Saturday, September 27, 2014

"The Circle?" - Watching the Watchers of the Watchers

I will get to the recent, anti-transparency best-seller - The Circle - in a moment.  But first --

People think that because I am "moderate" that means I am tepid.  I am a MILITANT moderate! I do not need to blind government... civil servants must do their jobs.  But I am fierce in demanding they be supervised.  Mostly by open transparency but at very least by auditors they cannot control. 

 Fortunately there is good news. I have called it the most important civil liberties matter in our lifetimes -- certainly in thirty years -- even though it was hardly covered by the press. In 2013 both the U.S. courts and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom, for in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

Kevin Kelly's Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, not Fight it, in WIRED, prescribed “transparent coveillance” as the best practical solution in a world where information sloshes and duplicates and flows. I’ve known Kevin for decades as one of the sharp guys who “got” the notions in The Transparent Society long before most did.

smile-video-cameraAlso, in Smile, You're on Video Camera, Futurist Virginia Postrel offers an interesting little thought experiment about the future spread of cameras and omni-veillance in our lives. The upside potential is vast... providing we remain calmly reasonable about negotiating carve-outs and exceptions. 

And - above all - if we demand that the light spread "upward" - at least as much as downward.

== Manipulative polemics about transparency == 

In contrast, Dave Eggers's novel The Circle expresses dread toward the spreading encroachment, everywhere, of light, portraying a near future internet giant that manifests all of the best -- and all the very worst -- traits of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, combined. In so doing, he creates a vivid, strawman version of coveillance for his virtuous characters to rebel-against and knock down.  

TheCircleEggers does this effectively, first by portraying an all-controlling, information-voracious monopoly -- a hackle-raiser, all by itself -- a behemoth whose unctuous-preachy utopianism just has to conceal a deeply insidious agenda. The author of this best-seller also utilizes an expert array of well-delivered literary techniques -- for instance, by having both his omniscient narrator-voice and the story's smarmy-nosy oppressors lecture the reader -- ad tedious infinitum -- about the advantages  of reciprocal transparency. 

I respect skillful polemic and Eggers deploys cleverness to make his anti-transparency argument, knowing that  generations of Hollywood films have taught us... it's always villains who give long, rationalizing speeches.   And boy, do the pro-transparency villains in The Circle give speeches!

The novel is at its most-fun while skewering the cliches of Silicon Valley. Eggers portrays The Circle as the perfect place to work... in fact too perfect with free gourmet restaurants, 24 hour health spa, free (indeed mandatory) massages, and employees encouraged to begin living on-campus. As pep rallies gather momentum, you cannot help picking up the vibe of a cult -- even down to oblique references to the new Apple headquarters, a spaceship-like behemoth that will be shaped like -- a circle.  Eggers's loathing for all this is seldom expressed in criticism, but rather in grandiose, utopian paeans that pour not only from the cult's boosters, but also the unctuously supportive, omniscient narrator.

Indeed, it took me a while to realize where I had seen this method before -- mocking your foe by relentlessly delivering silly-exaggerated versions of the enemy point of view.  Then I realized. Of course. Stephen Colbert! Colbert's faux-conservative schtick is probably the most original, consistent and brilliant comedic innovation since Groucho Marx. Eggers does the same thing (alas without Colbert's humor or charm), delivering every possible argument for transparency, in extreme versions that are tuned to repel.

In the world of The Circle, cameras proliferate everywhere -- as I predicted in EARTH and in The Transparent Society -- only these do not become part of an ecology of human-style reciprocal-self-restraint. Rather, they unleash a tsunami of voyeurism and exhibitionism, encouraged -- even socially enforced -- by a corporate titan that is paternalistically "well-intentioned," but untethered from regulation or social or even market forces. (Circle employees are so busy 'zinging' and engaging in online interaction that they get very little actual work done.)

Alas, Eggers goes for the standard cliche...that his fellow citizens are fools who would actually buy into his all-controlling corporation's blatant zero-sum game. That, in order to get transparency's advantages, you must thereupon completely sell-out and surrender your humanity, or any core-safe-inner zone of personal space or privacy, or the right to eccentricity or even stark-but-beautiful loneliness. 

"Secrets are lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is Theft," reads the Circle's deliberately Orwellian mantra. Well, sure, borrow from the master! Indeed, Eggers intends to warn us off from what he deems to be transparency's pitiless glare. He aims for Orwell's achievement: the self preventing prophecy.

Alas for his scenario, in real life, average men and women would refuse the simplistic, zero-sum bargain offered by The Circle. Those citizens are, as we speak, adapting to a more transparent world by picking and choosing. By deciding which most-vital intimacies or solitary ways to keep within a protected curtilage, and which to trade for the benefits of reciprocal accountability. 

cameras-smallerLike all transparency luddites, Eggers shrugs off his obligation to suggest plausible alternatives. Given that cameras get smaller, cheaper, more numerous, better and more mobile at a rate faster than Moore's Law -- (one pundit called it Brin's Corollary) -- what's your plan, then? To ban them? That will certainly guarantee Big Brother. 

The one alternative presented in the book -- unplugging and dropping out, Kaczynski-style -- seems likely to be a non-starter. Moreover, it goes very badly for one drop-out, in The Circle, poignantly reminding me of that hapless character, The Savage, in Brave New World. Did Eggers truly mean to make it so blatantly clear that hiding cannot possibly work?  In which case... what's your suggested alternative?

Perhaps the choices being made by today's teens (for example) are not to the liking of folks like Dave Eggers. Indeed, he is welcome to disagree. But is it fair to call citizens inactive in this evolution? As I portray in Existence, their activity can be assertive, not the sheeplike acquiescence that he depicts (contemptuously) in The Circle.

The possibility that light might be a weapon any person can use to enforce MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) or GOOMFYNBALMA (Get Out Of My Face You Nosy Bastard And Leave Me Alone) never occurs to Mr. Eggers, even though it is how we got freedom and privacy, in the first place. Nor the blatant fact that transparency and sousveillance are solutions to hierarchy and intimidation, not their friends

Indeed, the novel's plot revolves around a predictable premise, that The Circle's rulers do not abide by the bargain they have offered, that the new-lord information-oligarchs betray it, and their hypocrisy would for certain be brought down... by light! If only it truly did shine both ways.

It is the avoidance of reciprocality of transparency that underlies every bad aspect that Eggers rails against. The corporation frames and blackmails opponents and stifles its own defectors. One of those top defectors even avows, near the end, that the one solution to every problem raised in the book will be to inform the sheep out there what's really going on, and he asks the protagonist for help in doing this. 

But the protagonist -- a strawman exhibitionist who has spent 300 pages proclaiming devotion to fetishistic-openness -- suddenly refuses to share, deciding instead to help the oligarchs conceal their schemes.

Seriously.  The top failure mode revealed in the book consists of characters following Mr. Eggers's advice. 

(Side note: when you finish The Circle, ask: why didn't the defector guy -- a billionaire genius with instant access to all the world -- just blow the whistle, himself, instead of trusting a flakey and openly-avowed foe?) 

== The Circle... comes full circle ==

Consider those Hollywood memes.  I've asserted already that Eggers skillfully deploys several. Again, monopolies are dangerous. Villains give long lectures. And our neighbors would all fall for this simplistic plot because they (unlike me) are all sheep.  

Those are great old crowd-pleasers.

What Eggers never acknowledges is that generations of those same films (and novels and songs) also portray individualism and eccentricity and diversity as paramount virtues.  Wait... I take that back.  Eggers portrays all of those things under threat by an ominous Big Brother, even though he does not trust commonfolk to defend them. Okay. I get it. The Colbert thing again. He does not miss a beat.

To be clear, I share all of those values, except one. I refuse (despite Fox News and its pallid imitators on the left) to perceive my fellow citizens as herd beasts. I am betting they will negotiate an assertive course, one that brings individualism and eccentricity and MYOB into a world filled with light. Using light to catch and deter those who invade their inner privacy.

Will we see this active assertion start to take shape with the emergence of ELLO?  The new social network that - while somewhat bare bones - promises NOT to collect your data or sell it, and to have no advertising? Will fed-up millions vote with their feet? 

The Ello experiment will not make or break my arguments from The Transparent Society.  But in the extremum, any surge from Facebook to Ello would be a blow to those who portray our fellow citizens as cattle.

== A circle has no point ==

Again, when the entire plot revolves around a top-down conspiracy for power that would be solved by engaging a fully informed public's capacity for judgement and balance, and the author makes clear that upward-shining sousveillance light is the only conceivable answer, one has to ask: what was your point, again?

To be fair, there is a level at which Mr. Eggers does in The Circle what I always attempt to do -- present arguments for all sides (albeit in this case as grotesque caricatures) in a passionately important controversy over where all the technological and social trends might be taking us.  If I did not consider his contribution to the debate to be intelligent and interesting - though polemical-biased - I would not be driving sales his way, right now!  

Alas, though, intelligence and cleverness do not prevent the sins of blatant exaggeration, oversimplification, strawmanning, contempt for the masses and pressing the scales with a heavy, authorial thumb.

But you be the judge. It's what citizens will do, with balance and proportion, as we seek the positive sum, win-win for us all.

== Transparency Miscellany ==

DATA-BREACHNow it’s Home Depot reporting a massive hack-leak of customer information. A couple months ago it was Target and 110 million files. Before that? Open SSL, a critical security backbone. And before that? Shall I go on? Read this article about “Data Breach Fatigue” and how people are starting to shrug in resignation, rather than shout in outrage.
"We are in the trough of disillusionment," says Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. "Over 1,000 retailers have been hit; it's not limited to Home Depot. There are 999 others that no one's talking about."
When will it sink in that Everything Leaks and that our best security measure will be to stop assuming there’s some solution out there, and instead adapt so that we will not be harmed — and can thrive — in a world where most information simply flows, like water. 

Believe it or not, we might be stronger and safer and even have more privacy, if we finally face that fact.


Alex Tolley said...

Fellow libertarian Posterl is not offering any privacy carve outs - just no privacy. So the "transparency" folks just ride roughshod over those who want privacy. If we all give up our privacy, we'll all be safer, is her message. We've had plenty of video evidence in trials that still don't help. From Rodney King to the latest Grand Jury verdict in the shooting of John Crawford Jr. Techno-utopianism.

Doesn't the "The Vault" remain a potential data breach if "everything leaks", even assuming the FBI doesn't get its backdoor to view video that might "save a kidnap victim". If the celebity nude photos debacle isn't a suitable warning that this won't work reliably, and the NSA's determination to access all information, legally or otherwise, while protected by the government isn't a red flag, I don't know what is.

Postrel gives us the worst of all worlds. No privacy at all (even Brin has drawn the line, albeit without assurances), and a wrongheaded belief that intimate videos will be secure (which Brin correctly states cannot be assured). What could possibly go wrong :).

Michael C. Rush said...

Supervision is half the solution. But accountability is the other half, and this is something that has steadily declined over the course of my lifetime, which is the reason that I have disengaged with the political process in the U.S. If anyone with sufficient power behind them can do whatever they want with no fear of accountability or real consequence even in those cases where they are caught, then what incentive is there to watch them more closely in an attempt to catch them?

I believe that watching the watchers will slow the rate at which things get worse, and that it is therefore worth doing. But I see no reason whatsoever to think that it will change the direction that things are going until such time as real consequences for violations are insisted upon and enforced, and there are no signs of that happening any time soon. The will to make it happen is obviously lacking.

David Brin said...

A lot of the cognitive dissonance comes from the fact that transparency revelations like Rodney King and Snowden reveal some bad things... fine... but no one adds to the balance the fact THAT the bad things are now easier to reveal and are being revealed.

Nor is there ever a scintilla of a nod to 6000 years of human hierarchies, in which revelation and accountability were always -- always -- harder to achieve than today.

Instead there is proof-by-anecdote. The Rodney King verdict showed there were white racist jurors in Simi Valley. Okay. It did not show the out of court settlement for civil damages LA had to pay, and hence the rogue officers who were fired because they posed a risk of more such losses.

The narrative of complaint always wins! And that is fine, to the extent that bitching is what makes these changes happen!

What I find stupid is not that folks have a reflex to bitch. How many times must I explain the value of that till dopes realize I am not saying shut up!

No, what I deem stoooopid is proclaiming "I invented suspicion of authority! Me and my pals are the ONLY ones concerned about Big Brother! And all our bitching has never done a bit of good cause people are screwed and civilization sucks and there's no hope so don't ask me to actually DO anything while I am sitting here, grouchily and cynically bitching."

Unknown said...

Nervous about the Ello being served up in Columbia. Is this an unfounded degree of anxiety. I would love to dump Facebook, just don't reckon many friends would follow me over.

Paul451 said...

I gotta say, I'm an "anti" when it comes to sharing-is-caring. In spite of doing and saying virtually (ha) nothing online that I wouldn't do or say IRL, for 20 years I've always tried to keep my online presence separate from my offline. Even when "privacy is dead" data-sellers like Google tried to force the issue, I always stopped using any of their services that would show my IRL-name publicly rather than just shrug and accept it. (I keep waiting, dreading, for the day when they switch Blogger to the IRL-name I was forced to reveal to keep my gmail account.) Likewise, I joined Facebook just long enough to secure my IRL name and lock down every sharing-setting to no-one/none/never, then deleted the account (belt'n'braces).

And even then, after all that, I still manage to get creeped out by having "followers" on the (pseudonymous) Disqus comment system. I can't help it, it feels like catching someone peeping through a window.

Alex Tolley said...

Yes, one can definitely take the view that video sousveillance makes poor juror decisions harder and subject to wider scruting. The Rodney King decision was outrageous. OTOH, the LA Freeway incident of the cop beating a women does seem to have had a good result. But the logic of ubiquitous, all but invisible cameras and other surveillance devices, does mean that privacy will also be increasingly invaded. If we have our appliances recording our most private actions (1984!) then we give ammunition to those in authority to access that data to the detriment of the surveilled. How unlikely is it that in states with sodomy laws that the police will refrain from accessing that data to ensure morality and make arrest quotas. How unlikely will police deploy their own devices to do the same? Postrel isn't even suggesting using cameras in a surveillance mode, just as individual protection in "rape culture". (No suspicion of authority invoked). What impact does that have on society when anyone could be tormented for any reason. No thought that just maybe changing attitudes through education might be a better, if more spotty, approach. (I appreciate that if locum's comment from a previos thread is right, then this might be construed as some form of social coercion, and education just brainwashing).

Ubiquitous surveillance by video is just too much like having a judging God looking over my shoulder. As an atheist, this makes me shudder. Will some future society require that people pay a "tax" at a "confessional" to "keep the books clean"?

Alex Tolley said...

Will some future society require that people pay a "tax" at a "confessional" to "keep the books clean"?

I just realized that there is at least one analog to that today. Mug shots and public criminal records have been posted online for all to see. If you want them removed you pay the website owner for their removal. Nice racket.

Then there is the psychic payback of "revenge porn", brought to you today by recording intimacy. Reciprocal recording of intimacy is really going to curb that (not). So much for MYOB.

Jumper said...

[combining posts attempting to not be a hog]
"Reputation companies" are enemies of transparency.

Is there any reason to think that credit agencies have not already folded in much online data, beneath the radar? Who knows.

I realized recently that I couldn't get too upset over "companies reading my email" because that's what a spam blocker does. Then I remembered I hadn't had a spam blocker for years. In fact I hadn't needed one, managing to keep my email address off the web. Recently a political party seems to have shared it with the entire universe. Not a good strategy.

I found this a few years ago and figured I'd keep my mouth shut.

Because one of our regulars said recently that "analog is dead" (I'm misquoting awfully)

David Brin said...

Alex: “How unlikely is it that in states with sodomy laws that the police will refrain from accessing that data to ensure morality and make arrest quotas.”

Um, might I ask one what side of a time warp or what planet you are asking this from? Is it truly impossible for you to grasp that those laws have been vanishing (or lapsing into disuse) precisely because public exposure has spread increased tolerance of diversity?

Sorry, Alex, but your level of discourse on this issue is below your usual par. Sure, surveillance can lead to enforceable tyranny! That is why I fight to keep momentum on what is ALREADY happening. Use of the new technologies to become more diverse, tolerant and safe and free… not less.

Seriously, there’s a lot in The Transparent Society that might add layers to your perception.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB Um, might I ask one what side of a time warp or what planet you are asking this from? Is it truly impossible for you to grasp that those laws have been vanishing (or lapsing into disuse) precisely because public exposure has spread increased tolerance of diversity?

Really? So how can this be true?

Sunshine can indeed expose issues and get changes enacted. It can also do the opposite. Just how many cameras would it have taken to enact civil rights in the 1960's? It depends on the context. This isn't like some physical law that drives chemical equilibrium. I would posit that no amount of cameras recording police raids on gay couples homes would do one whit to change sodomy laws. Films, tv, books and other persuasive depictions are far more powerful in changing views, and these are the means to change attitudes and eventually laws.

Cameras can help where current wrong doing is captured - most notably abuse by authorities, or by individuals (e.g. Saatchi and Lawson). But video has no viewpoint, so it is interpreted by the viewer and that interpretation can be colored by manipulation. The ubiquitous recording of events by individuals has barely started. In a decade or two we will have some sense of its impact.

Maybe in a decade we will have tv shows and movies depicting crimes being solved and wrong doing exposed by citizen video (not security cameras). A decade of exploring the implications and creating a balance of good and bad results may persuade the public on this issue and help us wise up to how the "bad guys" try to block exposure.

Perhaps you should write a novel about this?

David Brin said...

"Just how many cameras would it have taken to enact civil rights in the 1960's?"


I was there. My father marched with King. King often said the cameras kept... him... alive. The cameras of that time were PRECISELY the reason why the movement finally broke free and gained momentum.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB - so you are suggesting that MLK wouldn't have been assassinated if the shooter knew there were cameras monitoring the crowd? Or are you saying that civil rights legislation happened because of images and video of MLK? (alive or dead).

Are you suggesting that history was made by cameras? The only confirmed case that I am aware of that public opinion turned against the government and resulted in a change was the journalistic war footage of Vietnam that soured US opinion on that "war". Of course the protests in the streets and on campuses had nothing to do with change.

What I will agree to is that the response of authorities of videoing protests is to try to control it, much like the careful selection of embedded journalists in Iraq. It is all about controlling the message and its dissemination. We saw how that played out with the Occupy movement in particular. But the change in attitudes is due to the protests, not the camera recordings. As we saw with Occupy, recording police response did not stop arrests or result in any action against overzealous police action. Had the law strongly dealt with police and resulted in changed rules in dealing with protesters when video evidence was presented, then I would agree that the cameras would have been effective.

I will leave it to you to support your case by providing evidence that this has happened. Since you have military connections, did the video exposed by Chelsea Manning of the wanton killing of civilians in Iraq result in changes in rules of engagement? The Wikipedia entry suggests otherwise, and that the result was the military absolving themselves of blame and putting all the onus on journalists to make sure they are not targeted in future. So apparently US troops killing people in what sounds like glee is acceptable behavior. So much for sousveillance.

David Brin said...

Is it even remotely possible that Locum will even TRY to comprehend this thing folks keep blatheritng about? This positive sum game deal?

"he believes that he must sacrifice some rights in order to secure others; he tolerates social indignity in order to secure social benefit;"

What a guy. Strawman after convenient strawman that bear no even-glancing resemblance to reality.

Yes, there are some people like this. But Locum assumes a very small cast of characters, because that small cast makes him comfy.

He ignores the existence of reasonable but militant men, like Franklin and Perecles and the Roosevelts... and me. I have - in any one month - fought the enemies locum hates so vastly harder and more effectively than he has across his entire living span.

And I include his future in that.

Feh. This is getting tedious.

David Brin said...

I am tired of answering such blithering nonsense as the following. "@DB - so you are suggesting that MLK wouldn't have been assassinated if the shooter knew there were cameras monitoring the crowd? Or are you saying that civil rights legislation happened because of images and video of MLK? (alive or dead)."

TV footage of southern sheriffs siccing dogs on unarmed and peaceful marchers girded Blue Americans to join King's fight. The presence of TV crews who filmed MLK entering jail and would be there when he emerged clearly (he said so) prevented beatings and worse.

MLK was not shot near a "crowd" but from an apartment window across from his balcony. But yes, his security would have been better with cameras.

Alex are you truly unable to grasp these things, or are you purposely baiting me? Either way, I am going cold turkey on you, till you breathe and calm down.

Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

@DB - Alex are you truly unable to grasp these things, or are you purposely baiting me?


Let's sum up the argument so far:

DB: Postrel agrees with me on transparency.
AT: Posterl's arguments don't hold water, especially regarding "The Vault".
DB: OK Rodney King and Snowden show bad things are happening, but cameras helped us see all this and there were some good outcomes. Anyone seeing the negaitives amd not the positives is just bitching. Anyone even mentioning SOA is just stupid (because they don't realize this is an age-old condition and wasn't invented yesterday (or by James Dean, or whoever).
AT: Yes, The RK case did expose the jurors bias and ability to be swayed despite the evidence. It also resulted in other good outcomes.
However there is a cost, in that surveillance is a two way street and is enabled by technology. Authorities have more power than individuals to use it.
Posterl ignores that individuals can also be spiteful and cause torment. Education rather than MAD surveillance might be a better route to take in the case of the topical "rape culture". There may be current analogs to the use of surveillance to extort the surveilled.
DB: Ad hominem attack. The sodomy laws are being rolled back by cameras. Transparency will work (because I say so).
AT: Evidence that authorities ignore sodomy law. (Used to support argument about abuse).
Agrees cameras can help in some situations. Genarl claim about transparency effectiveness is not yet known. Agency, not cameras is the driver of legislative change.
DB: cameras were the driver of civil rights legislation. They also kept MLK alive (anecdotal evidence cited).
AT: Rephrases DB argument for clarification re cameras and MLK. Rephrases DB to check claim that cameras were driver of CR legislation
Agrees that in one instance that cameras were important in legislation. Counter argues that people are the drivers of change. Suggests that cameras were not that useful in modern protests to overcome authoritarian abuse. Provided supporting evidence that military white-washed celebrated leaked Iraq helicopter killings. Asked for evidence that cameras in this situation created change.
DB: Suggested cameras did support CR change (although the usage was in news and documentaries in the same way as Vietnam footage was used. (AT has already agreed that cameras are enablers of change, just not drivers). Final ad hominem attack.

To sum up. I do not use ad hominem attacks as an retort or argument. At worst my language can be construed as sarcasm. I cite external supporting references to bolster my argument. At worst you can claim this "cherry-picking", but it is no worse than doing the same in the OP. In this case I did not use anecdote rather than references to support an argument. In no case did you directly rebut me with evidence.

It's your soapbox. But when you use it, don't get annoyed if your posts and comments result in push back, especially when you try to dismiss the retorts as stupid. At

David Brin said...

Last response. Alex is in some kind of state, and I'll not read anything further from him till the month changes. And maybe another month, if he keeps this up.

He is fabulating at locum levels. I just tried to wallow through his most-recent and found it an unfathomable stack of rationalizations for what seems to be deliberate misreading, setting up strawmen to make him feel righteously comfy, and ex post facto weird logic.

I ask that any of you who see him posting "this is what brin said" mania elsewhere gently remind him that I call his recent ravings in no solid way connected to my words or the intent behind them.

Jumper said...

David, it's because lately you insult everyone you disagree with. I disagree with several things Alex just said but

Tacitus said...

Thanks Jumper. I was just thinking that something along those lines needed saying.


David Brin said...

Thank you Jumper. While I will bear this in mind and attempt to keep my temper, in fact, I recall that you behaved very badly recently, as well. Your effort to rationalize it by blaming me is amusing.

No matter. This is one of the oldest and best communities on the web and I make it clear that thick skins are part of the deal.

Has it occurred to you to try noting a pattern? The thing that makes me angry - and that I will not abide - is "Don't try to deny it, Brin, you now claim that you mean this, but earlier I recall that you meant THAT!"

I will not be silent toward people telling me what I meant. Especially when they are telling me I mean things diametrically opposite to beliefs that have been on the record for decades. I put up with it from locum because he seems to have a genuine perceptual defect.

I won't put up with it from others who have been cogent on other occasions, but who have decided, in a snit, to act like jerks.

David Brin said...

Tacitus2 is different. I was rude to him as a moment (or two) of emotional excess. But indeed, I was reacting to him doing something very similar.

Enough. You are welcome to go elsewhere if you like.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I have been reading the recent catfights on this forum

And I find I agree with Dr Brin,

Dr Brin has been saying that transparency "helps"

The others have been saying no it doesn't because "bad stuff still happens"

This is the equivalent of
If man evolved from apes how come there are still apes"

How about you guys reading
"The Transparent Society"
Sleeping on it - then coming back with sensible remarks
(Or at least funny ones)

LarryHart said...

I had a sobering thought this morning, not on topic of this post, but of the recent one on selection by the sexes.

Again, think of that guy in California who went on a killing spree because he was all of twenty-two years old and yet women were not giving him his rightful due in the sex department. If so, the women were actually doing their job correctly--culling such an unworthy specimen from the gene pool.

Unfortunately, there are other ways to "win" than the most obvious, which is to mate often and produce many offspring. Being barred from that option, does one not also "win" by slaughering the women who reject him, thus at least indirectly altering the composition of the female population into one more favorable to him, or at least less unfavorable?

This is probably the evolutionary impetus behind the "If I can't have her, then no one will!" aspect of jealousy. There seems to be some bilogical sense to that attitude, anti-social though it may be. If an evolutionarily-favorable female won't accept your genes, then you profit in the game by foreclosing the possibility that she accepts another's.

I hate like hell the fact that the evolutionary game can be played this way, but it does seem to be the case.

LarryHart said...

Geez, I'm not going to get into the cat-fights. In my experience, this kind of behavior occurs when there is "too much estrogen in the room", but that doesn't seem to be the case here, so what gives?

Alex Tolley said...


I don't know if what you suggest actually occurs, but it would definitely result in directional selection. The problem is that without reproduction, would the removal of some females make any material difference to the population of those genes (alleles)? My guess is that it would have a marginal effect only. The closest analogy I can see in nature (off the top of my head) is the male lion killing the cubs of a previous male's offspring. In human society it is killing all the family members of an enemy. In that particular case, he got his Darwin Award.

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley

The problem is that without reproduction, would the removal of some females make any material difference to the population of those genes (alleles)?

What I'm suggesting is certainly more of a consolation prize than a championship, but I'm talking about a guy who isn't being offered the championship in the first place.

If 90% of women aren't going to accept you as a potential for mating, then your genes lose to those men who those women will mate with. But suppose you kill a large swath of those 90%. For the sake of argument, say you kill a third of them. Now that cohort of women who look askance at you only makes up 30% of the old population (including the dead women) and 75% of the remaining population (not including the dead ones). Looking at it the other way around, now the number of women who might give you a shot has gone from 10% to 25%.

And even if they don't actually let you personally reproduce, they might select someone similar to you, whereas the original 90% probably would not have done so. Taking a very long view of things, killing the women who aren't receptive to your kind alters the makeup of humainty itself, making it more compatible to your kind (or at least less hostile to your kind).

In politics, this is analagous to "winning" elections by preventing those who might vote against your team from voting at all. The two are analagous both in their clear underhandedness and in their unfortunate propensity to succeed as a strategy.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

I started to read "Aficianado" but soon realized I had already read it within the pages of "Existence".

Still, this is the first time I saw that title, so I have to ask, is "a-FISH-ianado" supposed to be a pun?

locumranch said...

All games can be played this way:

Double Sum when our host's posts are subject to criticism, resulting in a stronger post through CITROCATE if taken impersonally; Zero Sum when the criticisms of our host's posts are thought personal, leaving one rejected & the other dominant; and Negative Sum when dialogue stops, meaning that post and criticism are impossible to reconcile.

Likewise, dating is similar to politics & war. They are positive sum if both parties benefit, zero sum if one party triumphs over the other and negative sum if both parties lose, and each gaming style may bleed into any other, especially when winning, losing and mutual benefit is a matter of individual perception and/or contention.


Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan The others have been saying no it doesn't because "bad stuff still happens"

I cannot speak for others, but that is certainly not what I am saying. To avoid the "cat fight" and further ruffled feather, let me use another analogy. "Should we expand a nuclear power program?". Obviously there are arguments for and against. But for a debate, how does one show the relative balance of pros and cons without using examples to support each side of the argument? The con argument will just look like "bad stuff still happens". (Indeed that looks very much like the anti-nuclear energy argument - e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima). I do not see the pro side winning the nuclear argument by calling the fears of the con side irrational. That is as close as I can get without invoking the "T" word.

If you have a suggestion on how better to argue the con side of a debate that involves emotions, I am all ears. [My training has been to acknowledge the other side's issues, often by paraphrasing what they say to clarify their statement and allow misunderstandings to be resolved, and then try to offer evidence that supports the opposing view without being dismissive. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't].

This argumentation issue was illustrated in the documentary "The Unbelievers" following Dawkins and Krauss on their global tour to "evangelize" atheism. In a candid moment, Krauss tried to suggest to Dawkins that a less dismissive attitude would change more minds. Dawkins, oblivious, just related a story about how he changed his mind as a young student by the argument of his professor who contradicted everything Dawkins thought true, so rational argument was all that was needed. It is that attitude that, I suspect, has got Dawkins into so much hot water in the last few years.

Alex Tolley said...

@Larry Hart
And even if they don't actually let you personally reproduce, they might select someone similar to you,

I think that is a key point, otherwise the population will have to be small (small island?) or you have some serious killing to do. It your "sociopath genes" are fairly widely shared, an action on your part could indeed influence a wider population and improve those gene's chances of reproduction.

David Brin said...

I made the mistake of skimming AT's latest. A "I am the adult" slew of rationalizations for astonishingly puerile behavior. Having attempted relentlessly to "paraphrase" cramming odious things into my mouth that I obviously never said and declaring that I meant things I would be a fool to mean.

Someone kick me if I respond to him again in less than a month. If he keeps this up, he will be banned.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

The con argument will just look like "bad stuff still happens". (Indeed that looks very much like the anti-nuclear energy argument - e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima).

To me, the con side of that argument is not simply "bad things still happen", but "Bad things happen that are so bad as to be too high a cost to justify even the good things.

The most general debate should not be about whether good thing happen or bad things happen, but about the cost/benefit ratio.

We went to war in Iraq in 2003 with the idea that "some good things will happen" without any consideration of the cost side of the ledger. OTOH, those who deny any interest in fighting ISIS without debate would seem to be making an equal and opposite mistake.

And the "Drill, baby drill!" argument for fossil fuels goes beyond "good things will happen" and even beyond cost/benefit analysis, to a kind of positive elation at the damage it will cause to the enviornment (and to the feelings of environmentalists), somehow interpreting the costs as benefits.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

I'm sorry, but I don't get the vibe that you do off of Alex. Ok, I see how that list might have done it, but by then, I'd guess there was a certiain amount of futile attempt to explain oneself that just violated the rule of holes ("stop digging").

Having written 25-page letters to ex-girlfriends trying to "explain" reasons for things they simply didn't like about me--well, who am I to judge?

At this point, you're probably right to tune him out temporarily, as communication is only making things worse. But please...I don't see anything ban-worthy going on here.

This is reminding me of that "Simpsons" episode where Steve Sax (one of Mr Burns's ringers for the softball team) gets pulled over for a traffic stop, is perfectly respectful and pleasant to the officers, and every single thing he says just ticks them off more. "You just don't know when to stop, do you, Sax-ie boy?"

I'd laugh if I wasn't worried about the comity of this "place".

Alex Tolley said...

To me, the con side of that argument is not simply "bad things still happen", but "Bad things happen that are so bad as to be too high a cost to justify even the good things.

I think that is implicit. Unfortunately what may be "too high a cost" for one side may be relatively unimportant to the other. I think we are all well acquainted with the statistics that driving is less safe than air travel. However, for some people, even the low risks are unacceptable if they are not in control the vehicle. That MH117 disaster in the Ukraine seems like a pretty horrifying way to die too. So how does one convey those non-quantifiable issues? And this is an easy case (you keep your choice) compared to the nuclear debate where the true risks are not well known.

Your drilling example is particularly relevant to the fracking issue. Those people getting sick are treated as "collateral damage" in the quest for cheap energy. The solution is imposed on them a their cost, even if society does get a net positive gain.

LarryHart said...


Likewise, dating is similar to politics & war. They are positive sum if both parties benefit, zero sum if one party triumphs over the other and negative sum if both parties lose, and each gaming style may bleed into any other, especially when winning, losing and mutual benefit is a matter of individual perception and/or contention.

There are wheels within wheels within wheels.

On an individual level, everyone wants to win, and the losers suffer disappointment, which makes a certain percentage of them want to upset the game altogeher.

If you succeed in reproducing only to anger your opponent enough to kill you, is that a win?

On the other hand, there are reasons the system as a whole is better off if you don't win. If you're not the type of person who helps humanity survive and prosper, then the system degrades if you win. In fact, if that system allows you to win, it is actually disfunctional.

And there might even be individual reasons why you shouldn't win. If your propensity for violence results in you siring a son who murders you, is that a "win" or not?

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Your drilling example is particularly relevant to the fracking issue. Those people getting sick are treated as "collateral damage" in the quest for cheap energy. The solution is imposed on them a their cost, even if society does get a net positive gain.

I'm not convinced "soceity" gets a net positive from fracking. Obviously, some very powerful players benefit financially, but that's hardly the same thing. In it's day, it might have been true that "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA", but that maxim doesn't seem to hold for transnationals like Haliburton.

The pro-fracking arguments don't seem (to me) to be different in kind from arguments that you could get cheap energy by buring your house for firewood.

locumranch said...

Success is a matter open to interpretation, just as the term 'winning' has so many meanings as to be meaningless.

What we have here (at this site) is 'sport', otherwise known as gaming (competition) with little or no reputational consequence, allowing for the free exchange of ideas, aside from the odd outburst or insult, which is all well & good as intemperance tempers and moderates.


Tacitus said...

I think the polarization of American life has been felt here in recent years. And why not, this is not some Socratic oasis encased in a cultural faraday cage. Some people adapt to this better than others.

There will be no Road to Damascus moments where attitudes suddenly turn 180 degrees to something the polar opposite of what had been before. That is not realistic absent some cataclysmic change in our world.

But little things...

Don't imagine that those who have different opinions never learn anything, never think outside their clan's orthodoxies. (and those are often not what you imagine them to be).

Me for instance. I am just wrapping up a vehicle purchase. I am getting something high mpg and with California emissions standards. Not a hybrid, and I have my reasons there, but a brand so inextricably linked to Liberal political stance that I am seriously considering getting a custom bumper sticker:



David Brin said...

Clever Tacitus. Alas, You do seem to think there are still Eisenhowers. Even Reagans.

Tacitus said...

My sense of humor is intact. My sense of optimism has taken a few hits but remains partially intact.


LarryHart said...


I am seriously considering getting a custom bumper sticker:


I suppose that functions as an antidote of sorts to "Drill, baby, drill!"

Tacitus said...

Perhaps I am the isomer of Hollywood types who march in climate change parades yet travel in yachts and jets.


Jumper said...

Oh, great. I have done several bad things here, of somewhat different offense. Now I have to figure out which!
I think it was Wilde who said “a gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally."

rewinn said...

Green + Red = Christmas Conservatives?

locumranch said...

Chestnuts roasting on a greenhouse fire, Jack Frost nipping at no nose...

raito said...


Google, Facebook, et al. have already won the battle you claim to fight. I don't even have a Facebook account, yet I'm still there. Why? Because other people put me there, and I can't control their actions. Why do I receive the level of spam that I do (aside from owning a domain)? Because my IRL 'friends' insist on using services like Evite, etc. and giving them my information. It's not as simple as not giving your information personally. You're not the only one who has it.

Alex Tolly,

Video has no viewpoint? An awful lot of directors are going to be disappointed.

David Brin,

I understand what you're saying about the 'reasonable man', and I desperately wish that it were true for more people. But I'm also pretty sure that anyone who even tries to be reasonable is being conditioned to Alex's definition. Because if one side will compromise and the other won't, you know who wins.

As far as herds go, enough individuals who act the same are indistinguishable from a herd. Where I live, sometimes that's good, as when the state referendum came around as to whether the 2nd amendment really existed. The 2 large metro areas were sure they were going to eliminate those nasty firearms. They found to their surprised that they're outnumbered by the farmers out in counties with a sheriff and deputy who are 45 minutes away because Billy-bob's fighting down at the bar again. Sometimes it's bad, such as nearly completely eliminating abortion resources in the name of 'women's health'. (In my ideal world, abortion is completely available and totally unnecessary.)

How do you get the point across to people whose mantra is that everything the government does is good because it's the government doing it?

locumranch said...

Responding to my recent comments about rape & social coercion, the universe has responded & declared itself a liberal progressive, redefining rape as any type of sexual contact either lacking in consent as defined as 'an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement' or associated with any type of coercion including 'intoxication', 'lies', 'false promises' or breach-of-contract.

Welcome to a world where 'I didn't do it' is now a criminal offense.


David Brin said...

Mr raito, thanks for cogent input. But some issues are less monolithic than Fox News would have us believe. Many liberals (not leftists) are not opposed to cautious nuclear power. Many liberals (not leftists) are okay with cautious GMOs. And especially… Many liberals (not leftists) started arming themselves, quietly, during the Bush years, and have no problem with basic, safe gun ownership.

Would you please show me the “people whose mantra is that everything the government does is good…”? I wonder if you know even one.

In contrast, the other side IS monolithic, doctrinaire, dogmatic and fanatical. The New Confederacy wants all “government of/by/for the people” to perish from the Earth.

It is an important tool for civilization. Not the only one! And it needs watching! (See The Transparent Society.) But the fanatics are loony.

matthew said...

Tacitus, I'm frankly confused why anyone would "Drive Green / Vote Red?" If enough people vote red, no one will be able to Drive Green. See: Republican efforts to outlaw the Tesla Electric car.

Frankly, your loyalty in "voting red" is a symptom of the disease. "Voting Red" is voting for a bunch of oligarchic sociopaths. I'm sure you could find responsible conservatism by "Voting Blue." The Democrats are a centralist party (much to my disgust). There are plenty of conservatives in the Dems.

Not trying to be insulting, but unless you really are trying to vote in a fascist theocracy, "voting red" is not going to help very much.

matthew said...

Oh, and Doc, I am worried about your insults to visitors also. Perhaps time to take a break for a bit? I like it here, but your patience with all of us seems to be a bit strained.

matthew said...

This is a pretty decent article on political dysfunction in the US. Ignore the clickbait headline. The article is pretty well written and I'm interested in the book it is drawn from. Any book entitled “Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, Our Economy and Our Lives” seems to be promising.

rewinn said...

Perhaps every earnest comment on a matter of importence reinforced by a stern condemnation of the recalcitrant and the perverse should be following by a short quip, rather like the damper rods in a nuclear pile, and for much the same reason

Alex Tolley said...

What I obviously didn'rt make clear is that there is a difference between video captured by a security cam or randomly sited camera, and purposely framed and edited video. The former is a just a recording of events, while the latter is composed to tell a story or make a point. Directors are paid to do the latter. Obviously the difference isn't always sharply defined, but I don't think directors have to worry too much about raw footage taking their jobs away :)

It is a bit misleading to say Republicans want to ban Teslas. What is going on is the battle by car dealers to be the sole venfors of autos. I'm surprised that this is still true today, but it is all about protecting franchises. It is about time this barrier was torn down. I'm sure car dealerships have plenty of money to provide to friendly politicians to maintain their business model.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I'm going to suggest something.

Take some time off from commenting on here. Let your essays stand as-is. Because you have been attacking people and being insulting. A number of people have noticed and commented on it.

Sometimes I get really stressed at the Internet and commentary on it and need to take a vacation from it. It might do you some good to do the same. Yeah, conversations on your blog seem to become quieter when you don't participate... but right now we're not really having much in the way of conversations. Instead, people say things and when you disagree you become insulting. You phrase things in a way that it's a slap on the author rather than the author's idea.

Time off from constant commenting could help. Heck, maybe you have a story that's trying to work its way out and it's trying to catch your attention or something. You never can tell.

Still. Do consider taking a break from commenting on your essays after you post them. Let them stand as-is. Don't even bother logging on to read comments. Because ultimately it doesn't matter. And with some rest... maybe you'll find your patience has been restored and your tolerances back to normal.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I am listening to advice and will try to take it. But let me reiterate. The one thing that infuriates me is others telling me (or others) "what brin means"... and reiterating their tendentious wish-falsehood despite my protests that they are cramming words and meanings into my mouth opposite to those I hold.

That is not paraphrasing. It is strawmanning. And when it is reiterated, despite the victim's clear correction, then it is lying.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin
Please ignore Robert
I find the comments to be as much fun as your main posting,

Maybe we should all try to end with some humor?
To keep the mood good

I like Locumranch's finish to each comment - Best -
(normally much more than I like the comment)

I will try and emulate him in finishing in an upbeat way

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?
Dr Seuss

Tacitus said...

Humour is one of the easier things to misread.


Alfred Differ said...

locumranch said:

>>>This is why David's mutual surveillance argument, climate change action & bipartisanship is doomed to fail. It is too reasonable; it assumes that all parties are 'non-cheaters' who will negotiate in good faith; and it confuses transparency with accountability.

Anyone who has taken even a little bit of time to read what David writes knows he doesn't make the 'no cheaters' assumption. He even offers a plausible explanation for our drive to cheat relating to our mammalian inheritances as manifested by social constructs that can secure advantages we win for our children.

This goes beyond strawman construction. It goes all the way to blind commenting or a failure to comprehend the obvious surface messages. One doesn't have to agree with David to realize he DOES address cheating in the system he thinks could serve us better than the current mess.

Alfred Differ said...


I have to admit that on first reading I thought you meant 'vote red' as 'vote socialist/communist'. I'm American and should know better, but it took me a while to make the mental shift. Too many of my green friends ARE unaware socialists, so it wasn't easy.

You might need a bit of work on your custom bumper sticker if you intend it as 'vote GOP'. Maybe a green elephant would help? 8)

Alfred Differ said...


If you take any break in posting, I would suggest it be from FB. The strawmanning you describe is pretty thick over there, so there is a danger you bring the thousands of paper cuts you receive there back here.

The folks here are mild compared to what I've seen shoveled in your direction elsewhere. There are days when I wonder why you put up with it, but then you usually post something that makes it clear and I can easily imagine you walking in support of some unpopular protest. 8)

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I have to admit that on first reading I thought you meant 'vote red' as 'vote socialist/communist'. I'm American and should know better, but it took me a while to make the mental shift. Too many of my green friends ARE unaware socialists, so it wasn't easy.

Heh. That takes me back to college days in the 1980s when the right-wingers of the time tarred environmental groups with the brush of communism. A popular epithet was that Greenpeace, etc, were "watermelons"--that is, green on the outside, but red on the inside.

Tacitus said...

Oh dear. I do see the problem with that bumper sticker slogan.

Actually Wisconsin used to have some significant elected socialists. Mayors of Milwaukee for a while back in the early 20th century. I think a simple Green Elephant might be nice and subtle.
Thanks for the suggestion.


David Brin said...

Alfred, interesting point. I guess I put up with dopes and a few trolls on FB because they are inevitable spume in a mostly intelligent sea and frankly, I seem to attract less trolling than ANY of my peers... and I remain confused as to why! I do not shy from controversy, can be abrasive at times and toss bombs even in friendly directions (e.g. liberals who think they are "leftist-lite."

I guess I react a little stronger here because you are strong personalities to me and "family..." one of the oldest communities on the Web.

greg byshenk said...

David wrote:

Mr raito, thanks for cogent input. But some issues are less monolithic than Fox News would have us believe. Many liberals (not leftists) are not opposed to cautious nuclear power. Many liberals (not leftists) are okay with cautious GMOs.

You could even say the same about many "leftists", including me. I'd like to be able to get all our power from solar or wind (or local suns / fusion), but recognize that such isn't viable in the short term and that fission power is likely the best option. I think that a lot of 'GMO's (terrible term) are stupidly produced and/or stupidly used, but there is nothing wrong (and indeed a great deal right) with genetic engineering, and many valuable things have been produced. And while I don't own a firearm, I have used them and am in no way a pacifist.

Would you please show me the “people whose mantra is that everything the government does is good…”? I wonder if you know even one.

Here again, you'd be hard pressed to find the most extreme "leftists" (even revolutionary communists) who would endorse the position that 'everything the government does is good'.

Alfred Differ said...


I think it is an unfortunate bit of history that the GOP uses red. I'm sure there is an explanation for it dating back to some electoral accident, but I've usually associated red with the communists and other statists. I'm enough of a libertarian to think many in the GOP ARE statists, though, so I have to smile a bit at the intended analogy.


I signed up with a FB group dedicated to trolling in order to learn a thing or two about how they do it and why. From that experience, I'm fairly sure you make a poor target for them. I think it boils down to the fact that when you react you use too many words. If you could just boil things down to a FB jpeg or emotionally loaded phrase a five year old could understand, I'm sure you'd draw them to you. It would be much more fun to poke you with a sharp stick if you did not ask us to think so much16505. 8)

David Brin said...

Heh, Tacitus, you clever dog.

As for Blue -Red I recall it being anchored in the early nineties. The reason was obvious. If they had assigned red to democrats it would be viewed as a value judgement or political statement. Assigning it to the GOP was relatively implication-free. It worked. Now the terms are their own in 21st century context, free of last-century connotations.

Joel said...

China gets a black screen on mentions of HK on CNN

But Firechat is used to avoid cell towers and WiFi for HK protesters

I'm fiddly with optimism and fearful of Arab Spring chaos...

matthew said...

There can be no optimism on the situation in HK. China will respond with increasing force until there is a Tiananmen Square-style massacre unless the protesters go home. For China to allow HK to freely select their candidates would encourage the rest of China to protest. The "one nation, two systems" era was over the moment the decision to vet the candidates was announced. China cannot give in without huge loss of face. They will kill many times many to avoid that perception.

And the western media will downplay the protests. The media owners do not want any protest movements to succeed. See the media coverage of the Climate Protests just last week for further proof.

Alex Tolley said...

@Matthew. China cannot give in without huge loss of face.

I agree. I was in HK shortly after the British handed it over to China. The HK Chinese I knew wanted to get out desperately, but were unable to. Since then China has steadily increased its control over the island. This recent move may or may not be a breaking point. If HK succeeded in defying China, it would send a message to the mainland that more autonomy is possible and this in turn would undermine one party rule.

I wish HK all the best, but I fear that this may end in tears. We can predict that the rest of the world won't lift a finger to help. We should also feel empathy for the Taiwanese as China also plays its long game to recapture this island. They must be following events in HK very closely.

David Brin said...


Jonathan said...

In the film version of the Circle which I admittedly saw a long time ago, the protagonist flips the script and ends up actually believing what to her bosses was just a bullshit excuse for power, and does expose them, rather than help conceal them.

Is this a different ending than the book? Or did I misremember it?