Joi Ito has some ideas about how emergent democracy can avoid the pitfalls of mob rule and the lowest common denominator, and be structured to cultivate rather than repress important new ideas which will not be accepted by most people at first.
In Calvin's theory of how our brain works, he explains that the edges or parts of the surface of the brain which are not adjacent to many other areas is where new ideas form which can come back and influence the rest of the brain.
In evolution and the theory of genetic drift and gene pools, it can be shown that when you have large populations, genes tend to stay more similar and drift more slowly but on islands with smaller gene pools, genes can go wild... like the Galapagos islands.
So I believe the trick is to have the various levels. The radical ideas and the great products come from small groups (the creative layer) to be allowed to work on a diverse set of ideas. When these ideas reach a certain level acceptability, the social level (the early adopters?) picks up the idea and "puts it on the radar." It then gives the opportunity for the idea to take a real shot at the masses. If you think about The Woz, I would say that the Home Brew Computer Club was the creative layer where the idea percolated. Then, Silicon Valley (the social layer) decided to give the idea a try. Eventually, it chanaged the world (the political layer). Many ideas don't make it past the first layer or the second.
Saturday, March 15, 2003
Joi Ito has some ideas about how emergent democracy can avoid the pitfalls of mob rule and the lowest common denominator, and be structured to cultivate rather than repress important new ideas which will not be accepted by most people at first.
Dredwerkz links to this shattering discovery from The Salt Lake Tribune:
It appears the new idea behind journalist "embedding" is quite utilitarian: the army has managed to kill all the canary chickens and needs replacements fast. Go figure.
Posted by David at 8:51 PM
This article in Slate by Fred Kaplan is really impressive. Most of the time news people don't seem to want to make a big deal of each others mistakes. It's almost like they're hoping for the same treatment in turn. Fred Kaplan must plan to try and avoid making any.
First, it's big, but not that big. On the night of the test, ABC News reported that the bomb was "similar to a small nuclear weapon." Time magazine, in strikingly similar language, reported that it "packs the punch of a small nuclear weapon." Let's do the math. The MOAB weighs 21,000 pounds, including 18,000 pounds' worth of high explosives. That's 9 tons. The teeniest nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile has the blast-power of 1,000 tons (one kiloton, in the parlance). In other words, had Time's reporter been a bit less giddy, he would have written that MOAB (which, by the way, the Air Force pronounces "mo-ab") "packs one one-hundredth the punch of a small nuclear weapon."
Posted by David at 5:16 AM
Friday, March 14, 2003
Here's one anti-war blogger who doesn't forget how much blood Saddam has on his hands. I think poor-attitude is too hard on James Lileks, who doesn't belittle the suffering of Iraqi soldiers in any way that I can see, and has not forgotten the enormity of the risks American soldiers are taking - quite the opposite in fact.
The people that convinced that dead 19 year old Iraqi to charge those Iranians should be aware of what they have done. Lileks might want to decide if he wants to do the same work.
Posted by David at 9:13 PM
Thursday, March 13, 2003
I just made an amazing discovery. There are intelligent and thoughtful people, even politcally aware people, who have not yet made up their mind on Iraq.
This is from Chris at See-Through World.
I don't know what to think about this war business... I'm not sure if I ever had an opinion. I think I'm treating it like I treat every other political issue: there's just so many facets and voices, each with some version of truth, that I don't feel knowledgeable enough to decide. There's no way to make a fair decision, it seems; digesting all the information necessary to make an educated, "fair" decision on most political issues would take more than a lifetime, as well as some top secret clearance and maybe some covert operations. Or, at least, that's how I see it all at this moment.
Posted by David at 6:58 PM
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
This is an interesting idea from Epeus' epigone.
Combining these ideas, how about some extensions to the 'a href' tag to say "I'm linking to this, but I disagree with it" and maybe "I'm linking to this but don't count the link as a vote". Google and other link spiders could note these distinctions, and distinguish between popularity, notoriety and ubiquity.
It's great to know people are thinking about how to make the web work better.
Posted by David at 8:13 PM
Howard Rheingold addresses this advice to Korea's (presumably South Korea's) wired younger generation, but it applies to all of us who have high hopes for emergent democracy, a global brain, or any other revolution based on blogging or the web.
Third, civility, reason, and evidence are what distinguish the public sphere — the free and open discourse among citizens that provides the foundation for democracy — from the emotion-charged, ignorant, slogan-slinging online combat that sometimes drowns out political debate. The Web is a wonderful resource, and search engines are powerful tools. If you are arguing an issue, take two minutes to research it and post a link as part of your argument. You can question evidence, but questioning evidence is the basis of science and jurisprudence. The point is to argue the issues and evidence, not to attack the character of opponents.
Posted by David at 7:24 PM
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
It had to happen sooner or later. A blog opposing war has embraced the title of weasel. The Daily Weasel has an unusual take on many things.
According to this CBS News story, Britain may be forced to back out of any attack on Iraq, due to overwhelming opposition at home. Ouch -- guess it's time to rename it "Freedom Toffee".
Posted by David at 6:52 PM
Monday, March 10, 2003
Salam Pax has more news about people living their lives in Iraq on the eve of war. I especially like the way he contrasts his own experience with what a BBC reporter said.
Posted by David at 6:19 PM
I've been rereading this essay on 'Why Do They Hate Us?' by Arthur Fleischman of Untoldmillions. He also links to Osama Bin Laden's Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans.
What Bin Laden actually talks most directly about is neither poverty nor religion, but United States troops in the Arabian Peninsula. It seems we both agree this is a symptom rather than the disease - it was the Saudi government that wanted these troops.
Although looking at the life of Osama Bin Laden and why he does what he does is relevent (he started in Afghanistan with US and Saudi encouragement), the question of why a number of Arabs either agree with him or at least don't despise him is more important. He was already rich while he was safe, he's not doing this for money. If Islamic Imam's and Arabs the world over cursed his name and accused him of blashphemy against Islam and treachery, I don't know if he would have stayed in business until 9/11, and even if he did it would have been much harder to find followers.
I don't think simply giving them charity would help - I think Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless has a good point here. Poverty alone isn't the problem. They need a working and productive economy that will give them purpose and a sense of accomplishment. He feels that first we must defeat them militarily then make major cultural changes by main force, and here I disagree. That's not what happened to the real Crusaders, at least not what changed them into our ancestors. I'm not saying we would give them money and they would like us - real care would have to be taken to invest in the nations which have fought most seriously against terror, and make sure the money was used to build an economy. Stef Wertheimer has some suggestions here, I linked to them awhile ago, I'll dig it up sometime. I'm not saying it would be easy, but I think ultimate success would be more likely than on the course we are embarking on now.
The other thing that comes through from Osama here and elsewhere is a sense of having been humiliated.
If you are correct we might be in big trouble. Of course not all Muslims will agree with Osama's interpretation, but as we kill many of those who do, the number is likely to increase rather than to decrease. Either we would slide into a slaughter which will permanently change us from what we have always stood for, or we must ask why this religion has not mellowed, unlike some other religions which supported the slaughter of unbelievers in the past. Illiteracy and the oppression of women are also associated with not necessarily poor societies, but societies which do not participate in the creation of wealth by their own efforts.
Posted by David at 5:44 PM
Sunday, March 09, 2003
This is worth knowing about some of those anti-war protests that happen 'all over the world' regardless of your political views.
From the Yemen Times:
"Yemenis are against the war, but the government should allow people to speak for themselves instead of pushing them around telling them what to do.
Freedom to protest does not mean taking people out of work. What it means is to allow them to demonstrate when they want and the where they want.
That it is real freedom."
Posted by David at 3:47 PM
Good news via Instapundit - unless I should assume everyone reads Instapundit.
Remember though, the surrender - err invasion before we reach Baghdad is the easy part, even Baghdad isn't the hardest part. The occupation is the hard part.
British Army source in Kuwait contacted me to explain how the extraordinary surrender bid unfolded. The source said: "The British guys on the front-line could not believe what was happening. They were on pre-war exercises when all of a sudden these Iraqis turned up out of nowhere, with their hands in the air, saying they wanted to surrender.
"They had heard firing and thought it was the start of the war.
"The Paras are a tough, battle-hardened lot but were moved by the plight of the Iraqis. There was nothing they could do other than send them back.
Posted by David at 8:10 AM
Saturday, March 08, 2003
Gujarat was the part of India where Muslims were killed in riots last year.
"This survey may be a build-up to the anti-conversion bill the government wants to introduce in the state assembly during this session," said Father Cedric Prakash of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights.
One church leader in Saurashtra was asked whether Christians would hold demonstrations if the anti-conversion bill is introduced in the assembly, sources said.
Individual Christians are scared to speak to the press as many of them are in government employment.
In the wake of the attack on Christians and the burning of churches in the Dangs district around Christmas 1998, the state intelligence department had ordered a similar survey, but abandoned it after a petition was filed in the Gujarat High Court.
Posted by David at 6:31 PM
Friday, March 07, 2003
The Soviet dictator was the father of the first "peace movement," which for years served as an instrument of the Kremlin's global policy.
Stalin's "peace movement" was launched in 1946 at a time when he had not yet developed a nuclear arsenal and was thus vulnerable to a U.S. nuclear attack. Stalin also needed time to consolidate his hold on his newly conquered empire in eastern and central Europe while snatching chunks of territory in Iran.
This New York Post column by Amir Taheri is far from the first editorial to suggest that peace movements have often been manipulated by America's enemies, and that even when they haven't they are much more apt to protest anything the American military does than anything others do, and that peace protesters are always wrong. I think the first two points are well worth discussing.
The first idea is especially interesting in a backhanded way. Suppose China thought it was a really spiffy idea to support the opposition to the Vietnam war. Of course nobody could do the same to Russia while they were fighting in Afghanistan as long as the internal machinery of communist oppression was operating at all. It's hard to say what role the Afghan war had in the fall of the Soviet Union. A government always hates to back down - even if it's to their long term benefit to do so. Of course American opinion can be manipulated against an American war - unless the logic for it is compelling. Compare the number of protesters against the First Gulf War and the bombing of Serbia to the number of protesters against this war. Enemies who try to manipulate democracy do so at their peril. And all those "Yes but" people who believe in free speech but hate the results can remember that. Free Speech and Democracy may well be such a powerful combination that ANSWER thug supporters defeat themselves.
Err, wait. That's not as upbeat as I thought. This is one of the wars that have many protesters, for now at least. One of the great things about the anti war movement is it tends to build up steam if we get involved in the sort of thing that bled Russia dry, and fade away after a quick victory. Of course even a quick military victory won't prove we can win the peace. That brings up another point.
There weren't many protesters when the United States worked to prolong the Iran-Iraq war by helping first one side then the other. Unpatriotic, that's what I call it. It's every American's duty to speak out when the government is doing something wrong. Real life is not a Leave It To Beaver episode, and to blindly trust our leaders is to slight the constitution which gives us the right and responsibility to vote. Maybe the protesters really are controlled by anti-American forces, who finally realized that protests tended to gain more popular support when opposing misguided wars (on the average) than opposing justifiable ones, and held back the protests so nothing would keep us from setting up the current situation. No, wait. If the Russian commies were that smart they would still be in power. Protesters can be wrong too - sometimes even by not speaking loudly enough.
In general, even those who strongly supported American opposition to Slovobodan Milosevich didn't bother protesting against him. It seems we expect American governments to be interested in popular opinion, but not authoritarian ones. By and large the evidence is in favor of this. If anyone has any good arguments that American protests against atrocities of foreign dictators would help, I'll listen. Some have implied that the peace protesters gave Saddam hope that even if he didn't disarm, Bush would take his 200,000 troops and go home, thus weakening his motive to disarm. I never heard any war hawk suggest that popular demonstrations of support for war would make it unnecessary, but if so why didn't anybody organize some as anything other than counter protests? How about everyone who thinks we need regime change - do any of them want to thank the protesters for giving Saddam enough hope so that he didn't disarm and deprive America of a pretext to do what you consider necessary? It seems to me many of the people who hint at this are the same ones saying all along that Saddam would never disarm - and the evidence is almost conclusive that they are right. America has explicitly stated how it can be deterred, and if for some strange reason he did give away everything hidden he would have proven himself a liar once too many times to be believed when he told the truth. I don't see how people can go around even suggesting he might have if only their hadn't been all those protests.
Posted by David at 5:37 PM
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
I've been wondering if I've been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking how an emergent global brain should work, maybe we should ask why it's not working instead - why a global brain capable of turning our world into a near utopia hasn't already emerged. Of course there's an implicit assumption here, since not all units show emergent behavior when gathered together in large numbers, and not all emergent behavior would be considered intelligent in terms of the goals of the individual units that make up the emergent entity - even to the extent those units have coherent goals.
There is some evidence for the idea that such a global brain would naturally emerge if no obstructions arose - although hardly conclusive. Recently I've visited this essay by Paul Cox several times. While I don't know enough about the history of the Cloudmakers to be competent to comment independently, what I've viewed of the website so far is interesting.
From Part II of What is Mathematics:
A hive mentality, sometimes called a "hive mind" is similar to an insect colony (i.e. ants or bees) which individually behave seemingly independent, and almost unpredictably random, but when thought of as a whole, they manage success far exceeding what any one of them could accomplish. Examples of human based hive minds include the scientific community, including the mathematics community, governments and charitable organizations. Most of these "hive mind" societies are too large or too complicated to study up close and find out what makes them successful or failures.
Cloudmakers is a fairly controlled environment, it shows all the signs of success, and it numbers between 1000-6000 participants world wide over a span of just a few months. By studying the behavior of this group, a lot can be learned in understanding the behavior of much larger groups over longer periods of time.
I should point out that there is a difference between "hive mentality" and "mob mentality", that difference is an informed hierarchy. One of the things the Cloudmakers did early on was establish two groups, a free for all discussion group and a moderated group that featured the most important and informative messages of the free for all group. If you want your point to get attention, you need to convince a moderator, and it will be forwarded to the "important" group. The moderators are not there to dictate, they are there to keep things productive and civil. If they wanted to take control, I doubt it would be possible.
All "hive mind" structures have similar structures. In the sciences, you have publishers of prestigious journals. If you want your opinion read or recognized, you need to convince an editor first. Representative democratic governments have a hive mind structure, which may explain their superiority over other forms of government. A true democracy is a free for all. In a representative government, proposed laws and policies have to go through the legislators for consideration.
In chapter two of his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talks about how several thousand strangers self assembled themselves into a hive mind capable of playing a game of pong with only a few seconds worth of instructions, although the collective probably did not play as well as the most dextrous person present would have played alone.
It seems that under the right circumstances intelligence may emerge from groups of humans with a common purpose even if none of them have an abstract interest in or knowledge of emergent intelligence. Perhaps neural intelligence is even scalable, so that some of the devices used by neurons and groups of neurons to create an intelligence are similar to strategies that human groups use to cooperate. At any rate, although this idea may ultimately fail to shed any light on the subject of emergent democracy, I think it's worth trying.
Some individuals are fully as capable of engaging in self destructive behavior as is our species as a whole. One form of this is when parts of our brain seem to be struggling against other parts, or at least not working well with them. This can be as simple as one part of your brain deciding to diet, while other parts seem to be prompting you to eat. Dr. Fredric Schiffer has written interesting book on how some psychological problems might be caused by struggles between different hemispheres of our brain. Those who agree with him are still a small minority among scientists, although some of his research has been published in peer reviewed journals.
Certainly polarization is everywhere among our species. Perhaps this is one of the things impeding our self assembly into a functional global brain. If so, to some extent our path is cut out for us, although it will be neither simple nor easy. When two sides disagree, the blame is not automatically equal on both sides. On the other hand, it is all of us collectively who have failed to become a cosmic mind capable of reshaping the universe.
Posted by David at 5:59 PM
Monday, March 03, 2003
Daniel Drezner thinks the United States may still have something important to learn from Turkey despite the apparent refusal to let us base our troops there. He thinks we may have learned it too:
"In general, embarrassment is a much more effective method than decapitation to destroying terrorist networks. The key to destroying such groups is to eliminate recruitment by spreading the perception that the group is ineffective. Capturing terrorist leaders and publishing photos that make them look like death warmed over is the most effective way to do this."
After the first few photos the law of diminishing returns is sure to set in, but he has other ideas as well. Getting captured terrorist leaders to do their share is still the hard part.
Posted by David at 6:08 PM
Saturday, March 01, 2003
(From New York Times)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 1 — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and one of the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists, was detained by Pakistani authorities this morning and is now in American custody, officials said.
...(several paragraphs skipped)
American officials confirmed that Mr. Mohammed was in United States custody and had been taken to an undisclosed location outside Pakistan.
...(several more paragraphs omitted)
Of all Qaeda agents and leaders captured since the Sept. 11 attacks, he may be the most important and is certainly the most feared.
Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.
The war on terror seems to be going rather well lately. And Steven Den Beste has gotten me thinking. I still wouldn't invade Iraq if it were up to me - but if the United States does so, I desperately want to see it work out well in the long run.
Nobody can guarantee a war will be quick - but somehow after Afghanistan I feel less worried about that than other things. It doesn't sound like we're going to try to occupy them without enough troops to do the job either. If Al Qaeda is really on the ropes, maybe we don't have to assume a series of successful attacks on American troops being used to constantly recruit more attackers, feeding into a viscious cycle. It could still happen - a largely Arabic organization in an Arabic speaking country has got to be better there than elsewhere - but after this victory the chance is lessened.
I still think we should be getting off to a running start with the representatives of the various ethnic groups there. I'm not quite sure where the administration stands on Turkey now. Some might even see the Turkish refusal to base our troops as an opportunity to give more to the Kurds. If so it has to be done carefully. I read recently that Kirkuk, the city the Iraqi Kurds want to claim, is not a Kurdish majority city - and they are not well disposed towards the other groups there. Destabalizing Turkey won't help stablize the middle east either. Of course the Turkish could still support us.
Like the Kurds, the Shia are accustomed to Saddam's bloddy iron fist, and will not be deterred by the threat of a few deaths, or even a few thousand. It may well be their first question about American occupiers will be "Are they willing to slaughter a few thousand civilians?" - and that they will dismiss them if the answer is no. On the other hand, American troops shooting lynch mobs on their way to slit the throats of Sunni Muslims may well increase American support for whatever violent measures may prove necessary.
Although I believe in planning for the worst, I somehow find myself convinced enough that the invasion itself will go successfully that I must leave that part to others. I still find myself amply able to worry about the occupation itself to hold my end up there though. Comparisons to Japan and Germany keep coming to mind. Remember that the entire group of Axis powers was defeated before the rebuilding began - and they had nowhere to turn to for help and support in resisting the occupation. Iraq will be in the middle of a sea of countries with support for each major ethnic or religious group available somewhere or other.
Posted by David at 9:35 PM
Friday, February 28, 2003
I was pretty surprised to learn today from his blog that Daniel W. Drezner is a libertarian Republican. His criticism of how Bush deals with foreign policy disagreements in his administation and rather friendly discussion of the foreign policy views of some Democratic candidates had lead me to believe otherwise.
Good for him - he's clearly not repeating anyone's party line, so I'm going to read him even more in the future. I already know the party lines.
Posted by David at 7:37 PM
Thursday, February 27, 2003
According to this essay by Steven Den Beste on his blog USS Clueless, recent changes have allowed President Bush to be more frank about our plans:
I've long said that the real reason to conquer Iraq was to set off a chain reaction of liberalization in the Arab world (here, for instance). Many have asked me whether I thought this was really what the Bush administration was thinking, and if so why they hadn't gone public with it.
The answer is that I do believe they were thinking along these lines all along, but that for them to go public with it back then would have led to serious grief by making clear to such stalwarts as Saudi Arabia just what we really intended. I'm happy, therefore, that we've reached the point where we no longer think we require the good wishes of the Sauds, and thus Bush has indeed publicly stated the real goal for this war, and the only way in the long run we can really win it: liberalization of the Arabs. And, as mentioned above, Iraq will be used to create an example in the middle East of how it's done, and most of that process will be financed by sales of Iraq's oil.
President Bush has already made clear that our first move will be to keep the current government in place while changing a few people at the top. This has angered the Kurds and Shia, but it was difficult to think of another way to do it. The majority Shia might vote in an Iranian type theocracy if the country were made a democracy tomorrow. Even if they didn't, it seems likely they would be much too close to the Iranians for our liking. The Kurds would declare independence, and this might split Turkey as well as Iraq into civil war.
If Steven Den Beste is correct, I guess the questions can be divided up into two categories. How about the occupation? How are we going to keep the Shia and Kurds from revolting after we get rid of Saddam? Remember, there is only one model for keeping Iraq a single nation ever since it was cobbled together from three Ottoman provinces. Bloodshed. Do we have another one? If not, how much killing can we do and still set up a democracy?
Next group. Where are we going? If Bush doesn't want an American or Iraqi dictator, eventually it will come to the voting booth. How do we keep the majority Shia from either going the way of Iran or voting to kill all the Sunni's? I would like to think once the Shia have a prosperous free democracy they will vote to keep it, but we can't just assume so.
I'm not one hundred percent sure these questions are unanswerable. Could it be Bush has answers to all of them, or at least his administration? If Steven is right and Bush had to keep our current plans secret, perhaps there are more secrets. Certainly there are situations which require a president to keep certain things secret. Yet, there were people speculating about how our plans involved the Saudi's. (I wonder if any Saudi's read Steven's blog.) Since this is a democracy, I would be much happier if I heard more pro war people thinking in more detail about what we're going to do afterwards. Hoping Bush has an answer is one thing, assuming it is another. Steven Den Beste is probably one of the deepest pro war thinkers in the blogosphere, and he hasn't even touched on the mechanics of welding Shia, Sunni, and Kurds into a single democracy.
Posted by David at 4:27 PM
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
I've written several times over the past week or so about Kurdish responses to our planned post war occupation of Iraq.
Courtesy of Talking Points Memo, here's an MSNBC article on the Shia response.
The Talking Points Memo post on this article is characteristically well researched and thought out - and uncharacteristically non partisan. One of his best ever. On my monitor you have to scroll upwards after clicking the above link, it brings you to the end of Josh Marshall's post.
Posted by David at 11:38 AM
Thomas Friedman is a New York Times journalist who favors what he believes will turn out to be 'The Liberartion of Iraq'.
What all this means is that when it comes to building democracy in Iraq, the Europeans are uninterested, the Americans are hypocritical and the Arabs are ambivalent. Therefore, undertaking a successful democratization project there, in a way that will stimulate positive reform throughout the region, will require a real revolution in thinking all around — among Americans, Arabs and Europeans. If done right, the Middle East will never be the same. If done wrong, the world will never be the same.
If this triple revolution is necessary for a tolerable result, wouldn't it be better to work on it BEFORE the invasion?
Posted by David at 5:13 AM
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
This BBC news article isn't from today, but I think there is still something worth saying about it.
The FBI has warned American hackers not to launch cyber attacks against Washington's foes.
From a conventional viewpoint, this is the correct thing to do. The government no more wants a group of unpredictable hackers doing things they don't expect when they don't expect them then it wants men who are not part of the military going to Iraq on their own in order to shoot some Iraqi's and getting in their way.
Yet I know another decentralized organization that sometimes seems to work similarly - Al Qaeda. I don't know what the government is doing, so I'll take their word that the dangers of interference are substantial. I can't help wondering if there was any direction the hackers could have been steered in, short of blanket exclusion, so that the potential benefits would have outweighed the potential harm. Imagine an emergent hacker brain, with individual hackers testing out new ideas, copying successful ideas from other hackers, and continually trying out new combinations. An unpaid army, with perhaps an occasional discreet and ambiguous congradulation from our government. A deniable army, just as Osama admits to being pleased by terrorism but claims he cannot be held responsible because he didn't know about or plan it.
Not that it would be easy, but if we are in the most serious war since WWII we may have to change a few tried and true ways of doing things. Very carefully - some of the people involved are serious vandals or even professional criminals. Think of it as a last ditch force of privateers, only not necessarily quite as nasty as the seagoing privateers who were often merely pirates who preyed mostly on enemy ships.
Posted by David at 7:53 PM
Monday, February 24, 2003
I've been thinking for the past couple of days about what Joi Ito said about my previous post. I am one of those Americans who felt (and still feels) that 'Why do they hate us?' was an intelligent and worthwhile question to ask. We certainly were not and are not perfect, but after much thought I am still honestly disinclined to believe that American injustice or misbehavior play the most important role in what happened. Of course, much depends on your standards of comparison. If you look at hyper-powers throughout history, nations with the economic and military potential to dominate nations far from them both culturally and geographically, America comes off very well. On the other hand, if you compare us with our own ideals, we still have far indeed to travel.
One issue often mentioned is support for Isreal - some Saudi's have accused us of completely unbalanced support for Isreal. Let us imagine a scale from negative 10 (no support for Israel, we refuse to sell them weapons while Hamas achieves their stated goal of getting rid of the entire state of Israel, slaughtering millions in the process) and 10 (we tell Isreal that we will continue to sell them arms even if they engage in a similar bloodbath against the Palestinians inside the territories, depopulating and colonizing them). One could argue whether on that scale we are closer to 2 or 4, but ten is, well, untenable. There are some who would say that while they do not agree that flying airplanes into buildings is a reasonable response, there is still some sort of equivence in the sense that they are both actions which might seem justifiable to the actors but are clearly wrong. Although I have always felt the 'blame America first' crowd went too far, unlike many conservatives I am pleased with the result as well as the process of free speech. After reading arguments on both sides, reading about Isreali settlements and Al Qaeda and the Wahibbi and the Isreali faction who would like to drive all the Palestinians in the territories into Jordan and the murders in previous decades of Palestinian moderates who wanted peace by those who call them traitors, I firmly believe that in comparison to other hyper powers throughout history we have done rather well. There are many Palestinians who would remind us that there was no Isreal before the 1940's. And yet, it was not so long before that that the Saudi's were only one of many warring tribes in Saudi Arabia, rather than an internationally accepted govermment. There are many other conquests by the sword that modern day Arabs would look at proudly as well, and if we are serious about peace we cannot demand that the whole world redraw it's borders to what they were fifty years ago first. Why have none of the wealthy supporters of Arabic culture and religeon tried to help Arab nations do what the Japanese and Germans and South Koreans and other nations have done, built an economic system of prosperity that could demand respect on equal terms?
That being said, sometimes good is not good enough. The Arabs have responded to (what some call) colonialism differently than India (where it was definitely colonialism) and others did. I have elsewhere discussed some of the reasons I believe a purely military defeat of Al Qaeda will be impossible. I even believe those who blame America first have given us a head start by trying to feel Al Qaeda's anger from the inside. That being said, we must acknowlege other things as well if we dare cherish the ambition to create what human history has never seen, a world without war and poverty, or at least a largely successful system to keep these things as shocking misfortunes rather than the normal human condition as the centuries roll by. Many have pointed out that desperate people with nothing to lose cannot be deterred. Very well, we must do what no other group in history has dared seriously plan - eliminate poverty. This is not a laudable ambition, this is the price of the survival of civilization, and if we find the wisdom and courage to pay that price there is nothing we cannot do. We are those who dare feel guilty merely for our failure to prevent the suffering of those continents away - when others would humbly admit there was nothing they could do. We are those demand our governments let protesters defy them in time of war, since we are more concerned about fighting the wrong war rather than defeat.
A new Marshall plan for the middle east must not pretend the terrorists will go away if we're nice enough. We must first help those nations where the terrorists are most tightly restrained - so that at last people in Wahibbi dominated nations will begin to curse the religious leaders who preach death and keep them in poverty. We cannot afford the keep the world as a pet, a new Marshall plan must bring the economics of prosperity to countries that do not seem as eager as Japan and Germany were to learn it.
And yes, we must be prepared to meet force with force. I happen to think invading Iraq is the wrong battle, perhaps a disastrous one which will help Al Qaeda recruit. Since it seems Bush will do it anyway, I've thought as seriously as I could about how we could make the occupation of Iraq work anyway, snatch defeat from victory. I don't seriously believe any idea I have will be picked up and improved by another blogger more knowlegeble than I and eventually make it's way into the media and government, but blog as though I did. In addition we must ask which battles really should be fought, and what tactics will best resist the emergent tactics that have evolved against us, but I'm going to make that a seperate entry. I'm not going to post this to the topic exchange since the relation to emergent democracy is only tenuous.
Update an hour later: I have been thinking about the varying meanings of 'we' within the preceeding paragraph. I believe it is all the prosperous industrialized democracies that need to work together to eliminate poverty, to help form an emergent intelligence which is composed not only of the democratic nations but the entire world. Of course I am proud to be an American, as Joi Ito is proud to be Japanese. Ultimately it is all the nations of the world that will need to work together, but I cannot help thinking some have taken the first few steps while a few have not. Yet we are all human, and as Joi Ito says perhaps not so different from each other. In some ways this is a scary thought.
Posted by David at 8:00 PM
Saturday, February 22, 2003
With all the wonderful talk I've heard about emergent democracy around the blogosphere, something I read in Howard Bloom's Global Brain has been haunting me. Intergroup tournaments as one of the conditions for the constant improvement of emergent intelligence.
This brings us to emergent totalitarianism, or emergent terrorism. At first they may not seem susceptible to analysis as emergent phenomena, since by definition totalitarianism is a command system, and the greatest terrorist threat today demands obedience (at least nominally) to a strict and inflexible code of behavior. Yet many have noted how the decentralized network of Al Qaeda makes it difficult to cripple or destroy. This is not the first time they have been discussed as an emergent system, yet I think it's important to study their dynamics as deeply as possible if civilization is in a war to the death with them - we must know their strengths and weaknesses better than they know ours. And if we are truly to pit emergent system vs emergent system (rather than command vs emergent as the communists did economically) it must be at least in part us rather than our government who think about it.
Much of the leading edge thought on copyright and intellectual property has invoked the idea of a prestige economy as more appropriate then an exchance economy where there is no true scarcity. There are many advantages to a prestige economy, such as not having to worry as much about the free rider problem - if you lose nothing by giving prestige to the creator of a public good, then why not? This already plays a small part in our economy. People and corporations sometimes do things just for prestige without any attempt to collect payment, and sometimes the publicity is cost effective. Open source software is one example.
The most ominous and important example of a prestige economy I know is the reward for suicide terrorists. In Isreal the families of suicide bombers can reap financial rewards, but it is really more of a prestige phenomenon, since there is no chance of enforcing a contract. They merely count on the fact that rich hypocrites will pay these rewards in order to win acceptance of the community, and that acceptance is the coin of prestige. I don't believe any of the families of the Saudi terrorists involved in 9/11 even needed money. In some sense it was the prestige alone the suicide bombers wanted. Even if they had some warped belief they would go to paradise for mass murder, it was still the belief of the community that made that belief possible for them.
As an engine for finding weak points in our defenses, Al Qaeda seems formidable, although there is good hope that it will turn out to be less formidable than it seems at first. The only thing it has shown no potential for is to bring prosperity to those who believe in it. Imagine they nuked a few dozen major US cities and we were too busy internally to worry about anything outside our borders. Imagine there was a horrific ethnic cleansing of Isreal, and no Jews were left. Al Qaeda can't help anyone build a decent civilization. Telling people they will go to paradise for building a better factory that will help feed starving children even if they help their own children in the process doesn't have the right ring to it. Osama may have started the machinery, but he couldn't stop it even if he wanted to - the sort of people who listen to his type would just adopt a new figurehead. Meanwhile, they've done enerything they could to prevent people from learning the skills to participate in material prosperity. More thoughts about the emergent structure of Al Qaeda here.
It seems like we've developed the cutting edge emergent system for the creation of wealth, and they've developed one for death and destruction. It's not that simple, we're far from perfect. I've always been one of those who believes we should go the extra mile to figure out what we should have done better even if the other people don't, just because we're a democracy with free speech and we can. Maybe this is a time for being proud of what we've done - and thinking hard in case we need a new way to fight.
Posted by David at 1:24 PM
Friday, February 21, 2003
I've learned a great deal about our preparations for war by reading Den Beste's blog USS Clueless. His latest entry includes three sentences about our preparations for peace afterwards.
Plans for the administration of Iraq after the war are maturing. We won't be turning control over to the exiles immediately. We also won't be turning it over to the UN or to "allies". The first sentence of that paragraph is also a link to a Washington Post article about our plans for a post war Iraqi government. We are going to put Americans in charge. Some people might be worry if the Iraqi's will go along with this, but that's already been taken care of, as per the last paragraph of the Washington Post article.
'A similar anxiety led to the decision to prohibit the Iraqi opposition based outside the country from forming a provisional government. The chief proponent of that idea, Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, was informed this week that any move to declare a provisional Iraqi government "would result in a formal break in the U.S.-INC relationship," the official said.'
So that's taken care of. We all know no ethnic group of Iraqi's will cross that line in the sand.
And yet, some Kurds released this basic plan along with a reaction to it a few days before our government announced it to the post. I blogged on it and linked to the article in the British newspaper Independent here.
At least we've decided what kind of government we're going to put into place in advance. Now lets think harder about how we're going to do it. We could at least have gotten one of the two main groups of Kurds to go along with us by offering them something. Perhaps we're too idealistic to play them off against each other like Saddam did - but I'm not sure dictating to them by fiat will require less harsh meaures in the long run. Iran has already said they will start issuing fatwa's against us if we're there more than a couple of weeks. They have adherents among some of the Shia. We should start negotiating with other groups of Shia immediately, offering some role in the new government if they will provide a counterweight. The more material prosperity they have, the more they will have to lose under harsh Sharia law. Saddam is a Sunni. The Sunni would seem a tough sell, but if we can make ourselves their protector against the Shia they will have little choice but to align themselves with us - they are a minority, about 20 percent of the population. Maybe we should start finding out which Shia leaders might be able and willing to cooperate in all this. Yea, I know, our troops will do it all, but there are many more of them than of us.
Posted by David at 6:53 PM
Thursday, February 20, 2003
I've just read a great essay by Joichi Ito on the potential of blogs and the web to contribute to democracy. He sees it as more than a means to make communication easier and faster:
"What is difficult is ability for the silent majority to engage in a debate and understand and develop complex ideas without any one citizen needing to have control or an understanding of the entire system. This is the essence of an emergence, and it is the way that ant colonies are able to "think" and our DNA is able to build the complex bodies that we have. If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed emergent understanding and management of complex problems in the same way that ant colonies solve complex issues, direct democracy would be not only be feasible, but superior to our current representative governments, which are unable to control or understand many of the complexities of the world today."
I love this idea, but I think it is important to realistically confront the challenges if it is to have any chance of becoming real. The hard work of ants is proverbial. If this is our serious ambition, we must ask what we as bloggers need to do to bring it closer.
How many of your favorite blogs are like newspaper columns and editorials, only less so? Perhaps they always praise liberal democrats and attack conservative republicans, unless to criticize the liberals for not being liberal enough. Or perhaps they are a brand of conservative, be it libertarian right or religious right. Belonging to a subgroup is not the same as independent thinking. Either way, paraphrasing the already well articulated arguments of any particular group does not really advance the thought process of the emergent intelligence we collectively hope to become - or even offer the prospect of doing anything not already better done in the mainstream media.
Instead, collective accomplishment requires effort - ants always seem busy, although some neurons seem to get a relatively quiet time when other parts of the brain are very active. Let us try to ask questions that will keep us out of both of the twin ruts. It seems to me that both parties are machines driven to manipulate us by our emotions. If you are dead sure that one is right and one is wrong, perhaps it is worth investigating the efforts of prominent tax cutting conservatives to gain and keep pork for their own districts, or ask if the current system widely varying awards for medical malpractice suits with no guidance for the jury is truly the best way to ensure equitable compensation for injuries while making medical care affordable for all. I guess the questions are slightly different for those living outside of the United States, yet the basic issue may be the same.
Posted by David at 8:31 PM
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Most of my recent blogging seems Iraq related in one way or another, especially if the Global Brain stuff is counted as thinking about a mind better capable of resolving the problem than any politician. In a way this is only natural. I believe the war against terror and nuclear proliferation is a battle for civilization. We must make nuclear weapons into the only technology not to become cheaper and more easily obtainable as time passes - and confront an enemy who strives to use our ideals against us.
DEBKAfile asks, Are The War Delays Over?, and it does seem that a critical battle (even if as many think the wrong battle) in the war on terror is about to be fought. Any war opponent who is not desperately hoping Bush knows what he's doing despite any evidence to the contrary doesn't fully realize the gravity of the situation. Of course errors have different magnitudes, a player who makes a blunder in chess may curse silently, but will then strive to turn the results of the blunder into victory - and will frequently succeed. Many games have blunders on both sides. I think the time has arrived for opponents of invading Iraq to join proponents in asking what we should do once we are in there.
I'm also going to try and blog about other things some of the time. These issues may occasionally seem trivial even to me in comparison with what is to come, but I think all of them are a part of who and what we are.
Posted by David at 8:46 PM
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
The Kurds are revolting against US military government in Iraq. Of course, this wouldn't be surprising if we had set it up. Maybe I procrastinate too much, but I would have expected them to wait.
Kurdish leaders enraged by 'undemocratic' American plan to occupy Iraq
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Is Saddam going to kill some protesters, then apologize when he discovers they weren't protesting against him, but against the evil Americans? Are we going to say that the Kurds are much more ungrateful then the French because they are ungrateful before we even start, and tell Saddam we'll suspend the no fly zone if he gets in a few licks for us?
This makes it harder to hope that anyone in the Bush administration has a secret master plan. I think much of the oil Bush is counting on is in Kurdish areas too. Any chance that the Independent's "Kurdish leaders who recently met American officials." are a small dissident minority, and we are negotiating with the rest? That's not the feeling I get, but you never know. I would feel more hopeful if the Kurdish leaders concerned insisted on remaining anonymous.
"Conquerors always call themselves liberators," said Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish administration, in a reference to Mr Bush's speech last week in which he said US troops were going to liberate Iraq.
Mr Abdul-Rahman said the US had reneged on earlier promises to promote democratic change in Iraq. "It is very disappointing," he said. "In every Iraqi ministry they are just going to remove one or two officials and replace them with American military officers."
So I guess we have two things to worry about - is this really the plan, and will it work?
Posted by David at 5:50 PM
Something about the idea of a simple set of rules which individuals could follow to help bring us as a group closer to being a collective superintelligence, a world mind similar to some envisioned by Olaf Stapledon, still appeals to me. All the emergent intelligences I've read about seem to work that way, brains formed from neurons, bacterial colonies, and ant colonies. There may be such rules, but my idea of encouraging people to think them out verbally may have been misguided. My last rule was going to be that everyone had to make at least one change in the rules, so that the hive mind itself would think about the rules that were the substratum of the hive mind. Kevin Kelly's model is more fun anyhow.
I'll probably finish the set sometime since I'm more than half done, but I now suspect that most of the rules will only be formulated explicitly after they have been put into effect by trial and error, something like this. Probably just as well since the relationship between the blogosphere, the noosphere, and the biosphere is still being worked out. Link via Genstart
Posted by David at 12:16 PM
I suppose it is good news for America that we will no longer look undiplomatic by comparison, although I would rather hear of our being statemanlike than someone else misbehaving.
BRUSSELS, Belgium - French President Jacques Chirac launched a withering attack Monday on eastern European nations who signed letters backing the U.S. position on Iraq, warning it could jeopardize their chances of joining the European Union (news - web sites).
It is not really responsible behavior," he told a news conference. "It is not well brought up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet."
Posted by David at 6:59 AM
Monday, February 17, 2003
Interestingly enough, this makes me feel better rather than worse.
War Planners Begin to Speak of War's Risks is an article in the New York Times.
On Page 2, here is one of the problems they are thinking about:
Chaos after Mr. Hussein is gone. Several task forces on Iraq have examined what some call the "score-settling problem," the specter of rivalries and feuds that have been bottled up for decades spinning out of control. Most have concluded that one result may be an American military occupation likely to be longer than the 18 months that Ms. Rice has talked about. Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, noted in Senate testimony last week that getting at the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction would be a "complex, dangerous and expensive task."
OK, so what's the plan to do all this while Al Qaeda is deploying suicide bombers in a country where they speak the language and we don't?
All the same, I feel just a tiny bit better about this invasion plan than I did before reading this.
Posted by David at 11:13 PM
Al-Arabiya: A balanced alternative to Al-Jazeera?
I'm not sure if this is good news or bad news. It might just be another Al-Jazeera which doesn't upset the Arab governments by criticizing them, but is similar otherwise. Read the article - but read critically, it's from Arab News.
Posted by David at 10:40 AM
Sunday, February 16, 2003
The Straits Times Interactive has written about the UN security council meeting on Friday.
Opening his remarks, French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin said: 'The message comes to you today from an old country, France, from a continent like mine, Europe, that has known war, occupation and barbarity.
'An old country that does not forget and knows everything it owes to the freedom fighters who came from America and elsewhere,' he said.
Steven Den Beste has been writing about it as well.
Fuck the State Department. They're the ones who got us into this mess, and they don't seem to have figured out yet that they've been played for suckers by the Weasels.
It is possible that this could cause long term resentment. But in the short run, it's really difficult to fathom why State thinks that some nation which is on the fence in this would decide, when it saw Germany get crunched for its active belligerence, that becoming actively belligerent against the US is a good idea. At this point I will settle for resentful support in preference to active opposition.
If you read his article and the Observer article he links to about Donald Rumsfeld's plan to punish Germany, you'll see that our tone is not really so different then Steven Den Beste's. The fact that France may come off sounding better to third parties is not the major issue here. The fact is, we don't seem to know exactly what is going to happen after we take over Iraq (it seems inevitable at this point). I would like to think that the Bush administration has a plan, but if so either it is so secret that he has convinced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to criticize his administration to protect it, or they don't understand it. If so, I presume we won't need France and Germany to help us with it. On the other hand, perhaps we're not sure exactly how we're going to handle it but simply feel that the danger is worse if we do nothing. In a case like that, you never know who will be of help. Of course there's still the possibility we are making a mistake, in which case not knowing whose help you might want goes double.
Remember when Pakistan and India tested their way into the nuclear club? Yes there were sanctions, but I honestly think we spoke of both countries more respectfully than we do of France and Germany today. Rightly or wrongly, we decided that Pakistan's support in getting rid of the Taliban was worth having, even at a cost. I would like to think that France and Germany will be there for us if three months from now things have changed as much as they did between August 11, 2001 and October 11, 2001.
Posted by David at 9:03 AM