Monday, March 02, 2015

What elites DO to us is more important than what they know

Again and again we see what works... and what almost-never works.  So why is the utterly futile prescription almost always the one promoted by security and privacy "experts," by pundits of all stripes and by supposed defenders of freedom and privacy?

Two Philadelphia cops accused of savagely beating a man without provocation and then lying about it have been indicted following a thorough investigation — by the victim's girlfriend. “After Najee Rivera was given a beating that left him with a fractured bone in his face and one eye swollen shut, girlfriend Dina Scannapieco canvassed businesses in the area and found security footage that led to Rivera's exoneration on charges of assault and resisting arrest and to the arrest of the two officers involved.”

The lesson? Again and again, twits declare that the only way to save freedom and privacy is to pass laws restricting information flows, and then trusting elites to enforce or obey those laws. 

“Brin is naive!” they declare “to imagine that *increased* information flow can ever hold elites accountable or benefit common folk.” Then they call for laws without the light that can enforce them.

What stunning drivel. Any information flow restriction will be far easier for elites to evade, while we are rendered blind by those very same laws. Every attempt to use ciphers etc to “secure” databases eventually fails, with the Anthem leak only the latest in a relentless chain of spills that now come almost weekly.  

In contrast, the only good news in our info wars is happening on our streets, where the spread of cameras is now steadily (if unevenly) making power more equal, not less. 

In both EARTH and The Transparent Society, I portrayed citizens empowered with cams, learning to apply reciprocal accountability (RA)… the once, and past, and present, and only methodology of freedom.

Oh, here's another -- “Brin thinks citizens can be equal to elites in the use of info-tech.”  

No I do not think that and have never said that.  

But the last 200 years… and especially the period since Rodney King and DNA testing… have shown that we don’t have to be equal to elites, in vision or in might, to start applying RA.  If we can see just well enough then our greater numbers will have leverage. 

So what if they can see us better than we see them! If we can see them well enough, then we can deter them from doing stuff to us. 

I cannot fathom why it is so hard to grasp this simple point: What elites see and know will matter a whole lot less than what they cannot do. And while it is logically impossible to police what others know, we are capable of deterring open, physical actions.

Only, in order to accomplish that, light must flow, so we can see.

== False Dichotomies == 

Simply tragic. This “renowned security expert” is simultaneously extremely knowledgable… and disastrously clueless. In this brief video he proclaims that we face a “stark choice” — a dichotomy that’s black and white. Either or.  Either empower state and corporate powers to spy on all of us (and yes, I agree such one-way surveillance could lead to Big Brother)…

… or else provide “security” for all communications so that no one can spy on anyone’s data streams. 

How stirring and romantic. And stunning hogwash. 

I would love to see Bruce’s plan (and I have been asking, for 20 years) for how option #2 is possible. with technology advancing and cameras getting smaller, faster, cheaper, more mobile and numerous faster than Moore’s Law. When your ceiling can contain a hidden gnat-cam or your walls an EM key-logger, tracking everything you type or say… 

...when face reading will not only ID you anywhere but track your mood and (soon) whether or not you are lying? Will hiding somehow equalize the disparity of power between elites (state, corporate, criminal, foreign, technological) and common folk?

Worse than drivel, such talk is actively and deliberately harmful distraction. Again and again, I defy anyone to show me how you can reliably blind all elites! Show us one example of that every having happened, across all of history. How any such “solution” would be robust, across decades of rapid technological change, including the arrival of quantum computers. 

There is another option. A “door number three.” And yes, I understand that zero-sum thinkers have a hard time comprehending positive-sum solutions that extend out of the plane of simple, black and white dichotomies. Still, I made it plain enough in The Transparent Society  — were Bruce Schneier ever — even once — to crack open a copy.

Again and again, until it sinks in: we can stop Big Brother by worrying less about what elites know and more about what they can DO.  And we can curb what they do to us with only one tool. Reciprocal accountability. Stripping them naked so that they can be held accountable. 

That is where I am militant.  And even though few in the punditocracy seem able to wrap their minds around the possibility, it is happening anyway.

As constabularies all across the U.S. reverse a decade of resistance and instead are embracing cop-cams… 

...and ghetto youths start using live-feed cams of their own (exactly as portrayed in both EARTH and The Transparent Society), reciprocal accountability is spreading. We’ll gain accountability and justice and peace on our streets. It is the only way power can ever be curbed and watchdogs reminded that they are dogs, not wolves.

And so it matters little that bright fools peddle addictively silly dichotomies.

== And yet... it has a cool title! ==

Nevertheless, I will tout Bruce's new book... "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World."  See it reviewed in Slate: How to Mess with Surveillance. Though obstinately zero-sum, he certainly knows and relates an awful lot of facts.  You'll learn plenty!  Just know that the either-or dichotomies that he presents are no "solutions." They bear no resemblance to actual, pragmatic and sensible paths to emerge from the problems that he lays down, so well.

Evade surveillance?  Avoid surveillance? There are hundreds - it appears - born every minute.



Tony Fisk said...

Fifteen years before David, it turns out Jethro Tull had a few things to say on RA ('Watching me Watching you')

More seriously, I linked Senator Scott Ludlam to this. I think it's got some relevance to the ongoing discussion of whether or not to retain everyone's phone metadata or whatever because terrorists or something.

Alan Cooper said...

Yes, "or something" indeed- such as influence peddling or other malfeasance by those in power whose behaviour might more easily be exposed if all communications metadata were open to all.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

While I agree in general with the title and central message of this blog, I feel compelled to point out that what people know about you can be just as big a deal. I knew an old gentleman, a Chinese immigrant working for HP in Denver, who suddenly found himself out of work one day. A handful of new employees had been making rounds through the office trying to convert everyone to whatever petty Christian cult they belonged to, and when they discovered the old man was Buddhist they went ballistic, threatening the company with boycotts if the evil pagan wasn't removed from their presence. Of course the move was entirely illegal, but everything was done word-of-mouth and behind closed doors, so there was insufficient evidence for a legal case. It would have taken some illegal sousveillance to have gotten that evidence, and he would have had to know it was coming to even have a reason to collect it in the first place. The guy was pink-slipped before he knew it. There are plenty of irrational actors in this world. If you can't understand their motives, it's hard to anticipate their actions and be prepared. At his age, finding equivalent work is not easy, even back in the 90s.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Tony, that Tull song is pretty creepy, but I think it would have been much creepier if it had been sung by a woman. Just a (creepy) thought.

Orval said...

The NSA is a behemoth that employs tens of thousands of analysts. These are not people collecting the data, nor people reviewing the data, they are people analyzing the metadata. Tying together a transaction at a bank in Cleveland with an email to someone in Abu Dhabi with the bank balance of someone in France with gas purchases by a credit card in Toronto. Metadata.

It is very hard to see how sousveillance can emulate this capacity.

Schneir is very very aware that there is absolutely nothing you can do about targeted tracking, if the FBI/CIA/NSA want to know what you specifically had for breakfast, finding that out is trivial for them and there is no conceivable defence, and he says so, again and again. What he and other privacy advocates are concerned about is attracting their targeted attention in the first place.

Catching your local cops beating up a guy on your cell or a store security camera is another matter entirely. It doesn't even have to be argued for or defended, it is happening naturally, it is inevitably going to happen more and more, and the authorities really can't do a damn thing about it. In that narrow sense the impending victory of sousveillance is certain and sure, I think.

But Big Data, metadata, analysis, is a whole different kettle of fish.

The NSA can break into a financial institution and survey tens of thousands of accounts to see who is sending funds to ISIS, in a matter of minutes; the citizenry has no equivalent capacity to find out which of the elite are bankrolling the teaparty.

Jumper said...
Music to read by.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

The Chinese immigrant you spoke of could be defended by sousveillance, but it would require that some co-workers act in his defense. If someone came by my place and tried to openly convert me, I might play along and then offer to help them in my new-found missionary zeal. Of course, I would bug myself and them if I could and then use the collected evidence to inform my (possibly soon to be former) employer that they had better deal with these clowns the way HR departments are supposed to do.

This is a bit like our host's comments about the shaming techniques we use for eaves-droppers in restaurants. They don't work if the person being abused is the only one to defend themselves. It takes a community response.

Ultimately, though, it is important to realize that a corporation who pink slips someone for this reason deserves their fate as their diversity dwindles to zero. Find a way to employ this fellow somewhere else where he is appreciated.

locumranch said...

Then, we have Option #4:

Moral assumptions about how society 'should' or 'ought to' operate are replaced by transparency-mediated empiric data that proves, through the sheer volume of exposed dik-piks, infidelities, corruptions, misrepresentations, lies & immoral acts, that most of our taken-for-granted moral normative assumptions are FALSE, accompanied by the growing realization that 'Everybody Does It', leading to the elimination of shame and an exacerbation of the ongoing celebration of both deviance and diversity.

I have witnessed this particular shame-destruction pathway first hand, wherein the frankly immoral become an accepted mainstream commonplace, during a brief residence in Thailand:

Report#1: Police kill 7 armed terrorists in bloody shoot-out. Police approval rating polled at 60%.

Report#2: Police kill 7 terrorists in shoot-out; all terrorists were unarmed; police approval rating polled at 65%.

Report#3: 7 terrorists killed in police action; all unarmed; all killed while in police custody; police approval rating polled at 65%.

Report#4: Police admit to shooting handcuffed terror suspects; all shot in head while in police custody; all killed without trial; no arms were found on scene; police assure media that these were 'bad men'; police state that such shootings represent 'business as usual'; police approval rating jumps to 80%.

So much for reciprocal accountability; a warm welcome is given to moral relativity; and society in general applauds 'Business as Usual'.


Alex Tolley said...

If we can see them well enough, then we can deter them from doing stuff to us.

Will hiding somehow equalize the disparity of power between elites (state, corporate, criminal, foreign, technological) and common folk?

This is rather situational. It assumes that souveillance offers power to prevent actions, e.g. indicting police offers for their actions (even if they rarely face criminal action subsequently).

But would this have worked in Elizabethan times. Would showing what Walsingham was up to have deterred him? Would showing German atrocities in WWII have deterred their actions? Certainly the Nazis were quite happy to document their actions in concentration camps, which subsequently haunted them at Nuremburg.

If the claim that the police forces are increasingly seeing their role as an us vs them situation, and they are backed by the legal system to protect them, then sousveillance will do little to dissuade their actions and police forces will act with impunity. So I think it is important to understand that sousveiilance is a necessary, but INSUFFICIENT, mechanism to deter elite actions.

Laurent Weppe said...

"sousveillance will do little to dissuade their actions and police forces will act with impunity"

Looking and documenting the deeds of the ruling and enforcer class can work because of this weird glitch in the way our ape brains are hardwired:

Humans are conflict-averse, therefore relatively easy to browbeat into craven submission
But at the same time, Humans hate being called cowards, to the point where a bully who becomes too transparent in his behavior will eventually push into open rebellion people who would have kept bending the knee had he kept a modicum of subtlety.

So the deal with "sousveillance" is pretty much to tell abusive power holders:
"Everyone know what you're doing, which means that unless you change your behavior, sooner or later you will be overthrown by an uprising composed by pissed revanchist people who will do to you what you did to them.": it's very similar to the untold compact between elites and the hoi polloi in democracies.
Normally, self-preservation instincts are on their own enough to make the ruling class understand where its long term interest lies and to keep the threat implicit: knowing that their abuses will be exposed is then enough to force them to behave.

Problems arise when the ruling class and its enforcers are either:
1. So arrogant that they've convinced themselves that they are so much smarter and more capable than the previous generations of corrupt rulers that they'll be able to thwart History's inertia.
2. Know that they're living on borrowed time but intend to leave the country they're despoiling with as much loot as possible and leave in comfortable exile somewhere else.
3. Know that they're living on borrowed time but hope that by cranking up the repression they'll be able to delay the inevitable so their descendants are the ones who have to deal with it.

David Brin said...

Orval says: “Schneir is very very aware that there is absolutely nothing you can do about targeted tracking, if the FBI/CIA/NSA want to know what you specifically had for breakfast, finding that out is trivial for them and there is no conceivable defence, and he says so, again and again. What he and other privacy advocates are concerned about is attracting their targeted attention in the first place.”

Really? Seriously? And you aren’t even slightly aware how howlingly stupid that is?

Schneier always does this. He extrapolates five years into the future. Freezes there and declares a solution based on the assumption things will go no farther, whatsoever. No further Moore's Law. No further development of tools and cameras.

His solution? To COWER and hide! Only… if you can thus evade attention, you are also prevented from aggressively looking back. And a few years later, when the NSA’s bigger computers can sift every single thing, no matter what your low-profile? When there's a gnat cam above your desk and a key-logger in the wall?

Is Orval really unable to see how blitheringly nonsensical and illogical this “prescription” is?

Cowering hiders cannot aggressively look back. Hence, one has to conclude that Bruce Schneier is in the pay of the NSA. If folks follow his advice, sousveillance will never ever happen. We will live in a world of terrified, cowering sheep, not aggressively confident citizens.

“the citizenry has no equivalent capacity to find out which of the elite are bankrolling the teaparty.”

What stunning, utter drivel. Sorry man. The “equivalence” argument is a strawman. All we have to do is create a society in which the reflex is to assume that whistle blowers are protected heroes. That will mean that no NSA drone can ever be sure the fellow at the next desk won’t tattle, get a prize and appear on talk shows. So the civil servant had better keep his nose clean. Look for dangers and ONLY dangers.

Only whistle blowers can stop the key-loggers and gnat cams. Well, no, not true! Home hobbyists, equipped with the detection apparatus the NSA had FIVE YEARS AGO... can hunt down the gnat cams the NSA used FIVE YERAS AGO, dig them out of the wall and show the public. And some civil servants will hang.

Seriously, are these guys truly "tech-futurist pundits" who cannot extrapolate such trends?

Sound unlikely? We are already 60% there! And it is the only thing that can possibly work. And it does NOT require “equivalence” of surveillance power. If an alert public is just fie years behind the NSA... augmented by confident NSA RETIREES who live in a whistle blowing culture... then sousveillance can work, even without "equivalence."

Indeed, those who keep demanding “equivalence” are deeply mentally deficient, unable to stretch their minds to another level.

David Brin said...

Alex, of course it is situational! Sousveillance can only work in a society that is already largely free. THIS is the reason the oligarchs are so frantic in their putsch.

A british reporter told Gandhi "Hitler just would have killed you and all your followers."

To which Gandhi answered. "Do you want a medal, for being more civilizaed than all other empires? Sure, then. I will give you a medal for being better than Hitler, and I admit that I use that to get you to leave. Now leave."

matthew said...

David, how can you justify your statements about Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, and at the same time maintain that we have to have a culture that assumes whistle-blowers are "protected heroes?" You have posted at length here supporting the government arguments that neither Snowden or Manning is deserving of whistle-blower protection.

The hypocrisy of your stance is galling.

Randall Winn said...

Is it not interesting the difference between the very same data reported by text versus video?

"Police shot innocent child" is a disturbing sentence but easily discounted or ignored. Video of a police car driving up to the child, an officer getting out and gunning the kid down is far more compelling. Perhaps it is because you believe what you see; perhaps it is because you empathize with the picture of a living child more than with the word 'child'; perhaps it is something else intrinsic to humanity. Whatever the mechanism, it may make the media type of information being shared as significant as the amount or content.

David Brin said...

Matthew, it is the simplistic (and silly) PURITY of your response that propels your insult, which drops to your feet without ever coming near me.

Things are not black and white. Those who demand that are five year old minds who do not even understand their favorite good-evil myths like Star Wars.

Yes, we have created a mythic system that encourages some preening bachelors to do what preening bachelors have long done for ages -- stoke themselves up to take a huge risk aimed at achieving hero status. It is embedded in human nature for "zeros" to try to become heroes, because that is a path toward potential reproduction.

These become suicide bombers, if that kind of cult utilizes them.

In our society, we encourage such preening to create "Social T Cells"... a phrase I used probably when you actually WERE a simplistic 5 year old, and thus had an excuse.

"T-Cells" are preening young (mostly) males who (in our culture) run around looking for errors to point out, screaming "you see? You fools?" And gain status (and girls) that way.

And that's great! More than half the time they prove to be semi-delusional jerks, but so what? The benefit of having nearly ALL ERRORS pointed out by someone -- a shouting someone -- far exceed the irritation factor.

Note, in other societies, that irritation factor got kings and priests to KILL all the inconvenient, noisy T Cells. And thus society was deprived of error detection and corrective criticism, And got bad governance.

Today, the efficiency ratio is still very low. "T Cells" on the american right are mostly lured into becoming confederate twits, repeating utter drivel and hallucinations. On the left, many of the topics are actually important ones and the yelling serves a purpose... BUT T CELLS HAVE NO SENSE OF PROPORTION. Indeed, proportion is not their job.

Which brings us to Bradley Manning, a man of very small potential with very low IQ, who got flattered and blandished into thinking himself a potential alpha-male hero, if only he would break all his oaths to reveal to the world...

...almost nothing illegal. Zillions of cables and documents that elected officials of his nation deemed sensitive... and his casus for over-ruling freely elected chiefs who he had sworn to obey and spilling them? Maybe TWO of the records showed bad actors in Iraq who should have been prosecuted. The rest was just civil servants, doing their jobs, occasionally saying embarrassing things...

... like how our diplomats hated Mubarak and other dictators. Revelations that HELPED us during the Arab Spring. Hillary Clinton must have been tempted to give Manning and Assange medals!

David Brin said...

Manning is a tragic case. A complete dope who would never have been found out if he hadn't BRAGGED about being the leaker. I am sorry for him. Assange is more complex. I AM GLAD THAT AN ASSANGE EXISTS! I just wish he weren't the kind of man who lures a Manning into destroying his life.

Snowden? Double complex. Revealed almost nothing that was illegal at the time! And hence hardly a "whistle blower"... though I am GLAD of his revelations! Because we then got to converse about what SHOULD be legal! And again, I do not have to personally like T cells. Most are personally jerks. But we need em.

The crux, we live in the first society that has made SOME legal allowances for whistle blowers. I am the guy who has pushed hard for this process to be expanded and regularized! But it will be a sliding scale.

Those who reveal criminal abuse of citizens will always deserve placement further along the scale than those who reveal the merely questionable, or who spill to make a political point. But yes, I would protect those too! It is legit to argue to what degree. That is called pragmatism.

And if you do not by now "get" my point, then you never will. And rest assured fellah, the fault for your lack of comprehension and subtlety is not mine. What you see as inconsistency is in fact your own simplistic inability to mentally stretch to see a larger picture.

Jonathan S. said...

The value of sousveillance has been demonstrated again:

A Louisiana man was paid $50 to deliver a summons in a brutality case to a police officer, as he left a courthouse. The man was arrested and charged with assaulting the officer; the claim was that he had fought with the officer, striking him hard enough to move him back several feet. Charges were supported by two ADAs at the scene. For two years, prosecution against the man proceeded.

Unfortunately for the officers, the ADAs, and the DA, the man had asked his wife and nephew to film him delivering the summons so he could prove he had done so. Eventually, the case came to the jurisdiction of the Louisiana State AG's office - where all charges were promptly dropped. The man is currently pursuing a civil-rights lawsuit against the law enforcement officials involved.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Perhaps it is because you believe what you see"

Or more simply because it demands more efforts to doctor a video or make a fake one from whole cloth than to merely spew a false testimony. Therefore it makes sense to immediately give more credence to a video than to a story being told.

Alfred Differ said...


I'm honestly curious how you think moral traditions get started in the first place. Care to elaborate?

My understanding is they emerge from the 'successful' behaviors of people in the community. They propagate if they are fit enough to do so, but what counts as 'fit' might be something as simple as the fact that some behaviors don't lead to personal beatings as often as others. Success, therefore, is a measure of getting by without one's neighbors interfering in one's business.

I ask because I know a few doom and gloom people who use an elimination of shame argument like you do. I can't get them to talk about where their traditions come from, though. They usually just get angry at me as though I'm challenging their sacred beliefs.

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, Randall, I find the opposite occurs.

The verbal report of an atrocity tends to have a greater initial impact on me than the video of that atrocity. Possibly because the report has been tailored for maximum effect whereas the video is a lot more ambiguous.

Not always. There is some footage (eg the officer who roach sprayed 'Occupy' protestors at Oakland) where the person in question deserved to be tarred and feathered on the spot.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alfred, unfortunately the fellow I spoke of did not have community support. He was a quiet, unassuming person who competently performed his duties, and his English skills were good enough to get by but not to participate in the typical office rumor mill/political arena. On top of that, the Chinese community in Denver was pretty tiny when I left 15 years ago, and the majority was not very socially flexible. It's easy for decent people to fall through the cracks of any system when the majority has limited scruples, and a big company like Hewlett-Packard is a bloated bureaucratic Castle every bit as Kafkaesque as any government bureaucracy. Big businesses have just as much inertia, so while I love to imagine that corporate karma will catch up with them, I very much doubt it will happen in a timely manner or will provide any compensation.

When people ask me my religion, I just don't answer the question. Since I work in a public school, I can claim separation of church and state, but even outside of work, I keep off the subject. Too many righteous idiots who can't leave people in peace, and they come in flocks - sometimes mobs. Anything they know about you they will use against you, and they rarely play by rules they have no respect for anyway.

Alex Tolley said...

OT. Bank of England warning over stranded fossil fuel assets. Hint of next strategy to keep burning carbon?

Alex Tolley said...

@Jonathan. But note that it took YEARS and considerable cost for this to work by getting the case in the hands of a non-corrupt DA. that should warn you about the effect of who has power and the effectiveness of sousveillance.

@DB. I'm happy that you agree that sousveillance works under so e circumstances only. This means we can shift the argument so that it does not represent a universal solution. It may just work in a subset of western democracies, or rather in cases where local conditions allow it, as Jonathan's example suggests. How do we address this for the rest of the world, or where freedoms are being eroded in the western democracies?

Tony Fisk said...

Matthew's indignation wrt Manning, Assange, and Snowden is understandable when you compare their draconian treatment with the slap on the wrist meted out to Gen. Petraeus.

True, the former deliberately published secrets, while the latter haphazardly, and inadvertently, included them in notes given to his biograper/Mistress. (Ah, but what secrets!). The former may have been simplistically naive. A four star general should certainly have known better.

Laurent Weppe said...

"A four star general should certainly have known better."

A four start general who listens to his dick is no smarter than a teenage boy who just discovered that playing with a girlfriend can be funnier than masturbation.

sociotard said...

Because Brin likes bridges:

Alfred Differ said...

Paul Shen-Brown,

There is a danger in using examples from 15 years ago. We’ve been changing at a furious clip. It may not seem all that long ago to those of us with a few decades under our belt (and the belly that comes with it), but we should be prepared for our anecdotes to lose relevance. For example, only 15 years ago I had no optimism that same sex marriage would be legal in a number of US states. I thought it was going to have to be forced through the Court much like abortion was and after that it would be just as much an unpleasant a political issue. Something happened along the way, though, and is still happening.

I get your point about the inertia of large corporations. I used to work for a large bank before the meltdown. Some behaviors can’t be diverted, but doesn’t mean there aren’t long term consequences for HP and others. Back to same-sex marriages for a moment, though. There are quite a number of corporations who would rather dodge the legal entanglements and they had their medical insurers make adjustments to plans to make them blind the genders of the ‘married’ couple. There was no law that said they couldn’t. The bank I worked for was one of them. It is these changes that those small groups of employees are actually fighting when they band together. Other people get stepped on along the way. I suspect that the decision made at HP was at a lower level, because if it had bubbled up the HR and Legal teams would have stuffed the people involved into training classes about how NOT to cause and then lose large legal settlements. Our bank had such classes, so I’m not making this stuff up. 8)

I’m glad you claim the separation clause at work. I’m an atheist who cares a great deal that you all do exactly that. I’ll defend teachers who get dragged into revealing personal information in order to defend themselves, but I’ll do the opposite if they go too far toward indoctrination in explanations beyond the basic values. I applaud and approve no matter what your personal beliefs happen to be. 8)

I’m only mildly careful about such things where I work. If my employer screws up too much, I’m of the opinion they can go hang while I find someone more deserving of my participation in growing the value of their company. I’m a valuable addition to any team and I believe that enough to matter. I rarely talk about my non-beliefs, but if someone wants to know I’ll talk openly enough to make most HR people nervous. I’ll hold back only if I see another people besides the person who asked getting upset. Team morale matters and there is no sense in messing it up. However, if my team doesn’t know me as a person, I’m not adding all the value I can deliver. That’s what I tell HR people when they start chewing on their fingernails.

locumranch said...

Alfred asks a very good question about how morals develop or emerge in human society, and my answer (one that I haven't had to express in words until now) is that morals evolve by two distinct pathways.

The first (as Alfred describes) is the normative (empiric) pathway wherein
morals emerge from 'successful' (or 'fit') behaviors of people in the community (behaviours that propagate if they lead to a successful outcome or are squelched if they lead to an undesirable outcome).

The second pathway is that of idealization, also know as the 'progressive' (non-normative)approach, wherein idealized or optimal behaviours are force-fed to members of the community in the hopes that a more successful outcome. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but mainly for being an act of wishful thinking at best or willful self-delusion at worst, the classical example of this (suggested by the original cynic) was the act of masturbation.

Argues the cynic:
If masturbation is a normative act, then there is nothing intrinsically shameful about it that requires secrecy. Why then is it considered sinful or shameful? Why not masturbate in public, then?

Argues the progressive:
Since we do consider masturbation shameful or sinful, then we should introduce proactive legislation to outlaw this disgusting practice, but actively repressing it with laws and medication (saltpeter) to prevent young men from playing with themselves.

Whereas the first (normative; empiric) approach leads to a healthy equilibrium of morality, the second (progressive; non-empiric) approach creates a moral instability which requires an ever increasing amount of force to maintain.

This same principle applies to the topics of Transparency, Surveillance & Souveillance.


David Brin said...

Kewl suspended walkway bridge, thanks.

David Brin said...

More drivel.Masturbation's OFFICIAL status has improved because science has demolished all rationalizations for stigmatizing it, as a private activity.

He then ignores the fact that male humans remain both realistically and at many visually resonant levels, dangerous. In-yer-face aggressive displays of maleness are expressions of intimidation and violence among other species and certainly have been, in human societies. Limitations upon in-yer-face aspects of demonstrative maleness do need to be regulated and we are only arguing over the necessary degree.

That degree may change, over time. But it remains utterly reasonable to say "Go do that in your room, if you must. We have a right not to be forced to watch."

Again, an example of bright "logical" ditziness without any but the very vaguest interest in staying connected to an actual world.

locumranch said...

The Cynic I was referring to was Diogenes of Sinope and, yes indeedy, Science has proved that masturbatory behavior is common, instinctive, normative and (even healthful, yet many progressives (like David) still try to banish this male AND female act as 'wrong' and 'undesirable', just like they try to banish and vilify any number healthy behaviours, even though the inevitable outcome will (eventually) to the same as Prohibition, leading to a Roaring Twenties of open rebellion. These progressives never learn, so intent to 'improve' humanity that they routinely deny reality.


locumranch said...

As David says, "male humans remain both realistically and at many visually resonant levels, DANGEROUS" (emphasis mine), as all delusional progressives do, in order to vilify normative male behavior and justify the social, economic and chemical castration (and/or feminization) of the male for the express purpose of racial 'improvement'.

Improvement according to what standard? According to whom?

Sounds an awful lot like the same argument that the Nazis used in their attempt to improve the human species.


David Brin said...

Har! Look at how he puts up a strawman statement about improvement - of his own creation -- then explicitly implies that the statement was MINE! Then proceeds to gleefully knock it down. His absolute modus... but never more perfectly distilled.

I'd ignore such drivel were it not so illustrative of the deeply distorted mental processes that hamper millions of bright fools.

DJM said...

David: You are sounding more and more like a kook. You describe others as twits, as howlingly stupid.
If you had a valid argument, you would point out the predictions they've made that turned out to be false, you wouldn't use childish insults against them.

*Obviously* sousveillance is a good thing. It is not in opposition to laws to prevent surveillance. In fact, it may be the only way to prevent surveillance: make it illegal, and watch the watchers, to make sure they follow the law.

You say (paraphrasing, while writing this I can't see your posting) that elites have never been stopped by the actions Schneier proposes. You are wrong. All the data shows that nobody knows how to break good encryption. If we all used that, surveillance would be impossible.
The surveillers would have to target individuals, installing bugs, etc. That's too expensive now because bugs are expensive. In the future when bugs are cheap, we will be able to stop them by making the actions illegal, and watching them.

The fact that you think surveillance is inevitable, and sousveillance will stop the elites from doing bad things with the info, sounds more like you're defending an idea because it's your idea, than because it's right.

Randall Winn said...

We are runnng an experiment to see whether calling someone a kook or a Nazi leads to a productive conversation.

Any predictions?

David Brin said...

DJM, what an enthralling mix of right and wrong, correct and dismally silly.

"*Obviously* sousveillance is a good thing. It is not in opposition to laws to prevent surveillance. In fact, it may be the only way to prevent surveillance: make it illegal, and watch the watchers, to make sure they follow the law."

Um... "obviously?" You just concisely laid down the correct situation... that only in a mostly-open world will we be able to rely upon any privacy law that we pass, possibly being enforced. But to assert - as you do - that this is widely understood and "obvious?"

Yeouwch! Show me! I can count on the fingers of one hand the privacy-security mavens who could paraphrase what you just did (accurately) let alone show a scintilla of evidence they actually grok it. And Bruce Schneier is not among those.

And it is not for lack of trying. I have been making that point for 25 years, till I am hoarse. How ironic you paraphrase it so well, amid an attack!

But the rest? What howling malarkey! Sorry man, the NSA etc backed off from the clipper chip NOT because they were "defeated" but because they were delighted to have put it all in an equilibrium that they could use for decades to come.

Oh, sure, there is a religion out there that blithely declares faith in ciphers. But security ALWAYS breaks! Monthly, weekly, and no matter how much money is poured at it. The places I fear most are those where there are NO observed failures. That means the powers that be are content.

Again, you INTRINSICALLY can never verify that someone else does not know something. That is inherent and true. But you CAN verify that someone (some elite) is not ACTING is ways that directly harm you. The distinction between action and knowledge is decisive because the former is what constrains your freedom and possibly your life.

If we stop cowering in shadows by militantly insist of supervising the watch dogs, then maybe they won't become wolves.

Schneier's way guarantees they will.

LarryHart said...


Argues the cynic:
If masturbation is a normative act, then there is nothing intrinsically shameful about it that requires secrecy. Why then is it considered sinful or shameful? Why not masturbate in public, then?

Argues the progressive:
Since we do consider masturbation shameful or sinful, then we should introduce proactive legislation to outlaw this disgusting practice, but actively repressing it with laws and medication (saltpeter) to prevent young men from playing with themselves.

Whereas the first (normative; empiric) approach leads to a healthy equilibrium of morality, the second (progressive; non-empiric) approach creates a moral instability which requires an ever increasing amount of force to maintain.


Progressives say "If it's not hurting anybody, we have no problem with what you do in the privacy of your own home". The ones who would actively repress private behavior, at least these days, call themselves social conservatives.

Randall Winn said...

The locumranch Theory Of Progressive Views On Masturbation is indeed a beauty, but alas, slain by a single fact: the successful attack on the career of Dr. Jocelyn Elders.

(P.S. Would Alan Turing approve the "I'm not a robot" test?)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alfred, I take your point about outdated anecdotes. Of course, time is one variable, but so is place. In my current place of residence I have seen a lot less of this kind of behavior than in my home state. Still, the younger generations seem to be far less regressive than my own or my parents' generation, though I am sure there are enclaves of hate among the young.

It always struck me as ironic that the people who call themselves conservative claim they believe in freedom and hate government because it is constantly trying to take away their freedom, and yet they are the first to try to pass laws to limit other people's freedom. Thus it is the conservatives (as Larry pointed out) who fight against the freedom to marry or to engage in any other sexual behavior than a very brief approved list tooth and nail (and given the recent discussions of other sexual behaviors here, seem to be quite obsessed with sex). What they really are is regressives. They don't want to conserve the status quo, they want to remake society in the image of some mythical golden age that never really happened. They aren’t really very different from Middle Eastern terrorists in that respect, and given how often the jihadi’s blow up girls’ schools, trying to prevent girls from getting an education, which leads to jobs, money, and the ability to say “no” to abusive husbands and walk away, I think we can see what it is ultimately all about.

As far as religion goes, my years of looking at history and the roles it plays in society has convinced me that religion is not entirely to blame for all of its atrocities. Religion seems to be how the rules of a society are taught and justified. By convincing people that there is some all-knowing supernatural force that will punish even those who are not caught by the authorities, it keeps most of the people obedient to the authorities. But such memes tend to carry on beyond their usefulness, mutate over generations and turn deeply maladaptive. I am inclined to conclude that the Founding Fathers were right to grant freedom of choice with regard to religion, but they did not go quite far enough. Religion is in one respect like masturbation: there is no good reason anyone should care how often you do it or

Paul Shen-Brown said...

oops, somehow my last sentence got cut off. It was supposed to conclude: "... or who you imagine while doing it, just so long as you have the decency to keep it to yourself."

Good thing I double checked!

Jumper said...

The golden age they wish to return to is that time when they were six.

Tony Fisk said...

Randall: (P.S. Would Alan Turing approve the "I'm not a robot" test?)

Perhaps, in honour of the recently departed, the question should be phrased 'How do you feel?'

Tim H. said...

Something relevant on sousveillance:
Do police officers still swear to uphold the United States constitution? Are they permitted to cross their fingers behind their back as they do? Or make statements like "Except for that hippie pinko Bill of Rights"?

DJM said...

David Brin said " Show me! I can count on the fingers of one hand the privacy-security mavens who could paraphrase what you just did (accurately) let alone show a scintilla of evidence they actually grok it. And Bruce Schneier is not among those."

Sure, I'll show you. Read the "International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance" summary that's in Data and Goliath. It includes principles of transparency and public oversight. It was signed by "500 organizations, experts, and officials worldwide, including [Schneier]". I think that's more people than you have fingers.

It's followed by a section entitled "Less Secrecy, More Transparency". In that section he says "We need to transfer the traditional law enforcement transparency principles to national security, instead of increasing the secrecy surrounding law enforcement..."

I don't know if you place any limits on sousveillance; if you don't, then you're asking for something quantitatively stronger than what Schneier was asking for, but not qualitatively different. Transparency and oversight are sousveillance.

DJM said...

David: You correctly objected to one thing I said, that surveillance would be impossible if we all used encryption, because I left out an important word: "ubiquitous". As I went on to say, surveillance will always be possible, but good encryption makes it much more difficult. I should have said that widely used good encryption makes ubiquitous surveillance impossibly expensive.

Your implied claim that the NSA can break all encryption is not borne out by the Snowden documents. Sure, it's possible that they kept that secret from him, and as a contrarian you need to promote views like that, but a much simpler explanation is that strong encryption works. You need to steal keys, install keyloggers, etc. in order to defeat it, and you can't do that ubiquitously, it needs to be targetted.

locumranch said...

I apologise for the unnecessary 'Nazi' hyperbole, it's just that the fatuously progressive meme that 'All Men are Dangerous' is somewhat a trigger point for me, as perpetrators of this meme fail to recognize that (1) the term 'dangerous' is merely an euphemism for 'effective', (2) the term 'harmless' is merely a synonym for 'ineffective', and (3) positive constructive behaviours are merely the directed application of negative destructive acts. It is quite ironic how the very progressive desire to transform the so called 'predatory' male into a harmlessly ineffective 'cute fluffy bunny' is that which renders transparency, sousveillence and even democracy so ridiculously ineffective BECAUSE it is only the possibility of dangerous consequence (tumbrels) that gives discovery the power to transform and reform the undesirable behavior of others, so much so that without the dangerously effective threat of definitive consequence, transparency is an entirely worthless, gutless & toothless concept.


Alex Tolley said...

I note that in the documentary "CitizenFour" that Poitras and Snowden used GPG as the secure encrypted means of communication. So we might guess that the NSA cannot yet break that encryption. That Lavabit was forced to reveal all keys for their service reinforces that idea. This has led to demands by the security apparatus to make encryption less secure, as well as infecting machines with malware to make them less secure.

While encryption isn't a perfect defense, as DJCM motes, it raises costs.

As DB says, sousveillance only works in a free society. For non-free societies, encryption is perhaps the better defense. The US is free only patchily, as numerous news articles demonstrate. It very much depends on who is running law enforcement and the culture that reinforces. If the top level of US law enforcement will not take action on sousveillance evidence, then I think that maintaining privacy is a sensible approach, by denying the surveiileors the tools they want to exercise their power.

Alfred Differ said...


Your second pathway strikes me as a secondary event in the sense that it occurs when people consider abstracted versions of the normative rules. I view this as an attempt to improve the rules by simplifying the rules that get propagated. In your masturbation example, you could have taken one more ‘normative’ step and inferred from the fact that it was a stigmatized behavior that there were emergent reasons for this fact. The ‘progressive’ who wants to write laws has been suckered by a cynic who argues it SHOULDN’T be shameful. Obviously, the community thinks it should, so one should consider the possibility that the cynic stopped one step too early in their analysis. The progressive in your narrative should slap themselves for being gullible.

I’m all for considering abstractions from our emergent social rules, but it’s tricky to find out exactly why the rules/tradition survived as it did. If one considers the stigmatizing as normative, what could be the possible explanation? David offers a decent candidate. Overt sexual displays by males are potentially threating to the people near them. Try it and see what happens. Find someone willing to do it in a crowd and watch what happens to the adrenalin levels of the people around you. (Well… maybe not.) The threat gets perceived quickly and the male doing the display risks being beaten to death by mature males near him. What mother wouldn’t try to teach her son NOT to do that? Any trick that worked to teach sons to avoid this would improve their survival odds. Why is it perceived as a threat, though? Hmm… Not my job says the person trying to describe emergent morals. A ‘why’ question implies purpose/intent by an agent who can give it. There is no one who could give intent to the rules except Mother Nature. 8)

I suspect you worry too much about the progressives you describe. They DO exist in large numbers, but the behaviors they advocate are just as vulnerable to fitness tests as rules that emerge absent enough reasoned thought for a design to exist. David isn’t one of the progressives you worry about, so you might want to take a closer look at the shadows near you before jumping at them.

Alfred Differ said...

Paul Shen-Brown;

Heh. I find it difficult to express enough thanks to the youngest generation for dropping some of the foolishness of my parents. When they drop my foolishness I’m not as grateful, but I probably should be. 8)

I’ve learned to call social conservatives by the name ‘traditionalists’. They are preserving emergent social rules against those who us who would change them and it’s a good thing these folks exist. The collected wisdom of the ages might be wrong here and there, but it is folly to dismiss it as less than it is. We SHOULD be careful when dropping the foolishness of the past, but we mustn’t be timid about it either. The ownership of slaves used to be fairly common through human history. It isn’t anymore. Someone had to surrender their timidity and take a risk.

That all-knowing, all-powerful entity is certainly useful for successful propagation of attached memes, but the carnage it leaves in the minds of believers horrifies me. When they can rationalize any behavior by ex post adjustments of their revelatory information, I fear for my bladder control. I can live with it when it is kept private or in social groups with whom I have few interactions, but that’s mostly because I choose to be blind. What I don’t know doesn’t scare me.

Alfred Differ said...

Anyone old enough to remember the early days of public key encryption on the open source platforms should recall the concerns of those who wrote the code. The concern was government oversight, but not just US government oversight.

Anyone who learned this stuff in those early days should also remember that ‘good encryption’ required an excellent algorithm, but was almost entirely dependent on what the humans using them did. You can’t have good encryption without a good deal of training and strong habits. Even then, you had better use a defense in depth approach if you want to go up against similarly trained individuals in well-funded organizations. The vast majority of people lack the training and habits. Most who do lack the means to create defense in depth.

By all means, though, use strong encryption where it suits you. Don’t think it prevents the best trained from getting to you, though. THEY certainly don’t make that mistake when considering their own opponents, so you shouldn’t either. They watch AND protect.

There is an analogy for this in people who are trying to learn to play top level chess. Do you study the people who are a little better than you? Do you study the people who are FAR better than you? You need both to gain skill, but it is the top players who best teach the personal habits you’ll have to imitate.

David Brin said...

Thank you Alfred for trying. I find my own patience wears thin.

locumranch said...

Ditto, Alfred, but there's a huge difference between normative (empiric) and non-normative (idealized) morality, the first being a measurable statistic and the second being a 'wish'.


The percentage of the female, pediatric & elderly population self-reporting as being subject to some form of (emotional; verbal; physical) abuse = 70%

The percentage of the above population judged to be 'acceptable' level of abuse by idealized morality = 0%.


Paul451 said...

Idiot Cody Wilson (the "3d printed gun" guy who has given Ian conniptions), is about to spend $15,000 in order to make a carbon fibre 3d-printed gun.

The crazy thing is, if he just used standard off-the-shelf high-impact manufactured plastic pipe for the barrel and firing chamber, leaving the weak 3d-printed plastic for the fiddly-to-hand-make-but-easier-to-3d print trigger mechanism, he'd have a much easier time making a plastic gun that can fire more than a couple of rounds. But instead he's obsessed with 3d printing being the only way an "ordinary person" can make a plastic gun.

It's the same with his $1200 CNC-machine to finish "80 percent" lower receivers. Complete working lower receivers cost $50-100 in the US (same for "80 percent" lowers, actually). For the price of his CNC printer, his supporters could buy two dozen lower receivers. Take them to a swap meet and pass them around to jumble the registration numbers (perfectly legal in the US to trade weapons without registration/background checks), and then soak them in machine oil and bury them in the back garden for when the US govt or FEMA or the UN comes to "tik ur gens".

And the rest of us can enjoy the progress of 3d printing (and CNC machining) without retards getting the damn things banned or otherwise spiked.

For your amusement: Humans making guns when they aren't supposed to. No 3d printers in sight.

DJM said...

Alfred: You're right that it's not easy to encrypt things well enough to withstand a targetted attack. But Alex and I are not claiming that's even possible.

What I'm saying, and maybe Alex would agree, is that it is not hard to encrypt things well enough to withstand general untargeted surveillance. Breaking it is too hard to do routinely.

If we have general use of encryption, most of us will not have anyone listening in on our conversations. If, in addition, we have strong transparency and oversight, this can continue into the future.

David seems to be saying that because this is an unstable state we shouldn't even aim for it in the short term. (It's unstable because cheaters armed with technology that doesn't exist yet will get away with their cheating.)

I don't agree with that. I think it is more likely that we can achieve the kind of oversight and transparency that Schneier is asking for than the sousveillance that David promotes, and it would be sufficient to give most people privacy for a long time into the future.

David Brin said...

No DJM you fail at paraphrasing, this time. Your "David seems to be saying..." is stunningly inaccurate.

What I dislike is the hypocrisy that "me and my favored elites should get to conceal whatever we like, without ever considering that some among my favored elite of techno hackers merit accountability of light easily as much as other elites of government, commerce, wealth, criminality etc."

Indeed, those elites overlap and are merging more and more into what's resembling the old feudal oligarchy. And those proclaiming "I don't need no light!" are always worthy of hackles and chills down the spine.

Reason two: it's is one big distraction. If they cannot penetrate your ciphers today, with crunchers and back doors and suborned or coerced hacker-traitors, then they will tomorrow, with quantum computers or the next time some 9/11 gives them excuses to fly gnat cams into your house and key-loggers into your walls.

The number of cypher-punk transcendentalists who have ACTUALLY STUDIED the ancient cat and mouse games of secret police vs rebels across 6000 years? From Bakunin to Thrasabulus? Nil. I have never met even one. And the reason is obvious. Because ciphers that are perfect would only stymie maybe 20% of the methods used by secret police. ALL of the rest are un hampered even if your codes are all perfect! (And they aren't.)

What bugs me most is the preening. The titanic egotism of cypherpunk romantics who proclaim that they INVENTED Suspicion of Authority, when SoA pervades our entire culture.

Dig it. I loathe and oppose Big Brother as much as -- more than -- you do. The difference is that I look across 6000 years at what HAS worked. What CAN work. We must militantly apply sousveillance to all centers of power. And that militant program is hampered by fools who actually believe that cowering and hiding from elites can possibly work at enhancing general citizen freedom and autonomy... without ever... not even once... showing us an historical example of it having worked in the past.

Those who promote cowering are at-best fools. At worst? Well, it is precisely the prescription that the elites would want us pursuing, since it is futile and distracts us from sousveillance.

David Brin said...

And now... well... save any responses for the weekend posting. I won't come back here.


Jumper said...

I disagree that public key encryption is secure. Its appeal is its universality, but although in practice one-time "pads" are a pain, they are bulletproof. I can create a near infinite supply of randomness sufficient for every text message i'll ever write. (Encrypted video is tough, high-volume stuff: quite a bit of effort to hand someone a file sufficient to encrypt a whole lot of video i might want to send them in the future.) I can spend an hour on any individual and have the text option taken care of: 8 GB of keys.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alfred, I love how you demonstrate a mature acceptance of intergenerational change. It's easy to get stuck in your own generation and assume - like so many - that both the generations before you and those after are all corrupt and perverse. Yet you also accept the difficulty of kissing your own generation's treasured values and customs goodbye. I've been in the musical doldrums for decades now because most of what is popular today just doesn't match the traditions I grew up with. (It doesn't help that my favorite just passed away last month at the age of 70.)

This is a pretty trivial example. Your slavery is a more serious institution, and "traditionalists" had to be forced to give up their treasured custom. I will have to differ with you on the necessity of traditionalists. Both traditionalists and progressives fail to go beyond their natural knee-jerk reactions. They never use their System 2 circuitry for anything except rationalizing those System 1 knee-jerk reactions. The more clever ones on both sides do a better job of rationalizing, but until they apply their lobes to examining their own assumptions they will never create or even entertain a truly mature thought.

If we were all truly honest with ourselves we would recognize that none of us fall into any of the camps we like to place all of those around us into. Our biological and developmental individuality makes these labels delusions. Rather than juxtaposing extremists, I propose that we would be better off if we all accepted our individual natures and made an honest effort to understand - rather than merely label - both our own and each other's beliefs. Likewise traditions have value when the conditions that spawned them have not changed. We live in a time of rapid change. Hiding behind walls of tradition under those circumstances leads to extinction. But neither can we simply abandon all traditions and replace them with speculations. Experience is a painful teacher, but the wise learn from other people's pain. This is exactly why I studied history and archaeology. One thing I learned from those studies is that civilizations that do not adapt to changing times die in agony.

DJM said...

Since David has signed off, I'll do so too, with this summary:

I've never claimed that everyone should be allowed to conceal whatever they like. In fact, I've said the opposite: we need oversight over those in positions of power.

I've never claimed that encryption protects against a determined attack. Again, the exact opposite.

I have no idea how many "cypher-punk transcendentalists" have studied history. I don't even know who they are, though I guess he's calling me one.

I've never claimed that suspicion of authority is a new thing.

And I did show him a recent historical example where encryption worked.

I won't repeat the other claims he made earlier that I refuted, and I won't call him names: though I think readers can think of at least one name that applies to people who make untrue claims in arguments.

Jumper said...

Public key encryption might be secure if one keeps the private key in a secure disconnected machine. No Bluetooth allowed. Communication MUST be one-way, except for text file of messages to be decoded going into the secure machine. No USB thumb drives. This leaves disks. Preferably old, and erased with magnets or degaussers before reformatting. Old or custom OS on the secure machine, and old CPU are pluses.

No one does this.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked life has made it to this point. People suck as a whole.