Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tis the season...

Well, it's that time again, when we must switch (even if briefly) from discussing politics and science and ambitious “modernist” enterprises over to more elevated thoughts of repairing the world through good old fashioned giving. Tikkun Olam.

Yes, I have spoken elsewhere in praise of the worldwide benefits of American deficit-spending as the principal engine that propells the modernization of peoples and nations all over the globe. And I still believe that this weird economic titan is the unsung "blind hand" that is saving human civilization as we speak, lifting billions up by their bootstraps... and by dint of their own hard work. (Not entirely a "blind" hand. This pattern was planned by sages like Marshall and Acheson, a lifetime ago.)

Still, there is very little karmic reward for saving the world this way. At the petty, day-to-day level, it is not especially generous to grab up heaps of cheap duds and frills and toys at WalMart, no matter how much macroeconomic good (and ecological harm) it does. Moreover, it certainly does not fill in the gaps where crass commerce do little to lift up those in pain.

In other words, commerce won’t do it all, alone. Especially when it comes to matters environmental, or those involving the spread of liberty and free-thinking, or giving the poorest of the poor a chance to take part in this great game of uplift.

ProxyActivismThere are countless beneficial endeavors that can make a huge difference... moreover. they exist in such an eclectic variety that any of you can surely find a few groups out there eager to save the world in exactly the ways that you think it needs saving!

Yea, even if your notions swing to colonizing Mars. Or donating video cameras to freedom activists in developing nations, so that they can bring modern rights and progress through the cleansing light of accountability... name it! Hence, there is simply no excuse for sitting on your fat butt doing nothing, when you can sit on your fat butt and help save the world at the same time!

See how this can be done in my "Proxy Power" essay.

And if you have more than a few pennies? Suppose you happen to be a mere millionaire, wishing you could pump-prime in just the right way to encourage a larger fraction of Billionaires to care and give more? Well then, there's another idea that may interest you.

worldchangingI have also touted as one of the best holiday gifts around, the WORLDCHANGING BOOK.

And now, even more ideas:

Tom Atlee, of the Co-intelligence Newsletter, offers one list:
”If you'd like to give gifts that can make a significant difference to future generations and the evolution of civilization, look for individuals and organizations that are
* articulating new inclusive worldviews,
* promoting wise systemic change, and/or
* building the capacity of communities and democracies to self-organize in healthy ways.
I offer the Co-Intelligence Institute as one such organization.

Other current favorites include:
* The Great Story -- generating a movement for conscious evolution (including of the evolution of social systems)
* Natural Capitalism Institute -- creating an online resource "commons" that will revolutionize the sustainability movement
* National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation -- building the capacity for conversation to change the ways we solve problems and co-create our future.”

I cannot judge these suggestions in detail. (Some of you report on them in comments?) But it sounds like that last goup could use some good “disputation” interface!

And now, about the need...

Here's a statistic of interest, from the BBC: "The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute. The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth. There have of course been many studies of worldwide inequality. But what is new about this report, the authors say, is its coverage. It deals with all countries in the world - either actual data or estimates based on statistical analysis - and it deals with wealth, where most previous research has looked at income. What they mean by wealth in this study is what people own, less what they owe - their debts. The assets include land, buildings, animals and financial assets.

"DIFFERENT ASSETS: The analysis shows, as have many other less comprehensive studies, striking divergences in wealth between countries. Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and some countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as Japan and Australia. These countries account for 90% of household wealth. The study also finds that inequality is sharper in wealth than in annual income. And it uncovers some striking differences in the types of assets that dominate in different countries. In less developed nations, land and farm assets are more important, reflecting the greater importance of agriculture in those economies. In addition, the report says the weighting is the result of "immature" financial institutions, which make it much harder for people to have savings accounts or shares. In contrast, some citizens of the rich countries have more debt than assets - making them, the report says, among the poorest in the world in terms of household wealth. However, t hey are presumably better off in terms of what they consume than many people in developing countries."

Ah, but you know what Mr. Transparency thinks?

I think the biggest problem is not so much disparity of wealth but the FOG and secrecy that surrounds ownership in this world. The world's poor include several billions who actually own some land and assets! But who (according to Hernando deSotot) cannot borrow against these assets or leverage capital for lack of good banking systems and clear title. That is the problem at the low end.

At the high end, banking secrecy and hidden ownership are the great scandal of the age and one that those in power probably strive hard (perhaps by fomenting distractions) to keep us from noticing. You can guess what Adam Smith would have thought of that. Denying free market players (in their billions) the information that they need, in order to make fair and wise competitive choices.

People who use such means can rationalize all they want. But they are not believers in capitalism, or markets, or enterprise, or true competition.

They are believers in cheating.


Anders Brink said...

I don't dispute the idea that hidden ownership can be cheating. But banking secrecy can be justified in repressive regimes. Or just as a matter of smart banking - not putting your entire assets with one particular government or regime. Or on the grounds of privacy, being protected from the prying eyes of arbitrary, random people. Perhaps you need to modify your thinking - a conditional secrecy or some form of conditional release of information to responsible parties.

But SF writers don't worry about such details. (I mean that as a criticism of both you and myself). Or if we do, we take out our typewriters and start WRITING.

Anonymous said...

In my country, there's one very well known enterpreneur that did an excellent example of these bank-secrecy trick.
There was the national telecommunication system on sale for privatizations. It was full of cash and very wealthy, having operated for a lot of time in near-monopoly regime. This enterpreneur made a deal with banks, that lent him an enormous amount of virtual cash. With this cash he bought (at a discount, he was friends with the politicians that were organizing the sale) a controlling share of the telecom. Then he used the surplus of cash and indebted the company to repay his own debt. As a result he found himself controlling a multi-billion company having actually invested on his own less than i spend usually buying a pair of shoes.
Now, many years after, the telecom company is in serious troubles, form the debts he did at the time and mismanagements, his pockets are full, the banks too, the state got a pittance out of all the scheme, the consumers have been trumped all along (when it was statal at least it had some minimum standard of quality... after it only cashed in in his virtual monoploy of infrastructures cutting all maintenance and support...). Yay!! :P

Anonymous said...

My charitable giving is down this year, after a ~ $3000 blowout in 2005. Not enough horrible disasters, I guess!

Still, I sent $100 each to ten charities (including a microloan place), the Sierra Club, and the ACLU.

* * *

One of the most discouraging things about taking business classes was learning that the business students (as opposed to the engineers who wanted to broaden their education) were mostly interested in finance . . . diddling around with "instruments" rather than creating products and services.

David Brin said...

Anders, you are the one making assumptions. In fact, I have explored many of the nuanced aspects of secrecy, top to bottom. In The Transparent Society I explore many of the justifications for secrecy in our world and I do not cavalierly dismiss the benefits.

Indeed, I am consulted by the Defense Department, the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office and many other groups for whom secrecy is a normal and important tool of trade. In no case have I called for an utter ban. on this useful practice.

Indeed, in a dangerous and shifting age, I have spoken about methodologies for better winning cryptic warfare against foes who would destroy us, if they could.

What I HAVE done is reminded these skilled workers that secrecy is a natural temptation allure that caters to the inherent human psychological need to evade personal and group accountability. We are all self-deluders and we all think our enemies need accountability more than we do. That is an inherent human trait, spanning every variation of doctrine, dogma, nation or creed. If you are powerful, it will be your human tendency to make your affairs secret, and then come up with rationalized justifications for why others should not be able to shine light upon them.

This is dangerous to professional protective services because - above all - they cannot afford habitual delusions. Their tasks are too important. Their job is not to be comforted by just-so stories, but to face uncomfortable truths.

Furthermore, there is a great difference between TACTICAL secrecy (e.g. where our troops are, who our agents are) and STRATEGIC secrecy (how we account for ourselves over extended periods involving policy, budgets, priorities and grand-scale accountability). Strategic secrecy is highly suspect for many reasons.

- it denies information needed by those who own actual sovereignty: The People.

- it encourages bad habits, covering mistakes and preventing re-evaluation.

- it allows leaders/managers to identify the good of their own careers with the good of the nation/cause... another vexing aspect of human nature that was decisively rejected under the US Constitution.

- it assumes static technology; but in periods of rapid change, it is simply moronic to assume that today’s secrets are guaranteed to be secure over time ranges that are indefinite. If a datum can harm the nation, secrecy is not alwyas the only option. Many such potentially harmful items can be neutralized by bringing them to light in well-controlled ways.

- it assumes a SECULAR TREND toward a more secret world will benefit the US and the West. But history shows that the diametric opposite is true. Our markets, democracy, science and justice... and culture... all universally perform better when secular trends move toward an open world.

That last point is crucial. Tactical secrets have a tendency to DECAY; time erodes their usefulness to any foe that might uncover them. Troops move on. Spies come in from the cold and are replaced by new sources. Strategic secrets, on the other hand, often have a rigidity that makes the holders cling to them, terrified of light. They will thus (in an ancient human pattern) try hard to create secular trends toward greater secrecy...

...exactly as the present administration has done. Exactly as the new super-rich are trying to do - even many of those whose new wealth is perfectly deserved and legitimate, who should have nothing to fear from light.

Make no mistake; EVERY ENEMY WE HAVE EVER HAD has been one that thrives better in darkness than we do. Every single one of them has had more reason to FEAR secular trends toward a more open world.

(Go on. Name a case in which we’ve faced an opponent, in which sudden and universal light would not have harmed them more than we were harmed.)

In fact, for that reason, if none other, this trend should be THE core strategic goal of our civilization. Indeed, methodologies of tactical secrecy should be applied in ways that foster the kind of environment in which our society thrives. One in which (ironocally) secrets becomes harder to keep.

Having said all that, let me return to your point, Anders. I have, indeed, pondered privacy and even this “SF writer” has posited that privacy is an essential human need and right... though it will have to be redefined in a new era. What this SF writer will not admit is that the powerful in this world need to increase the degree that they hide from the rest of us information that we need, in order to make decent economic and political decisions.



Argh. And he seemed such a nice fellow when I met him.

Woozle said...


(1) The RSS feed seems fine from here; I use Akregator (Linux-KDE feed reader), and it notified me of this most recent posting just fine.

(2) Synchronous uses of the internet: There seems to be one such thing that you may be overlooking, or perhaps downrated after an unpleasant experience: IRC.

I have been on a number of IRC channels for several years, and although I find them perhaps more valuable as a means of social contact, it is also true that I have been able to solve a number of technical problems by speaking with people there (and have solved problems for others as well). I have also learned many things I would probably not have learned otherwise -- social chitchat and pure utility meet and mix, in useful and enjoyable ways. (Note that the quality of dialogue varies widely by channel, which in turn depends largely on how each channel is run and also partly on the level of support from the owner(s) of the IRC network.)

I'd invite you to stop by sometime, anonymously, just to watch some of the interaction, if I weren't well aware that you undoubtedly have far better things to do with your time. ;-)

iridescent cuttlefish said...

While I appreciate your principled attempts at even-handedness regarding politics and the (largely theoretical) framework for actually discussing important issues in the political arena (as opposed to this hot-button, sound byte nonsense we have today), I also think it fair to say that you've been a bit too fair with regard to certain interests.

There are some very basic truths about the sorry state of the world which have not been articulated in any of the many things you've written that I have read, Mr. Brin. Here's a very brief list, recited without any "partison" rancor, I assure you. First off, there is no safe level of secrecy in a democratic society, since secrecy is viral. If we look back a mere half-century or so, we find the signal event in modern American political life, the National Security Act of 1947, the significance of which is relegated to conspiracy theorists, "radical" leftists, and "America-haters" like William Blum. So stigmatized has this dirty little open secret become that no respectable writer dare approach it. The fact that it cannot be discussed in any open forum speaks volumes. Why, the very few curious might ask, is that?

The answer is quite simple: because the decisions of the national security apparatus, taken in secrecy, open to no review, oversight, or even criticism, trump the deliberations of "democratically elected" representatives.

Let that sink in a moment.

One might say, "Nonsense, we had the Church Commission in the '70s look into potential abuses by the acronym agencies, and now it's all above-board." Do you believe that, Mr. Brin? Would you also endorse the view that the events surrounding the birth of the CIA, coincidental to that time and including the active recruitment of Nazi war criminals into the "fledgling" agency are all just ancient history with no bearing on today's world? After all, we did convene the Nuremberg Tribunal which meted out justice as best it could, right? No government would even think of starting an unjustified "pre-emptive" war again, right?

For that matter, no architects of war crimes would ever again be somehow excused from scrutiny, sanction, and prosecution...would they? Let's try these starkly differing realities on for size. Hans Globke, who worked in the same smallish (prewar) office with Adolf Eichmann and co-authored the Nuremberg Racial Purity Laws of 1935 which systematically disenfranchised Jews from German society, emerged from the fog of war as...why, as Konrad Adenauer's director of national security! Why not? The fact that this turn of events was the result of a collaboration between Donovan, Dulles, and their man in Germany, Reinhard Gehlen, and not the result of any political decision is, well, just how things work when the real decision making process is not absolutely, 100% transparent.

But we don't need to haunt the ghosts of operation Paperclip to see how this stuff works in the modern world, do we? Let’s come back across the pond in the same period and see what the postwar American worldplanners were thinking. Here’s the dean of American statecraft, George F. Kennan, showing us how today would look back in 1948, in the infamous (if almost entirely unknown) "Policy Planning Study 23":

We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. ... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. ... To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. ... We should cease to talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

Do you imagine, Mr. Brin, that anything has changed at all with regards to how decisions are reached in these united States? One obvious change is that Mr. Orwell came out with his field manual for tyranny in the modern era shortly after Mr. Kennan’s directive, so that now we’re not hampered by idealistic slogans—we make full, obfuscational use of them.

Mr. Brin, please don’t mistake me for some sort of antagonistic troll or impassioned, unreasonable zealot. I love your fiction. I really do. I also enjoyed Singularities & Nightmares, although it set my teeth on edge everytime you spoke of “free markets” and “reciprocal accountability”. Here’s my dilemma: you’re a very intelligent, very well-informed man—can you also be so naïve as to think that the markets are free? That any sort of accountability whatsoever is possible when the same interests in whose interest it lies to preserve the status quo, right over the edge of the cliff, if necessary, own the media whose function it is to bring evildoers to account? How does that work, Sir? Do we even need to get into the “influence” of corporations in the world of science? (I recently had a remarkable conversation with the director of the NSTA over their refusal of the free 50,000 copies of the Inconvenient Truth DVD—too political—while he glibly admitted that his organization accepts 6 million dollars per anum from ExxonMobil, which was fine, he assured me, because he “works hard to make sure no strings are attached.”)

At least we know that politics is free from the influence of money. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t count on our lawmakers to act in the public interest.

I would go on, but this isn’t my blog. You do realize that there are solutions out there for all the problems we face, right? That the wundertech of the Singularity is entirely unnecessary for the healing of the planet? That economies of abundance and collective stewardship of the earth’s resources would actually be easier to manage than fake wars over artificial scarcity? Maybe I should write about it in a book (and call it science fiction in order to get it published…I could put in a scene where an ancient George Kennan is visited at the nursing home by Henry Kissinger who, on the run from outraged citizens of the world, begs Kennan to let him hide under the bed, but Kennan, angered and saddened by the latest illegal war conducted by an oafish, unelected president, raises his liver-spotted hand to the fire alarm...)

Thanks for your time. Sorry for the polemic.

Don Quijote said...


Consumers have no idea how reliable their cell phone service will be when they buy a phone and sign a long-term contract. The Federal Communications Commission could offer some guidance, but it won't. The agency refuses to make public a detailed database of cell phone provider outages that it has maintained since 2004.

A federal Freedom of Information Act request for the data, filed in August by, has been rejected by the agency. The stated reasons: Release of the information could help terrorists plan attacks against the United States, and it would harm the companies involved.

In the Transparent Society that we are creating the middle class is under continuous surveillance, the poor under sporadic surveillance and the Wealthy and the Corporations live behind and expensive veil of privacy and secrecy.

Anonymous said...

What, lifting billions up? When did that happen? Did the third world countries suddenly triple their living standard overnight? Or is it just what you *want* to believe?

If the American economy has such a huge (positive) impact, where exactly does it show? Where do people benefit?

You are correct, in theory. Buying cheap stuff produced in some poor third world country can obviously help bolster their economies, except 1) when all the profit goes to American corporations, 2) when there are harsh trade restrictions preventing said countries from ever competing with American-owned industries.

Unfortunately, both #1 and 2 are very much the case today.

All the talk of invisible hands and free markets *may* actually be true in theory. It is possible that these things alone can solve some of the world's problems. But do not make the mistake of thinking that this is what the USA is doing right now. Far from it. There is only a free market if you're American and want to sell your wares to Americans.

And somehow, even within that free market, there are still tens of millions of people living in poverty. There are people who literally can't afford to leave their home city when a hurricane is about to hit it. But the rich sure are getting richer at an impressive rate. That just doesn't solve the problem of the poor people growing relatively poorer, and not even dwindling in numbers.

David Brin said...

Cuttlefish, I appreciate your input. Certainly, it is helpful to me, to be able to point to much more radical advocates of extreme openness. It genuinely increases my appearance of reasonableness and credibility, so that I can fight for transparency in places where influential people might actually listen.

Which brings up response number one. You can afford ideological purity, I am (barely) in reach of actually changing the minds of people with actual power. Many of them are far more reasonable people than you portray and it is these men and women in the middle who can sometimes be persuaded to acknowledge human nature and see the need for secular trends toward ever increasing strategic openness. Even if I agreed with all of what you say (and I do not), I would do my cause no good whatsoever to take on such a purist stance.

That is the pragmatic side. There is also the astounding stance that you take in neglecting to mention, anywhere, the existence after WWII of a titanic and genuinely evil Soviet Empire, which used secret tactics masterfully in furtherance of goals that would have meant perpetual enslavement of humanity. When Orwell wrote 1984, he warned against tyranny in general, but was far more specifically aiming his ire at Leninism than at any version of capitalism.

Your blithe dismissal of reciprocal accountability and the possibility of free markets is based upon a logical flaw that is common among young dogmatists. Because a system does not work as well as it should, in theory, that means that it does not work at all.

And yes, because you cannot bench press 300 pounds that means your arms do not move at all, right? The staggering ignorance of this is only matched, sir, by the all-too human ability to hallucinate. Market systems have outperformed every other process of wealth generation known to man, combined, by orders of magnitude! You are reading these words on a device that arose in precisely that manner.

Likewise, although you know very well that I am vehement against the monsters who are undemining democracy, it is simply delusional and historically lobotomized to criticize democracy without contemplating all of the past human alternative styles of governance.... ALL of which did very much worse.

You armwave many polysyllabic phrases, but alas, you do the very same things that your enemies do. You reduce ineffably complex things down to the level of nostrums and them-vs-us purities that serve one function, to make you feel virtuous. Alas, these fanatsy castles are of no practical use, whatsoever.

DQ, I am on the front lines fighting for reciprocal openness and accountability. You are kvetching that the fight is already lost.

If it is, then I will be shot (or given cancer) and you will be given a slap on the wrist, because your moanings were ineffectualy. (Omni surveillance will keep you well-behaved after that.)

OTOH, if I am right and the battle is still in question, then I’ll be remembered for fighting while you stood around and moaned.

Jalf, alas, I won’t even bother in your case.

Dang, the flakes really are out in force, today! Here I post about how important it is to try and resume progress... BY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THINGS THAT ARE ALREADY WORKING... and I am attacked. Please notice folks, that to lefties, the greatest sin is not cynical indolence (modernists that Stefan do more to save the world in any given week than these guys have done in a lifetime).

No, my great sin in their eyes is to suggest that some things are working and that the issue is in balance, needing all of us to pitch in.

That is a deep threat to them. It suggests that they might be called upon to do something more than bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.....

Anonymous said...

Re: The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth...

This is about what one would expect from a Pareto distribution (colloquially known as the 80/20 rule). Thus, if I were taking a guess at world-wide wealth distribution, assuming raw competition, I'd have guessed that 1% of people would hold 50% of the wealth.

Not saying this is Good or Right, just what competition in wealth creation would produce.

I first encountered this long ago as an issue in on-line game design. If you analyze the win/loss distribution of the competitors you find, sure enough, that 20% of the players win 80% of the games. Further, within that high-skill 20%, the you find that 20% of them win those games. To see why this is bad for a game's success, note that 99% of your players are then "below average" (kinda). To make a fun game, you've gotta have some kind of handicapping: levels, ladders, different leagues, etc.

Anyway this 2%/50% distribution, IMHO, is not evidence of any kind of Evil promulgated by whatever humans you think are "controlling" things. Rather, that's just the way competition works. We need more handicapping, I suppose.


David Brin said...

Sorry Bob, but you are doing exactly the same thing as the lefties. confusing a model with the thing itself.

There are many kinds of competition. Zero-sum games (if I win a point you lose a point) are what are mostly featured in game play where Stakes are low.

And yes, classically, you find that winning is not evenly distributed. Socialists who find that objectionable _in _principle are dolts who envision being members of a different species than we are. They really ought to move to another planet. Marx needed to add "savage genetic alteration" to his revolutionary plan.

OTOH, it is legitimate to ADJUST GAME RULES in order to maximize the fun experienced by all players in the game. This can range from player drafts, so that all NFL cities stand a chance, all the way to adapting marketplace and labor and antitrust rules in order to insist that markets have as wide and diverse a range of participants as possible.

Standard lefty cant is that this handicapping process is impossible, and that capitalism is inherently unfair and corrupt. Arguable, I guess. Except that they neglect EVER to point to another process that has produced a scintilla as much prosperity, or in which so many sincere efforts at handicapping have done appreciable (if imperfect) jobs.

At the other end, of course, are the cheaters who strive endlessly to destroy the good effects of fine-tuning. Take today's news "DEFENSE GIANTS GOT FUNDS MEANT FOR SMALL FIRMS". I have been railing for five years that democrats should be screaming about the favoritism by this administration toward giganto-corps, at the expense of the very same small businesses who are the life of truly competitive markets.

But back to variants of competition.

Negative-sum is all too common in real life. The variant of socialism called "levelling" is what's been seen in Cuba, ensuring that (in the interests of fairness) there should be no winners at all. And hence, everybody loses.

As I said, when stakes are high, you inevitably get variants in which players cheat. The very instant after communist revolutions in Russia, China, topmost party guys started doing this. It is in human nature. In some cases, the elite would rather be hereditary lords atop a pyramid of grinding poverty than be merely a little richer-than-average in a rapidly rising DIAMOND SHAPE SOCIAL STRUCTURE, in which joyful ferment keeps tossing up creative competitors from every social class.

That leaves Positive sum games. The very stuff of modernism. You win AND I win... though we can engage in the deeply human trait of vigorous (and fun) competition to see who will win a bit MORE....

The far right wages war against this process in a quirky way. While singing the praises of competition, they tear away at the rules that have gradually made it more fair. Meanwhile, the left simply howls that the wole approach is evil, frantically (and psychotically) ignoring mountains of evidence that it essentially works.

By all means - they seem to be saying - let's emulate Cuba

David Brin said...

addendum. Let me reiterate a point I've made before.

I believe that whether you believe in zero-sum, or positive sum... or even negative sum games is much more a matter of PERSONALITY than of any amount of evidence that passes before our eyes.

A positive sum personality will ALWAYS be interested in negotiating incrementally improved outcomes. Zero sum people will ALWAYS see the opposition's plans and arguments as inherently wrong at all levels, by virtue of BEING opposition arguments.

Negative sum personalities would rather see everyone fail than allow progress to be made by following the opposition's program.

This helps to explain the incredibly consistent similarities between dogmatists at the far right and far left. And why it is futile to point at the world - or what seems "obvious" - and suggest that they might shift a bit.

They cannot shift. Intransigence is wired-in.

Anonymous said...

I'm sending out my meager charitable contributions soon, EFF, ACLU, and Amnesty International of course, and then the rest is going to go to food or development or environmental things, probably.

And OT: Newt Gingrich continues his descent into wackyville: MANCHESTER – Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich last night defended his call to limit freedom of speech to combat terrorism, comments that last month provoked strident criticism from liberal groups.

Gingrich cited last month's ejection of six Muslim scholars from a plane in Minneapolis for suspicious behavior, which included reports they prayed before the flight and had sat in the same seats as the Sept. 11 hijackers.

"Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists," Gingrich said. "And the crew of the U.S. airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens."

Are the Republicans seriously dedicated to being so stupid they put the Onion's writers out of a job? And also, I think this is yet more evidence that the Republicans in power now haven't "betrayed conservativism", because Gingrich and the others he rode in with were just as crazy then as they are now.

Anonymous said...

There is one other true enemy we need to watch out for, Dr. Brin... and that's pessimism that borders on defeatism. I've been having arguments with my father concerning global warming for months now. He absolutely refuses to believe in it. He feels that the weather, media, and scientists are all lying.

So I asked him what the worse-case scenario would be if Global Warming was a lie, but we still worked to rework power, industry, and more to be less polluting. Solar power, nuclear power, and so forth. He started babbling on about a 30-year-old article in Time Magazine stating that we were headed toward an ice age (which is a fallacy that was based on a pattern of ice ages that was disrupted partly by the growth of the Himylaia mountains's disruption of weather patterns across the world - one of the benefits of continental drift, no doubt).

However, I finally managed to get the truth out of him when I said "what happens if the Greenhouse Effect is true? Isn't it better to work to stop it now than to do nothing?"

That's when he said nothing I did, nothing he did, and nothing any other activist did would change things at all. If we put out environmental laws, industry would move out of the country to 3rd world nations without these environmental laws and pollute even worse, poisoning the world in their quest for cheap fast industry to sell to the American people.

It didn't matter what any of us did, in his eyes, because industry would find a way around our efforts. Those who are making the money don't care what they do to the world because when it goes to hell, they'll be dead anyway.

No doubt this level of defeatism is found in many Americans and probably people across the world. We need to show people that they can and do make a difference. Otherwise we'll be struggling with their dead weight pulling us down.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

I like the phrase defeatism... even though the far right and far left would deny to the hilt that it describes them.

Problems are to be solved.

Problems are to be solved.

Problems are to be solved.

Problems are to be solved.

Problems are to be solved.

Problems are to be solved.

And we used to be a civilization that did exactly that. With eclectic mixtures of government and capitalism and private initiative. With science and engineering and tinkering and sifting for relevant old ways. With negotiation and listening and good will.

Oh, it was never sweetness. It was usually noisy and filthy and there are even some ways that we are much BETTER than even in the heydey of so-called "modernism".

But, damnit, everything would change if we resume BELIEVING we can change things. Forget the phrase... "If we could send a man to the moon..."

What I want people to say is... "If we could 80% defeat 4,000 years of traditional racism and sexism..."

That's an accomplishment that make's Apollo pale by comparison. We are mighty people! Fie on those who say we aren't.

Anonymous said...

I'm very confident that we CAN deal with global warming, and that the chief obstacle isn't defeatism but DENIAL.

I hate with a passion the denialists' squawking point that folks concerned about the greenhouse effect are "chicken littles" or "alarmists" or want us all to live in mud huts. #$^#$ that noise! I want to make MONEY helping fix the problem! Through investment, and maybe directly after a career change.

* * *

Two OT notes:

1) Five pounds of partially completed fudge.

2) Just got power back in my neighborhood, after a transformer down the road blew up. Something that proved REALLY useful: The hand-cranked LED flashlights I bought at Costco last year.

In addition to being dandy flashlights, they were great for lighting up the apartment. One, aimed at the ceiling, did the same job as three little tea candles in providing light to get around.

Another, propped up in a plastic milk jug with the top cut off, made a good lantern and reading lamp.

Now, these crank lights are getting to be commodity items, cranked about by the Chinese. You can buy them on sale for $6.00 or less.

I can imagine that these manufacturers are going to be looking for ways to differentiate their product.

I would like to provide them with free advice:

Hello? Are you listening?

This is what you need to do:

One, add a lanyard to the end of your crank lights. It will make them look less like phasers, but they're supposed to be useful, not neat-looking.

Also, you need to make a utility light version. Give it a base it can stand on, a hook on top, and a diffuser. It might cost a buck more for these affordances, but you could charge twice as much, and every emergency-minded family in the country would buy one for every room in the house. Seriously, Costco could sell millions of them.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on the pessimists, Dr. Brin. You have to admit, that in this world, it's sometimes very hard to see the glass as half full (and didn't you once write somewhere, or in more than one somewhere, that one of the hallmarks of sanity was understanding and empathizing with the opposition?)
Of course, to the lefties above, I have to ask... do you honestly believe that the people of say, Taiwan were better off 100 years ago? The island was swamp and disease and not much else. How about India? Malaysia? Singapore? All industrialized within that timescale; and all by free markets. Oh, there is so much left to do (and so little time in which to do it) that sometimes it crushes the soul—but we are moving forward. You must admit that, even if you want to try and argue that it is in spite of markets, not because of them. (and if you do go that route, you're going to have a tough fight convincing us)
As to the soul crushing: what if there were a zero emissions vehicle that topped 100MPH, went 0-60 in 10 seconds or less, had a range of 250 miles, charged in 10 minutes... and did this seating 5 with a piano in the back? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you bright shining hope. I give you the Phoenix Motorcars SUT.( http://www. ) The price? Word on the street has it at 45,000USD a unit. At that price, I expect that they'll have a hard time keeping up with the demand. Dr Brin, next time you do a sci/tech posting, I would encourage you to give this billing on the front page. I encourage everyone else to contact Phoenix Motors to express interest in getting your hands on one, and to give them a pat on the back for building what we have all been waiting for: an EV the people can swallow whole. A problem has been solved.
Look at that! A money-grubbing, worker-exploiting, horrible appendage of the capitalist imperial west has solved a problem. Oddly enough, it's what they do.
It's can-do spirit that we as a society lack, now. We believed in ourselves for Apollo; we didn't so much after, and we haven't been back to the moon for almost 40 years. Forty years. Maybe, if we can shake off the kleptocrats and keep the hard-core left from popping all of our balloons, we'll get that spirit back. Then we'll see more examples of bright shining hope like the aptly named Phoenix SUT, beat Global Warming and make it back to the Moon while we're at it.
Or our civilization will collapse entirely under the weight of climate change, peak oil, famine and drug-resistant plagues. Attitude alone won't save us from all that, but it certainly couldn't hurt. Like Dr. Brin said, problems are for solving.
DQ, didn't your mother ever teach you the values of positive thinking?
(Didn't mean to parrot our host there; I hadn't finished reading all responses when I drafted that)
But that doesn't mean there isn't still a role for Ehrlich and his ilk—it's the negativity and shock value that brings issues to the fore. I've talked to more than a few people who, knowing more-or-less the dire consequences of global warming and the energy crunch, drive a 10 minute walk to work every day and leave the (incandescent) lights on at home. “They'll figure something out, not my problem.” Nothing short of Ehrlich will even start to move these people. As much as we have to avoid defeatism and denial, we also have to avoid complacency. WE ARE THEY. (them). The burden is on our shoulders; yours and mine. “We the people” are the ones with the power. A hundred and forty years of democracy in my country (over two hundred in yours) and we the people have yet to figure that out. Or perhaps we have forgotten... once upon a time, I hear people treasured responsibility as a virtue. Now we shirk it at every opportunity. How can we combat that meme, and get back a real sense of social responsibility? I missed the 60s (and the 70s... and the 80s) but I think that level of involvement, activism and lack of apathy is exactly what we need in the 21st century. I just wish I knew how we might reclaim it.

Don Quijote said...

Of course, to the lefties above, I have to ask... do you honestly believe that the people of say, Taiwan were better off 100 years ago? The island was swamp and disease and not much else.

No but then again Taiwan is an Industrialized country.

How about India?

Malaysia? Singapore?

All industrialized within that timescale; and all by free markets.
India is not an Industrialized Country, by any stretch of the Imagination. A handful of Indians live in the Twentieth century, the vast majority of them are still living in the nineteenth century.

Oh, there is so much left to do (and so little time in which to do it) that sometimes it crushes the soul—but we are moving forward.
In millimeter increments, and the set backs occur in kilometer increments.

You must admit that, even if you want to try and argue that it is in spite of markets, not because of them. (and if you do go that route, you're going to have a tough fight convincing us)

Most of the great achievements that have impacted the well-being of people have been public works (Public Health, Sewers, Clean Water,Education, Electricity, Roads, Railroads, Internet). In general, the market is what piggybacks on all of the public goods and works overtime to destroy them.

As to the soul crushing: what if there were a zero emissions vehicle that topped 100MPH, went 0-60 in 10 seconds or less, had a range of 250 miles, charged in 10 minutes... and did this seating 5 with a piano in the back?

Remember what happened to the GM EV before you get carried away.

Look at that! A money-grubbing, worker-exploiting, horrible appendage of the capitalist imperial west has solved a problem. Oddly enough, it's what they do.

If GM had not worked so hard to destroy Public Transport Systems in the 40's & 50's, the problem would not have had to be solved.

Money is a good servant, but a bad master, the same can be said about Markets.

Anonymous said...

More about Newt, he has a "New Contract With America", which consists of stupid Republican ideas like Social Security Privatization, lots of meaningless buzzwords like "small government", and stuff that I'm not sure what he means by it, but worries me, like "Insist on congressional reform to make the legislative branch responsive to the needs of the 21st century." or "Establish patriotic education for our children and patriotic immigration for new Americans."

And of course, an attempt to jam religion into public life, which is apparently less important than privatizing social security.

If only Dr. Brin's ideas about "Disputation Arenas" would actually let us make sure people like Newt are never listened to again.

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Mr. Brin, I'm at a loss for words, which is a very rare condition for me. Why in the world did you perceive my comments as an attack on you or your views? Because I was disparaging of capitalism? Why put yourself in the position of an apologist for a system which has brought, along with the much vaunted elevation of standards of living, so much wanton destruction, ecological devastation, and institutionalized corruption and greed? More importantly, what about the free flow of ideas and your wish to circumvent the old antagonisms of the Right/Left axis? For my part, I'm perfectly willing to consider the benefits of the present socio-economic construct (especially when you get to the fun stuff about the future of capitalism, as glimpsed in your positive sum game references--please do check out Paul Hawkens, btw), but that doesn't mean that I or anyone else should not look at the bigger picture of the legacy of capitalism.

How, indeed, does your call to abandon the old antagonisms square with your frequent Reaganisms (did you really say Evil Empire?), your refusal to answer my genuine curiousity about the concept of reciprocal accountability, and the paternalism of your remarks? What makes you think I'm any younger than you are, or that I come by my opinions through reading "radical ideologues," as opposed to a much broader field of interests and my own personal experience? And why oh why ridicule my writing? These are the hallmarks of your method for getting past the alleged stalemate of contemporary politics? Breathtaking.

I'm very sorry to have antagonized you Mr. Brin, but I'm afraid my vitriol was more or less entirely misconstrued, if, to be fair to you, also misdirected. Yes, it's true: I do not share your enthusiasm for capitalism, but so what? Can dialogue only commence when opposing views fold up their tents, concede the validity of your position, and sign on the dotted line? That's a most peculiar method of approachment.

Why is your voice so different here from that of the author of Singularities & Nightmares, which I've linked in many different venues? Here's what I suggest. I'll clarify my objections to the capitalist version of history as written by the "victors," and then we'll focus instead on the future, so as not to wallow in in the murk of our contrasting views of the past. This is perhaps a difficult proposition at best, but it's also quite necessary for any sort of reconciliation between the camps that you and I more or less represent.

For starters, I do not harbor any illusions about the joys of life on the other side of Goebbels' Iron Curtain (as you know, he coined the phrase--der eiserne Vorhang--not Churchill), since my wife grew up in one of the Soviet satellites and she experienced firsthand what it meant to be ostracized by the Party. Her mother turned down an invitation to join, and because they were already held in suspicion and contempt for the sin of inter-marrying with the Sudeten Germans in the area, life became extremely difficult after this.

On the other hand, there is no denying a certain nostalgia among those living in the areas "liberated" by the events of 1989. If you haven't yet seen Good-bye, Lenin, it's well worth your time, as it explains this phenomenon quite nicely, even humorously. Having also lived abroad on both sides of that metaphorical fence, I probably have a deeper empathy for the people most immediately affected by it than does an observer who has only known life under one of the "competing" regimes. Those interested in learning more about this would do well to read the series of articles in der Spiegel on the rise of the far-right political parties in the still only partially unified Germany.

I was actually very surprised to find such a monolithic, Reagan-esque view coming from you regarding WWII and the Evil Empire. The situation was far more complex than the words and policies of Ronald Reagan would suggest. Perhaps I am, as you say, a "purist" about the relationship between secrecy and despotism (which I belive is nothing short of axiomatic) but it's not the result of having imbibed any sort of "dogma". When you paint the Soviet Union with Reagan's brush, aren't you also indulging in a bit of that ideology-before-the-facts? When you speak of the Evil Empire as being bent on our destruction, does this not imply that we were somehow indifferent to their survival? The history of our interventions around the world tells a different story altogether.

The fact is that there has never been a single socialist experiment that was allowed to stand or fall on its own merit--in every country, every sovereign nation that had the temerity to oppose "American interests" for the betterment of their own peoples, for the control of their own resources, we, not the Soviets, intervened. How can you talk about the situation on Cuba, for example, without including a discussion of the role played by the US in that country's history?

The most alarming thing about these interventions is not the brutality or the ruthlessness with which they were carried out, but the fact that they were carried out in such an illegal, immoral, anti-democratic manner. We the people didn't vote for or debate the assassinations, kidnappings, rapes, tortures, subversions of elections or the overthrowing of democratically elected governments. Small groups of men protecting "our" interests (these intelligence communities you're working with who know better than we do) undertook these decisions in secrecy, very often at the behest of individual corporations, but, more generally speaking, at the unholy confluence of industry and the intelligence communities, whose interests are not, despite 60 years of propaganda and media complicity, identical with those of we the people.

Why is it that we have never once supported an indigenous uprising against an oppressive regime? Why is that we have always supported brutal rightwing dictatorships which had/have no interest whatsoever in our talk of democracy and human rights?

Is it really such a wonder that there are so many angry young men out there? Why is the cause of their anger never addressed, except by the facile explanations we've come to expect, like "They hate out freedoms"? Not that they hate having their sovereignty violated, or their resources plundered or their sisters raped. But we don't hear these explanations, do we? Blowback? From what?

This, as Mr. Zappa used to say, is the crux of the biscuit: how do you even begin to build your concept of reciprocal accountability when most Americans don't even know what's been perpetrated in their name, without their knowledge? Account for what, when the textbooks paint a picture that leaves out all the unpleasant details?

If you have a group of people who decide what is in our best interest to know (much less decide), where is your democracy? Did Orwell make the totalitarian state out to be like Nazi Germany or even the Evil Empire, or was it a softer tyranny he had in mind, a place where people were enslaved by thinking they were free? The circular, unassailable logic of the War On Terror erases completely any possiblity for considering the causes of the blowback we're experiencing (recent polls show a clear majority of Europeans fear us far more than the North Koreans, as a quick example). Another causalty of that self-perpetuating "war" is any sort of accountability whatsoever, since "progress" is unmeasurable and the "facts" are not open for inspection. If you want more in the impossibility of this scheme, try this, an analysis of the illogic behind this pursuit which is not bound by ideology or dogma, but rather by reason.

As for my "dismissal" of reciprocal accountability, nonsense: I do like the idea, it's just that I don't understand how it can happen when the media are owned by the interests which need the accountability. I'm puzzled, no, flabbergasted would be closer, as to why you chose not to address this. This is your big hope for the future of democracy, the very basis of the transparent society; why won't you address the question? Why, instead, focus on my "antagonism" and the dangers we faced from the communist menace, which only reinforces the delusions of the Reagan Administation and its long-discredited Cold War rhetoric. Even George Kennan, the architect of much of our postwar statecraft, described as "childish" the notion that our extreme militarism, our endless arms spending, falsified Soviet threat estimates, etc, etc, had anything to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kennan believed that these actions, in fact, prolonged its life by giving their hardliners the pretexts they needed for their own exorbitant military spending.

More importantly, what about the other bit of Kennan's thinking that I mentioned--the goals set forth in that Policy Statement #23, where he talks about the need to maintain the disparity between the US and the rest of the world in terms of wealth and resource consumption? Late stage capitalism is not the best of all worlds--it's simply all that we have. Would you please consider the notion of a truly egalitarian society which was based on representative democracy and economies of abundance, as opposed to what we have now, which is exactly the opposite? (I don't mean Kurzweil's focus on nanotech, either--this stuff is doable right now, with existing technology.) I am very interested in your thoughts in these matters, not in attacking your positions or assailing your very closely held beliefs. You are, after all, a speculative thinker, and a good one at that.

Even a cursory examination of the role of energy in the world reveals some very strange behavior on the part of these corporations which you tout as raising the living standards of the world's poor. Compared to what, and at what cost? Why hasn't there been any push to develop alternative sources of energy, when the finite supply of fossil fuels was recognized as a national security concern of the highest order as early as the 1960s? Do science fiction writers envision fossil fuels as the source of energy in any futuristic scenario? Why instead have we been led down the path of political hegemony through access to dead-end resources? You rightly criticize Crichton as an over-rated, mean-spirited hack, but has the energy cartel acted any differently, really? If we go back to your anemic arm metaphor, the fact that it can't lift 300 lbs doesn't mean it's not working, but if it were capable of lifting that much (and more), and if our survival depended on it, why would we settle for its unsatisfactory performance, lavishing praise on the minimal benefits that trickled down from its unacceptable mode of operation?

You mention, in passing, Paul Hawkens' natural capitalism; it has great potential, but also suffers from a crucial weakness. The success of Paul's plan hinges on changing the way corporations operate by convincing them that it's in their best interests not to suck the lifeblood out of the planet by exploiting as many people and resources as they possibly can. This goes against the grain of how business has always been done. Did the robber barons of yore act in enlightened self-interest when they fought tooth, nail and claw against unionization, old-age pensions, worker protections and even child labor laws? No, they did not; they were dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the most basic tenets of human dignity. (The story of Victor Berger is most instructive in this sick episode.) The unasked question is whether anything has really changed or can be changed.

I have to admit that this is the oddest exchange I've ever had. I am an extreme optimist; my futurist speculations are bright, positive, and infused with a deep confidence that the inherent drive for increasing complexification will save humanity from the mess that its leaders and its systems have produced. Here, in this bizarre "discourse" with a professional futurist, I sound like a gloomy pessimist, simply because I quibble over the assumptions underlying your speculations. So please, restore my faith in the possibility of dialogue and change. If a reader and one of his favorite writers can't even find common ground for discussion, what hope is there in the wider, wilder world? At least address the reciprocal accountability question, since we both agree (hallelujah!) that it is essential for (the resurrection of) democracy.

And thanks for your time.

David Brin said...

Tyler, thanks. Eloquently put. You express a kind of MILITANT AND RADICAL moderation that I have been pushing for. The dogmatic/cynical/romantic dingbats of both left and right have too-long gotten away with portraying moderate reformers as tepid compromisers... when we are eager and dynamic improvisers, instead. We are the “liberals” who are comfortable with both Adam Smith and Martin Luther King, with Franklin and Michael Faraday, Edison and Wozniak and Grameen Bank... but hold no truck with Plato or Marx or JP Morgan.

Let me swerve about (typically) and emphasize what you said at one point. That KLEPTOCRATS who aim to restore feudalism are at least as much (more!) the enemy than snarling, irredentist lefties are. By orders of magnitude. As you point out, dyspeptic neo-Puritans like Paul Ehrlich have served a useful purposed... even when they proved wrong in the details.

OTOH those who for years have suppressed technological advancement in order to preserve troglodyte industries have been truly genuine monsters. Adam Smith would hold the stake that we drive into their vampiric hearts.

In fact, the classic motor companies are probably in blind panic right now. They have been in denial for years. But suddenly progress in both batteries and electric motor technology have reached a point where news can no longer be suppressed.

If a tsunami of breakthrough vehicles arrive in time for Xmas 2009, will the right claim too much credit for capitalist innovations that they tried to quash? Will the left dey that engineering has anything to do with saving the world? Do zoo bears shit in their own drinking water?

Ah, DQ is at it again. Historically ignorant to a degree that has long passed distressing and become actually kind of endearing, in a clownlike way. Um, Don. Are you telling us that Taiwan was “industrial” in 1945... after generations under Japanese repression during which they were allowed no factories at all? The same EXACTLY applies to Korea... except that its zero-nadir was even lower, smashed to bits by war in 1953.

And, yes, anyone who claims that “aid” lifted those two countries up must then account for Cuba, which received VASTLY more aid from the USSR than Taiwan and Korea received from the US COMBINED. Oh, and Cuba started out far, far, more advanced than either of those countries

I will confess that Singapore and Hong Kong did have well developed trade networks in their traditions... though little industry. Malaysia, though, had neither and it is skyrocketing.

I will side with DQ a bit when it comes to India. The skyrocket effect we see today -- uplifted by commerce -- is mostly occurring in the South, where a mix of dynamic traditions and education have empowered all this, at least as much as fiber optics have. There are still vast realms of grinding hopelessness there. And even in Bangalore, the social pattern is only levelling slightly. The “lords” atop the pyramid are now programmers and all that, far more numerous and middle class-ish than before. But those families Are “middle class” in the older, Britiush sense of the term -- people at the 80-90th percentiels.... They have servants at least as much as they have labor saving devices. It is effective “trickle-down.” But it is not yet anything like a social diamond.

Notice, however, that while these details are fascinating to the rest of us... and grist for discussion about how to improve progress... they are of absolutely no interest to cynical lefties, whose sole attitude toward progress is to deny that it exists. Again, it is a matter of personality, having little to do with the facts.

Again the challenge. Show us what has worked better. Ever. (Hear that silence folks? That’s your answer.)

In fairness... I agree entirely with the following:
If GM had not worked so hard to destroy , the problem would not have had to be solved.Money is a good servant, but a bad master, the same can be said about Markets.

Cuttlefish, I had no intention of giving the impression that I was angry at you or felt “Attacked”. We can be brusque here and I ask that you re-read my earlier response with a MUCH thicker skin. Then thicken it some more.

And please can the theatrical outrage at being bullied - acting like I am demanding that you “sign on a dotted line.” We are about argument here and you make interesting points. I am within my rights to say “bullshit” toward some of them. You seem a grownup. Take “bullshit” and argue right back at me. (Only PLEASE MORE CONCISELY!)

Argh... I was outraged at the left, back in the Reagan era, for falling into the trap of denouncing him for calling the USSR an “evil empire.”

What, were they CRAZY???? WHAT THE FUCK ELSE COULD YOU CALL IT????? My Gawd. Read Orwell! The “big Brother” he is talking about is Stalin. And he soft-pedaled things.

Do not accuse me of lacking subtlety. (Unless you want to ;-) My ire on this issue goes in both directions.

Indeed, one of the things that outrages me about the right is the way they grab credit for America’s victory over that malignant monstrosity, when the vast majority of credit should go to Dean Acheson, George Marshall, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and millions of Americans who refused to panic, but held to the game plan of calm strength and waiting the fever out. (A game plan that Reagan almost BLEW when he pushed the Soviets hard. Yes, their brittle empire toppled when pressed, but they might easily have spasmed and gone nuke! RR took a terrible chance with all our lives, especially since it would have happened in a few years anyway.)

Sorry, I am sick of hearing “socialism was never allowed to be tried.” I agree, but whose fault is it? Castro had the PERFECT opportunity! If he had run for free elections in 1962, he would have won by a landslide. Then he could have stuck his finger at the US and given the Cuban people BOTH socialism AND freedom... PLUS regulated foreign investment and trade. And he likely would have KEPT being re-elected.

But that would have meant letting democracy’s noise and messiness and compromise spoil the perfection of personal control. Like every nincompoop before him, he let the opportunity go by, and created an almost perfect allegory AGAINST socialism, instead. Today, all that socialists can point to is Sweden. ANd (somewhat) the EU. Some socialism. Nice. But not exactly ANTI capitalist.

I have long been willing to discuss pre-Castro US misbehavior in LatinAmerica. And it simply does not have a damn thing to do with excusing Castro’s utter failure. Not a whit. He started out WAY ahead of Korea in every measure. He’s always had trade with Europe and got Mountains of Soviet aid. Give it up.

You call Pax Americana problematic? Sometimes evil? Conceded. But we are talking apples and oranges, cuttlefish.

I am talking about trying to accomplish the desperately difficult task of CONTROLLING AN EMPIRE so that it does more good than harm in the world. In order to do that, I require complexity and subtlety. I can admit that the US has often done what empires ALWAYS DID IN THE PAST.... given in to human nature and thrown their weight around. (As we are doing right now, while stupidly led.)

But that is ALL THAT YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO SEE. As a lefty, you think it is enough to howl at the crimes...

...and you think that admitting the COUNTER-EXAMPLES will only serve to lessen the effectiveness of the denunciating howls.

Um, what effectiveness? Show me where the howling denunciations ever did any good?

In contrast, I examine the good. The effective. The countless ways that Pax Americana HAS BEEN DIFFERENT than any processor. And there are countless examples. The 20th century was on its way down into the very nadir of hell, before America stepped in. Starting in 1942 everything started upward again. That counts for something!

I do this not in order to wave away the crimes, but in order to BETTER UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING TO DO GOOD THINGS and not doing bad ones! I look at both groups of facts. You give the appearance of looking at only one set. Diagnosis confirmed.

In conclusion, I have to tell you that people down in comments are not going to read lengthy missives like the one you just contributed, in great detail. Hell, this is my blog and they probably skim MINE! You must be more concise.

I am saddened that you perceive us at greater odds than I do. Personally, I quite believe you when you call yourself an optimist. I look forward to seeing more of your ideas in the future.

David Brin said...

Okay folks, I admit it. I had been nursing illusions about Newt Gingrich being some kind of retro "sincere neoconservative" figure who had been exiled because he would not go along with the extreme drop into madness.

Perhaps the fact that he considers himself to be a sci fi guy kind of influenced me. Also respect for the brilliant polemics of the first Contract with America.

Okay, enough. I will now wipe those illusions away. (A modernist must be willing to revise, under the glaring light of citokate.) The fellow has gone completely bongers.

Not only the things he says, but for idiotically imagining that the masters will bring him back into their good graces, just for saying $%#*! like he's been saying.

Don Quijote said...

Ah, DQ is at it again. Historically ignorant to a degree that has long passed distressing and become actually kind of endearing, in a clownlike way. Um, Don. Are you telling us that Taiwan was “industrial” in 1945... after generations under Japanese repression during which they were allowed no factories at all? The same EXACTLY applies to Korea... except that its zero-nadir was even lower, smashed to bits by war in 1953.

The question was "Of course, to the lefties above, I have to ask... do you honestly believe that the people of say, Taiwan were better off 100 years ago? The island was swamp and disease and not much else."

One hundred years ago was 1907 and the Taiwanese people were just another bunch of dirt poor farmers, as were the Koreans, the Indians, the vast majority of the Chinese, Latin Americans and most Africans. Today in 2007, the vast majority of Indians, Chinese Latin Americans and Africans are still poor dirt farmers if they are not slum dweller's trying to put enough food in their bellies to survive another day, on the other hand South Korea & Taiwan are both industrialized countries.

When you are done railing about Cuba, you might want to wonder why their literacy rates, life expectancy and their infant mortality rates are on par with that of the US and not that of the other neighboring countries.

If he had run for free elections in 1962, he would have won by a landslide.

You 'll have to let me know how much democracy we gave Arbenz's Guatemala, Mossadeq's Iran or Allende's Chile.

David Brin said...

Typical distraction. Not a whit of attention to the actual question.

Castro had repelled US intervention at the Bay of Pigs and had a superpower behind him. HE COULD HAVE GIVEN HIS PEOPLE BOTH EQUALITY AND FREEDOM. But he chose not to.

You cannot succeed at distracting from that deliberate choice by pointing to US crimes elsewhere. Cuba is a perfect test case precisely because we have had almost NOTHING to do with its current situation, whatsoever! Castro got tons and tons of aid.


I await the clearcut alternative.

Mark Brown said...

Hey y'all Happy Chanakuah/Merry Christmas/Happy Kwanza/whatever

In Re: Dr. B's discussion of Michael Crichton's recent descent into
branding critics as child rapers:

I posted my own thoughts

and I'm sad/happy to say
that I will no longer READ or BUY
any more of his books.

Mark Brown said...

the link to my blog might help somewhat...
the post about crichton:

(and I have two other poetry blogs too!)
help the arts, and send me a suggestion for a poem to the automatic poetry blog at
All it takes is a name, a topic and a mood.
Happy holidays

Don Quijote said...


There isn't one, but the method used in all of the above cases is called Neomercantilism (high trade barriers to protect local industries combined with an export driven economy to build up the local market), it is not neo-liberal policies, or globalization that industrialized those countries. Only countries that have the appropriate leverage (in the above cases, fear of Communism) over the US have been able to pursue that policy.

China is also using the same policy to industrialize, and so far seems to be headed toward success. If they can keep this going for another forty to fifty years, they might make the leap to being a modern industrialized country, but while they are doing it no one else will except for the eastern Europeans which are being cushioned by the EU.

David Brin said...


So, at last, DQ admits that only one method has worked, above all others.

Because (note this guys) that when you skewer the romantics into a corner they either flee (the cowardly ones) or they finally stand up (the honest and brave ones, like Don) and face the music...

...only to keep on squirming! Note how he twisted this phenomenon in order to give all the credit to the mercantalist developing nations, and none at all to the era's Pax!

Dig it. ALL PREVIOUS PAX EMPIRES DICTATED TRADE PATTERNS! It is one of the privileges of empire. And in all prior paxes, from China and Rome to Brittanica, they decreed mercantalist trade patterns that favored their own home industries.

ONLY Pax Americana ever dictated the very opposite pattern -- anti-mercantalism -- in which the home imperium deliberately lowered its tariffs while permitting dependencies to keep high ones.

DQ calls this neo-mercantalism but that is plain silly. As if each of the weak, dependent nations were able to, in turn, (and in a totally uniform-coordinated fashion), impose this system upon a reluctant imperium.

What a har! Or at least a rather convoluted and complex and unlikely theory... since note that America never, not even once, tried to retaliate! Not in any large or meaningful way, that seriously threatened Japan, or Taiwan or any of the others into knuckling down. Oh, we griped and bitched and whined...

...and kept on buying, buying, buying every single piece of crap that they ever offered. (Except maybe betamax.)

Don, you are cornered. And you (for a lefty) are an honest man. ADMIT THAT YOU DON'T HAVE A BETTER PLAN.

Then help us improve this one.

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Hey! That was better. Thanks, even. But why do I have to wear armor to discuss things? I’m not exactly a neophyte at this blogging thing, but if that’s how you do things, okay, I guess. And yeah, I can see that in some ways we’re maybe not so far apart, but there are some weird and (maybe) interesting divergences. Here are a few that just bubbled up:

OTOH those who for years have suppressed technological advancement in order to preserve troglodyte industries have been truly genuine monsters.

Couldn’t agree more. But don’t you see that this is not aberrant behavior, but quite normal, even to be expected as a sort of natural progression? What economic garlic did St. Smith intend to ward off the impulse to monopoly? Was it regulation, the bloody invisible hand that gooses the market worshippers, or...? This is just one of the reasons why there is no such thing as a free market. When you start adding protectionist tariffs, collusion & conspiracy among the erstwhile competitors (does anyone believe that pharma or the insurance industries are not dens of incest?), it very quickly loses any semblance of a fair and level playing field. Was any market, ever?

Then there’s the challenge (again):

Show us what has worked better. Ever.

And its twin:

Sorry, I am sick of hearing “socialism was never allowed to be tried.” I agree, but whose fault is it?

Well, if the experiment was never left unmolested, wouldn’t that pretty much place the blame on those who did the molesting?

That is one of the points of listing the inevitable interventions (sorry, molestations). One of the difficulties in imagineering how socialism could be successfully implemented is that we’ve been drowned in so many oceans of capitalist propaganda—human nature isn’t up to it; the DMV thesis; the lack of competition would remove all incentive, etc, etc. Doesn’t supporting a system that has used such techniques make you a little nervous? (As an aside, yeah, Orwell did have Stalin as a model, but he was looking way forward, too. Almost as far as Huxley. Now we have Newspeak and soma.)

As for alternatives, here’s what I was trying to get you to wrestle with when I kept asking about economies of abundance. If capitalism is based on economies of scarcity (which no economist would deny, right?) and that protecting, enhancing and manipulating that scarcity is in the interest of the alleged competitors, then that surely is to be expected. Hence all manner of nastiness, political and economic. Nowhere is this more clearly to be seen than in the energy racket.

So, we unsuppress those technologies, which gives you localized energy autonomy. Libraries could be filled with the ramifications of that step alone. Then, you go one of two ways, with some potential crossover/fusion. Either you stop the madness of constant economic expansion and retire planned obsolescence, putting the durable back into consumer goods, or you go with the everyone’s-a-billionaire model.

The earth would no doubt appreciate the minimalist, eminently sustainable approach, which would look something like this. You rebuild your house so it has no carbon footprint, doesn’t need painting, roofing, etc, and can withstand any storm nature can muster. It looks like this or maybe like this. (There are lots of models to choose from; no Soviet architecture here, which, believe me, you don’t want.)

In addition, there’s no more plastic crap made in China because a.) You don’t need it to prop up your artificial economy masquerading as a free market anymore, and b.) because you’ve also outlawed hydrocarbons altogether, having made the switch back to the carbohydrate economy. Did you know that James Woolsey, of all people, has joined Woody Harrelson on this particular crusade? Strange bedfellows chemurgy doth make, eh?

The other route, the many billionaires model, has been explored by some of you sci-fi types—Charlie Stross, Rudy Rucker, etc—but I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with it. It just seems so…unnecessary. Bilious. Conspicuous. It’s not because I prefer the hairshirt; everyone should have the right to be comfortable and secure. But what do you really need beyond that? Travel is nice, but I don’t even know what else I would want, aside from unlimited books & the means to make music.

The funny thing about Plan A is that it doesn’t even really require much in the way of tech innovation/unsuppression. Those houses I linked don’t take much juice—some actually produce excess power & water, completely off the grid. The only real obstacle is the monopoly. The big one. Banks, money. All that artificial stuff. It really is funny money, if you look at it closely enough. On the other hand, try telling that to the Fed. (When did we vote for that to be set up, btw? And the transparency/oversight on that little extra-democratic enterprise?)

So here you go, and once again:

how to we even start to implement this reciprocal accountability idea,


what about economies of abundance and giving up the fiction behind the current unsustainable rat race?


iridescent cuttlefish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
iridescent cuttlefish said...

yikes! you tell me to be concise and i blather twice. sorry.

David Brin said...

Cuttlefish, you believe that predatory behavior arises in our world because it is an inherent trait of capitalism. Sorry friend, but that is unadulterated bull hockey!

Predation and cheating are part of human nature. They appear everywhere, in all human cultures. Indeed, the predatory record of feudalism and communism and most forms of socialism has been, if anything, far worse than we see in modern capitalism, which - unlike all the others -- has at least proved somewhat compatible with self-corrective processes like democracy.

FIND FOR ME examples of the other systems being likewise compatible, hm?

Let me reiterate. Because capitalism is completely self-aware and unashamed of being all about competition, it does not pretend to be free of predatory impulses... unlike socialism and communism and yes, most forms of feudalism, ALL OF WHICH DOGMATICALLY INSIST THAT THEY ARE COMMENSAL AND BENIGN! They rant and incant and claim to be free of sins of competition...

...which is somewhat coorect, since the elites in those systems always make damn sure that others cannot compete with them! All the while spreading propaganda about how good this is.

You are fooled by this same propaganda, friend. And fooled bigtime. And once again it arises out of a titanic - and actually pretty damned culpable - ignorance of history. An apparently WILLFUL ignorance of just how very rotten most human cultures were, before today.

STOP judging modern civilization by mythical-ideal standards that you were TAUGHT by that very same civilization! It is deeply ironic... but also a really, really dopey thing to do. You are demanding perfection from something that is LESS imperfect than any other and that is aware of many improvements needed... and indeed has proved CAPABLE of improvement.


You are all bent out of shape because a primitive and unfinished society is primitive and unfinished? Even though it is vastly better than what came before? Oh, Puh-lease.

SHOW ME THE COUNTER-EXAMPLES... or get onboard the team who are working to improve the best thing going.

You are right that the gap between us is not wide. I agree that kleptos have been squelching technologies and manipulating US foreign policy and doing all (well, most) of the vile things you perceive.

And yet, even though the gulf between us is not wide, IT IS VERY VERY DEEP. Because you show all sings of being a romantic personality and therefore deeply impractical. Obsessed with howling at evil, instead of admitting that what we have is progress toward what we want!

Ah, by all means let us keep on doing what has NEVER worked. Let’s lecture everybody about living in hobbit holes with sod roofs and lit by candles made from our own macrobiotic farts! Hey, I was a hippie, genuine, and I have been there...

...and I can tell you that lecturing the world’s poor and middle classes to live like nice little hobbits has been tried. And they simply laugh... right... in.... your... face. Indeed, smarmy college-boy lecturing is one reason why the word “liberal” has become an open target for spit fests and associated with snooty superiority... instead of being remembered as the greatest force for progress the world has ever seen.

Again, we are not that far apart. I have fought for sustainability since before you (probably) could spell the word. But I really have no time for romantic purity that REJECTS THE VERY TOOLS THAT WE NEED, IN ORDER TO BRIDGE THE GAP OF THE NEXT 50 YEARS.

Want to push for solar homes? Great! Here’s where we can plan.

Want to yammer against the modern trade networks that have uplifted billions so they can have fewer kids? No way I am going to sit here and listen to anything so dumb.

Don Quijote said...

Dig it. ALL PREVIOUS PAX EMPIRES DICTATED TRADE PATTERNS! It is one of the privileges of empire. And in all prior paxes, from China and Rome to Brittanica, they decreed mercantalist trade patterns that favored their own home industries.

And so do we!

Why do you think we care so much about "Intellectual Property" and work overtime to stuff "Intellectual Property" protection in every trade bill we write despite the fact that we know that these "Intellectual Property" protection will lead to the premature death of hundreds of thousands of people (How many people have died of AIDS because they did not have access to drugs that cost pennies to manufacture).

ONLY Pax Americana ever dictated the very opposite pattern -- anti-mercantalism -- in which the home imperium deliberately lowered its tariffs while permitting dependencies to keep high ones.

Tell that to Latin America, they could use a good laugh.

DQ calls this neo-mercantalism but that is plain silly. As if each of the weak, dependent nations were able to, in turn, (and in a totally uniform-coordinated fashion), impose this system upon a reluctant imperium.

Countries that were on the border of Communist States were permitted to industrialize, not the others.

Let me give you a hypothetical, if Brazil in the Fifties had become a communist state with Nuclear Technology, the neighboring countries would all be either highly industrialized today or on track to becoming industrialized.

What a har! Or at least a rather convoluted and complex and unlikely theory... since note that America never, not even once, tried to retaliate! Not in any large or meaningful way, that seriously threatened Japan, or Taiwan or any of the others into knuckling down.

That's because we needed those countries in our fight against communism. Once Communism was not a threat, you can see how we treated them (does the 1998 financial crisis ring a bell?)

...and kept on buying, buying, buying every single piece of crap that they ever offered. (Except maybe betamax.)
I liked Betamax, it was fine product.

Don, you are cornered. And you (for a lefty) are an honest man. ADMIT THAT YOU DON'T HAVE A BETTER PLAN.

More than a lefty, I am a cynic and a pessimist.

You keep missing my point. We have permitted some countries to industrialized when it was in our interest. If it isn't, and these countries start the industrialization process ( usually one of the first steps in this process is land reform), we overthrow their governments and put in our puppets in power.

Then help us improve this one.

The globalization process that is going on at this time is one of trade Uber Alles, it is unsustainable for the following reasons.

A) Not enough consumers are being created to compensate for the growth in the workforce.

B) No way for the US to absorb all the extra junk that is being created ( All you need to do is look at the trade deficit and the crashing value of the Dollar).

C) The US is being deindustrialized and turned into a English speaking version of Brazil.

D) The only country that is profiting from this process is China.

You really have to stop assuming that we are good guys who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. We are just another Empire who does what is in it's short term interest, not any different than any of the previous ones, and at some point this Empire will crash.

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Very interesting response. None of it was relevant to what I said. Why continue to paint me with your one size fits all snarling lefty brush? You say you have worked for sustainability since before I was born (the math?), and yet you ridicule, or at least denigrate the effect that massive increases in efficiency, coupled with energy autonomy, would produce. I’m not preaching some romantic hobbit holes & naïvete doctrine at all. Can we please just talk about the issue here instead of finding ways of dismissing the real point of what I’m saying?

Look, you stepped right into a steaming pile of untruth, or at least some very rubbery reasoning, with your “challenge”.

Show us what has worked better. Ever…Sorry, I am sick of hearing “socialism was never allowed to be tried.” I agree, but whose fault is it?

If nothing else has ever been allowed, what’s the point of asking what else has ever worked? Where is the logic?

Also, what’s with the history thing? Just because I don’t believe the propaganda of the West doesn’t mean that I buy the version they used to sell in the East. Why would I defend Stalin, when I’ve seen, firsthand, what it was like living under him?

Also, there is room to talk about human nature here. One of the central tenets of rightwing YOYOism is your “predation and cheating are part of human nature…They appear everywhere, in all human cultures” platfrom. If elites are allowed to prey, prey they will. They did it on both sides of the wall. It’s not so much that it’s inherent in human nature as it is in any system that is not egalitarian. Again, we’re back to looking for examples of something that has never been allowed to exist. I thought futurists speculated on what could exist.

Any idiot knows that people can be incited to any act of brutality imaginable. This does not prove that brutality is an innate characteristic of those who’ve been directed to perpetrate it. This is the misunderstood lesson of the Milgram study. Yeah, sure, you can get academics to engage in sadism without much difficulty; not because they are sadistic by nature (well, there are some I've known…), but because human nature is infinitely malleable. When given the choice, however, you find something very different.

Of course it’s a tired old cliché to sing give peace a chance, but does that mean it’s not true? Let’s go back to the logic thing again. If people have only been given the opportunity to act out machiavelli’s etiquette, how does that preclude the possiblity that they could act in any other way? This is nothing but circular logic.

I do believe that, given the choice, people would generally choose to take part in a barn-raising rather than a lynching. You posit reciprocal accountability as a cornerstone of the transparent society (although you don’t seem much interested in answering any questions about it), with which I agree. I would go further and suggest that reciprocal altruism is also a powerful mechanism, but that’s another issue. Right now, let’s just concentrate on one simple point. (Please?)

While there is some scientific justification for arguing that reciprocal altruism confers evolutionary advantages (Dawkins & Blackmore), that’s not really even necessary for this discussion. Why do you believe that a system couldn’t be engineered where predation and cheating are not allowed and even encouraged, as they have been in both capitalism and stalinism? It’s the fact that an elite has more power than its “competition” that accounts for the nastiness we’ve seen, not some defect in our nature.

Once again, and just to clarify, I do not subscribe to any of the things you’ve accused me of. (An apparently WILLFUL ignorance of just how very rotten most human cultures were, before today.) Of course they were rotten; they were hierarchically organized. This has nothing to do with capitalism & communism;
that’s why it’s been this way down the ages, from Capitalism 1.0 (feudalism) all the way back to when the first priest/king set the first skull atop the bottom skull and pronounced, Ye shall obey.

Now that we’re done with all the name calling, how about engaging in some of that futurist speculation stuff? This time, if it’s not too impertinent, how about answering some questions instead of telling me what I think so as to avoid the questions altogether?

First, how do we go about setting up reciprocal accountability, when the organs whose task it would be are controlled by the interests which most need accounting? Your contacts in the intelligence community are just going to hand over their carte blanche prerogative? The M-I-I-Complex is just going to open their books and say, “Here you go, this is what we’ve been up to”?

Secondly, if we dropped the pretense and replaced our dishonest economies of scarcity with the economies of abundance of which we are fully capable (see links upfield, if you’re really interested in entertaining the possibility), how do you imagine we could forge a social construct that was truly, and for the first time anywhere, egalitarian?

Mr. Brin, why don’t you want to engage me? Are my questions impossible, unworthy, irrelevant? I see lots and lots of defending the staus quo here but very little on what’s next. Or is that the plan? This forum bears very little resemblance to the open and frank analysis in Singularities & Nightmares--why is that?

David Brin said...

Don has simply gone ... “donnish” and I am not going to waste any more time chasing him from one untenable position to the next.

Oh, he is bright. There are threads that might have been interesting. For example, there would be some fascination in discussing why an underlying Confucian-Asian ethos seems better suited for mercantalist style industrialization than the Latin Catholic ethos, which seems to encourage passivity and minimized ambition. It may even be more specific than that, since Portuguese-speaking Brazil is taking off as an industrial powerhouse, while its Spanish-speaking neighbors keep lagging. In any event, the maquiladora experiment seems to support this view.

But alas, no theory is tenable except the "USA is deliberately monstrous" hypothesis to explain all the world's ills. Everything is going to hell...

...even though 15 years ago we though that 2030 would see 15 billion impoverished people starving... and now it looks like we'll peak at under 9 billion, then gracefully taper down, with many problems but no mass starvation whatsoever. Oh! But THAT's not progress at all!

As I said, there are countless sub-topics that could be followed as he squirms and beats a heroic fighting retreat. Indeed, there is some truth to the fact that US commodities industries (e.g. cotton and sugar) have kept HIGH tariffs over here that have hurt commodity-oriented countries like those in Africa. Moreover, FARM SUBSIDIES in both America and Europe have devastated 3rd World farmers, preventing them from building modern methods.

But all of these would be interesting in a context of -- well -- discussion. Not the relentless writhing of a fellow who, while brave and outspoken, just does not impress me in the department of intellectual honesty. DQ has made profound pronouncements, seen them UTTERLY demolished and then simply writhed away to screech cynicism from another perch. I will not chase him anymore.

Likewise, cuttlefish, you have finally succeeded in offending me, in an unlikely way. I enjoy your missives and I find you passionate and articulate. I even agree with much of what you say. But I am uninterested in the whining. First that I attacked you (thicken the skin!) and then that I “will not engage” you. What?????

Get this. You are a total stranger, coming at me across the thin welcome mat of an open web site. These are comments sections on the personal blog of a guy who is 3 years late on a novel! A guy who has read more words by you and typed more TO you this week than he read or typed in support of his family. I am under no obligation to be policed by a stranger-Visitor over HOW DETAILED I am supposed to respond to unsolicited comments.

You are (in my view) a romantic polemicist who is insistent upon utopian visions that are profoundly vague and impractical, while denouncing the very same PARTIAL STEPS that have brought us within reach of making FURTHER progress toward goals that you and I share.

NONE OF THIS is particularly disreputable or unlikeable. You clearly have a level of understanding that is broadly superior (though skewed by personality: a topic that I tried hard to raise and that is actually more interesting than geopolitics!)

I appreciate your utopian passion and I acknowledge that I am a romantic too. (Hence good at diagnosing them.) I share your goal of “economies of abundance” and am puzzled by your inability to see that.

Alas, I am also too fatigued to follow the matter further, today. above all, I see no reason I have to put up with the utterly bullshit rebuke you just spewed at me. It was off-target, unfair, and deeply, deeply wrongheaded.

I am doing my best here, and I doubt you’ll get more attention from a guy like me anywhere else.

Blake, you should talk to the guy who ACTUALLY wrote the first novel in which ancient mosquitoes in amber are used to clone dinosaurs, Charles Pellegrino.

Here's the difference between positive sum and negative sum personalities. I put in cameos of others' names in my books in order to give a nod THAT I know where an idea came from. (There are dozens of such references in GLORY SEASON, for example.) Crichton cameos people in order to slag them. Huh.

Mark Brown said...

And, Dr. B, you are to be
COMMENDED for giving your nod to those people...
unlike previously liked authors...

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Dr. Brin,
Once again, I'm sorry to have offended you. True, you are under no obligation to respond to anything I might ask, nor am I in any position to police the thought of your blog. Before we got under each other's skin, I was just asking those two simple questions.

I didn't come here to talk about Cuba, Stalin or George Orwell--I just wanted to know how you imagined the implementation of the very, very important reciprocal accountability idea, given the players involved, and how a society which had somehow eliminated the possibility for entrenched elites would cope with the new economies of abundance. That's all I wanted to know, really. Just your opinion on these two questions.

Once again, I'm sorry for offending you, really. I guess I'll just take my thick skin and go ask someone else interested in the topic. Good luck, and, as always, thanks for your time!

David Brin said...

Cuttlefish, I never said don't raise topics or ask questions. What I do ask is that you get to very specific points and stop hiding what you are interested in amid lots of OTHER things that you then complain about my answering!

I mean dang... Cuba and Stalin etc were TOTALLY relevant to many things you said! Stop bitching about it when I answer in (relevant) part.

In fact, I have a proved interest in the fascinating and important topic of how to look ahead and enhance reciprocal accountability. Have you looked at:

or The Transparent Society ?


It is my life-obsession and my core reason for maintaining this blog!

However I do NOT have much patience for people coming here and proclaiming that this dream must now start from scratch because it has not yet ever been implemented. That is utter hopelessness. I am not so arrogant as to maintain that I will charismatically and transcendentally transform human civilization with a "new idea." That kind of messiahnism has been tried many times before, with ideas that don't have to struggle against human nature as hard as reciprocal accountability must.

I am no messiah. Fortunately, reciprocal accountability does not need one! It does NOT need to start from scratch! Indeed, it has been growing in power and sophistication all across the Enlightenment, and has been most reified right here. Right now. Yea, even amid the neocon counter-revolution. WHY DO YOU THINK THEY ARE HITTING BACK SO HARD, HM????

If you cannot admit that this movement is part of a long struggle that has been going on... with much success... for 200 years, then I cannot see us as useful allies, even if we share the same values and the same dream.

Because I see hope in adding an incremental layer or two, ONto tremendous edifice of work already done by greats like Locke and Franklin and Smith and Marshall...

AND I AM NOT THEIR EQUAL! If they failed, then I will fail. If they succeeded, then I have a chance to make a difference by adding a layer. It is as simple as that. It is why those who reject the idea that we have already come a long way ARE OF NO USE TO THIS REVOLUTION... no matter how romantically they cleaim to want a better world..

Dang but you need to take the questionaire at:

As for storming off in a huff, well that's your privilege and it only confirms my diagnosis. I am saddened. You seem bright and good and sincere and smart.

Come back with a thicker skin and some perspective. You'll be most welcome. And I mean that.


markbnj, I even cameo tribute people I do not like. In Glory Season it was essential to menion with a noticeable nod a certain popular woman SF author whose earlier feminist separatist "utopias" while limited, advanced some provocative ideas. Anyone catching the reference would consider it likely that she is one whose writing I admire. True enough.

They would NOT pick up that I consider her to be a deeply awful and immoral person in real life. One fully as worthy of contempt as a vicious truth-twister as any image earned by Michael Crichton.

Personalities matter. These two people have never voted for the same parties, ever. Yet they are remarkably similar. It is humbling to search for such patterns in one's self.

Anonymous said...

The discussion on this blog seems to have degenerated into people talking past one another. I'm tempted to stop reading it.

Regarding socalism: There's a theory that the American Revolution never turned radical (like the French and Russian revolutions did) because it, unlike all the others, was not threatened by external forces (like all the armies of the various kings who were scared that what happened in France would happen to them).

Regarding iridescent cuttlefish:

David, for the most part, you have been "refusing to engage" him. You should try following your own suggestion for disputation arenas and try paraphrasing what he is saying.

This is what I think he is saying:

1) Elite groups should not have the power to prey on those who are not part of the elite group.
2) Reciprocal accountability would, in fact, be an excellent tool for reducing the power of elite groups.
3) Reciprocal accountability depends on the ability to know what those that are to be held accountable are actually doing.
4) The power to access and widely disseminate information is currently concentrated in the hands of an elite group: "the media".
5) Because this group can control information, they can inhibit reciprocal accountability.
6) Given all this, what actions could we, as individuals, take in order to enhance reciprocal accountability so that the power of elites will be reduced?
7) If all our goals actually were achieved, what would society look like?

Have I successfully expressed what you were trying to say? I disagree with #4 (the Internet makes it a lot easier to publish, although attracting an audience is difficult).

Also, regarding #6, some of David's most prominent suggestions recently have been "Vote Democratic" and "Vote in local primary elections."

Regarding scarcity:
No matter what happens, there will always be at least one scarce resource: time. There's a limit to how many things a person can do at once; even if Bill Gates could buy a copy of every book ever published, he couldn't read them all. An hour spent watching a movie is an hour not spent playing golf or writing Wikipedia articles. Therefore, the economics of scarcity will always be relevant in at least one way (barring radical transformation of the human species).

Finally, I'd like to end with an Adam Smith quote:

"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things."

Rob Perkins said...


You calling Perkins-Gilman an SF author?

David Brin said...

Perkins Gilman was long ago and I never met here... and she had a sense of humor. Try again.

Doug, you paraphrased just one thread among a dizzying plethora that IC offered. How was I to choose?

Moreover, you are presenting a list of items that are virtual tautologies. I mean. so? Items 1-7 have been my chief topics for years, I am supposed to go down this list, HERE, in comments, reiterating points I have made ad nauseum elsewhere?

Besides, this was NOT the chief content of his earlier missives. They amounted to romantic rejection of the notion that we are already far advanced along the road we want to travel.

The whole PERSONALITY IMPULSE that drives many smart and well-meaning folks to do this silly thing... preaching for progress while denying that any has happened... is a fascinating topic that I tried to raise. It is highly pertinent. But when I tried to face it all I got was whining.

Once again. Those who deny the palpable existence of recent progress, and deny that Locke and Franklin adn Marshall were wonder workers who built something great that we then can build upon,... can anybody but me see the inherent fallacy in such people ALSO braying that we need to change the world?

Ohmigawd. The arrogance! THOSE GENIUSES all failed utterly, but YOU are going to transform all of our social and economic interactions... including the scarcity rule of value (ask Marx how that went!) ... just by yattering about it?

Feh! I am a bigmouth arrogant SOB but I am nowhere near THAT arrogant!

I assume that I can help change the world BECAUSE THE ENLIGHTENMENT HAS ALREADY COME A LONG WAY! As part of something with palpable momentum, I might have a chance of changing things.

Rob Perkins said...


I confess I don't read novels in order to decode the references authors make in them. So I don't have the faintest idea based on that clue especially since I haven't been able to google up a list of characters from that book.

But since I started blogging with you, the only SF author you've had ill to say about here, while praising her skill at writing, who has also penned about "utopias" with passing similarities to Stratos, is Ursula K. Le Guin. (_The Left Hand of Darkness_ has a couple of Stratoin elements, _The Dispossessed_ and a couple of the "Hainish tales" natives also carry a utopian-pastoral attitude about them.)

Plus I found an interview you did with where you told them you had her in mind when you wrote it.

Hey, on another topic, have you noticed yet that Time magazine has named "You" as the Person of the Year, if "you" happen to be someone who uploads content to the Internet? Fun!

Mark Brown said...

Ohmigawd. I'm lying on the floor, LMAO Dr. Brin...

Oh, and my somewhat on topic suggestion is today's "whoops"
from Former Harper-Collins (News Corp) Publisher Judith Reagan, who was abruptly fired Friday.

In my entry for today, I note that Ms. Reagan, seems to share more then just a name with a former President, but perhaps also Alzheimer's too, for her suggestion (actual cause of her firing) that
"Jews control the World" again.

Speaking of "Elders of the Protocols of Zion".. yet, bah humbug to HER this christmas!
My synopsis here

Anonymous said...

Besides, this was NOT the chief content of his earlier missives. They amounted to romantic rejection of the notion that we are already far advanced along the road we want to travel.

Are we? We've made progress - lots of progress, in fact, but that doesn't mean we're close to our ultimate destination. How's this for a metaphor: We've been to the moon and explored much of our solar system, but we're still a long way from reaching another star. Is it possible to declare that "we've gone an awfully long way - and that's great - but the road ahead is even longer than the one behind us" without being a "loony romantic?" As a tactical matter, it might be better to focus on how much worse things used to be instead of how far things have yet to go, but haven't you said that it's better to ally with those who share long-range goals than those who propose the same short-term tactics but as a means to achieve the wrong things?

The whole PERSONALITY IMPULSE that drives many smart and well-meaning folks to do this silly thing... preaching for progress while denying that any has happened... is a fascinating topic that I tried to raise. It is highly pertinent. But when I tried to face it all I got was whining.

The reason all you get is "whining" is that it tends to come across as a personal attack, along the lines of "You believe X. X is a bad belief caused by a defect in personality. Therefore, by implication, you are a defective person." It's pretty easy to get defensive around that kind of accusation, don't you think?

(Go on. Name a case in which we’ve faced an opponent, in which sudden and universal light would not have harmed them more than we were harmed.)

I dunno - how about the time we fought the British in the so-called "Wall of 1812?" We used interference with our shipping as an excuse for a blatant land grab, attacking American Indians who were under English protection and invading Canada.

Anonymous said...

Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

[King Arthur has just cut the Black Knight's last leg off]
Black Knight: Okay, we'll call it a draw.
King Arthur: [Preparing to leave] Come, Patsy.
[King Arthur and Patsy ride off]
Black Knight: [calling after King Arthur] Oh! Had enough, eh? Come back and take what's coming to you, you yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!

Technically, I suppose it was a draw, as the Black Knight clearly had some fight left in him!

On the other hand, I think most people understood why King Arthur thought it was time to move on.

So, never mind the cries of "No, you don't understand; in Communism 2 (or whatever the system supposedly superior to Democracy + Capitalism is called today) ALL people would..."
behind your back.

Who knows, maybe our worthy adversaries are right this time. On the other hand, if you sit back and look at the bigger picture...

They have no legs to stand on: Basically no examples where non-capitalistic systems have been successful previously.
Nor arms, such as a very convincing explanation why new utopias can't be flaming disasters like all previous ones, because we know that the price of a failed utopia is an enormous amount of unnecessary human suffering.

I think one can equate abandoning capitalism to utopian social engineering.

Therefore it would be very reasonable to consider that the "fight" is over, and just focus on (in the words of Karl Popper):
"the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good."

At least on this thread. ;-)


iridescent cuttlefish said...

Well, that was…interesting. Mr. Brin, thanks for responding again (and thanks, Doug S, for helping out with the translation of my inscrutable requests, but I think Mr. Brin knows well enough what I was asking for, despite my excessive verbosity.)

For starters, although I promise to make this as brief as possible, since this hasn’t exactly been a fruitful discussion for me either, I didn’t go off in huff. You said you’d had enough of my, what all was it now, arrogance, ignorance, whininess, rudeness, etc., so I said, okay, peace, brother and thanks. I never lost my temper or called you anything.

All I wanted to know were the two questions I repeated in each one of my comments. (How to achieve reciprocal accountability when the organs of accountability are owned by the entities which most need accounting, and how do you envision a society based on economies of abundance.) That’s it, that’s all I asked for an opinion on. Granted, I had the effrontery to explain how your “challenge” was a meaningless exercise in circular logic, and true, I disagreed with your view of history, but I also never asked for the lesson. You took it upon yourself to “educate” me.

As for your contention that great progress is being made and the world is almost saved, and anyway those were great men who set this thing in motion and we lesser heirs couldn’t possibly step in to fix things or hurry the grand march of progress through history along, well, I couldn’t disagree more.

There are many who make cogent arguments that the power of the elites becomes more entrenched every day, and that the prospects for this all ending in exactly the sort of dystopian nightmare that Orwell prophesied are far greater than the bright futures envisioned by writers like Kurzweil, Hawkens, Vinge, Rucker and Stross.

Many others have demonstrated clearly enough that we don’t have the luxury to await the outcome of capitalism’s “great uplifting,” since the earth is already dying from the greed and short-sightedness of the ruling class which presently controls that system. I don’t exactly travel in those circles, so I wouldn’t know how widespread among those elites the view is that was enunciated by Reagan’s infamous Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, when he explained his indifference to deforestation by stating, “When the last tree is felled, Christ will return,” but it’s certainly a sentiment one hears often enough to shiver one’s timbers.

As I’ve stated, I’m an optimist, despite the truth of the doomsayers’ claims. The reason for my optimism, however, has nothing to do with a system that is very much controlled by powers who have put themselves far beyond the reach of any government or conventional process of reform. I mentioned something about alternative architecture because it represents a movement which, like Paul Hawkens’ Blessed Unrest, is outside conventional channels.

If the great mass of humanity were to learn that 45% of the world’s greenhouse gases come from our criminally stupid architecture and that they could tear down their inefficient, flood & storm vulnerable, socially stratifying people-boxes and replace them with energy independent, ergonomically intuitive, curvalinear fortresses that are invulnerable to the onslaught of nature’s retribution and yet community enabling in design, and that all this is available at a fraction of the cost of the stupid buildings in which we all live and work, the realization would engender a seismic shift in our collective consciousness. It’s not about hippies smoking rope in hobbit houses.

There are all kinds of other outside-the-mainstream movements, initiatives and ideas percolating unbidden, unplanned, in spontaneous reaction against the disastrous manifestations of the concentration of wealth & power against which FDR warned us long before Ike told us to fear The Complex, but I’m absolutely certain that these ideas would be ridiculed and mischaracterized if I attempted to explain them, so I’ll save us all the futility and hostility that such a “discourse” would cause. (If anyone’s interested anyway, they can read about this movement of movements in this short description of the Blessed Unrest.)

The other thing I never explained is why I wanted to ask you, Mr. Brin, about your opinion on those two nagging questions. It's because one day, after the great awakening, our dissatisfactory form of governance is going to have to be addressed. When we're finally in a position to do something about it, quite fundamental changes are going to have to be instituted.

Obviously, money has to be taken out of politics altogether. Until we make all campaigns publicly financed, outlaw lobbying, strip corporations of their absurd "personhood," repeal the National Security Act (and every single one of its progeny, up to and including the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts), and diversify ownership and control of the media, there is no reciprocal accountability. (Nor any meaningful difference between voting for either wing of the Party, even though only an outright lunatic would vote for the further right Group Of Prostitutes.)

As for the economies of abundance, this is where the real visionary thinking comes in. It's so difficult to imagine, due to our long and brutal subjugation to competition (real or imagined) as a mode of existence, that only science fiction writers can help us paint that part of the future, the part that's based on universal autonomy and cooperation (by which I do not mean socialism, at least as we think of it.)

Hope this clears up any lingering misunderstanding. Thanks.

Don Quijote said...

Don has simply gone ... “donnish” and I am not going to waste any more time chasing him from one untenable position to the next.

And David has gone all "Brinish" on us, All is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds.

But alas, no theory is tenable except the "USA is deliberately monstrous" hypothesis to explain all the world's ills.

The US is no worse than any other country who would be in the same position, A pax Germanica, Pax Francia, a Pax Japonnica, or a Pax China would be equally bad if not worse. The problem is in the nature of Empires, not in the greater evilness of one set of elites as opposed to another.

Everything is going to hell...

We have large scale ecological damage, large scale epidemics, large scale Misery and Poverty, and massive shortages of basic industrial commodities coming in the near future but all is hunky dory in this world.

Don Quijote said...

Go on. Name a case in which we’ve faced an opponent, in which sudden and universal light would not have harmed them more than we were harmed.)

I dunno - how about the time we fought the British in the so-called "Wall of 1812?" We used interference with our shipping as an excuse for a blatant land grab, attacking American Indians who were under English protection and invading Canada.

You forgot the Mexican war 1848, the Spanish-American War, the annexation of Hawaii, the conquest of the Philippines, the never ending Banana wars in Central America, Vietnam or Iraq. The list of dirty little wars started under false pretense is as long as my arm.

iridescent cuttlefish said...

Don Quijote,
You forgot the War On Drugs or is that just another "police action," like Korea & Vietnam, with Curtis LeMay's shining example of America bombing capitalism's enemies back in(to) the Stoned Age?

Anonymous said...

Here's where I think the arguments are getting past each other. I personally tend to agree with Dr. Brin that to date a capatilist society (Pax Americana, if you will) has proven itself, in comparison to all other forms of society to day, to be the most intractable at being usurped by the "elite", however you want to define it. Not that there have not been attempts, not that there haven't been successes by the "elites", only that capitalism and a "free market" (in the Adam Smith sense, which accepts regulation to ensure competetive equality) have, so far, proven to be the most robust methods of improving the human condition. There are still forms of "utopia" that can be easily referenced around such ideas (some Libertarians, for example, refer to "Libertopia", effectively a form of anarchy not unlike the end-game scenario of communism since Marx would also see the state wither away in his utopian vision, they just differ in HOW to try to achieve those goals.)

Contrarily socialism and communism have historically shown that by concentrating power in a government that it then becomes easier for "elites" to usurp those institutions for their own means.

So far NEITHER form of societal structure has proven to be unassailable to power grabs, but so far capitalism has proven to be more resilient than most. Thus I would also side with Dr. Brin (assuming I am reading his arguments correctly) that trying to address our problems using the tools of a socialist society have proven to be less useful than the tools of a capitalist one. Hence we should most likely look at ways of further using capitalist tools to continue combating those elites that we ALL seem to be agreeing upon that are trying to drag us down into a feudalist society (which we all seem to agree would be, literally, dragging us back into the Dark Ages.)

Reciprocal accountability, then, as a tool seems to be most easily implemented into a capitalist society, but more difficult to implement into a socialist one, in part because socialist ones seem to fall prey to elites more easily. And thus, in this sense, we look to the past to find ways which have worked in order to learn who tools will be effective in propelling us into the future (thereby tying up all the cross-purpose questioning of why bring up the past or look to the future.)

Whew! Did I get close with any of that or am I just reading all of that incorrectly?

Anonymous said...

"I have the greatest admiration for your propaganda. Propaganda in the West is carried out by experts who have had the best training in the world -- in the field of advertizing -- and have mastered the techniques with exceptional proficiency ... Yours are subtle and persuasive; ours are crude and obvious ... I think that the fundamental difference between our worlds, with respect to propaganda, is quite simple. You tend to believe yours ... and we tend to disbelieve ours."

--a Soviet correspondent based five years in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

I bet that the point I was previously trying to make got lost among that overdone silliness like it probably deserved.

Let me re-iterate using my own field as an example:
Suppose that you are running a study comparing different treatments for condition X. Pretty soon it is found out that the solution A is decisively better than all the alternatives, despite occasional failures and numerous side-effects.

By that time is unethical to continue the "experiment" as the control groups are denied the benefits.
The fact that additional information could theoretically be useful is irrelevant as the decision is about real people.
Besides, this doesn't mean that you can't develop new and better methods, it's just not done with theories not based on facts and denying what has been previously established.

Simple, even banal point when compared with the complexity of visionary thinking, but relevant none the less in my mind.


David Brin:Name a case in which we’ve faced an opponent, in which sudden and universal light would not have harmed them more than we were harmed.

I think that this question means what it says. (Although I might be misunderstanding it after all.)
There has not been universal light in US in the past, but if...(just read it again)

Therefore, that question is not identical to:
Name a case where US has started a war under false pretenses?
or even:
Name a case where US has been involved in a dirty and selfish war?

A shame that this thread seems to be closing down.