The greatest danger of a terrorist’s bomb is in the explosion of stupidity that it provokes.
― Octave Mirbeau
Sometimes the blog is just an open version of a personal journal. I feel myself torn between wanting to write about some thoroughly nerdy topic that holds my intellectual interest (like hyperviscosity for example), but end up ranting about some aspect of my professional life (like last week). I genuinely felt like the rant from last week would be followed this week by a technical post because things would be better. Was I ever wrong! This week is even more appalling! I’m getting to see the rollout of the new national program reaching for Exascale computers. As deeply problematic as the current NNSA program might be, it is a paragon of technical virtue compared with the broader DOE program. Its as if we already had a President Trump in the White House to lead our Nation over the brink toward chaos, stupidity and making everything an episode in the World’s scariest reality show. Electing Trump would just make the stupidity obvious, make no mistake, we are already stupid.
The fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.
― Earl Warren
A while back I talked about the impending conflict brewing in society and the threat of its explosion in the coming year. I fear this is coming to pass. The multiple events of the American presidential election, the refugee crisis, terrorism all playing out in a maelstrom of societal upheaval is stoking flames into a conflagration. It is really clear theme is a general lack of trust and faith in the establishment. Science is suffering greatly from this problem. Expertise is viewed with suspicion and generally associated with elitism. This in manifested in the actions of our government, legislatures, but authorized by the public. Instead of viewing expert judgment as something to be respected and trusted, it is viewed as being biased and self-serving. The governance of science is being crippled by these attitudes, and the quality of our science programs and labs is being destroyed in the process.
I ponder the imprint of all of this in the events that unfold at work. Why is work so completely unremarkable and dull? Why are the things we are supposed to work on so utterly lacking in inspiration, thought and rational basis? Why are workplaces becoming so completely antithetical to progress, empowerment and satisfaction? How does the combination of the pervasive Internet and our reality show politics reflect all of these trends?
Then I think about the public face of the World today. Why are hatred, fear and racism so openly present in public life? Is violence becoming more commonplace? Has the Internet been a positive or a negative force? Are we freer than in the past, or placed in less visible shackles? Why is more information available than ever before, yet society has never seemed more at the mercy of the uninformed?
How are these two worlds connected? Is there a common thread to be explored and understood?
I think there are parallels that are worth discussing in depth. Something big is happening and right now it looks like a great unraveling. People are choosing sides and the outcome will determine the future course of our World. On one side we have the forces of conservatism, which want to preserve the status quo through the application of fear to control the populace. This allows control, lack of initiative, deprivation and a herd mentality. The prime directive for the forces on the right is the maintenance of the existing structures of power in society. The forces of liberalization and progress are arrayed on the other side wanting freedom, personal meaning, individuality, diversity, and new societal structure. These forces are colliding on many fronts and the outcome is starting to be violent. The outcome still hangs in the balance.
The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.
― Eric Schmidt
Society is greatly out of balance and eventually balance must be restored. This lack of balance is extreme enough to assure it will result in conflict and probably violence. We can see how close to violence parts of the political climate is today. It will get worse before it gets better. How it plays out and who wins is still not determined. I favor the left, but the right probably has the advantage for now. The right controls the levers of power and dominates resources be they weaponry, money or influence. The left lacks an element that unifies progress aside from the vast degree of inequality that has arisen, and the connective power of the “Internet”. Insofar as the Internet and connectivity is concerned the impact plays both ways and may favor the right’s establishment cause of preserving the status quo. The right has the resources to harness the Internet to further their cause. The elements at play are worth lying out because of how they affect everyone’s life.
The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge, but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of political surveillance. Now…cyberspace exists exclusively to promote commerce, gossip and pornography. And of course to hunt down sedition. Only paper is safe. Books are the key. A book cannot be accessed from afar, you have to hold it, you have to read it.
― Ben Elton
The Internet is a great liberalizing force, but it also provides a huge amplifier for ignorance, propaganda and the instigation of violence. It is simply a technology and it is not intrinsically good or bad. On the one hand the Internet allows people to connect in ways that were unimaginable mere years ago. It allows access to incredible levels of information. The same thing creates immense fear in society because new social structures are emerging. Some of these structures are criminal or terrorists, some of these are dissidents against the establishment, and some of these are viewed as immoral. The information availability for the general public becomes an overload. This works in favor of the establishment, which benefits from propaganda and ignorance. The result is a distinct tension between knowledge and ignorance, freedom and tyranny hinging upon fear and security. I can’t see who is winning, but signs are not good.
Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.
― Bruce Coville
The topic of encryption is another pregnant topic. On the one hand it allows elements that the establishment does not like to communicate and exist in privacy. Some of these elements are criminal, or terrorists, and some are political dissidents or other social deviants. Encryption has some degree of equivalence to freedom in a digital World. I feel that the establishment is not trustworthy enough to have the keys to it. Can we really truly be completely safe and free? The issue is that we can never be either, and the attempt to be completely safe will enslave us. Any attempt to be completely free will endangers us as well. The trick is the balance of the two extremes. I choose freedom as the greater good, but clearly many, if not most, choose safety as the priority. The line between safety and tyranny is thin and guarding our freedom may be sacrificed in favor of safety and security.
How do you defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized.
― Salman Rushdie
Terrorism is another huge problem that crystalizes the issues of freedom, safety and security. It is used to frighten and enslave populations. Terrorism has successfully harnessed the will of the American population to support further profit taking by the wealthy. In fact, the key to curing terrorism is brutally simple. It is so simple and yet hard; the cure is to not be terrorized. Our fear of terrorists is their greatest force, and amplifies the damage done by actual terrorist acts by orders of magnitude. If we refuse to be terrorized, terrorists lose all their power. The problem is that terrorists are used by the establishment to frighten, control and corral the population to do the establishment’s bidding. It is an incredibly powerful political tool to mobilize the population to support tyranny. It drives the desire to have strong, protective and violent governance. It encourages a populace to consume itself with fear and hatred. It has led us to consider Trump as a viable candidate for President.
Our media including the Internet does immense amount of exaggeration of the risks in the World, and amplifies the impact of those risks on society. As one of my Facebook friends likes to say, “we are terrorism’s greatest force multiplier”. The risk from terrorism is vastly less than our actions would indicate. The deluge of information is making terrorism seem commonplace while the reality is how utterly uncommon and rare it is. For the media terrorism is great source of customer attention and a source of money. For politicians on the right terrorism is a way of channeling the ignorance and hatred in society to their side. For the interests of the wealthy terrorism is a great source of money for defense and intelligence industries to line their pockets with taxpayer money. All of these actions work to help society’s unraveling through opposing the forces of progress and liberalization by strengthening the power of the establishment whether it is industry, police or military.
Abandoning open society for fear of terrorism is the only way to be defeated by it.
— Edward Snowden
We need to strike a balance that allows freedom and progress to continue. Too many in the public do not realize that fear and security concerns are being used to enslave them. The politics of fear and hatred are the tool of the rich and powerful. They are driving maintenance of the status quo that hurts the general population and only benefits those already in power. It is continuing to drive an imbalance that can only end up with societal conflict. The larger the imbalance grows and the longer it goes unchecked, the greater the resulting conflict. If things don’t blow up this year, the blowup will only grow in severity.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
― Abraham Lincoln