was best parsed in a song: “Every hero was once… every villain was once… just a boy with a bad attitude!” — or so sings Meat Loaf (brilliantly)

 in Bad Attitude. 

And just to be clear, we all have known young women who also fit this pattern, throwing caution to the wind, tilting at a windmill or plunging ahead to explore some darkness. Their courage is even greater, in fact, because Darwin is not standing behind them, pushing.

Ah, but different societies have chosen to harness this very human tendency in varied ways.  Most filled the ranks of their armies and navies with these adventurers, and made sure there would be enough fighting or exploring or risky trading to keep them busy, far from the capital. (Perhaps ravaging some other nation's capital.) We cannot afford such waste, in a nuclear age. And yet, our Western Enlightenment (WE) society - and especially America - have engendered a strong mythology of ego, anti-conformity and individualism, amid a population in which most of these young folks are frightfully well-educated. A combination that any other culture would have deemed very dangerous.

Suspicion-of-authorityNow why would we do such a thing?  Ponder it a bit. Then combine it with the relentless memes that pour across almost every Hollywood film or popular novel or song... Suspicion of Authority, reverence of eccentricity, individualism, fascination with diversity and the other...  Can you even count the number of recent YA films that scream contempt at conformity, calling it a fate worse than death? 

These messages are so pervasive that nearly all of us have absorbed the memes into our bones. They are so taken for granted that we no longer even notice the relentless propaganda for these values, and instead concoct a notion in our mind that we invented these things.

Combine all of that and you get something so perplexing and counter-intuitive that almost no one has noticed or commented on it -- that our society seems almost perfectly tuned to engender brash, eager critics who avidly zero in on anything they can possibly find to criticize about their own society! 

YOU -- in your avid political opinions and suspicions toward some conniving elite or another -- you exactly fit into this pattern.  Indeed I say that with utter confidence that it applies (whatever your simplistic position on the lobotomizing left-right axis) to nearly all of you reading these lines, right now. Half of you are convinced you are heroic resisters against an oppressive establishment that is supported by the other half.  And vice versa.

 To be clear, across the entire span of our species, this has never happened before -- for a society to preach: "you, our children, grow up eager to criticize your own tribe and all its elders!"  Name another example! It may never happen again.  It may have happened this time only by accident. There are many cultures around the planet who believe this meme-complex is insane.

 Or else, it is crazy... like a fox.

== Applying T Cell theory to Snowden ==

To be clear: we need these 'T Cells' as we rush into a technological future.  There are so many pitfalls, snake pits, quicksand pools, mine fields and failure modes, between us and Star Trek, that the only conceivable way that we can evade the killer errors is by unleashing millions of avid, immune-system "cells" to sniff and hunt down every possible mistake.  Even when they prove wrong -- or to be exaggerating -- the light they shine is cleansing.  

This is not a fault-free process. In many cases -- like anti-vaccination fetishism or cretinous climate denialism -- the result is very real harm.  But the price is worth it, because in some other cases, this pattern saves us. And the alternative tried in 99.9% of other societies -- top-down hierarchical control -- nearly always resulted in horrific statecraft and inevitably lethal blunders.

Which brings us to Edward Snowden.  Perhaps you can see now why I approve of him much more than I do Assange or Manning whose revelations - when you look closely - were mostly boring minutia that did not rise to the level of "whistle blowing." Snowden actually shook things up… though frankly -- if you can get past your purist reflexes -- it becomes clear that he is a very mixed deal. Possibly a Russian spy from the start, certainly an egomaniac without much sense of proportion.


Indeed, his revelations showed us very little that was actually illegal at the time...

...though he did us a  great service, by prompting us to re-examine what should be legal!  A conversation that I have pushed hard -- in The Transparent Society  and elsewhere -- for two decades.

In fact, I do not care much about Edward Snowden's two-bit, sophomoric rationalizations (unctuously presented to us in WIRED as sagacious wisdom) or his “big picture” perspectives, which tend toward the cartoony, simplistic, exaggerated and banal.

What I care about is civilization learning the right lesson from all this. Which is that SNOWDENS WILL HAPPEN!

They may often be individually obnoxious. But they are also - in general - the overall a sign of a healthy civilization that is creating enough whistle blowers and exposing itself to frequent doses of cleansing light. These T Cells are manifestly like a necessary, recurring fever — one that saves us from far worse illnesses.

Whistle-blower-laws1) The lesson to citizens is to find ways to encourage the T Cell phenomenon by supporting whistle-blowing protections... but at the same time not to get carried away in every individual case.  If a climate researcher is exposed fudging data, that does not discredit all of science; it chastens scientists to watch their peers. There are many bad cops, doing bad things opn the streets -- so enhance transparency with cameras... while remembering that the majority of decent cops will be our best allies against the bad ones.  And if the NSA has gone too far, remember that's what we asked them for, when we panicked, earlier.  So let's correct that Snowden-revealed error by cranking up supervision.  On the other hand, calling this country "North Korea" only torpedoes your credibility.

But there's another constituency that needs to understand the T Cell phenomenon.  They must learn this lesson well.

2) The lesson to bureaucrats and sincere civil servants and members of the Protector Caste is not: "how can we prevent the next Snowden?"  You can't.  The real lesson is: 

"How can we create so much trust that citizens will still work with us and let us do our jobs, even when (inevitably) our files leak some embarrassing things?"

opennessEven better: 

"How can we encourage a worldwide secular trend toward openness, because that is the sole condition that would bring true Victory."

What’s key is to make society so robust and honest and trusted that it can deal with such fevers calmly, without institutional panic or reflexive vengeance, or turning millions against their own, freely elected institutions.  That is how to play to our strengths.  But it requires almost un-human levels of maturity.

== Offending everybody ==

Yes, I am  the best-worst example of all.  In my militant moderation and ornery contrarianism, I side with no sides!  No matter what your political stance, I have doubtless offended every last one of you at some point, in this missive. And I am about to do it, once more, by yet again pointing at middle ground.

In this case, Snowden cannot get off scot free — a true civil disobedience hero and follower of Gandhi would not expect to! If the issues really are as profound as he preens -- and if he truly did this out of love of country -- then the consequences to himself should be his last concern.

 On the other hand, I look at him as an example of intemperate adolescent courage… the kid who screams “you fools, can’t you see?” and spills a corporate filing cabinet onto the street. (We've all seen the movie plot, a zillion times.)  

If Snowden isn’t punished at all, there will be chaos. But “making an example of him” can also go way too far.  And if that happens -- (listen carefully, bureaucrats) -- then the system will lose, badly.

He needs to serve some time.  

But I want him out by Christmas, next year. All right, the year after that. Maybe one more, during which someone ghost-writes him a book.  And do not pity the rest of his life, preening on the talk show circuit. This is a brash T Cell who already has it made.  He'll be an alpha at parties for five decades.

Come on home, Eddie.  It's what King and Gandhi would have done.  And how you're treated will either prove my point... or show us flames on the horizon.

.

== Lagniappe: What Government knows vs What Government Does==

NSA-surveillance-sousveillanceWe should ask which is more important: what government knows, or what it might do to us? Intrinsically, you can never be certain what elites see or know. But actions can be observed and held accountable, by insisting that all watchers be supervised, answering top-down surveillance with "sousveillance," the habit of a brash citizenry monitoring from below. Only category three seeks this precious win-win: preserving both freedom and safety. See my article: Check NSA Surveillance with Citizen "Sousveillance."

Instead of railing against that fact that there will be more Edward Snowdens, let's revamp whistleblower laws, in order to encourage in-house correction of bureaucratic errors. This would also let us calibrate where future Snowdens fall in the wide range from traitor to hero.

Sousveillance isn't just a response to surveillance, it is the wellspring of freedom.



 "The vital thing to note... is that the new style-social immune system thrives on passion, and even large doses of overwrought ego, but that hatefulness and self-righteousness are less beneficial. Viewed over the long turn, they  are often early signs of metastasis by a promising T-cell. Its transformation from potential savior into a virulent kind of predatory parasite. That's probably all right. As long as we live in a relatively transparent society, other T-cells will often swarm in to neutralize the danger....Is it too much to hope that someday perhaps all the angry young men and women will finally see how valuable and integral they are to a society they claim to despise? Would we spend so much time, effort and money training them to be rebels, if that were not the case?"

55 comments:

David Brin said...

FOLLOWUP! Folks who are angry because I recommend some short-safe prison time for Snowden really need to read Gandhi and King and understand civil disobedience. Both men understood that the LAW was what kept them alive while protesting PARTS of the law that are unjust.

They said you must - in civil disobedience - obey as much of the law as you can, so that the parts that you are deliberately breaking stand out. Also, so that you demonstrate that the parts protecting you are being honored.

They WANTED to spend some time in jail! Not just for the publicity or to be martyrs, but because paying a price makes civil disobedience real. Instead of just a cost-free tantrum.

It is a sign of a mature society when it honors civil disobedience with low and graduated levels of punishment that are calibrated to make CD inconvenient enough so that only genuine grievance and passion would make you do it... but low enough not to deter CD as an element of public discourse.

Hence a sit in that blocks traffic SHOULD merit a night in jail... one that is safe and supervised and not scary. Thus you paid a reasonable price for a small act that caused your sheeplike neighbors genuine inconvenience and cost in their lives... but that might also cause them to look up and notice an ignored injustice.

This sliding scale is carefully drawn, both in law and (especially) in the precedents of modern judges. It is so sad that so few citizens of the nation that has done this fine-tuning most assiduously do not even know that it exists...

...or that so many actually believe that well-intentioned and heroic criminal acts should always go unpunished.

Scott said...

I think Snowden was more afraid of "disappearing" when he first fled the country. And I think that would have been a very real possibility, given that nobody knew who he was. Today, however, I think you're right. He should come home to continue the fight. There's nothing to be gained from hiding in Moscow.

Unless he actually was a Russian spy from Day 1, of course.

locumranch said...

As it was with Gandhi, so it was with Mandela, showing that jail-time, punishment and (perhaps) mortal consequence is both socially appropriate & morally necessary for even the potentially beneficial crimes of public disobedience (and/or whistle-blowing), otherwise society would cease to operate.

It is also important to realise that the 'distrust of authority' is not merely an adolescent or 'T-cell' function, but rather a basic Enlightenment prerequisite as there can be no 'light' in a clandestine society if that society equates secrecy (the possession of proprietary information) with the application of power.

This is what T Jefferson meant when he said that 'The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants' because Justice (in theory & practice) requires consequences for all, for Sinner & Saint, regardless of effect or intention.


Best

Lorraine said...

What’s key is to make society so robust and honest and trusted that it can deal with such fevers calmly, without institutional panic or reflexive vengeance, or turning millions against their own, freely elected institutions.  That is how to play to our strengths.  But it requires almost un-human levels of maturity.

These ur-humanly mature folks are what, the B cells?

David Brin said...

Um... locumranch? Are you okay? That wasn't just cogent and intelligent and courteous... is was wise and... positive sum.

Paul451 said...

Scott,
"Unless he actually was a Russian spy from Day 1, of course."

Hmmm, so perhaps he's the one running the propaganda trolls in Russia, who spam the Internet about Ukraine? A sys-admin's gotta sys-admin, yo.

mwsmith said...

HA! You didn't offend me! I have only begun reading your blog, but I find I agree wholeheartedly every time... so far. I don't know what that means.

Tory Wright said...

There is a aspect of animal behavior that has been an explanation for the story of Jesus. It's the sacrificial lamb. Social animals that are preyed upon often loose members that are in some way easy prey. These individuals give their lives so that the others may live. Is this just some social heuristic that is in every way vestigial? Like the monsters in childhood dreams; is this just an innate behavior that originates from millions of years of being hunted?

I would like to ask who in this scenario is the predator and who is the easy prey? Is Snowden our sacrificial lamb or is he our servant? Can he be both in this day and age?

I would also like to point out that any expectation for reasonable treatment of Snowden is likely a great expectation.

matthew said...

Snowden has often said that he expects prison time, and that he deserves prison time.

But I *guarantee* that when he comes back to the US he will serve significant time, for the same reason that the CIA torturers did not: the culture of our spy agencies is set up to reward law-breaking and punish dissent. Until the culture at the NSA / CIA / FBI etc. is changed, Snowden will risk life in prison if he comes back to the US. Any president that moves to pardon or commute his sentence would be shown a picture of the grassy knoll as a reminder of where the real power lies.

quitelikelyblog said...

David, I agree with you on most things, but whenever you start talking about how above the silly left-right divide you are this comic just keeps running through my head: https://xkcd.com/774/

Alex Tolley said...

In this case, Snowden cannot get off scot free — a true civil disobedience hero and follower of Gandhi would not expect to! If the issues really are as profound as he preens -- and if he truly did this out of love of country -- then the consequences to himself should be his last concern.

Snowden has already said he is prepared to come home and face the music. Unfortunately, at least one potential new President has said that he should face life in prison. Ellsberg has also weighed in explaining why Snowden will not get the treatment he did when whistle blowing the Pentagon papers. Given the reflexive actions of our current crop of politicians, the administrations virtual war on whistle blowers, it should be obvious that Snowden should bide his time, rather than being metaphorically burned at the stake. There is no chance he would get a fair trial in the US.

As a scientist, you should be wary of using biological metaphors for social systems. Neither T-cells nor cancers have agency. This is very different from nation state institutional players and whistle blowers. If a T-cell is destroyed, it is of no consequence to the cell. If a whistle blower is severely punished, it does have consequences to the individual and his/her family. This is one reason why we grant political asylum, to protect "political T-cells" from destruction. Using this metaphor is to depersonalize individuals is similar to using euphemisms, like "collateral damage", or even ends justifies means aphorismas like "you need to break eggs to make omelettes".

If you are going to use the T-cell metaphor, then IMO, Snowden is a Helper T-cell, but the US is treating him like a Cytotoxic T-cell.

David Brin said...

quitelikelyblog... mea culpa! Of course there is an element of that, in my "contrariness" toward all polemicisms. http://xkcd.com/774/ Duh?

Only note that this very blog was about the matter of how ego can be harnessed to make individuals useful as T Cell error detectors. The fact that my ego must clearly be a driver of my activity does not mean I do not have other, valid motivations...

...especially my deep suspicion toward all polemicists! As a general phenomenon. So... both yes and no.

J. Kenton Pierce said...

I'm sorry, but I can't find any offense. Snowden revealed things that we desperately needed to know about, although he also might have did a great deal of harm as well. It's not really possible to determine how much harm, though. He might not have had anything his Russian friends didn't already know anyway; they could be just happy using him to rattle our cage.

I'm happy to keep an open mind about Snowden.

Manning is another story. I'd give him "whistle blower" credit for the vid showing US pilots killing people who were evacuating enemies that were hors de combat... that's something we needed to know about.

The rest of Manning's data-dump is another story, "look at me, look at me, I'll show you." Manning provided a black eye to anybody who opposed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell's" assertions that LGBT folks weren't to be trusted in the service.

Jumper said...

A friend thought the guy who thew a shoe at Bush should have been punished - with 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. I see where you are coming from.

David Brin said...

J. Kenton exactly.... Manning elicits PITY! But that is a different thing than deciding whether actions are actionable. He was a dope who built a romantic story in his head. His revelations totaled to far, far less of a set of black eyes that he or Assange imagined. Indeed, the State Department leaked cables actually HELPED us during the Arab Spring, by showing that our diplomates despised Mubarak!

I favor clemency for Chelsea... because he/she is a pathetic idiot, not because a serving member of Armed Forces intelligence should be given a bye for breaking oaths.

Indeed, I want the heads of the officers who put him in that position. Like I hope heads are rolling at the NSA, for trusting 200,000 questionable "contractors" like Snowden. Frankly, that fact shows an endearing naiveté on the part of our intelligence civil servants. They honestly had no clue about the T Cell phenomenon I described here in this blog!

To be clear, I am actually glad both events happened! The Assange affair illustrated that our bureaucrats have been mostly benign... while a few dozen should get serious axing. Snowden revealed THAT some perfectly legal things really shouldn't be. I'd give none of them medals and certainly 3-5 in a medium security (with lawyers watching their health carefully.) I will not pity them for the 60 subsequent years of preening at cocktail parties and never having to pay for drinks. Feh.

Jumper exactly right.

Steve Phillips said...

@DavidBrin What is your justification for suggesting with a straight face that Snowden is a Russian spy?

I must say that I was pretty furious at your ignorance in suggesting that Snowden's sacrificing of his life as he knew it, with the legitimate fear that he could be assassinated by the CIA or the Triads, as "just a cost-free tantrum"(!!!), but Alex Tolley's excellent comment -- which you should read twice -- calmed me down with his dose of actual facts, and not just opinions, regarding Snowden's situation.

Steve Clayworth said...

I just hope this Snowden ends up better than Joseph Heller's.

Tom Crowl said...


Anton Chekov on Social T Cells:

Charachter Vershinin (The Three Sisters)

"It goes without saying that you cannot conquer the mass of darkness round you; little by little, as you go on living, you'll be lost in the crowd. You'll have to give in to it. Life will get the better of you, but still you'll not disappear without a trace. After you there may appear perhaps six like you, then twelve and so on until such as you form a majority. In two or three hundred years, life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, marvellous. Man needs such a life and, though he hasn't got it yet, he must have a presentiment of it, expect it, dream of it, prepare for it; for that he must see and know more than his father and grandfather.

David Brin said...

Steve Philips, you said it all. You are furious. Without a scintilla of facts to support ANY image of Snowden. But those who shrug off the blatant fact that he took a hard drive stuffed with US Secrets to a blatantly corrupt rival of his country are folks who put passion ahead of reason.

The reflex to criticize and expose errors of your own culture or nation is a reflex that I have praised and indeed, I am the one to first properly describe the "social T Cell" phenomenon.

When it transforms into an arrogance to declare that all your nation's institutions... rooted in free elections ... are automatically evil BECAUSE they are your country's institutions, then things have metastasized.

What? we should declare open season and that ANY trusted individual can take it upon himself to scream and expose anything he or she wants? Always?

I have made clear that I think the process so far, with Snowden and (lesser degree) Assange was overall good for us and provoked a cleansing national conversation. But I do not feel required -- starting from there -- to buy into a blatantly false mythology, hagiography and idolization.

Even if he was no spy, that WIRED cover is an insult to us all. This is a profoundly arrogant and conceited person... as are MANY "T Cell" type bachelor males. This one may have done net good for us! And I favor punishments of the civil disobedience scale, followed by 50 years on talk shows.

But do NOT demand that I like the fellow. I am a grownup. I do not need to raise him up to hero status of listen to the silly herd-clamor of those who do. That's for rock stars.

Robert said...

I wouldn't wish FIVE years of talk shows on my worse enemy.

There are fates worse than being waterboarded to death, you know.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

quitelikelyblog,
The roll-over text on that XKCD also shows that Randall is aware that the urge to point out thst someone is being egotistical, is often egotistical. And pointing that out is also egotistical... and it's turtles all the way down.

"T-cells" are dicks. Most of society just wants to get along without making waves.

Alex Tolley said...

But those who shrug off the blatant fact that he took a hard drive stuffed with US Secrets to a blatantly corrupt rival of his country are folks who put passion ahead of reason.


But it ISN'T a blatant fact that this happened. Snowden makes it quite clear that he did not take the material to Russia. My understanding is that it was given to Greenwald and Poitras and then disseminated to the Guardian and WaPo after very careful analysis.

http://www.nfoic.org/snowden-says-he-took-no-secret-files-russia


He may be finessing this, in that he could have given copies to Russian authorities in Hong Kong, but there is no evidence that he did.

Methinks that your statement sounds like the very RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION that you have argued is so destructive.

Jumper said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Alex.

Funny that I read so much none of what Snowden "revealed" was any surprise to me; it was all out there already. It just became impossible to ignore. Lots is still to come, if not from him, others I'd guess. Backdoors on every processor? Similar things hidden in devices few would consider, such as printers, DVD players, encrypted spyware hidden spread over several common devices to be assembled when called upon?
One thing I find darkly amusing is how Microsoft, Google, Firefox often refer to their free browsers as "competitive." Huh?
Also weird is the extreme difficulty of even using peer-to-peer communications limiting access to tier 1 and 2 providers mostly. Skype? Centralized. Gmail? Centralized. Microsoft Live Mail? Most people install the form which runs through MS hq, or if it doesn't, find where it says that it doesn't: I can't.

Joel Greenwood said...

"Even if he was no spy, that WIRED cover is an insult to us all. This is a profoundly arrogant and conceited person... as are MANY "T Cell" type bachelor males"

I wouldn't chalk too much up to the cover photo as Snowden's doing. The photographer would have told him how to stand, pose and hold the prop. There would have been possibly dozens of poses, for which Snowden would have no editorial control over. He might not have even seen the photos before they were sent home to Wired.

David Brin said...

Joel G I never said ES was the only sanctimonious hypocrite in this affair. The WIRED editors, sure… and yes, nearly all of those hounding for ES’s blood. Fervent Believers should never be in charge of outcomes.

WE need to parse what happened. We were given (by a sanctimony-driven, risk-eager T Cell) information about escalations by the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) that were simultaneously LEGAL under the post 9/11 regime that we (in our panic) ratified… but that we NOW are willing to re-evaluate and see as dangerous, and maybe some of it should be made illegal. And for that service, ES should be seen as a useful TCell and allowed to get on with 50 years on talk shows and never having to pay for his own drinks…

…AFTER he serves some (safe) medium security time for what was without any doubt law-breaking that bordered on treason.

We are wiser than all other societies, by encouraging these TCells. But we are not obligated to make their choices free of consequence or free of pain. They are usually kind of assholes, in fact, and so long as we are getting them, in decent supply, and outcomes are generally good, I am not going to weep over their discomfort on their way to the talk show circuit.

Jonathan S. said...

"David, I agree with you on most things, but whenever you start talking about how above the silly left-right divide you are this comic just keeps running through my head: https://xkcd.com/774/"

You say that as if feeling superior to extremist fools were a bad thing...

Anonymous said...

Matthew 5:45

No good deed goes unpunished: For, our Father who art in heaven, maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust alike.

David Brin said...

Anonymous, if any real father treated his offspring the way you portray Our Father treating us, he would be thrown in the deepest dungeon of an asylum for the criminally insane.

There ARE models of "god" that might be morally let off the hook, for human history. But those models do not include yours. All by itself... the doctrine iof Original Sin violates every principle of sanity and justice. And yes, we ARE rightfully in a position to judge.

A.F. Rey said...

I've always wondered if that was the reason God created Man: so that He would have someone to tell Him if He was good or not.

Because something outside of yourself can always see you better than you can yourself.

Paul451 said...

The cubesat launcher on the International Space Station has become self-aware.

http://news.discovery.com/space/space-stations-cubesat-cannon-has-mind-of-its-own-140905.htm

Anonymous said...


God?? You don't get to VOTE for God. You're stuck with the one you have, even if he/she/it is cruel, mean-spirited, indifferent.

The universe is not a democracy. It's not subject to majority rule and it's not some sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune out of the Monty Python Peasant sketch.

After we elect a new and improved all-forgiving divine being, maybe we can hold a referendum to rescind the law of gravity. Or, we could hold a sit-in and wave signs that say 'God unfair to common man' and 'Jehovah go home'.

Alex Tolley said...

Or, we could hold a sit-in and wave signs that say 'God unfair to common man' and 'Jehovah go home'.

We did. We got a result. It's called atheism or humanism (for want of better terms).

Robert said...

What makes you so sure, Anon, that there is a God? That there is any "divine entity" out there? Seriously, why should words written a thousand years or so ago have more merit than science? I mean, when you get down to it, the "Epic of Gilgamesh" is equally ancient to the Bible (if not older), so why not worship the Babylonian Gods mentioned in those ancient tablets? I mean, we're going by "ancient is better" here so...

If you claim that "faith" is what is needed then I counter that your faith is an aspect of imagination. You have created with help an imaginary Big Brother/Father figure to rule over you. And by insisting others worship your imaginary brother/father figure, you are trying to gain control over others.

Here is the facts. There is no scientifically verifiable proof of God, of an Afterlife, or even of intelligent advanced space aliens that primitive humans might consider Gods watching down on us.

Until you can acquire proof that can be verified and peer reviewed, your perspectives are just that: your own. But they have no merit in having others believe them and you can't complain about "voting out God" or the like because it's all imaginary.

Rob H., who once upon a time believed in the divine and in magic, faeries, and the like; when I became a man, I did away with these childish things.

mwsmith said...

Robert said... "There is no scientifically verifiable proof of God"

That depends on how you define God. God is the universe; the universe is God. There is a God, and God's purpose is to know itself.

Robert said...

Prove it.

And renaming the Universe "God" isn't scientific proof, it's literary shenanigans.

Rob H.

matthew said...

David maintains that Snowden did not reveal significant illegal behavior in his whistleblowing. Here are a few examples of actual illegal behaviors revealed by Snowden.

1) Bulk transfer of US citizens' data to Israeli intelligence.

2) James Clapper lying under oath to Congress.

3) Surveillance of US citizens subcontracted to the UK's GCHQ, which circumvents US law. GCHQ because of weaker UK protections, can surveil in ways the NSA cannot. This circumventing of US law is unlawful.

4) The hacking of the UN video conference system, which violated our treaty agreements.

5) Implantation of malicious code into computers that visit TOR sites.

6) False flag efforts to destroy the reputations of privacy and civil liberties advocates. Runs afoul of libel and slander laws.

7) Bulk data collection being used to prosecute drug crimes and for US corporations to gain trade advantage over foreign competitors. Prosecutors told to lie in court documents about source of data.

Another program, not unlawful, but interesting to this group, is TURBINE. TURBINE is an automated program that injects malicious code into large numbers of computer systems, without human intervention. Bad idea much? Give your AI the capability of taking over mass computer systems. Skynet much?



mwsmith said...

Robert said: "Prove it."
If the God is defined as the universe, then there is a God. That is the proof. It is simple logic. My point is that each religion defines God in its own way. In this case, pantheism defines God this way, and, clearly, by definition, the pantheist God exists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism

Robert said: "And renaming the Universe "God" isn't scientific proof, it's literary shenanigans."

In the case of the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc) God, your demand for scientific proof is a category error. Implicit in the definition of that god is that its existence can't be proved or disproved by science, or anything else. It is all about faith. Then demanding scientific proof is meaningless.

matthew said...

Note that the whole "taking God on faith" argument did not exist before scientists starting finding concrete proof that the Bible (or Torah, or Koran) was wrong about the creation myths. Abrahamic religions have been fighting a rearguard action ever since.


Dinosaurs were not created to test faith. The Bible was created to keep villagers in line under an oligarchic system.

mwsmith said...

Mathew wrote: "Note that the whole "taking God on faith" argument did not exist before scientists starting finding concrete proof that the Bible (or Torah, or Koran) was wrong about the creation myths."
No, you are confusing the "taking God on faith" argument, which has always been around, with the "receiving God's grace" argument, which, I believe, is recent and only used by fundamentalist evangelicals, who, IMO, are the least Christian people of any people who callthemselves Christian.

matthew said...

No I am not confusing doctrines. The Abrahamic God stopped performing "miracles" just when science had come up with ways to test for "miracles." And, then, the emphasis on taking the word of God on faith.

mwsmith said...

Mathew wrote: "No I am not confusing doctrines."

Yes, but now you have t=changed the terms of reference. You are now talking about proving miracles and taking God's word on faith, when we were only talking about theexistence of God. Taking God's existence on faith has always been a standard.

David Brin said...

Anonymous coward, you are illogical and foolish. I know I do not get to vote for God. I know there is a wide range of possibilities for His nature… though the fact that He remains ambiguous and unclear - leaving open the question of His existence - is certainly huge evidence. edidence that one of the following is true:

1) He does not exist
2) He is keeping things ambiguous so we can figure them out for ourselves
3) He is an unfair and brutal tyrant and unlike any sane “father.”

What I do know is this… it is my nature, as a man, to resent unfairness. Just as it is apparently your nature to knuckle under to unfairness and whimper and beg for mercy from a bloodthirsty bully.

IF (and it is a big “if”) the deity you grovel before is THE God, then he is a monster and I will fight him (note that I have dropped to lower-case in “he.”) Knowing full well that he will likely win and (according to your deeply-sick dogma) torture my shell of a body forever, I will fight such horrid evil, nonetheless. In that case he will have my body, but he will not have my soul. Because I will have stood up to evil, and any truly moral spirit in the Universe will see that courage and reward it.

How can your groveling compare to that?

Fortunately, the “god” of your deeply-sick dogma is blatantly not the creator of our magnificently complex and vast universe, whose scientific laws are beautiful, beyond compare. THAT entity — if He exists as a conscious being (and I see no reason to make declarations about that, since the Big Sermon is ambiguity: the fact that we cannot be sure) — that being would appreciate a species that is finally growing up, standing up, like adolescents are supposed to!

Picking up the tools of creation and learning to use them ourselves, like good apprentices. THAT is what a real Father would be proud of. Not whimpering groveling at the feet of a monster.

David Brin said...

MWsmith said "In the case of the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc) God, your demand for scientific proof is a category error. Implicit in the definition of that god is that its existence can't be proved or disproved by science, or anything else. It is all about faith. Then demanding scientific proof is meaningless."

This is SO wrong on so many levels.

1) The "testaments" of the Christian Bible are all about evidence and proof and miracles! We are asked to believe that extremely biased accounts by men who cannot be cross-examined... who indeed refused to be cross-examined by the Temple priests, whose JOB it was to test and vert miracles... that THAT testimony should suffice as proof till the end of time.

2) Great religious scholars have noted this fault and tried hard to follow up with incantatory support, from Augustine and Aquinas all the way to today's Polkinghorne.

3) The Jewish tradition has shifted for quite tome time to a father-child relationship and definite wariness (though faithful) to the God who allowed the Holocaust. See Elie Weisel.

4) Polkinghorne and others have so softened the old, fiery Christian message that the fun dies want nothing to do with those "soft christians." Hell is no longer a perpetual-such torture chamber but a voluntarily chosen eternal separation from the Creator."

After extended back-pedaling... like yours MWSmith... exactly why are you supporting faith in a God who offers no evidence of existence, no pattern of cause and effect or rewards/punishments, no verifiable interactions and no outcomes?

Sorry, your God is too tepid for me. I am no atheist. I actually can contemplate a dozen potentialities for deity that are compatible with what we see... it is a narrow range, but half of those possible models are not evil... their refusal to help us in any systematic way has some... plausible ... excuses.

See? I am trying to be fair. If he is one of those, then maybe He/She/It?Us will get a pass when I judge him.

David Brin said...

Great stuff! I am posting another though... folks are welcome to keep talking here, though.

onward

mwsmith said...

David Brin wrote: "After extended back-pedaling... like yours MWSmith... exactly why are you supporting faith in a God who offers no evidence of existence, no pattern of cause and effect or rewards/punishments, no verifiable interactions and no outcomes?"

I don't support faith in God. I began by explaining my personal pantheist view, which you may have missed. (Or maybe I posted that on your google+ posting of this essay, where you don't participate. It's a shame those replies don't automatically appear here.) My point was supposed to be that the existence of the Christian God can't be proved or disproved. My own experience, being raised in the Methodist church was that none of the items in your list were used on me there.

But the items in your list all refer to attempts to prove God's existence, or to loosen the definition of God, if I understand your numbers 3 and 4. I don't deny that these attempts were made and that church leaders have demanded that followers accept them.

But what I wrote doesn't contradict that. I claimed that demanding scientific proof of the existence of God is a category error. God's existence can't be proved or disproved. That is implicit in the definition of the Christian God, all the attempts to prove God exists notwithstanding. You either believe God exists or you don't.

David Brin wrote: "Sorry, your God is too tepid for me."

It's not my God, David. My God, on the days when I believe there is one, is the universe itself. It doesn't interfere in our lives; it is our lives.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon/mwsmith:
A question that has been bothering me much lately. The Christian God (I know there are many definitions, I use this simplification for shorthand) has spoken to His believers that we must follow His Word, given in the Bible, as absolute. Of course, we have free will, but so many people come up so many different interpretations of the same Word. Which one is right?

I don't speak of unbelievers, but people who in good faith and with all their heart are trying to find His Truth.

Seriously, good, honest, honorable people all keep finding different "truthes."

Is God lying to everybody but you?

mwsmith said...

Anonymous wrote: "The Christian God has spoken to His believers that we must follow His Word, given in the Bible, as absolute."

The Christian God has never spoken to me directly, unless the other voice I use as "The Other" when I talk to myself is God. I suppose it could be. In any case, God has never told me follow his word given in the Bible as absolute. Nor was I ever taught that.

I can follow the principles of moral philosophy to reach the understanding that I can't let Jesus die for my sins. If I let another person pay for my sins, then I am lost. And if Jesus really was the son of God and knew it, then he knew he was going to heaven anyway so paying for my sins would be no big deal for him.

I could go on like that, but you asked: Is God lying to everyone but me? I don't think the Bible is the word of God. I don't think there is a word of God in that sense. I think God is the universe; the universe is God. The universe is God's word.

David Brin said...

Thanks mwsmith for clarifying a bit about yourself. Alas, methinks you do not understand this "category error" you are bandying about. Enough though.

onward

mwsmith said...

David Brin wrote: " methinks you do not understand this "category error"

That's possible. My logic here is that, by definition, the Christian God existed before the universe, so it is outside the universe. Being outside the universe, its existence can't be proved with science. Therefore the question of God's existence isn't in the category of questions that can be answered by science. Then demanding a scientific proof of God's existence is a category error.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any need to post insults toward Assange, Manning, or Snowden, calling them idiots and traitors. They have gotten more than enough of that from their enemies, and it will never stop. They don't need any from us.

We don't win prizes for being exactly balanced, sneering at everyone equally. Nobody here is on the Supreme Court. We are not above the fray of any dispute.

Resenting the world for not recognizing what a genius you are, this is not just a vice of the young.

Michael C. Rush said...

>>They WANTED to spend some time in jail! Not just for the publicity or to be martyrs, but because paying a price makes civil disobedience real.

Yes, well, I wonder if they'd have felt the same under a prison system where rape and other violence are essentially guaranteed. If Snowden ever went in with the general population, he'd never come out alive.

Michael C. Rush said...

>> I am no atheist. I actually can contemplate a dozen potentialities for deity that are compatible with what we see.

How does the former follow from the latter? I can imagine a nigh infinite number of things that I nevertheless won't believe in without evidence. It's called "having a creative imagination" (and we know yours is strong). Atheists think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that there is no god, not that they'd refuse to acknowledge one whatever evidence might someday be presented to them.

mwsmith said...

Michael C. Rush wrote: "Atheists think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that there is no god..."

What is the evidence that there is no god? I can't see any evidence either way.

Michael C. Rush said...

@mwsmith: You can't prove a negative, and the burden of proof is upon those making extraordinary claims to prove them, no one else. But this is not the place to go into all that, so I won't.

mwsmith said...

Michael C. Rush wrote: "You can't prove a negative, and the burden of proof is upon those making extraordinary claims to prove them, no one else."

That's right, but you said the preponderance of evidence is on the atheist side that there is no god. What is that evidence? Why have you bothered to gather that evidence, knowing that you can't prove there is no god?

But there is no burden of proof. People who believe there is a god don't have to prove there is one to justify their belief. Despite all the historical attempts to prove there is a god, I think they are misguided. It is only faith.