July 27, 2006

Dense Pessimisms (Take 2)

Western democracy as we know it can't survive technology's relentless democratisation of access to the technologies of destruction.

Technological advances increase individual access to destructive power, from simple things like guns and mines, through information warfare and truck bombs, to more extensive things like nuclear or biological (etc.) weapons. Open access to technology is a democratic imperative (and technological progress is technology's own imperative); but as you open up access to weapons or technology to everyone, you end up giving that access to those within a democracy who believe democracy is the enemy. You can't have a reasonable democracy with individual privacy rights (where "privacy" is broadly-defined to include protection from goverment and corporate surveillance or interference) and open access to technology and have any sort of stable basis for democratic security.

Western democracy is based on an optimism about human nature and the effectiveness of democratic processes in curbing the worst effects of resentment, rebellion, psychoses, etc., that seems ludicrous in the face of a human nature that can also produce lethal fundamentalisms and irrational Belief-based cultural and political crusades. There's no evidence that all sociopathies or destructive fundamentalisms (leftist, rightist, or religious) can be cured or even supressed by economic or purely-political means -- quite the opposite, despite more than a century of Marxist, libertarian, and leftist analysis. Technological fixes for technological destructiveness are historically prone to unintended consequences, and in any case usually point to even worse destruction and things like arms races. And it's difficult to predict what effects a new (or even well-established) technology may have in the wrong hands; almost any technology has the potential for destruction and death (as I've said before, technology isn't a pact with the devil; it's a Faustian bargain with ourselves (which may amount to the same thing). Technology magnifies human impulse...).

So the democratisation of access to technology can lead to two different results: an increasingly-reactionary State that restricts access to technologies, and that uses technologies of surveillance and control to (perhaps slowly, and with the consent of a large portion of its citizens) repress democracy and individual rights in the name of safety (or even Democracy); or, alternatively, a truly-open society evolves where nothing is hidden and everything's visible, even (especially) the day-to-day things we now define as private. Unfortunately, that sort of truly-open society -- a sort of information society Panopticon -- is itself a form of tyranny, a totalitarianism of the masses in the name of democracy. A transparent, totalitarian, democracy.

I gotta wear shades.


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