Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Was anyone else thinking of the film Sneakers?

Trust and transparency are not new solutions. It is simply a solution based on perception. For security reason we hold on to information that would seem to put us in a precarious position. Thomas Hobbes put it nicely when he said, "

The Right of Nature…is the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature…and consequently of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.[1]

The power one has is the right to secure oneself from others. For Hobbes, people are selfish and self-centered by nature, only seeking to secure one's own life in order to avoid a painful death and procure more power. Transparency leaves one weak and susceptible, obviously. If we were to all lay our cards on the table, reveal all the skeletons in our closets, what assurance do we have that we won't use this information to destroy one another - other than the trust of each other's words. For most, that is not enough. That is why Brin's idea of transparency is a nothing more than a pipe dream - As sad as that is to say. I wish we could trust one another enough to be completely transparent. I think that this would be a better world. But we are not omnipotent and therefore must go about painstakingly poking blindly in the dark in search for security and trust. Certainty is not an option.

So it goes with the modern technological age where we can find scoop on nearly anyone. Even more, those with higher power have greater access to private information. Data is constantly being gathered by consumer groups, governments, and schools. But for what? For greater certainty and probability that they will know what we are going to do next. It provides security for their bottom lines and institutions. I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm saying it's a fact. The more information we have, the more knowledge we procure, the greater the power we have over others. So it goes (and has gone).

A poignant dialog in Sneakers lays this point out nicely. To set the scene (if you haven't seen the movie), Robert Redford's character is reunited with his old college mate Cosmo, played by Ben Kingsly, after his thugs kidnapped him. Redford's character left him to the authorities for a hacking job they did together in college. Now we see what has come to be since then. Check it out.

[1] Leviathan.


mike's spot said...

I disagree that a transparent society would be a positive thing because it is soo impossible. It's like communism, sure it looks good on paper but it'll never ever work.

Brian said...

now believing it won't work and thinking it is not a positive thing are two different arguments. I don't think it will work either, but it is certainly better than the radical individualism fueled by fear and skepticism, which I have described.

mike's spot said...

Fair enough- But I'd rather people have deal with insecurity and have maybe too much skepticism, then pull the wool over their eyes, quietly say baah to themselves with this unrealistic sense of security and free information

Lance Strate said...

I do think the concept is very much in keeping with McLuhan's notion of the global village as a place where everyone knows everyone else's business, which McLuhan did not see as a utopia, by the way.