Saturday, September 19, 2015

Can We Save Freedom by Hiding?

== False Trails are… a false trail ==

Across all my years as an impudent dissenter from mob-think regarding freedom and privacy, one fact has left me boggled, time and again. The way activists and academics and pundits – many of them clearly intelligent and sincere thinkers – leap to make the same mistake, over and over again.  The error of technological myopia.

Take this example: “…New York University professors Helen Nissenbaum and Finn Brunton have a proposal. In their new book, Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, they advocate taking evasive action, or what they call obfuscation. They define obfuscation as “the deliberate addition of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection,” and they see its potential as a means of redress. For example, they discuss software that generates misleading Google queries (so the tech giant can’t get a read on you) to Tor relays, which hide IP addresses. 

Think of it as creating a diversion, or planting false footprints. Security expert Bruce Schneier has made similar suggestions—like searching for random people on Facebook, or using a friend’s frequent-shopper card at the grocery store. If you can distort the government’s or companies’ profiles of you, you’ve scored a small victory.”

Hmm… a very, very small and utterly meaningless victory.  Science Fiction author Vernor Vinge referred to this approach in a novel, portraying a group that filled the Internet with machine-generated garbage information in order to mask personal information beneath a deluge of misleading fabrications.  The “Friends of Privacy” thus enabled their own members to conceal their online activities – or so they thought – while making the Net and Web effectively useless at providing reliable information to anyone, anywhere. A classic case of spoiling the commons, in order to achieve a narrow, self-serving goal.  (I portray would-be terrorists doing the same thing, in Existence.)

 Over the long run, Vernor reveals the obvious – that the 'Friends of Privacy' are no more than a front for powerful interests, from oligarchs to criminal gangs, seeking to conceal their nefarious activities from any chance of discovery. Indeed, pick any method of concealment or obfuscation – won’t elites use it more effectively (by far) than commonfolk? In fact, won’t the very programs that you and I purchase, to muddy our footprints, actually report every datum to the original creators of the software?  And if you doubt that, oh, have I a bridge to sell you.

Technological myopia comes in where we see privacy mavens like Nissenbaum and Brunton and especially Security expert Bruce Schneier always talking as if this year’s technology is the ne plus ultra, the final act, the static object on the table for discussion.  Moore’s Law brought us here, but has no further relevance. Of course, this is plain lunacy!  Take the example of cameras.

Cameras are getting smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more mobile at a rate far faster than Moore's Law.  (Some call this "Brin's Corollary.")  And yet, nearly every discussion of surveillance assumes that they will remain great big, visible boxes on lamp posts. They won’t. They will shrink and move and zoom and become more numerous than blades of grass. Shall we banish them? How, when they become smaller than mosquitos and more numerous?

(For a glimpse of what that near future may be like, hear me read Chapter 3 of Existence.  And lower down, see "The Smartest Mob" and "Shelter of Tradition."  All three sections show how inevitably the tsunami of cameras will change everything.)

Perhaps common citizens will obey such a ban, but elites?  Name for me one time in all of the history of our species, when top elites have allowed themselves to be blinded.

In fact, there is every sign that a proliferation of cameras may be exactly what’s needed, in order to preserve freedom.  For example, take events in just the last year. For the first time, in the U.S., all police forces, even corrupt ones, must be careful in the way they treat minority groups. Why?  Because of the very same technologies that hand-wringers loathe. Elitist snobs in academia may ignore the effects that cell-cams are having on the street-level.  But real-life minorities and poor folks cannot afford to ignore good news.

Instead of tools for Orwellian oppression, cameras seem to increasingly be the new Great Equalizers. Would the privacy mavens backtrack this trend?  Confiscate and eliminate the cell phone cameras that are finally giving minorities and the poor a real chance at street justice?  I can just hear their reaction. "Oh, in THAT case, sure, I'll allow that.  But nothing more!"

Except that in a couple of years, the cell phone cam will be a jewel on your lapel.  Shall we ban that?  Then a tiny dot on the corner of your glasses, or a drone the size of a bug that follows you everywhere, telling you what lies around the next street corner, ensuring that no one can harm you unrecorded and telling you if you are being followed.  

Shall we ban that? Okay. Then exactly how will you accomplish it?

== The online world ==

Oh but the next response is “I wasn’t talking about cameras but information! On my purchases and so on. Surely I can obfuscate all that!”

Um, wrong in a dozen ways.  First, if we enter an age of unreliable information online, that will extend to falsified images and cameras, too, will become useless.

Furthermore, elites will have all sorts of tools to defeat obfuscation.  Linguistic-semantic analysis will detect your statements and ID you, even hidden by a pseudonym. Comparison of multi-path inputs will parse truth from fabulation. Governments and criminals and aristocrats will have means to bypass the bits, eavesdropping on the sonic data as your voice vibrates your window, or they’ll tap and log the strokes you type on your keyboard, from the different sounds each letter emits. On the street, the very vibrations of your eardrum will denote you distinctly from the crowd surrounding you.

I do not say this out of despair!  Rather, in order to rouse you to fight for freedom the only way that has ever worked.  The only way that can possibly work.  And the way that the mavens absolutely refuse to consider.  In their relentless preaching for cowardice… that we all should protect ourselves by hiding… they perform the worst possible betrayal of everything that they claim to stand for.

Hiding will not work.  Sure, protect your passwords as a short term, practical matter.  But over the long term only one thing will keep you free.  Aggressively, militantly empowering yourself and your neighbors to see!

I tire of seemingly intelligent people who cannot lift their gaze to even notice what is happening right now, let alone look 5 years down the road.  We live in a narrow era of relative freedom and - yes - some desirable privacy.  We need to do what already works in order to maintain them.  

That means knowing that freedom comes first.  A free people can then demand some privacy, from elites and from each other.  

But freedom comes first.  And freedom can only be effective when most of the people know most of what's going on, most of the time.


Alfred Differ said...

I think it is worth reminding people of the various meanings of privacy. They help point out why some of us ARE willing to fork over personal information in certain situations. It's not irrational when one expects 'reserve' to share. It's the person who thinks we should all be demanding 'anonymity' who would think it irrational.

solitude, anonymity, reserve, and intimacy

pg 78

David Brin said...

It is vastly more important to be able to detect those who would harm you and to command "stand down!"

Solitude and anonymity are likely to be illusions. The powers may pretend they aren't watching, in order so that you can nurse the illusions! But it is simply and profoundly stupid to base your safety and freedom on assurances that someone one else does NOT know you and cannot see you. That is metaphysically absurd.

You CAN verify what other people DO. But only if YOU can see.

Reserve and intimacy are fine. I like em too. I want to catch would be peeping toms and voyeurs. I only stand a chance of doing that, and deterring them, if I can see.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm in agreement with you.

In my IT job, we refer to this in an analogous way. If you can't measure something, you can't know it. The connection is one can't measure if one can't see. I can't know I'm free if I can't see that I am.

What I was pointing to is oddly similar to an argument people use in economics. The irrational market participant is essentially one who does not act prudently. A real human, however, values other things besides prudence, so it is the economic theorist who is irrational when they apply silly models to us. Anyone who might argue that my willingness to share information is irrational is making a similar error. I might be reaching for reserve instead of anonymity.

I remember making a conscious decision back in the early 90's with my AOL account. I purposely chose not to be anonymous because I wanted relationships (friends, business contacts, etc) that I could only acquire by building a reputation. Only once have I been tempted by online anonymity since and I didn't opt for it even then.

David Burns said...

I've seen Dr. Brin make this case many times, and I don't wish to argue with him. I do wish, however, that he would put more effort into inspiring us with positive possibilities. What actions can I take to bring sousveillance and mutual accountability closer to reality?

Jumper said...

Is it useful to know how far it's gone at any given time? Should we all assume it's all gone already? Does it make a difference? If the invasion of privacy is imperfect now due to technological limitations should we go ahead and give it all up voluntarily anyway?

What does it do to sanity to know you can never be alone again?

Jumper said...

Power is always asymmetric. It's been proposed for years that Congress be drug tested. It's no closer now than then, so welfare recipients will be refused aid in a few places now if they toke, and Congressmen can still get drunk in session. I suppose if we don't get the reciprocity we wish for, there are, as Brin suggests, no other ways - zero - to alleviate this.

David Brin said...

Mr. Burns... it is happening on the streets, as minorities and the poor get the power to record their interactions with police. No step could deliver more important sousveillance.

Deuxglass said...

Moral suasion are of extreme important to any culture. That is how unity and purpose is kept not only in primitive societies but also in modern societies. It is ironic that the extremist version the idea of the “global” village is coming back with a vengeance. If everyone knows what everyone else is doing and then applying social pressure to make them conform to the rules of society making only acceptable behavior allowed and what you are proposing in a sense, Dr. Brin is a return to this oppressive system and is in fact, according to you, the only way to ensure the liberty of the individual. There lies the contradiction. Oppression comes not only from laws but also from the unwavering glare or your peers and if morally you can make a defense of this in practice it always ends in injustice. The majority can oppress the minority as we well know from history and it is merciless in many cases. Living your life as you want it without the scrutiny of your neighbors is what many people desire but in this new world it has become impossible. Your peers will know what you read, who you talk too and where your kids go to school. This recipe is not only morally wrong but also self-destructive in the long run forcing people to conform to socially acceptable norms stifling any deviation in thought. Opening up everything to everybody will only reinforce this trend making deviance from the norm impossible and very dangerous. My conclusions is that some privacy is necessary. There has to be a way to “opt out” not from all scrutiny but from some to escape from this trap. Where are the limits? When your neighbor who you don’t particularly like mentions to you that his drone captured you and your wife making love and that your performance wasn’t that good and that he could do better, in the world you describe that is acceptable and normal. Somewhere a line must be drawn. Where it is I don’t know. I have great respect for you as a person and for your considerable accomplishments Dr. Brin but allowing anyone to see anything and everything whenever they want for me is not the solution but is the root of the problem. You have to have some privacy laws and enforce them strictly. Sure the men at the top can escape but the underlings, those who actually do the dirty work, will not and that will make them think twice before taking the fall for someone who they don’t like or respect. What are your thoughts on this and where does my argument fail?

Alex Tolley said...

What does it do to sanity to know you can never be alone again?

Observe those religious fundamentalists who believe that an omnipresent god is observing their least action (and thought?).

Or perhaps caged higher primates.

Alex Tolley said...

D Burns I've seen Dr. Brin make this case many times, and I don't wish to argue with him. I do wish, however, that he would put more effort into inspiring us with positive possibilities. What actions can I take to bring sousveillance and mutual accountability closer to reality?

D Brin Mr. Burns... it is happening on the streets, as minorities and the poor get the power to record their interactions with police. No step could deliver more important sousveillance.

What about the important part : accountability?

How many lives have to be added to the Guardian's "The counted" list? How many recordings of police brutality have to be seen? How many cases of grand juries refusing to indict a cop for a criminal trial? How many times does it need to be said that sousveillance is a necessary but insufficient condition to control those in power.

If you really cannot understand that, then it is no wonder you cannot understand why hiding is a good short term strategy. Anne Frank gained 2 years before the group in hiding was betrayed and they went to the death camps. Without betrayal she might well have survived the holocaust. Of course hiding isn't the long term solution, it is a tactic to buy time.

PhaseTransit said...

Yes we have to be bold. We also have to keep our data and use it to let everyone else know when we are being nibbled by established power. A group of activists who find themselves being infiltrated and emasculated need to have a map of their own network and record everyone else who enters it. That way they can expose the humint Stasi to the Times or Wikileaks. We need to be developing bottom-up peer-to-peer network and associations analysis tools that allow us to look upwards into the webs and interconnections of those who exert power over us. Grass roots groups collaborating in such endeavours could expose who is who on the repression side. Make it open make it bold expose ourselves in order to expose the bullies behind the bullies. They gave us the idea of social network analysis all we have to do is develop the protocols to use it bottom up>

Erin Schram said...

Alex Tolley said,
Of course hiding isn't the long term solution, it is a tactic to buy time.

Buying time can help. Thus, we see plenty of examples of hiding in nature. Zebras and tigers both have stripes to blend in. But zebras do not rely on hiding alone. They also gather in herds for mutual protection.

I was a tiger once. I used work as a statistician for the National Security Agency and helped develop techniques to find hidden terrorists and insurrectionists while staying hidden myself. Hiding successfully is difficult because doing things leaves traces. It works two ways. Osama bin Laden was difficult to track down because he spotted the traces of the U.S. government tracking him down after his bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and learned how to hide from our techniques.

One can hide in a crowd by doing nothing. But a zebra herd is not hiding in a crowd. It is banding together for mutual protection.

Abbie Hoffman lived under the name Barry Freed in the 1970's, after skipping bail on a drug charge that he claimed was entrapment by undercover police agents. But he was a political activist and staying quiet was not his way. He wrote and published articles without disclosing his location, and traveled for brief appearances under his own name. Eventually he turned himself in. I guess he had bought enough time to hope that the government vendetta against him had cooled. Better long-term protection was to openly band with his fellow activists.

Even when an anonymous employee for the NSA, I let slip my affiliation with them, because I volunteered for NSA-sponsored mathematics education efforts. I would rather be open. Hiding is poor quality freedom. One spends too much time in one's hiding place or disguise. Staying in touch, an opposite of hiding, with cell phones and their cameras is doing more for freedom.

Erin Schram

Jumper said...

"Anne Frank gained 2 years." Remember that one; it's worth remembering.
In the future, "Does a bear crap in the woods" will have an answer, each and every time. Each bear's defecation will be entered on a database along with its tag number and DNA profile. Perhaps its paw print as well. It's entire veterinary history, of course.

David Brin said...

Deuxglass says: “If everyone knows what everyone else is doing and then applying social pressure to make them conform to the rules of society making only acceptable behavior allowed and what you are proposing in a sense, Dr. Brin is a return to this oppressive system…”

Sorry pal, but that is utter and execrable bullshit. Moreover you knew it was bullshit when you typed this.

I hate and fear the “bad village” as much as — probably more than — anyone else alive. Indeed, prescriptions for hiding and enforced blindness absolutely guarantee the bad village (BV). Because elites of government and criminality and the bullying gossips will not be stymied in the least.

Returning to a KIND of village is inevitable, when a person glancing at you will know your name and reputation in an instant. The thing we can still decide is whether you can look BACK at that elite person.

What Deuxglass conveys is that we have more to fear than Big Brother. There’s also possible oppression by a myriad conformity-enforcing little brothers. And yes, that could happen

Two things will determine whether the village of tomorrow is the BV or possibly a Good Village GV as in Andy Hardy movies of old, in which people know about each other but appreciate each others privacy and eccentricities and defend each others’ right to be harmlessly different. Those two necessary and sufficient ingredients are:

1. If we distribute the power of reciprocal accountability and

2) If the prevailing meme and cultural value is tolerance, diversity, suspicion of authority, appreciation of eccentricity and leaving each other alone.

Number 2 is where Deuxglass, in his superiority, assumes his neighbors will fail… while HE of course is a paladin for those values. But does he ever ask where HE got those values?

He got them where everyone else got them, from decades of Hollywood films that preach relentlessly: tolerance, diversity, suspicion of authority, appreciation of eccentricity and leaving each other alone. Name a Hollywood film that DOESN’T preach those values?

ALex, hiding and skulking are fine tactics, when you are trying to preserve scraps AFTER tyranny has clamped down.

Transparency and accountability and aggressive sousveillance are how to prevent tyranny in the first place.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

For a functional transparent society to work, civilization needs to evolve into a situation where nonconformity is regarded as normal, and even encouraged. We need a society where no one really cares about "weird" or unconventional behavior unless it actually causes direct harm to someone else.

Fortunately, civilization, especially in the more advanced countries, is (for the most part) evolving in exactly that direction. Do whatever you want to do, as long as it does not directly harm others.

sociotard said...

I hadn't heard this story about Al Gore.

Thirty Years After the 'Filthy Fifteen': Remembering the PMRC Hearing of 1985

“My wife and I are celebrating 34 years of marriage,” he says. “Al and Tipper Gore cannot say the same thing. None of my children have been busted for possession. Al Gore’s son was busted for possession. And am I bragging? Yes, I am. I didn’t throw stones at their glass house. They were throwing them at mine.”

David Brin said...

Jerry E thank you for getting it! "Fortunately, civilization, especially in the more advanced countries, is (for the most part) evolving in exactly that direction. Do whatever you want to do, as long as it does not directly harm others."

I do not give spectacular odds this revolution will stick! But it is conveyed in nearly every film we watch and show we imbibe. If the West can stay strong and confident for 40 more years, it might -- just might -- lock in as a habit.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

solitude, anonymity, reserve, and intimacy

Hey, help a brother out. I can figure out how you are using most of those terms in this context, but what do you mean by "reserve"?

Tim H. said...

Possibly "I will share this far, holding back, reserving the balance".

Alfred Differ said...

I'm paraphrasing David in his transparency book on pg 78. He was referring to Alan Westin's book 'Privacy and Freedom'.

Solitude is separation. Obvious.

Anonymity is being unnamed and unnoticed in a crowd. The zebra is anonymous in the herd as far as the lion is concerned because the lion can't distinguish them easily.

Reserve is what you get when we DO know who you are, but we choose not to air your dirty laundry. Recognize that famous person in the corner of the restaurant? Yes? Now choose not to blast that information out on Twitter. Leave them be long enough to have a quiet dinner with their family. Feeling like a fanboy? Squelch it. They obviously don't mind being recognized, but would rather have their 'reserve' in which to operate.

Intimacy. Obvious.

Alfred Differ said...

I think it would be an interesting thing to hear what odds people DO give for this revolution sticking. What is the general level of optimism/pessimism? 8)

I'd give it about 76% for sticking for at least a century. Beyond that the crystal ball gets hazy as I'm not sure what 'human' will mean that far out.

locumranch said...

"Hiding will not work (and) over the long term only one thing will keep you free. Aggressively, MILITANTLY empowering yourself and your neighbors", the problem that "seeing" (in & of itself) does not necessarily signify either power or "empowerment" as 'power' springs from the application (or at least the potential application) of 'force', hence Dr. Brin's increasing realization about the need for 'militancy' as the (libertarian) antidote for Omni-surveillance.


David Brin said...

Feh. Dumbitudinousness exponentiated. When all can see the pecadillos and hypocrisies of the mighty, their henchmen will grumble and plot and many will defect.

Seeing allows the citizen to pool with others who feel outrage. Those pools can tip the balance BETWEEN competing elites. And making elites compete with each other is the greatest of western innovations. Alas in is positive sum and hence invisible to some.

Alex Tolley said...

Seeing allows the citizen to pool with others who feel outrage.

It might, but seeing is not a requirement for pooling outrage. History is replete with rebellions based on nothing more than word of mouth, or the printed word.

Those pools can tip the balance BETWEEN competing elites.

"Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss". (Won't get Fooled Again" - The Who)

The GOP presidential campaign is exactly elites competing with their favored candidate. And looked at the issues - nothing at all to do with what matters to the 99.9%. In the USA there is very little difference in opinions about wealth and income inequality or relative access to power, between elites across the political spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Brin, do you use free software? not solving the problem it is one of the ways of free computing. freedom in software. and for the rest, the only ways is resistance, is developing devices that will "blur" cameras, cut internet connections, encryption for p2p.. in the end evolution and technology will enforce new challenges and all will be obsolete for new solutions should be found... right now keep you eyes away from google, facebook, apple, microsoft, etc., in a mix of Orwell and Huxley, they know to much...

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,
Yes you caught me in the act. I knew some parts of what I wrote were bullshit but I sent it anyway because I wanted to provoke some discussion about the personal aspects of everyone living in glass houses. First of all I do like your ideas on the subject and I think using citizen groups is the way to keep the elites in line. Second of all I do not feel superior to my neighbors (well maybe to a couple) nor do I feel that I am a rock of moral fortitude. I am 62 years old and there have been times in my life where I acted badly or did not act when I should have and I feel and regret these failings every day.

I brought up the village example because I grew up in a small town in Ohio among the cornfields. Everybody knew everybody else. I has its good points in that as a child I could wonder around town alone for hours without my parents becoming alarmed because everyone looked after you. Nevertheless there are bad points too especially concerning reputation. There were people who made a bad decision years ago and acquired a bad reputation and no matter how they acted afterward that reputation stuck and often spread to the whole family. The only thing to do is to leave and start over far away. That was the escape valve in the village system. However in the world that is coming you will never ever be able to start over because anyone will have immediate access to your reputation whether it is deserved or not. I have faith in the Human Race but I don’t have faith in some of its members. There are individuals who would band together to trash a reputation or to bully someone just for the fun of it or just because of the euphoria they get from misplaced moral indignation. Citizen groups can keep the elite in line but who will keep in line these groups of citizens with less noble motives? That is the question I pose to you Dr. Brin.

The values formed in my youth come first from my parents, then from my extended family who lived close by but before I was old enough to understand the movies there was Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales, Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner, Silvester the Cat, and so many others! I wonder sometimes how much of my basic personality comes from them.

raito said...

Poisoning the commons? It's already been poisoned in many cases. Remember USENET? Try reading any of what's left of it now. 99% ads. Email is starting to go the same way, regardless of legislation. Phones are mostly usable due to caller ID. ID you don't recognize? Anonymous? Don't answer.

But those examples aren't really correct. Can you see why?

As for non-conformity, how much before it's too much? Criminals are non-conformists, right? Some of these issues are about where the limits are.

Joel Greenwood said...

In the other election (Canada) more than a few candidates for all the major parties have had to resign because of comments, actions or statements made on the internet in years gone by. Some when the candidate was a teenager.

- Conservative had to resign after being caught up in a repairman sting by a media organization who was video taped peeing in a home owners cup (#peegate)
- Bloc Quebecois member who tweeted what she'd want on a desert island "son cell, d'un pénis et de ben des chips"
- Conservative who made crank calls anonymously and posted them on YouTube
- NDP who criticized Israel (now taboo).

My concern isn't the privacy of the every-man on the street but how political careers are being destroyed because the level of "Mind Your Own Business" doesn't apply to politicians. What types can we expect to lead us if every comment is found and used to destroy otherwise competent individuals who aspire to be political.

David Brin said...

Deuxglss, yes, this response was more typically (for you) thoughtful. ABSOLUTELY. This is why I strive so hard to make people aware that the choice is not whether or not the village is returning, but which village it will be. The 99% of villages our ancestors endured were bullied not only by the local lord and his thugs but by the gossips.

But we can evade the trap if mean-minded gossip *itself* is deemed an unsavory ding on your reputation. And yes, the theme song is "Harper Valley PTA" by Jeanne C. Riley.

"Citizen groups can keep the elite in line but who will keep in line these groups of citizens with less noble motives?"
Um, did I say civilization was easy? Still, LOOK AT TODAY! Bullies and judgmental moralists are struggling. They are panicking.

If tolerance, diversity, eccentricity and suspicion of authority continue to be major themes in our art and media... the your local parade /festival might feature not just the local beauty queen and science fair winner and farmer with the biggest pumpkin... but the Crackpot King... the year's most startling-but-harmless eccentric.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect the ultra-sticky reputations people couldn't dump in small villages won't stick so well in larger villages. In a tiny farming town of 300, I'll run into most everyone every week. Knowing a person's reputation and acting on that knowledge would be difficult to avoid. In a town of 30,000, that isn't as likely. I'll know someone's reputation, but I might not care.

I also suspect the trick is to give the gossips a nasty reputation (very sticky) of their own. That would take a good sales pitch like the one we get for SOA.

matthew said...

The thing that worries me is that even though the cameras have proliferated, the means to make changes based on what those cameras capture are not very robust.

Right now, souveillance depends mostly upon social media to generate outrage, which then generates changes in behavior or law. This is the chokepoint - what is allowed to "go viral" and generate outrage. Who controls those chokepoints and do they have souveillance as part of their vested interest? For example, ABC certainly would not break news of fraud by Disney Corp., and Facebook would not allow news of malfeasance by Mark Zuckerburg to trend.

In another era the chokepoint was major media. In this era, major media is universally and correctly seen as part of the ruling establishment, not a venue to criticize the rulers. The media have been bought by the same corporations that they are covering. As soon as a new means of communicating David's "pictures of outrages" starts to get enough of an audience to actually do it's intended job the process of subverting the new media begins.

It's in getting past the dissemination chokepoint of whatever new media gets invented where David's vision breaks down for me - Transparency depends on the ability to communicate facts that are not in the interest of elites. Yet the communication channels are so easily blocked or turned into a tool for avoiding Transparency.

I think that the Boing Boing-Style Privacy Cheerleaders (BB-SPC)are partially reacting to the absence of a "free" channel for the dissemination of the recordings that come from David's huge number of cameras. In this, there may be grounds for some accommodation with David's recognition of the coming Great Transparency. Both Transparency advocates and BB-SPC'ers need to keep a place where news can circulate without censorship or curation. This is place where advocates of both worldviews can work together.

David Brin said...

Governors are - on paper at least, and by skillset experience - more qualified for the presidency. One reason I keep urging Jerry Brown into the demo race! As for Scott Walker dropping out? Well, I despise the man, and was no big fan of Perry. But at least they could point to that experience skillset. Is this a trend? That even a hint at governmental competence repels GOP voters? Watch Christie and asylum-visitor Kasich. Oh but we'll always have asylum king Jindal.

David Brin said...

All very good points matthew. I agree. So let's observe that the trend for now in the West is for proliferation and diversification of those channels... while the East may show us the future... consolidation of channels under state control.

in the west the danger is more from self-narrowing of view. Self-isolation so that you only perceive a Nuremberg Rally of similar views.

locumranch said...

First, a quote by Epictetus on Reputation:

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs. Now, the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for you own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men.

Next, a quote from Frank Herbert's 'Dune': He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it,

And when we add them together?

We see then that the Reputation-based Society imagined by our fine host, one dependent on coveillence & mutual seeing, is by nature weak, dependent, restricted, alien & slavish BECAUSE our would-be 'reputation' is NOT within our power but under the power of others, meaning that we (too) become weak, dependent & slavish because we confuse those reputational things easily destroyed by others (those things NOT in our control) with our own affairs (those within our power) which liberate, leaving us only a dichotomously false choice between either (1) mutually consensual slavery wherein everyone is subject to external control & correction or (2) the liberating surcease of mutually-assured destruction wherein an indetermination number of individuals (having lost their liberty) have nothing left to lose, leading to the inexorable nightmare of a Mexican Standoff gone wrong.


Watch the EU closely, for where it leads, the rest of the world will surely follow.

David Brin said...

" He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it..."

Stunning zero sum malarkey. You see this all the time. Things that sound "wise" because they conflict with common wisdom... because of course common wisdom is ALWAYS wrong, right?

Alfred Differ said...

@matthew: The spiffy thing about the social media ‘market’ is that many of us appear to WANT there to be no chokepoint. FB might not want certain things trending, but they can die just as quickly as MySpace did. Remember them? As long as that is true in the market, investment money will move toward alternate channels when someone whiffs the foul odor of outside censorship. There is a lot of money to be made by anyone who can dislodge FB and the seed money needed need not be high.

Note that some blogs even manage to build small seed communities. 8)

The danger to watch for here is self-censorship. USian’s are well practiced at this. Fortunately, we aren’t monolithic about some of our internal beliefs. It’s everyone else who has to be concerned when we adopt an “I don’t want to know’ attitude.

Jeff B. said...

Dr. Brin,

Re: your favorite governor (courtesy of the Weekly Sift): his response to Ben Carson's climate change waffling at the debate:

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Your Epictetus quote is old enough to be at risk of translation issues. It certainly stinks of unsupported statements and undefined terms. Do you really have power over your desire? Your aversions? And none over your own body? Pfft.

If you really want to attack a reputation based society, just point out that it works equally well under the Enlightenment as it does under the Ancient Regime. What secures a king’s position better than a reputation? Or a Pope’s? A serf’s? This is what makes our current experiment risky. We can slide into the old ways slowly over generations. We can lose the battle over ending our tutelage. We can lose our sovereignty.

Regarding the Dune quote, who is it that can destroy my sovereignty? 8)

David Brin said...

The Dune quote assumes no ability to create alliances with others who share a dislike of destroyers controlling stuff.

In other words, an insane world.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Sounds like my claim with some of my libertarian friends. Formal anarchy is unstable because we are social critters who form alliances. If someone can prevent me from doing this, I'm a slave. (Appropriate for Dune I suppose.) If they can't, we will organize into nations starting at tribal sizes and working up. Humans do this because they are human, so the anarchists are just as guilty of modeling non-humans as Marx was. 8)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The Dune quote assumes no ability to create alliances with others who share a dislike of destroyers controlling stuff.

Well, as I recall, in Dune, Paul found himself in a position to physically destroy the spice, which was the basis for the spacefaring economy, and thus had control over the emperor and the Guild. It was a unique moment in history that he was able to grasp. Not quite applicable in the general sense of "One who can cause anything to degrade, even temporarily, therefore controls the thing."

David Brin said...

No, what the aphorism should be is that the ability to destroy forces others to negotiate with you.

locumranch said...

6 of one, half-a-dozen of the other.

I would agree with David when he says the Dune quote (He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it) represents an "insane world", excepting that this phrase most accurately describes OUR modern world, historically from the MAD-ness (mutually assured destruction) of the Cold War to the newest 'historic' Iran Nuclear deal, in the Positive Sum sense that (either) we all get along or the Negative Sum sense of devastating mutual consequence.

Likewise, I mentioned that the dichotomous 'choice' between the most progressively 'PC' nightmare of consensually-imposed slavery & that of anarchic libertarian destruction was a FALSE choice, as only a fool or an idealist would argue that humanity must choose between these two political extremes, especially when the only rational Positive Sum choice is one of compromise where anarchic libertarian individualism is free to co-mingle & co-exist with that of collectivist servitude.

This is what our optimist/progressive friends fail to recognise: That they have pushed the human social pendulum too far toward a gender-less uniform diversity; that a reactionary push-back is both inevitable & a bitch; and that either extreme represents an Negative Sum proposition, whether or not it is the extreme of a progressive 'intolerant of intolerance' utopia or the extreme of a libertarian anarchic wild west.

Watch the EU closely, for where it leads, the rest of the world will surely follow.


David Brin said...

Utter crock. We finally end 6000 years of wasting 90% of human talent because of class, race and dogma... and THAT is a "pendulum push."

Europe will be back. But the world still needs us. Despite insipid ingrates of the far-left and entire-right, who despise a Western Enlightenment experiment they blink-at in hostility, because the brightness of its progress hursts their rheumy, unimaginative eyes.

locumranch said...

And now for something about lying liars:

CAFE & Emission Standards turn out to be idealised FICTIONS, as evidenced by the VW scandal and an expanding federal investigation into the entire automotive industry.


Tony Fisk said...

... The existence of said CAFE & Emissions standards being, of course, why VW got caught out.

David Brin said...

Urgh... for a while he was cogently delusional. Now it is simply sad.....

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys
We have talked about "equality of opportunity" rather than "equality of outcomes"
There is an interesting article on this in VOX

I found this to be quite convincing - and the idea that concentrating on equality of opportunity is blinding us to what is important which is not equality of outcome (although that seems to be what the writer wants)
But basically less inequality of outcome - not equality just a narrower spread of inequality

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

In this new world you describe maintaining a good reputation is a key element to well-being of the individual. This can be very difficult when everyone can easily know everything about you and where rumor often is more important than facts. As often is the case the seeds to the solution already exist in present society today. You only have to look at what the elite does now to protect themselves. No I do not mean isolation from the great unwashed using bodyguards, disguises and going only to excusive resorts. They hire people to manage their image. Politicians have been doing it for a long time and is considered to be more important to winning an election than the actual content of their programs. Hollywood stars, the House of Windsor and anyone whose existence is based on reputation all have agents and consultants who basically create, maintain and manage their image and manipulate information when the need arises. If reputation rather than facts becomes the principle means of judging people then regular folks will be forced to do the same thing sooner or later. Of course they won’t have the resources of the elites but they will nevertheless have the need. I can see a new service industry being set up to take advantage of this new market. You could call it “Reputation Protection Inc” or something along those lines. These would be professionally-run companies and not just ad-hoc single “consultants”. They would be large enough to have the means to be able to monitor all communication pathways and databases that relating to their clients. If a problem crops up they would be able (for a price) to set up tactics and strategies to protect their clients reputations. Most people would not need the full service so the cost could be kept minimal. It’s like having a lawyer firm who most of the time just handles the run-of-the-mill legal stuff like wills and so forth but who if need arise can take on major legal problems. For most people these firms would give them a short monthly report on the state of their reputations and pointing out possible problems that should be addressed. I know a couple of smaller firms who are starting to do similar things. This industry is still in its infancy but could become very important one day. This thread has got me thinking. In fact I think I will look closely at these two companies and maybe invest in them. Thank you Br. Brin. Thanks to you I just might become very wealthy on day!

Tacitus2 said...

I have abandoned any real expectation of anonymity. I post under my nom de cursor mostly out of habit, people know me by that moniker. And I have residual concerns that people sitting in the ER waiting room might google up my name and get crabby if they see frivolous pictures of me quaffing a pint in England and so forth. But honestly, I typed four or five keywords that are easily available from my postings here and Google had my True Name in the first hit.
I may "decloak" in 2016. I am taking January and February off to (95% sure) start a new FIRST robotics team locally. If I like the new lifestyle it might be permanent. If so, you will have to get used to me under a less evocative name.


Alex Tolley said...

concentrating on equality of opportunity is blinding us to what is important which is not equality of outcome

Who is conflating these 2 ideas? Equality of opportunity (we all start in the same way in the same race and have equal obstacles) whereas equality of outcome is even more extreme than communism (Each according to his needs...).

locumranch said...

Can we save Freedom by paying?

Being the logical extension of David's brave new coveillance utopia, Deuxglass has a guaranteed money maker with his proposed 'Reputation Protection' racket. It will allow him to sell his 'Reputation Insurance' policies to millions of average Joe Sixpacks, all with the feigned mobsterish concern about how tragic it would if those potential customers suffered 'an unexplained loss of reputation' (while simultaneously providing him with some legal immunity as the incidence of reputation-losing slanders multiplies against his non-customers) and, most assuredly, it will allow him to make billions in the exact same manner that the legitimate liability, malpractice & legal industries once promoted litigiousness in order to make themselves into the financial powerhouses that they are today. Then, secure in the certain knowledge that their reputations will remain unsullied as long 'Reputation Inc' receives its monthly protection (balloon) payments. we (his future customers) will live happily thereafter in the progressive information-rich utopia to come.

Good luck, Tacitus: May you escape the servitude that modern medicine has become.

Jumper said...

The reputation industry is up and running and has been for a while. I know of one guy personally who worked for one. (He got sick of it, quit and moved to Washington state.)
Lots of good points about moving and changing one's reputation. I would note the hardest people to change opinion of your reputation is your own family; second hardest childhood friends! '>]
Tacitus, when Google "found" you, had you dumped all your cookies from personalized search? There is no universal Google anymore, really. Even if you plug in a new laptop at a coffee shop it will tailor your search results by your location. This is why lots of Twitter users think Twitter is so important: Google knows they like Twitter so it keeps giving them hits to Twitter. This problem has been noted before elsewhere... I dump all those cookies and history (Chrome won't lose history automatically; there's no setting for that so it's do it manually.)

I despise the corporations attempts to corral me as much as the government's. Same sort of problems as with credit ratings (I can't get credit because I don't owe anyone any money - odd, that.)

David Brin said...

Deuxglass says: “In this new world you describe maintaining a good reputation is a key element to well-being of the individual. This can be very difficult when everyone can easily know everything about you and where rumor often is more important than facts.”

Which makes me wonder… while clearly very bright, are you capabale of squinting at the future, even a little? Seriously the whole idea is to aggressively, militantly and technologically make sure that facts DO trump rumor. That is the whole and central purpose. The basis of sousveillance and reciprocal accountability.

If a critical mass of people make this their mission that will happen and it is the best possible outcome, vastly better than ANY version of “hiding.”

It strikes me that despite my urgings, you have never watched a video of “Harper Valley PTA.”

Moreover, you insist upon ignoring the other trend… that of increased appreciation of diversity and eccentricity. YOU feel part of that trend, but you contemptuously dismiss even the possibility that most of your neighbors would join you.

Tacitus2 said...


clearing history and cookies makes it a little harder. Might take somebody ten minutes instead of five.

Locumranch, thanks for the well wishing.


Alfred Differ said...

@Tacitus2: One of my friends is a doctor. His reputation doesn't suffer with FB pictures of him quaffing a beer unless it's cheap stuff only Americans would drink. He has more taste than that, so he's fine. 8)

@Duexglass: The reputation protection industry is definitely out there. I actually hear and see their online and TV ads now and then. They pitch a story that is much like the home security industry uses, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of those companies are branching out.

As for swamping rumor with fact, the trick is to arrange too much evidence against rumor. If someone says they saw me in a booby bar, but my FB timeline shows me with friends who posted pictures, who wins? Both statements will probably stay out there, of course, but someone seriously interested in knowing my reputation will collect both and see the conflict.

Tony Fisk said...

@deuxglass said of protecting reputation:
"This can be very difficult when everyone can easily know everything about you and where rumor often is more important than facts."

Re-scan that statement carefully for the contradiction. If everyone can easily know everything about you, then what room is there for rumor? Only recent gossip would be unsubstantiated.

Even image managers will fail, as David Cameron is currently finding. Cory Doctorow asked an interesting question on that topic and the reaction of the Establishment:
The seeming insignificance of necrophiliac bestiality for the great and the good raises the question: What did they do during their college years, that the pig incident isn't a "big deal"?
Over to you, PR departments.

On a related topic, am currently updating a Wikipedia page.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: Can we save Freedom by paying? Probably. We save lives by paying for food, water, shelter, medicines, and a bazillion other things. Why not freedom? Aren’t we already?

Your protection racket stuff is a reasonable thing to warn about, but the same can be said of any extortionist. That’s a lovely garden you have there. It would be a shame if something horrible happened to it. Want me to help protect it? I don’t charge much. I’ll even protect your water supply.

We pay attention to such cheaters and string them up when we find them. The legit service providers don’t get tarnished that way.

Alfred Differ said...

I suspect we are going to need something reasonably close to AI's to handle reputation management properly. 'Focused' individuals at a minimum considering all the data that will have to be managed.

sociotard said...

Given our hosts previous comments on the Free Market, I wonder if he could chime in on the Martin Shkreli / Daraprim scandal?

TLDR: Empathy-free CEO notices a drug that has a small niche, but is lifesaving and not easily replaced, was only made by one company. It was long out of patent, but the niche was small, so nobody bothered trying to take over. He bought the company so he could take the drug from a couple dollars a pill to $700 a pill.

The good news is that bad press worked. He backed down.

The bad news is that it was just one example and there isn't enough bad press to go around. Lots of vulture capitalists taking advantage of niche drugs.

Not sure what the fix is here.

Tony Fisk said...

... I should belatedly add that 'PigGate' has no substantial backing evidence. It is, indeed, a case of 'rumor being more important than facts'. Invoking Godwin's Rule, I recall a similar story was once told of young Adolph and a (live) goat, and that this explained his 'monobolical' status.

Paul451 said...


The interesting thing about the Martin Shkreli scandal, IMO, is the claim that his previous scam was lodging objections to FDA drug approvals for companies whose stock he'd shorted.

There really is vastly too little scrutiny of these kinds of guys.

Deuxglass said...

This is amazing. Some of you have not thought this through at all. You assume that laws, courts and police no longer exist and that anything goes or perhaps the fault is mine in that I didn’t present it in a clear manner. Let me try again.

Let’s look at some of the practical services the company, Reputation Protection Inc, could provide to their clients. I am sure that you have heard of someone’s credit rating being trashed because of false information being introduced into a national database by sloppy work done by a minimum-wage worker. Today you wouldn’t be aware that your credit reputation has taken a hit until you went to get a car loan or something else. To rectify the error you would have to spend a lot of time and money and the error could still pop up in the future despite your best efforts. Reputation Protection Inc. would monitor your credit rating in real-time and can correct the mistake rapidly because they have the resources to do so.

That was a pretty straight forward example. Let’s now use a more difficult one. Your child’s application to a private day-school for some mysterious reason is rejected even though he largely fulfills the requirements. You find that strange and so you ask the company to make a sweep. The company finds out that man with almost the same name as you and who lives not too far away has committed a crime and some people are talking about it in a forum. They also found that someone in the school accessed that forum during the application process and perhaps confused your name with that of the criminal. With the proof that the company provides you can now go to the school and show them their error.

Now let’s use an example concerning malicious rumors. Someone who hates your guts starts a campaign with the help of some buddies to spread untrue and harmful rumors on the net about you. The company picks this up using their sophisticated algorisms and informs you what is happening and gives an assessment as to its gravity. If you so decide, through their means they can track down the originators and can write them a nasty letter pointing out that there are grounds for a libel suit and that unless they desist immediately their client will sue.

Needless to say you will have to tell the company the facts and tell them the truth. It would be in the contract and if you give false information to the company ultimately it will be you who suffer. If you provide fake accounts to your accountant to hide illegal revenue it is not your accountant who goes to jail but you. The company will of course to be subject to the laws of the land. Their job is protect your reputation and not to manipulate data or to create a false image. To do that you would have to go to a completely different type of company who is let’s say, unscrupulous.

Now let’s tie this in to Dr. Brin’s citizen groups. They are a great way to keep the elites in line and protect society from becoming pyramid-shaped as it was before and in that I am all for it. But not all citizen groups will want to go after the rich and famous. Many I suspect would like to take up the cause of injustice done to the common man or woman and help right wrongs done to people who are just like them. Is it less noble or less useful to society to take this path? I don’t think so. Oppression can come from your peers also and as history shows can be as merciless and heartless as any top-down oppression. The citizen groups you describe are bottom-up protection and I think they will be very good at it but you also need transversal protection using citizen groups. I love the diversity our society produces today and definitely want to encourage its existence but it needs not only acceptance but protection if this enriching diversity is to continue to develop.

Deuxglass said...

Tony Fisk,
You said “Re-scan that statement carefully for the contradiction. If everyone can easily know everything about you, then what room is there for rumor? Only recent gossip would be unsubstantiated.”
That would be the role of the company I proposed, that is to get out the facts in a quick, timely manner with supporting evidence in order to cut rumor off at the knees.


Sheez, Give me a break. If a company provides a necessary service and rigorously follows the laws why would you describe it as a “scam”? Don’t forget that citizen groups would be there to make sure that the proposed company remains honest also. Those people who have a bad reputation that is deserved would probably be guided to a wholly-owned subsidiary called “Reputation Rebuilding For Assholes Inc.” or something like that. That is a company citizen groups would love monitor closely.

locumranch said...

@Alfred: Most definitely, we can save freedom by paying & paying -- at least in the short term -- but never forget that this endless debt (appeasement; extortion) is mandatory and, by definition, that which is mandatory is the opposite of liberty.

@Deuxglass: I was PRAISING your perspicacity, son, as legalised extortion (aka 'insurance') is a time-honoured western tradition AND the basis of the western financial system, never forgetting that a so-called "necessary service" is euphemistic for what is to become a social mandate, financial requirement or criminal restriction.

To the progressive, it appears that 'freedom' is conditional, or so says the master to the slave.


Deuxglass said...


I apologize then for misinterpreting your statements.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

While I'll agree that Walker could point to being governor, the idea that that even hinted at governmental competence is a bit off.

His numbers tanked in Iowa because his governance in WI finally got close scrutiny, and was found wanting. At least, that's what the people I know in Iowa are saying.

It was all well and good when there was only cursory coverage of his doings in WI, but it didn't play well on the wider stage.

As for reputation manipulation, subversion of media channels by the overlords, etc. Keep in mind that these corporations keep sociologists on their staffs. The current social media corporations are already at the big kids table, and acting more like them every day.

Jumper said...

Conan was a free man.

Alex Tolley said...

@sociotard - He hasn't backed down, only agreed to make the price"affordable". What blows me away is that the US accepted the older $13.50/pill, when it ~ $45/30 pills in the UK. It was already extortionate. This is a good example of where making this drug effectively free would be a humane answer and have a a lab make it in the limited quantities needed.

Alex Tolley said...

@Deuxglas ... citizen groups. They are a great way to keep the elites in line and protect society from becoming pyramid-shaped as it was before and in that I am all for it.

There is nothing that citizen groups can do to prevent the pyramidization of wealth distribution. It is the inevitable effect of investments and non-confiscatory taxation. The only thing that can be used is to legislate more progressive taxation and rules against tax avoidance using tax havens and other vehicles. Citizen groups can prevent "cheating", i.e. preventing people from taking short cuts to wealth, often with predatory schemes.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch: I seriously doubt your understanding of what liberty is. I engage in ‘mandatory’ market transactions daily to purchase food, water, shelter, and all sorts of things I need. I do so voluntarily, so my liberty is intact. No one coerces me even though I know I have to do what I do. NO ONE coerces me.

Are you seriously arguing that everything mandatory violates our freedom? If so, you are screwed by your own biology. The way out of the trap is to recognize it as mental delusion. A choice between behaviors that lead to life or death is a valid choice, but it isn’t a violation of liberty unless you can point out someone who is forcing you. SOMEONE has to be trying to make a tool of you. There must be intent.

Alfred Differ said...

@deuxglass: What you are describing initially is a ‘rolling’ background check. If someone is going to reject my kid’s application to a private school, it would be due to a failed background check. Buying into a service that ran one periodically would eliminate most of the accidental stuff by finding it and the source and then taking corrective measures. Does that sound about right? If so, there are already folks doing this and it’s growing enough that I hear the ads.

As for the folks who would give us an intentional black eye, that’s something that would likely get detected by the check service, but maybe not fast enough. We would probably sign up with a special service if we thought we might need it. Is your business about to fail? Are you about to piss off your business partners with a particular decision? Got a divorce looming on your horizon? Time to sign up. There are multiple ways this service would be sold, I’m sure. One version would look like insurance requiring steady risk taking payments. The other would be more like hiring a lawyer. You don’t do that until you know you’ll need it.

A.F. Rey said...

The recent brouhaha with Planned Parenthood makes me question whether sousveillance will work in a divided country.

The House has voted to defund Planned Parenthood based on edited tapes of conversations with representatives of the organization. It has been shown that the editing has changed what those representatives actually said, to make it seem like they are making a profit off of providing fetal tissue to research labs, when they never said or meant that. But the Congressmen don't care. Primarily because they were against PP even before the tapes were released, and the edited tapes simply confirm what they already believed.

So we have a situation where recordings are used to slander an organization, and those who are against the organization believe it without question. How do we counteract this?

Sousveillance would suggest to tape the tapers and use the information to discredit them. But I doubt that would work. If conservative Republicans don’t believe the criticism, then they will probably not believe any recordings, either. They will probably say that such recordings were edited to change what the tapers said.

When perception of truth is colored by bias, then no amount of sousveillance can counter it. People will believe what they want, and recordings will only confirm their bias.

How do we counteract people only seeing what they want to?

David Brin said...

Alfred it goes much farther. We should hold is suspicion any and all proclamations of pure and enraged principle, unless those stances can also point to:

1. correlation with positive real-world outcomes over long time spans, and

2. an inherent ability to keep re-evaluating, adjusting and backing out of errors.

Purist declarations have been used so often to justify self-serving oppression of others and/or cheating or simple insanity, that we must deem this kind of rationalization to be one of humanity's greatest sicknesses.

That is not to say that all declarations of principle are wrong! But let's take one example -- freedom of speech. A core principle that most of us deem quasi-sacred, without ever pausing to ponder how the vast majority of our ancestors would have called it crazy. FoS seems "good" to us. But that appearance is backed-up by a solid correlation with our civilization's spectacularly better rates of innovation, wealth-generation, problem-solving and fun, all of which are direct outcomes of FoS. Which must be defended with zeal AS IF it were holy, though the deepest reasons are pragmatic.

Especially the end to 6000 years of societies wasting most of their available human talent.

Likewise, Freedom of Speech is the best way to detect errors and flaws, even in our own principles -- even in our most-sacred principles, like Freedom of Speech! Allowing us to make guarded, minimal but practical compromises that make sense to each generation. But above all, allowing next generations to fluidly argue, re-assess and back out of mistakes. That ability to keep up a diversity of viewpoints that are not repressed by either hierarchy or conformity is a palpable and inarguable strength that FoS fosters.

Am I saying we should never passionately propound principles? Not so! FoS must be shouted zealously, even religiously, or we'll not have the fervor it will take, to overcome the world's cheaters and would be oppressors (including those on our "side.") But over the long run, there must be a grounding in objective reality, or all our subjective screaming will not suffice to make a false "principle" true.

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred I engage in ‘mandatory’ market transactions daily to purchase food, water, shelter, and all sorts of things I need. I do so voluntarily, so my liberty is intact. No one coerces me even though I know I have to do what I do. NO ONE coerces me.

So you are arguing that since you are not feeling coerced, that your freedom is a state of mind based on your current belief about conditions. Let's posit an alternative world where the air is poisoned so that you must buy air. Wouldn't we feel that is coercive? Yet if we lived in that world, we might well accept that as normal and therefore not being coerced. IMO, that argument for freedom is going down the track of "1984" and will allow all sorts of acceptance about what is freedom by changing your beliefs.

No doubt Kim Davis would say she isn't coercive because an LGBT couple shouldn't even be thinking about getting married. If they thought like fundamentalist Christians they wouldn't even notice that they were not free.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: Freedom is a state of being. It is possible when your liberty is intact. The minimum requirement is that no one is intending/attempting to make a tool of you.

If the person selling me air was the person who poisoned it with the INTENT of making me buy clean air, they are so guilty of violating my liberty I'd happily kill them. If the person selling me the air was someone else, I'd look for a connection between them and who ever might have done it just in case, but if I found none, the person selling it would not be guilty of violating my liberty.

The line I draw relates to whether another person is attempting to make me an extension of them. If they try to overrule what I choose to do using my own best available information with their own, they are making a tool of me. That violates my liberty. That incentivizes me to arm myself.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: I'm with you about 95% so far. I don't mind some proclamations, but the ones I tolerate are ones offered as visions of the future. The moment someone tries to enforce an untested plan for a designed utopia, I'm going to dig in my heels. I don't believe anyone is smart enough, so I want an incremental approach toward any of the offered visions.

I just finished ch 6 of your transparency book. I'm finding it difficult to disagree with anything so far. I quibble with certain statements, but they are almost always quotes from other people you include in the book and then take shots at them yourself. The closest thing I've got to a disagreement involves the role encryption should play in the establishment of currencies. Seriously, though, it is probably a small thing since I want experimental currencies in play and I doubt you'd complain until someone 'proclaimed' that was the way everyone should do it. 8)

Alex Tolley said...

@Alfred - I have to disagree with you. If group A (e.g. corporations) makes money by allowing air to be poisoned and the same group then offer to sell you good air, I consider that coercion, especially when that group understood that it was poisoning the air to maximize profits. To me that is allowing a system (in this case poorly regulated capitalism) to coerce you to comply with the changing social environment you live in.

I had a friend who used to argue that it was "unfair" that American capitalism was forcing other sovereign nations to compete in a Darwinian way, forcing everyone to live under similar rules. I am increasingly thinking he may had had a point. Certainly the free of action was being limited by a need to act within the new rules.

What you may find acceptable may well be perceived as coercive by others.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

I disagree totally
If I need your "acceptance" to live
To sell me food or water
To pay me for working
And you can withdraw that "acceptance"
Then I am NOT FREE

If there are other avenues that I can buy food from or get money from then I am not completely unfree

But as long as I have to rely on a limited "company operator/owner class" for the necessities of life then I am effectively enslaved by that "class"

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: I am not responsible for your access to other avenues in the market unless I am the one responsible for creating a monopoly. If I do so, I still haven't taken your freedom until I force you do to something. If I refuse to trade with you, I've done an evil, but it isn't the destruction of your freedom.

You are NOT free to dictate that I must trade with you unless you feel that your freedom can come at the expense of mine.

The obvious, humane solution is for us to trade. Since I'd be stupid not to trade, you could count on it except in one situation. If there are others like you making similar demands, I might choose to trade with them instead.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: If the company poisoning the air uses that as leverage to sell clean air, I would treat that as attempted murder. Coercion implies a non-voluntary act, so the moment you choose to pay them, you aren't being coerced. What you are suffering at that point is extortion.

I'm not disagreeing with the evil-ness of the deed. I'm arguing for calling it by the right name.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan & Alex: I get that there is a boundary around 'coercion' on which we are disagreeing. I really do. Beyond that, though, I doubt any of us disagree regarding the moral repugnance we feel toward the examples offered.

For example, a man offered a starvation wage for a job might take it to avoid starvation. Is he free? Depends. If the man offering the wage trapped him in that condition, there is a person with intent who caused his situation in order to limit the wage he would pay later. In this case, the employee is a wage slave and not free. If the man offering the wage is NOT responsible (directly or indirectly) for the piss-poor condition the 'employee' finds himself in, then the employee is free and is using the best information available to him at the time to improve his situation. Slavery requires intent and design on the part of the slave holder.

Duncan Cairncross said...


This has happened
In California a long time ago most of the employers told their workforce that if they voted a certain way the factories would shut

If you have "ownership" of the necessities of life and I need them them then you have control over me
I am effectively your slave

The only way around this is
(1) You cannot refuse to accept my money
(Which is probably close to the actual case)
(2) I have sufficient money to meet the minimums
Which is true in most of the western world - the main exception being the USA

Slavery does NOT require intent - just power

"You are NOT free to dictate that I must trade with you unless you feel that your freedom can come at the expense of min"

Freedom - like everything - comes in levels
My "Freedom not to starve" trumps your "Freedom to control excessive property"

What we should be arguing about is the the levels and the values - there is no such thing as total freedom

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: You are trapped using the wrong term. If I turn propertarian on you and fail to trade basic needs that I could risk trading, I'm guilty of an evil that has nothing to do with stripping you of your liberty. I'd be failing to treat you like a decent human being. I'd be letting you starve. That's close enough to murder to satisfy most jurors around here.

There has been some interesting research in this area. It would appear humans are pretty good at distinguishing different kinds of 'voluntary' acts. For example, a kidney patient isn't exactly in a good negotiating position when talking to a 'broker' to arrange for a transplant. In many places such a deal is illegal even when everyone involved volunteers. Why? heh. Because we see the power differences and make distinctions. Munger coined a term to help us. "Euvoluntary" is for trades where the power balance is fairly even. Look it up.

As for the CA political battle, we've gone around on this before. You aren't trapped into living in California where those companies are. You CHOOSE to live here and EXERCISE your political power over their property. Of course they are going to fight back with some pretty threatening words.

Slavery must require intent.
Unintended slavery smacks of nonsense as far as I'm concerned.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Slavery requires "intent" as in intent to use your power - that is all

Unintended slavery is still slavery if somebody is under your control - in your power they are a slave no matter your intent

I will except "children" - but any adult who is under somebody else's control is a slave

I would apply that to the military - who voluntarily give up some of their freedom and convicts who do so involuntarily

Deuxglass said...

Alfred Differ,

Yes that is close to what I was thinking. You could have different plans depending on what you need. I have heard that some companies already exist but they are in only in one or two niches and I don’t know how good they are. What is needed in the future would be a company that can give full service combining several different functions into one over-riding coverage. I never thought I would be discussing a business plan on Dr. Brin’s forum but why not?

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

I had a friend who used to argue that it was "unfair" that American capitalism was forcing other sovereign nations to compete in a Darwinian way, forcing everyone to live under similar rules. I am increasingly thinking he may had had a point.

That was precisely Kurt Vonnegut's point in the 1953 novel "Player Piano" where a character opines that machines are essentially slaves, and while machine "slavery" has none of the inhuman qualities of actual human slavery, still the fact that human beings have to compete (for employability) with machine-slaves forces them to become slaves as well.

Howard Brazee said...

In Star Trek, they had to show the audience when someone was communicating with each other or with the computer. But already we see people walking down the street apparently talking to themselves. Phones will disappear altogether as technology allows us to do everything without carrying anything visible.

Fiction will have to follow suit. We have lots of fiction where people can't call for help, can't do a background check on that guy who's really a girl, where they get lost, and where they can't translate jargon.

LarryHart said...

Howard Brazee:

We have lots of fiction where people can't call for help, can't do a background check on that guy who's really a girl, where they get lost, and where they can't translate jargon.

I just recently re-read "The Grapes of Wrath". When the family discussed some of them going on ahead to California while the others would catch up later, it was a crucial moment, and ultimately they decided to keep the family together rather than risk never finding each other. I grew up in the 1960s, and I still had to keep consciously reminding myself that keeping in touch on their cell phones was not an option.

David Brin said...

Clergy do pay taxes on their income: . If you are a minister performing ministerial services, all of your earnings, including wages, offerings and fees you receive for performing marriages, baptisms, funerals, etc., are subject to income tax, whether you earn the amount as an employee or self-employed person.

OTOH many live rent free in the tax free "parsonage."

David Brin said...

Alex what I want is to summon all US congress critters to appoint one scientist from their district to an advisory Scientific Congress. Replacing the old Office of Technology Assessment, which the GOP banned ages ago, for not obeying political commands in their reports, the SC would be far better, since its televised debates over matters of FACT would elevate and inform. The gophers would of course try to ignore it and refuse to appoint members, but this would shame their districts. "What? You have NO ONE back home who has scientific stature?" When they appoint a shill, that too will embarrass. And when they finally appoint the smartest person in their district… and that person starts talking scientific sense? Oooh how I wish I could talk folks into this.

Sociotard there does not have to be a govt list. Several secure NGOs could compare parishioner lists and destroy them yearly.

David Brin said...

"Just as the Iraqi Conflict was about Oil rather than WMDs & Democracy, the First US Civil War was "about" Federalism rather than Slavery"

Okay, enough. He's veered away from crazy into outright and deliberate evil territory, repeating long-disproved saws to excuse the most wretchedly unforgivable evil seen in this hemisphere since Aztecs made blood sacrifices.

He knows damned well that the south RAN the federal government for 30 years before Lincoln's election, ran it and used its power relentlessly to crush states' rights, appointing US marshals in northern states who then helped bands of southern irregular cavalry to rampage from Michigan to Pennsylvania. Southern presidents called in the US Army to quash protests in northern states. This abuse by the South is precisely what radicalized northern states into voting in Lincoln.
Oh and the secession documents ranted that the federal govt should force northern states to shut down abolitionist newspapers. Oh, but NOW ignoramuses claim they were for states rights and "federalism."

He knows that Slavery was THE word spoken most - and proudly! - in all of the secession declarations. Oh. And he knows that we got ZERO oil from Iraq. In other words, delusion city.

Oh but then to harken images of colonialism, portraying the confederacy states as "resource rich" ? How pathetic. On any grand scale they provide zilch except peanuts and Texan oil. The one and only thing of great value that they export and that Blue America exploits?… exporting nearly all of their brightest sons and daughters, who race away from the "high moral and good-living and generous" quagmires as fast as their feet can carry them.

It was nice having the merely delusional but polite and at least articulate L around for a while. Amid this return to screeching, I will just ignore him for a month. Enjoy, fellah.

Howard Brazee said...

A local shopping center has been bought by a local mega-church, costing the city tax revenues.

David Brin said...



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