Friday, February 13, 2015

Privacy will not go away -- but it will evolve

The issue will not go away. But at last the reflexes seem to be fading. The silly reflex - for example - to demand that we solve information age problems by shutting down info flows.  By standing in front of the data tsunami like King Canute screaming "Stop!"  Instead of learning to surf.

First: this is too easy to do. "The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists."

What is your reaction. Outrage? Want to ban this?  Fool. Yeah, that's gonna work, as cameras get smaller, faster, better, cheaper faster than Moore's law. Endlessly. Think TEN years ahead. Try some imagination, for a change, hm?

Driving this kind of activity underground will only empower elites and make them hire nasty-secretive henchmen to do all this in secret. 

On the other hand, if we stay calm, we can instead be militant for something that works… keeping public supervision representatives and public-access cameras in the control rooms of these systems! Require that operator-henchmen in such systems change jobs after 5 years and go to places where they can be encouraged to tell if there had been abuse. Whistleblower rewards. Lot of them.

These are deterrence vs abuse methods that use sight, which is possible. Deterring sight itself is not.

Can I belabor the point, having learned the hard way just how difficult it is? Worrying about what others KNOW is inherently insane, because you can never verify what someone else does not know! 

But you can verify what others DO with their knowledge. Preventing others from doing bad things is possible -- if we can see.

We became free by saying to elites: "You will inevitably see. But we demand the right and power to see (and supervise) you!" 

Again, there is an addiction to cynically demanding that we solve info age problems by reducing the amount and flow of light. By shouting at others "don't look!"  That approach is not only hopeless, it is illogical. Show me one example, across 6000 years, of it ever having worked. 

 == Shining Light on Anonymity ==

The Troll Hunters: This article shows the dawning of a new and badly-needed type of transparency… the hunting down and holding-accountable of internet trolls. 

“It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it. The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence.”

Follow this Swedish journalist who tracks and exposes Internet trolls on his television show Trollj√§garna (Troll Hunter). The author reminds us that “attempts to curb online hate must always contend with the long-standing ideals that imagine the Internet’s main purpose as offering unfettered space for free speech and marginalized ideas.”

“Anonymity online is possible, but it’s frail,” says one researcher who has exposed cryptic neo-Nazis.  

One lesson from this article — perhaps not intended — is to make clear the need for an intermediate, win-win solution that will promote pseudonymity — the purchase of vetted IDs from trusted sources that also convey meta-data about credibility and allowing accountability. This would be easy to accomplish, using some of the same methods as BitCoin.  The resulting billion dollar industry could give us the best of both worlds.

== Mass Surveillance and Terrorism ==

Mass surveillance ineffective at fighting terrorism -- This article about surveillance follows the standard pattern. Starting out informative, it moves on to gloomy dudgeon, and concludes with a general armwave call for unsepecified actions, in directions that cannot possibly work.

“In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, the U.K. government is redoubling its efforts to engage in mass surveillance. Prime Minister David Cameron wants to reintroduce the so-called snoopers’ charter—properly, the Communications Data Bill—which would compel telecom companies to keep records of all Internet, email, and cellphone activity. He also wants to ban encrypted communications services.”

France has blanket electronic surveillance. It didn’t avert the Charlie Hebdo events. They process vast amounts of imperfect intelligence data and do not have the resources to monitor all known suspects 24/7. The French authorities lost track of these extremists long enough for them to carry out their murderous acts.”

Good point!  (Though it ignores the likelihood (with real evidence) that many other attacks were staunched by national protector castes. Notice that the possibility is never raised by the writer, that this is a matter of ratios, not black and white.

Only then, alas, the pattern repeats yet again. The author reaches exactly the wrong conclusion: 

“It is statistically impossible for total population surveillance to be an effective tool for catching terrorists.”

Sorry, but this article, while informative and important, is also wrongheaded… the way nearly all earnest and sincere journalism on the topic of surveillance tends to ultimately swing wrongheaded. Always, we see the same pattern, almost every time: a smart person, knowledgable and committed to enlightened civilization, bemoaning some trend that appears likely to empower Big Brother — some Orwellian nightmare of top-down control by elites of government, of wealth, of corporatcy, criminality or tech-wizardry.

Always, these alarums are spot-on correct — till we get to the end of each piece, when the pundit recommends… 

... nothing useful, whatsoever. 

Either the article dissipates into hand-wringing that someone oughta do something, or else vague notions that we should STOP the encroachment of cameras and data sifters, somehow, despite the unstoppable trend (sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law”) that cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year.

For nigh onto 20 years I have pointed out that nothing can stop this tsunami of eyes, swarming across the world. Those who try to stand, in the face of this wave, shouting “halt!” reveal nothing but their own myopia.

== Reiterating till the year 2050 ==

Elites will see — name one counter example across recorded history, when they willingly gave up a method of intelligence gathering.  If we panic, passing laws to forbid surveillance, all we will accomplish, in the prophetic words of science fiction legend Robert Heinlein, will be to “make the spy bugs smaller.”

There is another approach, a trend that is happening all around us and one that may save freedom, despite the fact that our pundits refuse to look at it.  The trend is “sousveillance,” or assertively using these new technologies to look BACK at power.  The effects are already being seen in police departments across America, as lapel cameras become standard on cop uniforms and as citizens get used to applying their now-entrenched right to record authority.  This is the trend that will save us…

…yet the hand-wringers cannot glimpse anything that doesn’t fit their narrative.

==  Privacy Dead or Alive ==

Speaking of smart dopes… “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible… How we conventionally think of privacy is dead,” said Margo Seltzer, a professor in computer science at Harvard University. Said her colleague Sophia Roosth: “We are at the dawn of the age of genetic McCarthyism,” “It’s not whether this is going to happen, it’s already happening… We live in a surveillance state today.”

Notice, yet again, the mental block. The inability to even turn the brain and mind toward sousveillance and the tech empowerment of the individual as a phenomenon or even as a possibility to be refuted with facts or logicIt seems plainly impossible for most such mavens to wrap their heads around the possibility that light might punish abusers and invaders of privacy – precisely that effect that we have seen for the last 100 years. So much for Harvard.

Privacy will not go away -- but it will evolve. 

== Miscellany ==

A "warrant canary" is a method by which companies like Google can - in theory - let you know when the government has served a warrant for your information under a gag order.  If the company sends you daily messages "We have not been served any warants for your data… today."  Then when the notifications stop… You get the idea. And I would count on it about as far as I can drop kick an NFL linebacker.

How should the FTC have responded when Google was found to be using ad-tracking cookies that circumvented Apple’s Safari web browser? Or when Amazon’s one-click technology allowed children to make in-app purchases too easily? Or when Uber’s staff was caught using the company’s so-called “God View” application to surreptitiously track people’s comings and goings? This report gives regulators a four-part analytical framework to evaluate infractions and determine what types of penalties are called for based on a sliding scale of intent and resulting harm. — A sensible offering from folks who still believe in something called “middle ground.”  Offering some persuasive charts reminiscent of The Transparent Society.

== Untraceable Money ==

See where we're heading, if we don't fight for transparency: Loopholes in U.S. Laws allow billions in untraceable foreign funds to pour into N.Y. C. Real Estate: "Behind the dark glass towers of the Time Warner Center looming over Central Park, a majority of owners have taken steps to keep their identities hidden, registering condos in trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shield their names. By piercing the secrecy of more than 200 shell companies, The New York Times documented a decade of ownership in this iconic Manhattan way station for global money transforming the city’s real estate market.

"Many of the owners represent a cross-section of American wealth: chief executives and celebrities, doctors and lawyers, technology entrepreneurs and Wall Street traders.

"But The Times also found a growing proportion of wealthy foreigners, at least 16 of whom have been the subject of government inquiries around the world, either personally or as heads of companies. The cases range from housing and environmental violations to financial fraud. Four owners have been arrested, and another four have been the subject of fines or penalties for illegal activities.

The foreign owners have included government officials and close associates of officials from Russia, Colombia, Malaysia, China, Kazakhstan and Mexico."

As an indication of how well-cloaked shell company ownership is, it took The Times more than a year to unravel the ownership of shell companies with condos in the Time Warner Center, by searching business and court records from more than 20 countries, interviewing dozens of people with close knowledge of the complex, examining hundreds of property records and connecting the dots from lawyers or relatives named on deeds to the actual buyers.


Alfred Differ said...

>>Always, these alarums are spot-on correct — till we get to the end of each piece, when the pundit recommends…

... nothing useful, whatsoever.

Heh. We call that 'admiring the problem' at work. Everyone likes to do that. It helps us fell intelligent and connected to everyone else. The person at the meeting who wants to DO something about it, though, is kinda scary. They might mess up our polite little social event. 8)

Anonymous said...

>> name one counter example across recorded history, when they willingly gave up a method of intelligence gathering.

If you're willing to believe the NSA employees who went on to quit in disgust, domestic surveillance was greatly curtailed after Watergate until Bush & Ashcroft undid everything following 9/11.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley in the previous thread:

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. My historian wife can rarely watch historical dramas as she sees so much that is wrong. She is having trouble with the BBC's "Wolf Hall" partly because of Damian Lewis' interpretation of Harry 8.


The more knowledge you have, the more constrained a movie needs to be to stay within those bounds. That will inevitably lead to plot and script issues conflicting with reality.

The movie has to make you want to play go with willing suspension of disbelief rather than scientific critic. I'm not sure of exactly what movies have to do to win one over to that position, but clearly "not taking me for a complete idiot" is one component.

I was such a geek-fan of the original "Star Wars" back in my teenage years that I had no problem with the fact that gravity and sound would never work the way they did in the movie. Whereas I would not have accepted the same lapses from "2001: A Space Odyssey".

A lot of movies are filmed in my hometown, Chicago, and they usually get the local geography wrong. When Chicago is just a generic background, such as when it is really Gotham City in the Batman films, then I don't care. But when Harry and Sally drive north up Lake Shore Drive on the way to New York (a path that would require them to circumnavigate four of the Great Lakes) it takes me out of the film.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I think a lot of the problem with what the pundits pontificate about boils down to essentialism - the tendency to think in simple categories instead of examining complexities. I just finished teaching my biology classes about Greg Mendel, the Father of genetic science (pun intended), and one of the really relevant points about him was that he took the more difficult route of examining individuals in all their complexity, rather than simply lumping everything into groups and assuming that the categories are more real than the individuals who make up those categories. That is a major part of why he was able to work out what had befuddled farmers and ranchers for millennia before him.

"So much for Harvard."

Harvard (and other elite university) professors have turned our education system into a sputtering, drunken leviathan. Look up the "cult of efficiency" A fellow named Raymond Callahan wrote a book about this way back in 1964, but out of touch Harvard professors still dictate to departments of education how schools should be run.

Jumper said...

Achenbach on Brin & SETI:

Anonymous said...

I wonder how as a writer you will deal with the idea your government will probably install a keystroke logger on all computers. Think of your work being published against your will as soon as you close the file. Or your credit card info. Or every pictuyre you took. Or every mark on every ballot.

locumranch said...

Privacy is the byproduct of shame-based society. It results from what David calls 'reciprocal accountability (what I call 'mutual complicity') which roughly means that I will agree to overlook your shameful failings if you agree to do the same for me.

In the event of universal transparency, however, neither shame nor privacy can continue to exist. Previously private shames will become accepted public knowledge, allowing hordes of deviants, contract-breakers and druggies to parade down public thoroughfares waving coloured flags in order to celebrate a diversity once considered shameful.

Society will be stripped of its polite pretensions; civility will be replaced by proud celebrity; the machinations of power will be stripped naked; and only 'might makes right' will remain because everything is permitted in the absence of shame or sin, including all manner of perversions.


Alex Tolley said...

Privacy is the byproduct of shame-based society. Really?
You cannot understand that being alone and unwatched is a reasonable desired condition for some people and has nothing to do with shame?

Jumper said...

Being watched makes animals and people feel like prey.

Jonathan S. said...

Anonymous, reread what Dr. Brin has written here (and previously on the same topic). The "horror" you envision can only happen if the agency installing the keylogger, and collecting the data, can work without sousveillance. If David has the ability to look back and the agency, he can see shat they're doing, and alert attorneys before anything too untoward can happen.

Paul451 said...

"and alert attorneys before anything too untoward can happen."

Only works if what they are doing is against the law. Requires laws based on the wishes of privacy advocates.

The premise of giving up on the idea of privacy, "privacy is dead", "You want to ban this? Fool!", encourages people to give up on advocating for such laws.

David Brin said...

From the AAAS meeting. I debated SETI folks re shouting yells into the cosmos.

Anonymous re govt installed "key loggers etc" bear in mind this is a mere blog comments section and I am on the road, and hence some gruffness is forgivable. But seriously? Do you assume you are a smart guy, but cannot see that (1) it is inevitable and yet (2) there is a way to safeguard freedom… and even a little privacy under such conditions?

I am not responsible for your dullard lack of imagination mixed with incensed outrage. The answer is before your nose But I do not waste time explaining things over and over to anonymous posters.

Huzzah! For the first time in 6 months, locumranch cast a spiteful and demeaning straw man of me and my views… that actually is in the same QUADRANT of the idea landscape as I (the actual me) dwell upon!

"Privacy is the byproduct of shame-based society. It results from what David calls 'reciprocal accountability (what I call 'mutual complicity') which roughly means that I will agree to overlook your shameful failings if you agree to do the same for me."

This is a nasty expression of a generally correct view. The a MYOB (mind your own business) consensus will be partly based on generating tolerance for our own sakes. Shrugging off your eccentricities (1) if they aren'f harmful to others and (2) so that my eccentricity will also be safeguarded. Thought harm doing or seeking lifts you into a zone of increased skeptical scrutiny.

Of course the next two paragraphs are utter drivel and ignore every conceivable or known aspect of human behavior, making up a bizarre scenario of nonsense out of whole cloth. But note, I did not object to Para#1! It was insultingly delivered and biased… but at least this time he faced a direction plausibly connected to reality. For one paragraph. Good on ya, son!

"Only works if what they are doing is against the law. Requires laws based on the wishes of privacy advocates."

bull. The more that we live safe lives because of open coveillance, the less we will need a government to protect us. Sure, some umbrella. But the vital thing is to remind the watch dogs that they are service dogs and not wolves.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Paul 451, I'm not sure how many people are ready to give up on privacy laws. I haven't heard anyone advocating for black box style flight recorders in every bedroom. However, if every citizen had a lapel camera, it would make a lot of the old "he said, she said" go away. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Of course there will be abuses, but that's what the laws are there for. I think it would be quite useful to have a lapel camera - preferably one that can transmit data to the Internet - should anyone attempt to mug, murder or molest me (or my family & friends) in any way. This is equally true whether the perpetrators are common criminals, high-brow elites or minions of the state.

Inside joke for Larry - sounds like The Last Day at Locum Ranch!

Howard Brazee said...

My biggest privacy issue is very different - our politicians should not be able to make their decisions without oversight from us. Don't let them keep more than tactical (1 year???) secrets. We should be the bosses.

David Brin said...

Howard your general attitude is correct but I am willing to be much more generous with decent civil servants trying to do difficult jobs - Just knowing that their work is supervised and will all be clear in less than a decade will deter 90% of all deliberately vile behavior.

Anonymous said...

I thought I had created an Open-ID account quite some time ago, but I can't seem to make it work so here goes as anonymous.

Dr. Brin, I would have thought that you of all people would not have repeated the ridiculous canard about Cnut thinking he could command the waves. He was a serious ruler, back in his day, and does not deserve to go down in popular history as a buffoon.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if there are any other historical figures whose memory lives on for what they did NOT actually do. (You have yourself mentioned Leonidas and his Spartans, but more in the context of Hollywood misrepresentation.)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Anonymous

The story I was told about King Canute was not that he tried to stop the tide but that he was being seriously flattered and arranged for a demonstration that showed his flatterers were wrong

Howard, Dr Brin
I saw Howard as offering "one year" as a suggestion - Dr Brin came back with "one decade" as a counter suggestion
Personally I see it as a series of steps
Default - Open immediately
Then 1 year, 5 years, 10 years ....
The part that I would like to see is some penalties for setting an excessive period
I would see this as part of Dr Brins Inspector General tasks
To audit secrecy and penalize excessive secrecy

As an example from the real world
Temporary Traffic Management
(cones and signs around work sites)
This is controlled and work sites are audited
When your site is audited it is scored with a number for each "infraction"
the sum of the infractions can mean you have to shut the site down
"Using an unnecessarily low speed limit" (analogous with setting too long a secrecy period) is a serous infraction - do it twice and your "license" is withdrawn until you repeat the training

LarryHart said...

Duncan Carincross:

Howard, Dr Brin

"Dr. Howard, Dr. Brin, Dr. Howard"?


Lorraine said...

"The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists."

What is your reaction. Outrage? Want to ban this?

I tend to focus on possible civilian applications. GridLid, maybe?

David Brin said...

Anon. Read the Transparent Societ. I make very clear that Canute was a smart guy making a clear metaphorical point. Do not police people ver such nits when they are making a different point in a hurried blog comment.

Duncan, in EARTH I show "secrets sequestrations" or "caching" of varied costs and durations.

Larry … You just pegged me as…. LARRY!

locumranch said...

If we assume that 'Self-Improvement' is the mantra of Enlightenment, then we also must conclude that Shame is this trope's prime motivator, the term 'shame' being most commonly defined as a feeling derived from the belief that one is basically flawed, vulnerable, inadequate, wrong, bad, weak, pathetic, unimportant, undeserving or not good enough.

Similarly, the term 'private' (and/or 'privacy') shares in these same (shameful) connotations, being most commonly defined along the lines of "secret, non-public, confidential, covert, closeted, intimate, hidden, unofficial, clandestine (or even) hush-hush".

It is for these reasons (and others) that our current society is shame-based; it is for reasons like these that our cultural 'Need to Succeed' springs from deep-rooted sociological assumptions of inadequacy (also why certain cultural subgroups are disproportionately successful); and it is for this reason alone that David's Transparency trope is incompatible with that of both personal secrecy and/or privacy.

This concludes my summary of the first paragraph for my above post, that (according to David) "nasty expression of a generally correct view". The two subsequent paragraphs (described by David as "utter drivel") are oblique yet factually accurate depictions of our current state of societal collapse wherein the slovenly, unproductive and perverse embrace their SHAME under rainbow flags, politicians like Sarkosy, Berlusconi, Spitzer & Clinton bask in the warm glow of their indiscretions, and celebrities like the Kardashians display their fannies on prime-time TV for all the world to see, the end result of Transparency being that once shameful (controlling) behaviours are now celebrated as empowering, liberating & prideworthy.

Just ask ANY Wall Street Banker about the negative consequences of a New Transparency that revealed their shameful thievery, incompetence and greed during the most recent financial meltdown:

There were no negative consequences, for goshsakes!! Experiencing neither shame nor punishment, these bankers were REWARDED, making them the Proud, the Shameless & the Free.

So much for transparency as a corrective mechanism.


Alex Tolley said...

Another sousveillance failure. David got his wish that henchmen would squeal when a whistleblower squealed on HSBC, showing clear illegality of their Swiss subsidiary as they organized tax evasion for their clients. HSBC is a British bank. What happened. So far the UK government has done absolutely nothing. Now that may change, but it shows, once again, that sousveillance is useless without some sort of enforcement to overcome the protections the elites have.

As I've said before, this is about asymmetric power, not about capabilities of transparency.

Earlier this year the names of people owning accounts in tax havens was exposed. How many were actually taken to court for evading taxes? Anyone?

So the wealthy (& powerful) continue to increase the pyramidal shape of society wealth and income distribution, apparently immune from any consequences of any illegal actions.

Alex Tolley said...

@locum - bankers have rarely been shamed, even during past meltdowns. This time around, yet again, their controlling influence on the lawmakers have protected them. As a result, not one senior banker has been prosecuted. Investment bankers do no feel shame because their culture promulgates a dog-eat-dog competitive mentality.

Arguably sociopaths wouldn't feel shame anyway. But linking shame and transparency seems like a leap beyond logic to me.

Tacitus said...

Brin makes the BBC !


David Brin said...

I will always try to reward locum's episodes of lucidity. He is actually making points in a logical manner, partainng to actual issues that relate to positions I have taken.

I have to say, however, that as I am on the road and distracted, I cannot take the time to reply other than - when you boil it down - his position is still grouchy and illogical nonsense that offers no plan to do anything any different.

locumranch said...

Locum-Ranch's Five Stages of Transparency:

(1) Denial, aka 'Total Privacy', aka 'The feeling of shameless normalcy predicated on ongoing secrecy (and/or the outright denial) of all one's private flaws, failings and inadequacies'.

Examples include 'Neither I nor my child (spouse; country; god; etc) could ever do such a terrible thing'.

(2) Anger, aka 'Partial Transparency', aka 'The ruthlessly self-righteous condemnation of all others who appear to share (or act upon) one's secret flaws, failings or inadequacies'.

Examples include rich liberal guilt (see DB), SNL's 'Church Lady' (a classic) and the vociferous condemnation of homosexual proclivities by latent homosexuals (see Ted Haggard).

(3) Bargaining, aka 'Shameful Repentance', aka 'Accepting full responsibility for one's flaws, failings and inadequacies with the intent to correct them, improve or 'do better'.

Examples include any recidivist, Ted Haggard and the Intellectual Enlightenment. DB's Transparent Society argument appears to fixate on this particular stage.

(4) Depression, aka 'The Transparency-mediated Death of Idealism', aka 'Acknowledging that everyone suffers from irredeemable flaws, failings and inadequacies (Period. Exclamation point)'.

Examples include any recidivist, most addicts, the ever-present Ted Haggard and Christian theology minus the redeemer's divine love.

(5) Acceptance, aka 'Total Transparency', aka 'The End of Privacy,' wherein one learns to LOVE their flaws, failings and inadequacies to the narcissistic detriment of the greater good, leading to the inevitable collapse of any Post-Stage 4 culture which once used Shame as its primary motivator.

Examples include 'Everybody does it so I should, too', "My honouring you with my dependent parasitism', and that includes lying, cheating, stealing from, and demeaning you.

Best wishes from Grouchland;
Travel Safe.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

But linking shame and transparency seems like a leap beyond logic to me.

I agree. The idea that people desire privacy only (or even primarily) on account of shame seems to be a fallacy. From that premise flows such nonsense as "I have nothing to hide, so I don't care if they watch everything" or "Only terrorists are bothered by NSA surveillance". Bumper-sticker soundbytes that might sound reasonable at first blush, but don't reflect reality.

Security against crime requires a necessary giving up of a degree of privacy, but the desire for privacy in the first place is not driven by criminals.

David Brin said...

I cannot help applauding. It actually follows a logical sequence for a change! The cogent locum is smart and entertaining... though alas rare. I must heap praise because THIS is the fellow for whom I put up with all the strawmanning-raving hallucinatory crap.

Alas, his six stage formulaic exegesis is even less related to actual human nature than Marxism or Randism.

It shatters at EVERY stage against a pile of rocks that range from human diversity to human reasonableness. (e.g. I will let myself be shamed into fixing my faults that harm or impinge on others, but when you try to boss my non harmful eccentricities, then fuckyou.)

He smugly perceives himself to be a proudly independent mind... ignoring that that self-image is nursed by 80% of the people around him.

Dave said...

I guess I need to go reread The Transparent Society, I read it when it came out and that's been quite a while. I seem to recall thinking at the time that it made much clearer what we could not do, however badly we might want it, but gave me little idea how we might actually achieve sousveillance.

locumranch said...

Rather than the desire for privacy being driven by criminals, it is the criminal who desires privacy and/or secrecy, just as the term 'crime' (from the Latin 'crimen'; genitive 'criminis') only signifies a "charge, indictment, accusation, fault or offense" instead of de facto guilt.

In this sense, every individual is a potential criminal in the eyes of society, which is why we all tend to cling to privacy in an attempt to hide our various flaws, failings and inadequacies, otherwise we might stand accused (we fear) of sin or sinful action by witness, a point driven home by the first cynic who masturbated in public in lieu of verbal argument.

Crime (it seems) is in the eye of the beholder (as is SHAME), but only the shameless individual is free to act on impulse without fear of internal correction, whereas the shame-ridden individual is always controlled and limited by their own preconceptions, their most damning witness being themselves.

It seems, then, that the only truly 'free' individuals are either Stage 1 hypocrites or Stage 5 sociopaths. David is clearly a Stage 3 bargainer, ridden by 'progress' & his own preconceptions, whereas I remain at Stage 4, disillusioned by experience, yet I know that he will join me, by & by, unless he prefers Stage 5 sociopathy to Stage 4 disillusionment.

Goodnight & Godbless

ibid said...

David Brin said...

Again, I would hate to live in the world locum depicts. Fortunately, I don't and neither do most or all or you. Still, FAR better written, son!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin @ 12:39,

Point accepted. Sorry for the knee-jerk reaction. I have the read the same story as Duncan Cairncross.

Lorraine said...

Locumranch's theory of shame and transparency reminds me of RAW's theory of "no-good shits".

Jumper said...

(Shame:) 'The ruthlessly self-righteous condemnation of all others who appear to share (or act upon) one's secret flaws, failings or inadequacies'.

Hell, that belongs in The Devil's Dictionary. It's worthy of Bierce.

LarryHart said...


In this sense, every individual is a potential criminal in the eyes of society, which is why we all tend to cling to privacy in an attempt to hide our various flaws, failings and inadequacies, otherwise we might stand accused (we fear) of sin or sinful action by witness...

You're starting to sound like Ayn Rand making sweeping statements about people not enjoying food unless the act of eating is to prepare one for some larger purpose--ignoring the obvious fact that people do enjoy eating as a carnal pleasure, independent of purpose.

OTOH, I suppose that when you go on vacation, you post the fact that you are leaving town on the internet, along with a map to your house and the location of the key the neighbor uses to feed your cat. Or that if you don't do that, you're acting out of shame?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

"Society will be stripped of its polite pretensions; civility will be replaced by proud celebrity; the machinations of power will be stripped naked; and only 'might makes right' will remain because everything is permitted in the absence of shame or sin, including all manner of perversions."

Now every generation experiences a generation gap, in which the old deride the young for purported decadence and whine about the decline of civilization, while the young rail against their demands for utter, unthinking conformity. This is nothing new, and might just be a harmless rant from Grouchland.

It reminds me of the one experience I had delivering a speech at an ivy league university in Pennsylvania when I was still in grad school. The art history department was sponsoring a conference on the subject of "Decline," which my thesis advisor thought I would enjoy. I had friends in a nearby small town, so i used it as an excuse to travel as well as a resume builder. I was one of about 30 presenters, and there was an interesting bifurcation between the mostly young presenters and the grey old professors moderating the event.

Being a natural-born contrarian, my contribution questioned the very existence of decline, or at least anyone's ability to judge whether decline is actually happening. I used an old concept in cultural anthropology called the emic/etic distinction, which sounds fancy but really just means that an insider within a culture and an outsider observing that culture will see and explain things differently. My point was that what may look like a decline to those undergoing a profound change, those looking at it from outside (either from a different place, a later time or both) would not necessarily judge such a transformation in such harsh terms.

I remember one young lady gave a presentation on a similar theme. She was into the art of Gustav Klimt, and talked about how Klimt's teachers and elders saw his work as decadent (old Uncle Adolph was no fan) but it turned out to be transformational, and few would argue that Western civilization has collapsed because of "decadent art". So at least one person was speaking the same truth, if not the same language.

What surprised me was how my speech was received. I was one of a handful who got a standing ovation, as did the fellow after me - I was on second to last, and that last one was quite rousing. However, the old professors came on afterward to conclude the conference mainly by trying to belittle my contribution. One of them even said that they should be able to make "emetic" interpretations. I had to stifle a laugh, given the medical use of this term. But it was classic - old-guard vs. young turks.

Okay, so while we are making reference to children's stories, I would like to see Loci's Elmo and raise a Dr. Seuss - specifically, "The Butter Battle Book."

Happy cogitation!

Jumper said...
Mystery Mars cloud

Alfred Differ said...

Shame-based society? Oof. Someone has had just a bit too much exposure to a US-style Christian upbringing.

Privacy is about a lot more than protecting one's self from the consequences of shameful acts. In a liberated society, others have no right to constrain my actions until I'm doing harm to them or others and that includes constraints that take the form of shaming. We are at least partially liberated in this sense, but I'll still want privacy to help me avoid those who can't resist the temptation to shame me. If I can't have it as seems likely, I'll just have to use more active methods and carry my 'clue bat' with me. 8)

In a nutshell, I want some privacy so I don't have to whack the clueless idiot who thinks they can shame me. If what they don't know doesn't hurt them, so much the better.

Alex Tolley said...

If it were just shaming, then it wouldn't be so bad. However societies have done a lot more damage to individuals who are considered "non-conformist". Witch burning being a prime example. We have our modern day witch substitutes, even they they tend not to the suspected actions of witches (although perhaps claiming destroying marriage and society perhaps comes close?).

Question. If you believe in a living god, then aren't you being observed constantly? How does such a society differ from those that do no have such god's? Are they any different regarding concerns over conformity and shaming?

Alfred Differ said...

Witch burning examples are useful for making a decent defense of privacy in the face of David's predictions. It's not enough to argue against them using the restaurant example where the patrons turn en masse on an eavesdropper. Witch burning and other lynching scenarios are demonstrations where the public does quite the opposite.

Fortunately, David covers for this social reality by suggesting there are reasonable bounds within which we should reasonably be able to demand privacy (our homes) and that there is no way to know those bounds are being respected without transparency elsewhere. Witch burning is still going to happen, but that is part of human nature and not the technological change that is happening.

One of the things that bugs me about much of belief in the US is the assumption that a being can exist that WOULD watch me in great detail, let alone have a plan for my life. If such a being exists, I seriously don't want some mortal human pretending they can successfully imitate such powers. It's not that I care that they aspire to transcend themselves (I applaud that), but how dare they act on the notion that I can't do the same... my way. 8)

Religion is a very popular thing, though. I doubt we will ever know how privacy would work in a society without it.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Alex, do you know of any societies that do not have an official omniscient deity of some sort? Supposedly communist nations don't, but we saw how quickly Orthodoxy resurged after the fall of the Soviet Onion. Very small scale societies, those we usually label "primitive" often have a plethora of spirits but few omniscient judges. This should be a good indicator of the role such deities have always played in state level societies. No civilization can have enough secret police to watch everything everyone does, but if you can convince the citizens that their is an omniscient judge who will punish them, they will watch themselves (for the most part). Those small scale societies are precisely the ones that operate almost entirely off of peer pressure. Without chiefs and a class of enforcers, the only way they can enforce conformity is through such mechanisms as ostracism and refusal to honor social obligations. Social approval/censure is the modus operandi of small scale societies.

Jonathan S. said...

A Seattle-area high school student has furthered the cause of transparency, by creating a web browser add-on that will automatically highlight the names of politicians, and provide a list of campaign donors.

David Brin said...

Paul, communism had a god. It was named historical teleology.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Enforced by the omniscient commissar...

Alex Tolley said...

There should be a difference between deists and theists in this context of omniscient surveillance.

If you can also convince a theist that God has a good plan for you, then this is similar to claiming that surveillance is good for you because those doing the surveilling are giving you [security?] benefits.

I suppose that sousveillance offers some hope of keeping secular surveillance under control, whereas it is useless with a living God.

Has sousveillance had any controlling effect on the NSA? Each new revelation of intrusion generates some outrage but no substantive changes. What will it take to stop the march to total surveillance of all civiliansn in all spheres, and subject them to arbitrary (capricious?), uncontestable sanctions?

A.F. Rey said...

I suppose that sousveillance offers some hope of keeping secular surveillance under control, whereas it is useless with a living God.

Only until we figure out how to install the cameras. :D

Alex Tolley said...

@ A.F. Rey - if only that would change God's actions. Prayers don't seem to work. :)

Paul451 said...

"Prayers don't seem to work."

I'm not sure. They don't work as advertised, sure, but a hell of a lot of people seem to be praying for harm to befall their enemies or rivals. If, as some moderate theists insist while trying to justify not murdering each other, "there are many rooms in God's mansion" and/or "many paths to God", then God would do His best to grant the contradictory and mutually exclusive prayers in the fairest way He can. And so we look at the world for evidence...

[Sometimes children ask, "If God is good, why does he allow so much suffering in the world?", and the answer is, "Because that's what so many of us prayed for."]

Of course, this reasoning applies even without the intervention of a deity, if we merely assume repeated affirmation has any effect on subsequent behaviour.

[Wow, reCaptcha isn't even trying today. One word ("glive"), no distortion. "God lives"? It's a miracle! Or is Google subliminally advertising an upcoming product, "Google Live"? Oops. Session expired.]

David Brin said...