Tuesday, September 05, 2017

I Don't Trust Vice Or Anonymous But This Seems Worth Pursuing

motherboard.vice |  It is an absolute certainty that, with sufficient thought, a new mechanism may someday be designed, capable of integrating thousands of talented individuals and existing organizations into a sort of parallel civic ecosystem.

What is the proper role, then, for the citizen who takes citizenship seriously, and counts it a duty to defend the rights not just of Americans but of those populations abroad who ultimately bear the brunt of our civic failings? For many, the answer is to continue the hard work of engaging within the system—voting, working for better candidates, donating time and money to the organizations that do what they can to prevent things from deteriorating even further. This is entirely appropriate. But even the reformers are likely to recognize, now, that this may not be sufficient in the face of the political conditions we face—and that the consequences of a morally failed American republic, continuing on its present course for even just another decade, would be irreparable. No competent observer of our current trajectory can today disregard this scenario, or others far worse.

That this problem is now widely recognized is the first of two reasons why a solution is now in reach.

Here we have the second reason why a solution is now within reach. The most important fact of the 21st century is that any individual can now collaborate with any other individual on the planet. This has happened with extraordinary suddenness, in historical terms; by the same accounting, it has also happened quite recently, and so remains largely unexplored. We cannot hope to know what this means as of yet, then, any more than someone who observed the advent of the printing press or gunpowder could have predicted, respectively, the Reformation or Europe's eventual seizure of much of the world. Nonetheless, the implications are becoming clearer as the years proceed; the internet itself has quickened the pace of our history, even as it makes the future more unpredictable.

pursuanceproject |  For the first time in history, any individual may now collaborate with any other individual. One may get a sense of the implications of this by considering how different human history would have been had early man possessed some psychic ability to find and communicate with anyone else across the world. We now have something very similar, and in some ways more powerful. 

It's easy to underestimate the significance of this in part because it's also easy to overestimate it and, worse, to romanticize it. The advent of the internet was immediately followed by triumphalist manifestos setting out the great and positive changes that were now afoot. That much of what was predicted didn't immediately come to pass has led some to challenge the entire premise of the internet as a potentially revolutionary force for good. 

Certainly the utopian predictions of the early ‘90s were off the mark; indeed the clearest picture we have today contains seeds of actual dystopia. Meanwhile, the trivial uses to which the internet is commonly put can make it difficult to take seriously as a transcendental factor in our civilization. But then gunpowder was originally used to make fireworks. And a technology that may be used to oppress may also be used to liberate. Again, gunpowder comes to mind. 

The way in which events have proceeded in our society since the advent of the internet tells us less about the internet than it does about our society. There are a few lessons we can glean, though. In the large, we know that mass connectivity does not automatically lead to mass enlightenment. We know that states will sometimes seek to use the internet to further their control over information, and that they will sometimes be successful in this. We know many things of this sort. But none of this tells us what the internet will ultimately mean for human civilization. That will be determined on the ground, in the years to follow.