Tomorrow Happens

...trends slamming at us from the dark

David Brin

David Brin
San Diego, California, USA
October 06
Bio David Brin’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including New York Times Best-sellers that won Hugo and Nebula awards. His 1989 ecological thriller, Earth, foreshadowed cyberwarfare, the World Wide Web, global warming and Gulf Coast flooding. A 1998 Kevin Costner film was loosely adapted from his post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. ............................................ Brin is a noted scientist, futurist and speaker who appears frequently on television (Life After People, The Universe), discussing trends in the near and far future, on subjects such as surveillance, technology, astronomy, and SETI. His non-fiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with issues of openness and security in the wired-age. ............................................. David Brin web site: Twitter: Facbook:

APRIL 13, 2012 8:13PM

The Politics of Science...of Hypocrisy...and Transparency

Rate: 2 Flag

 Several off-angle political threads, this time. Simultaneously partisan yet contrary, ornery and proudly free of the stupid “left-right axis.” Stay tuned next time, though, for an important one -- the Wager Challenge.

== Start with science ==

Now is the time to begin a hard push for the 2012 candidates to participate in a debate on science and technology matters, during the coming electoral season.  Make this an issue!  Shoe that you (you-personally) consider this to be a vital matter, and not just for the presidential candidates!

The one thing that will correlate with future U.S. success, more than any other, will be whether we become - once again - a scientifically-oriented, ambitiously pragmatic, problem solving nation.

Seriously, can you picture America being led by a science ignoramus? (Please, no obvious comments about recent history!)

If we get enough ground swell for this science debate to happen, we might see it every election, and scare the ignorami off entirely.  Please do check out the Science Debate site and actually sign-on. Press the issue.

== Shake that Etch-a-Sketch! ==  

Sure enough, as expected, the day after poll figures showed him gaining in Pennsylvania -  his last big primary to clinch the GOP nomination - Mitt Romney began his much-expected scurry-to-the-center. "We're Republicans and Democrats in this campaign, but we're all connected with one destiny for America...” and “We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps, or maybe just not enough time working in the real world."

Not exactly the red meat he was tossing to the party’s hard core, till very recently.  (Also, as the LA Times pondered: It is a potentially self-defeating line of attack: Romney spent four years at Harvard, receiving a law degree and an MBA; Obama spent three years there, graduating from the law school. Also, three of Romney's five sons attended Harvard Business School.)

Heck, while we’re at it... will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?  A funky funny video mash.  More intellectually diverting... see the "Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney," a very clever political spoof by a writer who has clearly consumed WAY too many pop-sci articles about quantum mechanics!  I especially liked the “principle uncertainty principle.”  Just when you think he must run out of QM parallels, he tunnels thru to more.

== If only we were still like this ==

“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability; instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”

-- Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about the national character he observed in Democracy in America   

In truth... millions of us still are like this!  It is the mentality of folks who like good science fiction.

== Ah Transparency ==

Robert Wright‘s column in The Atlantic ponders how the Zimmerman-Martin tragedy might have gone very differently, if both men wore Google Glasses, video recording their encounter to the Cloud.  Awareness that there are witnesses affects human behavior, and even if it didn’t, we’d know exactly what happened.  Wright ponders this cogently - citing my nonfiction book The Transparent Society - and goes on to ponder the downsides.  The potential that such records might be misused either by a Big Brother state or by hundreds of millions of nosy-oppressive “little brothers.”

He is correct to worry we are returning to the classic human condition that reigned in villages of old, wherein everybody knew everything about everybody else.  You might be safer from some kinds of random violence by strangers.  But those villages were also oppressed by the feudal lord and local harpy-gossips, who knew everything about you - and how to use it against you.

Our modern notions of anonymity and privacy stem in part from knowing how easily that cozy old village can turn sour.

Is this the kind of Global Village we’ll see, when everyone on Earth wears Augmented Reality Spectacles, or “specs”?  (As portrayed in my new novel Existence.)  Are we doomed by unstoppable omniscience technology to see ourselves trapped in spirals of ever-steepening, conformity-enforcing judgmentalism?

Not necessarily. in The Transparent Society I refer folks to the popular 1960s song Harper Valley PTA, which illustrates the inherent power of sousveillance, or looking back at the mighty.  There is already very strong evidence that it can let us have the good aspects of the village, and eliminate the bad in a true Positive Sum Game.  But only if the power of reciprocal accountability is true, and no mirage.

That is the critical matter before us.  The omni-vision provided by “specs” is coming, like it or not.  But we still have time to make this universal light truly empowering to average folk to protect their personal space and eccentricity, granting them one special capability, above all other godlike traits. The ability to be left alone.

== More on this. Reciprocality can be a bitch ==

What goes around comes around.  See how the landlord of an abortion clinic politely, but effectively, turned the tables on protesters who started targeting his 11 year old daughter.

A good example of reciprocality at work. Alas though, things keep getting worrisome.  I began writing The Transparent Society back in 1987, when I lived in Britain and witnessed the bare beginnings of the U.K.’s love affair with massive police surveillance.  Now that country is exporting the technologies to oppressive regimes around the world. Privacy International, which monitors the use of surveillance technology, claims equipment being exported includes devices known as "IMSI catchers" that masquerade as normal mobile phone masts and identify phone users and malware – software that can allow its operator to control a target's computer, while allowing the interception to remain undetected.

Want to see the latest salvo, fired by those who want society to go back to feudalism?  Conservatives are arming up for their war on public universities, trying to de-fund them, destroy them, and replace them with for-profit colleges. Seriously, it is even a slogan.  “Defund public universities.” If this is what conservatism has become, then we know what that whirring sound is: the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave.

== The Good News on U.S. Energy Independence ==

Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia. ...  This surge is hardly without consequences!  But the turnaround may buy time to move to more sustainable energy sources.  And it may prove a factor in this year’s U.S. elections.

== Next time... the Wager Challenge! ==

I plan to offer a silver bullet for Culture War.  Oh, it won't solve our current political insanity, but it should offer sensible, fact-oriented folks like you and me a way to corner those loonies of the far-left and the entire-right who have transformed political discourse in the United States from a matter of pragmatic negotiation into outright Civil War.  Maybe even a way to get some of them to shut the &$!# up.

Come back next time for the Wager Challenge!

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Defund public universities, so that only good, fundamentalist Christian colleges may survive (for a profit).