Goblin Valley

So, I’ve been thinking a bit about the destruction wrought by three Scout Masters in Goblin Valley.

There’s a difference between wanton and needful destruction. I will grant a huge gray area there, but the navigation of this is one of the purposes of a system of informed debate and collective decision-making. At least as an outside observer, the reactions of the “men” and the rather ill-conceived after-thought of a justification they offer makes it apparent that their act was more about asserting human dominance in the most petty way possible than actually protecting anyone. This was clearly “wanton” and not “needful” destruction.

Did it ever occur to these “men” (and I use the scare quotes because I doubt that anyone who feels the need to demonstrate their self-worth via destructive acts of petty dominance is worthy of anything other than “boy”) that, as Scout Masters, one of their functions is to ensure that the children in their care don’t wander in to areas where they could get hurt? Isn’t the destruction of this rock formation an abrogation of their responsibility to “leave no trace” when there were other solutions that would have protected their charges just as well?

I see two explanations for this:

  1. That the mindless and destructive assertion of dominance is part of the central identity of these “men”, or

  2. These folks are too stupid or lazy to understand that if they were worried about the stability of the rock formation, then they just shouldn’t have allowed their Scouts to walk near it (i.e., do their job).

In either case, they are completely unfit to act as role models for the children in their Troop.

International vs. Regional Elites

Possible way to explain the current political situation in the US: Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are controlled by oligarchs, but they by-and-large are controlled by different oligarchs.

In particular, the Democrats are more in the thrall of national and international elites, while the base of the Republican leadership is composed of regional elites. This may even go a long way to explaining which cultural factors get layered in to each party (the Democrats are more cosmopolitan and, for lack of a better word, Roman, in their outlook, the Republicans more interested in preserving local power structures). Thus, what we’re experiencing politically these days may be best seen through the lens of the classical power struggles amongst feudal lords.

This also explains the areas of agreement the two parties sometimes show (often in the omission): Feudal lords may spend a lot of time fighting amongst themselves, but can also show a remarkable unity of purpose when it comes to confronting shared threats, be they internal or external (see, for example, the lack of meaningful debate regarding domestic and international intelligence operations).

The Transparent Society

While I agree with the advocates off the Transparent Society, I don’t think they appreciate for the most part how radical that transparency is going to have to be, or how fundamentally our society is going to have to change because of it.

The problem here is not just that you can’t put the surveillance genie back in the bottle, but that both the things that enable surveillance only get cheaper and more widely available with time. and that intentionally weak cryptographic systems can be exploited by everyone. If the surveillance state grows — even if we are able to extract equivalent levels of transparency and accountability — then eventually we’re going to run into a situation where it’s trivially east to spy on everyone, both because the technology is cheap and ubiquitous, and also because the systems that would act as a counterbalance will have been effectively neutered.

I’m skeptical of the law’s ability to constrain behavior at that point (law moves slowly enough that it already plays the role of court jester to increasingly dislocating technological innovations). This doesn’t just mean that everyone’s going to get 15 minutes of amateur porn-star fame. It means that it’s going to be essentially impossible to guarantee the integrity of our communications — the emails you write, the phone calls you make, and the bank accounts you put your money into. All are secured by the same technologies, which means all are gong to become (practically) wide-open.

You might try to prevent that with massive, totalitarian-style surveillance, but that just creates a bigger, juicier target. I can envision people adapting to this by adopting radically open and accepting cultural norms (though I worry about the homogenizing nature of such global “total information awareness,” both due to outright coercion and the inescapable cacophony of the dominant culture), but I can’t envision any economic system built around tallying up one’s “contributions” (i.e., anything that involves any form of currency) surviving in a world where the records of such transactions are so totally vulnerable to being rewritten.

That’s a far weirder, more disturbing, and more perilous world than Dr. Brin & co. seem willing to consider.