Friday, December 30, 2005

The world is getting better... so help it along...

You’ll be glad to know that my essay on Professionalism vs the Age of Amateurs was listed as a “Top Ten of 2005” by Amazon Shorts! (Now available on my website.)

Pass on the word... and remember to join your proxy power organizations, while you can still get your contibution deducted on 2005 taxes!

I just finished drafting an article for a coming nonfiction book on the dilemmas of nanotechnology. Mine is more general, about doom and singularities and such. Nag me someday to serialize it. I hope to get to religion soon.

otherculturewarIn further support of the contention that our world, rather than growing more violent and dangerous, is actually growing much less so, do drop by an article on SLATE: The Peace Epidemic
The world isn't so dangerous after all. By Timothy Noah -

Excerpt: “[A]fter five decades of inexorable increase [italics Chatterbox's], the number of armed conflicts started to fall worldwide in the early 1990s. The decline has continued.

By 2003, there were 40 percent fewer conflicts than in 1992. The deadliest conflicts -- those with 1,000 or more battle-deaths -- fell by some 80 percent. The number of genocides and other mass slaughters of civilians also dropped by 80 percent [between 1988 and 2001], while core human rights abuses have declined in five out of six regions of the developing world since the mid-1990s.

International terrorism is the only type of political violence that has increased. Although the death toll has jumped sharply over the past three years, terrorists kill only a fraction of the number who die in wars.

Mack's data comes from The Human Security Report 2005, which is put out by the University of British Columbia's Human Security Center, of which Mack is director. Here are some other findings from the report:

* "The dollar value of major international arms transactions fell by 33 percent between 1990 and 2003."

* "The number of refugees dropped by some 45 percent between 1992 and 2003, as more and more wars came to an end."

* "The number of actual and attempted military coups has been declining for more than 40 years. In 1963 there were 25 coups and attempted coups around the world, the highest in the post-World War II period. In 2004 there were only ten coup attempts—a 60 percent decline. All of them failed."

* "[C]ivil (intrastate) conflicts rose steadily until 1992, after which they declined steeply."

...One region must be excepted from this calculus. Interestingly, it isn't the Middle East (though certainly that region is a violent one). It's Africa. According to the Human Security Report, more people are being killed in wars in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world combined.

==And yet, we are urged to believe that we are in an “emergency” and in a “state of war” that justifies unprecedented secrecy and erosion of our citizen rights of supervision. Can anyone smell a scam, anymore?

Oh, again... do your proxy power. The world may be getting better (cynics are fools) but it’s not getting better anywhere near fast enough to save us (so are pollyanna optimists.)

Only worldchanging pragmatic problem solvers have a clue. Right on....


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm pretty sure the world is getting better, but much less sure about the US, and about the best parts of the world in general; the parts where enlightenment values are strongest etc. However, I don't see the logic in the statement that the world isn't getting better faster enough to save us, unless it's the understatement of the year. The world has to get better faster in order to save us from what? I guess that for the older boomers one answer is 'aging', but that doesn't seem to be the focus of this post.

For anyone but the older boomers, I can only imagine two answers to the question "what do we need to be saved from". 'Plutocratic elites' would be the first, and given David's typical focus, I assume that's what he's thinking of, but it's my impression that the increasing power of such elites in the US is problematic because of its association with the US getting worse. If the US is getting better anyway, why do we have to be saved from them?

The third possible thing to be saved from is what I call 'UnFriendly Singularity' and David calls 'ungreatful offspring'. It's a critically serious problem, but it's not clear to me that it's associated risks have anything to do with general improvement of the world. There certainly isn't any logical reason to expect that any AI would grow up to be good if raised in a world with fewer wars and less poverty but grow up to be bad if raised in a worse world. Nanotech would be more likely to trigger an unstable arms race in a world with more international tensions, but it's blatantly unrealistic to imagine that the level of international cooperation required to really handle it safely can materialize before nanotech is developed, even given a continued acceleration of the general trend towards peace etc. Anyway, nanotech is almost surely not a long term problem. Within a few years of its development, a decade at the very most, nanotech inevitably leads to either species suicide, unaccountable world government(but not necessarily very oppressive, certainly not necessarily totalitarian. This could be an OK outcome, in most respects), or superintelligence. By default, superintelligence is just another sub-set of species suicide though, which is why we do indeed need to be proactive, but why the only proactivity that really matters is the effective organization of responsible programs (which can be private and reasonably small) to bring about superintelligence in a relatively safe manner before less responsible organizations bring it about in an unsafe manner.

OK, there are a few other possible answers, such as 'Peak Oil', 'Avian Flu', 'Antibiotic Resistance' and 'Global Warming', but I'm pretty sure that none of them is a serious enough concern that we have to be 'saved' from it. These are potential trillion dollar problems, e.g. problems on the same scale as the ordinary wars between great powers that we don't have to worry about much any more.

Woozle said...

Is this the piece in question?

The Other Culture War: Beleaguered Professionals vs. Disempowered Citizens

And for what it's worth, here are the other 2 Brin Amazon Shorts I was able to find:

The Power of Proxy Activism, an Amazon Short
Free the Mississippi?, an Amazon Short

Please let me know if either of those links don't work for everyone...

David Brin said...

Michael, the array of possible failure modes for Enlightenment Civilization is dizzyingly broad and deep. Some are potential world or eco or biosphere killers. Other are species/civilization killers. Even "whimper" failure modes would be enough to rock our confidence and make us turn from the Grand Experiment.

Witness the utterly pathetic "state of war" we've allowed ourselves to be talked into, excusing every possible slide away from accountability and toward older forms of secretive hierarchy.

No, the odds are still very much against us. We cannot shirk our efforts.

Anonymous said...

Witness the utterly pathetic "state of war" we've allowed ourselves to be talked into.

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Erik said...

I question the relevance of those "declining" numbers. The dollar value of arms deals may have peaked, but the lethality of the arms has tripled; the absolute numbers of civilian deaths due to war may have decreased, but the deaths due to famine and disease sure haven't; the number of displaced persons may have decreased, but only because nowadays refugees have nowhere to go and no way to get there.

I see a world even more tragically divided between haves and have-nots, with the latter increasingly exploiting the former's resources and labor while trumpeting their own beneficence. I see a world that is driven by material greed, fed by corporate profiteering, egged on by religious sloganeering. Kinda like the last century, only much worse.

Anonymous said...

Without wanting to be unkind, it would be nice if a technology dude could manage to get URLs to be usable ...

David Brin said...

Technology dude is a Mac user. I benefit from that, blithely ignoring the 10,000 horrors of Windows. (I also use the best word processor ever, the 1986 Mac version of Word Perfect, before WP copied Word formalisms and became another instrument of torture.)

Alas, there are drawbacks. Blogger's posting functions work only minimally on my machine. Hence inserting italics is laborious and trying to insert html links destroys all my text. Sorry.

Erik, I believe that you perceive what you say you perceive. But consider the modernist credo: "I might (just possibly) be wrong."

In fact, the world's social structure is very very very rapidly going middle class. Driven mostly by the US economy, those of east (and now southern) Asia are booming. Every year, a higher % of the human race has running water, flush toilets, electricity, clean clothes, and enough money to ensure their kids go to school.

Now think of your angry reaction to what I just wrote. Step back and look at it. DId I say anything evil? This good news is absolutely incontrovertible. Moreover, you are wrong that there is more starvation. There is less. So why the hatred of good news?

Simple. The liberal mantra is that if we admit good news (like America's near-total victory over its own old habits of racism) then we will lose all incentive to do more and finish the job. What baloney.

One of the absolute loony-insanities of the left is its fixation on guilt as the only possible motivator-driver for trying hard to make a better world.

Do you see me letting up the pressure to save the world??? Or pausing even a moment from denouncing those who want to plunge us back into feudalism?

The absolute determination of the left never to admit that good things have happened is their own style of hypocrisy. Think about it! If none of their earlier reforms worked at all, why should we buy any more of their product!

How much better a sales pitch it would be to say "Look at how WELL all those earlier liberal reforms worked! We achieved miracles! Racism and sexism are pale shadows of their former selves! All that money paid on universities and public schools have lifted millions to untold independence and knowledge and affluence! Our methods work! So let's use them to finish the job!"

And finish it we must. Because a world filled with 5 billion middle class people will destroy itself, if those 5 billion consume resources at the American rate. NEW liberal goals, like energy sustainability, will be needed in order to get the rest of the way across this gap!

Compare these two approaches, one of them a never-ending SNARL of carping, never giving the average citizen any credit. Versus the other approach, an ebullient song of PRAISE for modernist-pragmatist problemsolving, praising our citizens, encouraging them to be CONFIDENT and not let fascists talk them into being afraid.

No, the standard dour-sourpuss lefty rant will NOT help in this situation. We have got to embrace the good news and use it as a weapon, to show that there is hope. And that the monsters will not win by driving us into a world of secrecy and lies and tyranny, by whipping us with fear.

Anonymous said...

Aren't perceptions interesting?

Toronto, where I live, has had 78 murders this year, among nearly 3 million people. New York has had 528 among 8 million people. Yet CNN broadcasters warn Americans that Toronto is dangerous when in fact we are safer than New York. We had the same problem during SARS, when a tourist stood more chance of being shot in Miami than catching SARS in Hong Kong.

Now, I know CNN doesn't have a reputation as a particularly reliable news source, but it's certainly galling to see them label as a "crime spree" a murder rate that would be hailed as a policing success in major American cities.

(Not that we don't have a problem. The neoconservative cuts to social programs in the last decade coupled with smuggled American handguns -- the majority of our murder weapons -- have left us some problems to deal with. But lets see some perspective here!)

Rob Perkins said...

David, one day your OS 9 Mac will die, and then that '86 copy of WordPerfect (which *was* an absolute dream) will die with it, because I'm pretty sure Apple won't fix 'em any more. Please be prepared for that.

My wife uses a 2004 copy of WordPerfect 11, which, I can say by way of direct comparison, is much easier to use than Word 2003. And, it's still available, even if it is supplied and supported by an absolutely noxious company.

(They're all noxious, anymore. You should see what *developers* have to go through to get help with the arcane minutiae related to something as "simple" as a software installation program. In comparison, Microsoft is a dreamcometrue. As long as you pony $2500/year.)

Windows itself is down from 10,000 horrors (stemming from reliance on backwards compatibility) to just a couple hundred.

On a tangential other topic, you talk about racism as a shadow of its former self. I agree that the social consequences of being in a minority race are vastly diminished, compared to just 25 years ago.

But I don't think the *ideas* of racisms, the underlying memes, are at all gone. Government still asks and delineates, and a palpable howl arises when people start talking about dismantling things like affirmative action (itself a program benefiting people on the basis of race)

It might even be a worthy example of the sort of malaise David says affects the "Left" in the U.S.

Personally, when someone asks me, I generally answer "American" (which is what I've written in bold sharpie across those questions on all my kids' birth certificate applications; I'm not Caucasian, for crying out loud...). Gave the Red Cross blood donation interviewer fits when I refused to give her a race which was on her list.

Genius said...

The fear of terrorism is not the fear of what they can do now but instead the fear of the future and the fear of the fear itself.

Another major building in the USA is expendable in itself a tiny event in the world - but other things are not

1) The reaction
2) the future of terrorism (i.e. while death by murder or starvation has "limits" terrorism could easily blow out of control in the same way war in general might.

> And finish it we must.

Can we indeed finish this with the current model of relative freedom? It is not well designed for rapid and painful change in response for problems that are not clearly defined. This is a risk we take.

Michael's unaccountable world government seems the thing that could solve that problem even if it is one of the disasters (and a considerable risk) itself.


> ordinary wars between great powers that we don't have to worry about much any more.

I think this is bit premature... You dont have to worry abut it - in the current balance of power.