For the masses, the feeling that technology develops along an inevitable path reflects their lack of agency — the fact that the crucial decisions about the technological conditions of society will be made by a largely self-regulating confraternity of elites. For engineers and scientists, technological development appears to be driven by a combination of what they can imagine, what is technically feasible, and what governments or markets demand. Even those whose particular genius produces the breakthroughs feel this as an inevitability, as if they are possessed by some inner logic that is the real force ushering in this new world.
"You can’t be neutral on a moving train," I would tell them. Some were baffled by the metaphor, especially if they took it literally and tried to dissect its meaning. Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that."You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times"
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.Inaugural Address at University of St. Andrews (1867)
Defining efforts to slow/prevent/reverse anthropogenic climate change as "political crusades" has been one of the great propaganda victories of the oligarchs who are raping and pillaging the planet to line their pockets now and will be long dead by the time industrialized human society has come under undeniable threat as a consequence of their actions.
Fuck that. Entities willfully contributing to climate change should be censured and marginalized with extreme prejudice.
In the midst of all my bitching, you might have noticed that I never complain about politicians. I leave that to others. And there's no shortage of volunteers; everyone complains about politicians. Everyone says they suck.
But where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky; they don't pass through a membrane from a separate reality. They come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, and American businesses. And they're elected by American voters. This is what our system produces, folks. This is the best we can do. Let's face it, we have very little to work with. Garbage in, garbage out.
Ignorant citizens elect ignorant leaders, it's as simple as that. And term limits don't help. All you do is get a new bunch of ignorant leaders.
So maybe it's not the politicians who suck; maybe it's something else. Like the public. That would be a nice realistic campaign slogan for somebody: "The public sucks. Elect me." Put the blame where it belongs: on the people.
Because if everything is really the fault of politicians, where are all the bright, honest, intelligent Americans who are ready to step in and replace them? Where are these people hiding? The truth is, we don't have people like that. Everyone's at the mall, scratching his balls and buying sneakers with lights in them. And complaining about the politicians.
[..] we must defend not only our own right to freedom, but also other people’s rights. This is because when other people’s right to freedom is violated, our freedom exists only in name. [..] Freedom is the embodiment of independent will and thought. [..] If we are to oppose tyranny and respect independence, then the oppression embedded within and between cultures should all be destroyed. [..] even in researching and learning, our thoughts are not as free as we think they are. Under the impact of complicated thoughts, shameless suppression and temptation, defending your freedom of thought has become very difficult. We usually believe that learning can make you powerful, but in the process, our independent will or freedom of thought is often hijacked, wittingly or unwittingly. Everyone thinks that learning is a good thing, but if we lose our independent will or freedom of thought, the outcome might be even worse than not learning. Schopenhauer once said in his essay On Reading and Books: “They have read themselves stupid. If you are eager to learn, it is important that you understand this idea.” [..] Anyone who reads only one type of book or answers to one authority is essentially using books to build a jail that imprisons their thoughts. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that our ancestors invented books in the shape of bricks? [..] the concept of “freedom and the pursuit of non-material goals” is incredibly important, but also incredibly fragile. Not only does it allow us to pursue our own lives, it also prevents us from becoming tools of crime. It is humanity’s first line of defense, or we should say the last. Actually, it’s the sole line of defense. [..] Freedom is not a handout, we need to earn it with our efforts. You can lock up my body but you can never imprison my will. [..] Towards the end, as always, I’d like to share with you my life motto, a famous saying by Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
What good does it do me, after all, if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life; if it monopolizes vitality and existence to such a degree that when it languishes, everything around it must also languish; when it sleeps, everything must also sleep; and when it dies, everything must also perish?
As someone libertarian-leaning, what I find disturbing about all this - we all told ourselves that companies in various totalitarian regimes went along with the regime's line because they'd be "disappeared" if they didn't. Here in our country, it seems that murder, jail time, and mysterious "disappearances" are not required. Most companies will happily go along with any regime's censorship plans just to make a few more bucks, not risk losing their market position, or not be a target of a twitter outrage mob.
How are we going to maintain a free society if nobody is willing to make any effort at it?
Reddit does have an ideology: it's the "free marketplace of ideas" pushed by the Libertarian right. It's an ideology that favors noise and disinfo with a high churn rate, because that's what's most beneficial to the showrunners. Redditors will call themselves "center left" because they believe that holding vaguely pro-personal-freedom opinions about settled issues (weed and gay marriage) excuses them from any further social responsibility.
These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"
Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility."Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
I cannot tell why the spokesmen I have cited want the developments I forecast to become true. Some of them have told me that they work on them for the morally bankrupt reason that "If we don't do it, someone else will." They fear that evil people will develop superintelligent machines and use them to oppress mankind, and that the only defense against these enemy machines will be superintelligent machines controlled by us, that is, by well-intentioned people. Others reveal that they have abdicated their autonomy by appealing to the "principle" of technological inevitability. But, finally, all I can say with assurance is that these people are not stupid. All the rest is mystery.
I have spoken here of what ought and ought not to be done, of what is morally repugnant, and of what is dangerous. I am, of course, aware of the fact that these judgements of mine have themselves no moral force except on myself. Nor, as I have already said, do I have any intention of telling other people what tasks they should and should not undertake. I urge them only to consider the consequences of what they do do. And here I mean not only, not even primarily, the direct consequences of their actions on the world about them. I mean rather the consequences on themselves, as they construct their rationalizations, as they repress the truths that urge them to different courses, and as they chip away at their own autonomy. That so many people ask what they must do is a sign that the order of being and doing has become inverted. Those who know who and what they are do not need to ask what they should do. And those who must ask will not be able to stop asking until they begin to look inside themselves. It it is everyone's task to show by example what questions one can ask of oneself, and to show that one can live with the few answers there are."Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation" (1976)
The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.
When it’s Tunisians and Egyptians using FB and Twitter, everyone is quick to take credit and talk about the “transformative” power of social media. When it’s genocide, suddenly everyone is mumbling and looking at the ground. You can’t have every job listing include “changing the world” and then duck responsibility when you actually do change the world, just for the worse.
My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one's actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.
If the ability to tell right from wrong should have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to "demand" its exercise in every sane person no matter how erudite or ignorant."The Life of the Mind: The Groundbreaking Investigation on How We Think"
These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest."On Violence"
The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons."On Evil"
As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake."The Life of the Mind"
Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility."The Origins of Totalitarianism"