The Basic Threat
Posted: 02 January 2007 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Is it possible that the basic threat to civilization as we know it isn't coming from Islamic fundamentalism or global warming, but from leap-frogging technology?  It seems likely that within the next 50 years any private citizen will be able to acquire or assemble a weapon of mass destruction.

Presently, any individual with the will and cunning, acting entirely on his own, can fill a van with high explosives and wreak havoc on a city.  It seems to me that in the near future, individuals like Timothy McVeigh, the Unibomber, the Columbine assasins, or the 9/11 perpetrators and their ilk, rogue military commanders, assorted crazies, an embittered, unbalanced Post Office clerk who just got fired, etc. will have the means to unleash mayhem.  That is, in the near future, any clever individual who wants to murder thousands, or millions, will have the means to do it.

Given the huge capacity for cruelty, violence, and vengefulness embedded in the human psyche, the only solution I can presently think of to this growing threat is the close monitoring of every individual on the planet - Big Brother as never imagined before.  From birth to death every individual will be watched closely by at least 10 others, including, but not limited to: 1) parents. 2) teachers. 3) police. 4) military person. 5) FBI agent. 6) Homeland Security agent. 7&8) two friends. 9&10) two co-workers.  Everyone will wear, or have imbedded in their body, a monitoring device.  Any suspicious behavior will be reported immediately to the authorities.

A scientific optimist might argue that geneticists will be able to identify the genes that incline some persons toward mass murder, but given the fact that Muslim imams can turn intelligent young people into suicide bombers, this seems unlikely.

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Posted: 02 January 2007 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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No. The basic threat is that Homo sapiens is an evolutionary experiment with no real authentication for permanence. Furthermore, social institutions are wholly artificial constructions of groups of human beings, and are entirely inadequate to the task of assisting natural selection.  :D

Or, rather, the basic threat is that most human beings have an innate tendency to accept what they are told by other wise-sounding human beings about what the purpose is for their existence. This tendency is the result of nothing but laziness. Or the fact that it takes twenty years to form an adult human being. Not a very effective approach to adolescence, is it?

Not what you most wanted to hear, I guess.

The last myth that human beings will ever relinquish is that they are somehow above the vicissitudes of nature, even when nothing but a filthy score of specimens living in a hole in the ground are all that is left of civilization.

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Posted: 02 January 2007 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Since we are in the realm of futuristic scenarios the following may work: it is drastic but not quite as draconian as the big brother scenario:

1/ Engineer people, as in the movie Gattaca.(Excellent movie BTW, worth seeing for its cinematic merits alone.)
This way we can weed-out a whole host of nastiness from the get-go.

2/ Have institutions raise the children as supposed to parents.
This will take care of the Imam dilemma.
If you teach children to think on their own, emphasize compassion over all other virtues and don’t fill their heads with damaging nonsense we should be OK.

PS Salt C’s philosophy reminds me a bit of Camus. He took the stance that there is no inherent meaning in our existence. It doesn’t mean though that we couldn’t create meaning of our own.

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Posted: 02 January 2007 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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The loss of freedom and privacy I was describing wouldn’t happen all at once, but in increments with each successive terrorist attack, just as at the airports now, or the borders, or the surveillance cameras everywhere, etc.  I use the word, ‘terrorist’ to include the McVeighs, Unibombers, Columbine assassins, etc. (I notice that Webster defines Assassin as: One of a secret order of Muslims that at the time of the Crusades terrorized Christians and other enemies by secret murder committed under the influence of hashish).

The more devastating the attack, the more freedoms are subsequently lost, until we are all wearing ear tags, like the last wild rhinos, and all our activities are being monitored by dozens of others.  Perhaps Martha Stewart and her ankle bracelet was a prototype for the future?

Salt Creek says, “Not what you wanted to hear, I guess.”  But, in fact, I do want to hear other ideas to contradict the present trend toward Big Brother.  I’ve written down the name of the film Sander mentions.

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“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 02 January 2007 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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unsmoked,

The only attacks on our freedoms have come from the Congress and the Oval Office.

It wasn’t Osama who suspended Habeus Corpus. Al Queda did not install a single security camera.

To put things in perspective: By focusing on ‘terrorists’ we diverted our attention from other matters. 3000 people died on 9-11. A far greater number have died since then because the police are too busy chasing terrorists and don’t have time to protect us from rapists, robbers, and murderers.

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Posted: 02 January 2007 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I think that this is actually what Sam was getting at in TEoF.  Basically, whichever way one looks at it, 21st century technology is scary!

If we don’t address what is really a mental health issue of global reach, nuclear terrorism (or biological, etc.) is just around the corner.

There are sane steps that can be taken, however, that don’t result in all of us being monitored all the time.

Many substances are tightly controlled.  If you go and purchase the right combination of things, you will get visited by the FBI, if you can even purchase them in the first place.

Nuclear devices are easily detected by their trace radiation signatures, and there are a number of proposals (all of which could have been funded if we had not invaded Iraq), including sensors in all the ports, and at strategic locations along the freeways.  It can be made quite difficult to smuggle a nuclear device into a population center.

Ultimately, though, I don’t see any solution that does not embrace universal mental health care.  1 in 4 Americans has a mental health “issue” and the vast majority of them are untreated.  If we count fundamentalist religious beliefs as a mental disorder, the number goes even higher.

-Matt

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Posted: 02 January 2007 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Good thoughts all.  Suggest you read some of David Brin’s work on the open society. “Earth”, his science fiction novel is instructive (on many counts). “The Transparent Society” is his non-fiction view on this idea of everybody watching everybody else to monitor for bad behavior.

As Psi points out, monitoring technology is probably easier than monitoring people, except for one problem - biotech is getting severely easy (kids do DNA testing in high school biology these days). I would keep my eye on this area.

Read Sir Martin Rees’ book, “Our Final Hour”. Sir Martin is no slouch - the Astronomer Royale - and he gives us a 50/50 chance of surviving the century. Outlines some scary stuff.

We are suffering a major species-wide mental disease. As a graduate student in biology I studied information overload as an evolutionary stressor (selecting for more competent information processing brains essentially). More and more extreme information is produced by population density than any other single factor. There are primary effects (just feeling uneasy in a crowd of strangers) but there are many more secondary effects, such as the low-grade irritation you feel when you can’t find a parking space or the freeway is jammed. Long-term stress of this kind leads to psychological problems such as neuroses and personality disorders. It also leads to selfish behavior that feeds back recurrently to generate more selfish behavior.

Homo sapiens has been spectacularly successful in evolutionary terms. It has wildly succeeded in overpopulating the planet and, through urbanization (including suburban living), concentrated the population into highly dense packing that is pushing us into a new regime of selection.  This species has reached its metaphorical incompetency level. We ‘clevered’ ourselves into an untenable psycho-social state of affairs. Now, I predict, only the highly adaptable and eusapient brains will be able to survive in the long run.

I think we have many reasons to be afraid of the future. A word to the wise should suffice.

V.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 03:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]No. The basic threat is that Homo sapiens is an evolutionary experiment with no real authentication for permanence. Furthermore, social institutions are wholly artificial constructions of groups of human beings, and are entirely inadequate to the task of assisting natural selection.  :D

Or, rather, the basic threat is that most human beings have an innate tendency to accept what they are told by other wise-sounding human beings about what the purpose is for their existence. This tendency is the result of nothing but laziness. Or the fact that it takes twenty years to form an adult human being. Not a very effective approach to adolescence, is it?

Not what you most wanted to hear, I guess.

The last myth that human beings will ever relinquish is that they are somehow above the vicissitudes of nature, even when nothing but a filthy score of specimens living in a hole in the ground are all that is left of civilization.

Are you a member of the voluntary human extinction movement?

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Posted: 03 January 2007 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“unsmoked”]Is it possible that the basic threat to civilization as we know it isn’t coming from Islamic fundamentalism or global warming, but from leap-frogging technology?  It seems likely that within the next 50 years any private citizen will be able to acquire or assemble a weapon of mass destruction.

Presently, any individual with the will and cunning, acting entirely on his own, can fill a van with high explosives and wreak havoc on a city.  It seems to me that in the near future, individuals like Timothy McVeigh, the Unibomber, the Columbine assasins, or the 9/11 perpetrators and their ilk, rogue military commanders, assorted crazies, an embittered, unbalanced Post Office clerk who just got fired, etc. will have the means to unleash mayhem.  That is, in the near future, any clever individual who wants to murder thousands, or millions, will have the means to do it.

Given the huge capacity for cruelty, violence, and vengefulness embedded in the human psyche, the only solution I can presently think of to this growing threat is the close monitoring of every individual on the planet - Big Brother as never imagined before…

In short, that “Big Brother” would then constitute a threat on the individual as great as the theoretical availability of the components of a fission bomb.

Should you have been curious, uranium and plutonium are not legal to possess, and law enforcement agencies are already interested in catching people who would like to get their hands on some. It turns out fertilizer, diesel fuel, and trucks are more readily available. So are planes.

There is certainly a threat from terrorism, domestic and foreign. Europe has had terrorist activity for several decades, and globalism has brought international terrorism to America’s shores. The solution is not to give up the American experiment with representative democracy.

If we are to have something akin to a Panopticon, it must point in every direction at once… including back at the government… and it must be available to all. 6 billion eyes watching everyone else is much healthier than a biased, privileged elite.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“veracitatus”]I think we have many reasons to be afraid of the future. A word to the wise should suffice.

I’m waiting for the Fundies, Biblical Literalists and the End of Days Prophets to hijack this thread, as they have so many of the others.

They will have a field day.  LOL

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Posted: 03 January 2007 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“mahahaha”][quote author=“veracitatus”]I think we have many reasons to be afraid of the future. A word to the wise should suffice.

I’m waiting for the Fundies, Biblical Literalists and the End of Days Prophets to hijack this thread, as they have so many of the others.

They will have a field day.  LOL

Isn’t veracitatus an “End of Days Prophet” of sorts?

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Posted: 03 January 2007 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“veracitatus”]Homo sapiens has been spectacularly successful in evolutionary terms. It has wildly succeeded in overpopulating the planet and, through urbanization (including suburban living), concentrated the population into highly dense packing that is pushing us into a new regime of selection.  This species has reached its metaphorical incompetency level. We ‘clevered’ ourselves into an untenable psycho-social state of affairs. Now, I predict, only the highly adaptable and eusapient brains will be able to survive in the long run.

I think we have many reasons to be afraid of the future. A word to the wise should suffice.

V.

I read an interesting book on the search for human fossils, which turned up in astounding numbers in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Still, for every hominid fossil discovered, there are over twenty thousand fossils of other animals in the same layer/vicinity.  Our ancestors were an endangered species.

The book also had some great quotes, one of which said something about the fact that one problem with tracing human origins is that we tend to think of ourselves as an evolutionary final destination.  Another was on the difficulty of accepting new ideas.

Unfortunately, I returned the book to the library before I wrote down any of those quotes.  I’ll have to check it out again.  Meanwhile, here’s an interesting one from Chas himself:  “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

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Posted: 03 January 2007 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“SaulOhio”][quote author=“mahahaha”][quote author=“veracitatus”]I think we have many reasons to be afraid of the future. A word to the wise should suffice.

I’m waiting for the Fundies, Biblical Literalists and the End of Days Prophets to hijack this thread, as they have so many of the others.

They will have a field day.  LOL

Isn’t veracitatus an “End of Days Prophet” of sorts?

I have the unenviable job of playing Cassandra to your myopic (and rose-colored) view of the future.  But it isn’t the end of days, it is the end of species. As made_maka mentioned, our species thinks it is the end point of evolution. There is no reason to believe this other than it feels good, just like it does to believe in the market as the solution to all problems.

Homo sapiens is reaching the end of its line and will go extinct. This isn’t even controversial among evolutionary biologists. It is nature. The real questions are when and how?  Beyond those questions is one of whether there will be a descendent species.  A lot depends on the circumstances of the extinction process/event.  If it is rapid, like the situation for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, then I would predict the extinction of our kind without leaving heirs.  If it is a little more streched out, then there is some hope.  One thing is certain. The world in say 1,000 years from now will be a totally foreign environment for most species on the planet. It will be a world of our own making but not one we sapiens can survive in.

But given the rate of apparent climate change and the acceleration of glacier melting I am betting the real stresses will be upon us within the next 50 to 100 years. We will be faced with incomprehensible conditions at exactly the time we run out of recoverable energy sources. (And for those of you still convinced that alternative energy sources are going to allow us to just go on in our current mode, you really don’t understand energy. It will not happen - I’ve posted the reasons elsewhere so I won’t bore you with the details here.)

But here is the thing Saul. In spite of what must look to you like a pessimistic view, between the two of us I’m betting I am doing more to find workable solutions than you (sorry to sound pompous, but…) I am building a program in energy systems engineering, an honors program in sustainablility and have developed real life energy flow control systems to increase efficiency.  I ride a 250cc motorcycle to work and get 75+ mpg. I keep my thermostat at 68 in winter.  I buy as much locally grown food as possible. I publish essays and papers detailing ways to avoid the worst disasters. Tell me, is this the profile of a doomsayer preaching NO HOPE?

When you make public what you are doing to ensure that the free market is operating correctly so that your religious convictions are realized, then you can cast aspersions on those of us who happen to see the fallacy in that ideology. Put your money where your mouth is!  There are a few people on this forum with whom I have shared my professional status and work. So others here can vouche for me, if they wish, that I’m not blowing smoke. What about you? What are you doing?

V.

PS. 4 =/= 22. You think your saying 4 but the rest of us hear 22, hence the response that confuses you so.

PPS. Investigate the nature of the logistic function. In real life dynamic systems the graph of a measured parameter (such as population) is due to a preponderance of positive feedback mechanisms in the exponential up phase and negative feedback (as a result of the positive ones!) dominate in the exponential down phase. Once you understand how this phenomenon works, you will be a long way to understanding the things I’m talking about.

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Posted: 03 January 2007 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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veracitus,

You will never explain the ‘mythology of infinities’ to a Free Marketer.

An infinite population can produce an infinite amount of goods, using an infinite amount of resources for all infinity. It even has an infintely large trash can to dispose of the infinite amounts of waste. And the infinite amount of wealth it creates will provide an infinite amount of people with an infinite amount prosperity.

The secret to its success is due to having an infinite amount of perpetual motion machines.

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