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November 28, 2012

Interview at Singularity 1 on 1

Roughly hour-long interview, wherein I talk about my educational background, humanizing the Singularity concept, and why "meat fetishism" isn't so bad.

Here's the info at SingularityWeb as to what's going on here...

Notes: I wasn't entirely awake at the outset -- you can see me drinking coffee early on; I was fairly untethered in what I was talking about, so apologies to anyone offended; and I can't for the life of me figure out why the webcam insisted on focusing on my back wall, and not my face.


November 15, 2012


What's the hashtag for terror? For propaganda? I've been talking about the role of social media as a possible enabler of political violence for years. In my June 2009 talk at Mobile Monday in Amsterdam, I argued that Twitter and similar media had the potential to serve a role similar to the radio stations used to drive the 1990s Rwandan genocide. I went into more detail on the idea in this article at Fast Company a short while later.
In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide. The audience was understandably stunned by the question, and after a few seconds someone shouted, "No!" I could only hope that the anonymous reply was right, but I don't think he was. [...]

At the end of my brief exploration on this idea at Mobile Monday, I asked--in a bit of gallows humor--what the hashtag would be for something like genocide. The audience's nervous laughter reflected my own recognition that this wasn't an entirely rhetorical question. I'm sad to say that we're almost certain to get an answer, probably far sooner than we'd like.

The Israeli Defense Forces has taken to Twitter to drive its narrative of the current conflict in Gaza. Using hashtags (including "#PillarOfDefense") to shape the conversation, the IDF isn't trying to play the role of a neutral observer here, unsurprisingly. This seemed too close a parallel to go unremarked. One tweet in particular stood out to me: This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of use of social media, and it certainly won't be the last. Pro-Israel/IDF, pro-Palestine/Hamas, it doesn't matter here: this is a step forward in what we might term the "weaponization of social media" -- the use of Twitter and similar platforms as a parallel battlefield, trying not just to direct the global narrative but to shape the outcome of the fight, as well.

November 6, 2012

Teratocracy Triumphant?

Two of the most important pieces I've produced here at Open the Future concern teratocracy -- a neologism meaning "rule of monsters." The first, Fear of Teratocracy, outlines the core concept: American democracy is shifting from debates over policy to debates over legitimacy. The second, Teratocracy Rises, offers a set of examples of how attacks on the legitimacy of one's opponents is becoming attacks on the concept of democracy itself.

As I noted in Fear of Teratocracy, democracy isn't just defined by how you win -- i.e., with a majority/plurality of the vote.

Democracy is defined by how you lose, not (just) how you win.

The real test of whether a society that uses a plebiscite to determine leadership is really a democracy is whether the losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent's victory. This is especially true for when the losing party previously held power. Do they give up power willingly, confident that they'll have a chance to regain power again in the next election? Or do they take up arms against the winners, refuse to relinquish power, and/or do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition's rule?

I strongly encourage you to re-read the entire essay. Here's why it matters: I strongly suspect that, regardless of who wins the US presidential election today, the United States is likely to be entering a period of a crisis of legitimacy. If Romney wins, the claims of voter suppression and out-and-out shenanigans (this is a less ambiguous example) will potentially leave many Democrats incandescent with anger, even more so than after the 2000 Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush -- because now it will be a "we can't let them get away with this again" scenario. If Obama wins, the already widely-extant opposition to his legitimacy as President among Republicans could explode; expect to see Twitter storms about secession and armed revolution, as well as the very real possibility of violence.

Compounding the misery of this moment, the impacts of climate disruption are very likely to become much more visible and painful over the course of this next presidential term, requiring both decisive action and a long-term perspective to head off (or at least mitigate) disasters -- but in a crisis of legitimacy, decisive action and long-term perspectives are even more difficult than usual to produce. The President, whether Romney or Obama, will be focused on dealing with an opposition that doesn't just disagree with his ideas, it doesn't believe that he has the right to be President.

I hope I'm wrong; I hope that the venom of this campaign and the frustrations of the past four years will be transcended by a political leadership (of both major parties) willing to seek out the best long-term solutions for truly complex problems. I also want a pony.

Jamais Cascio

Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Affiliate, Institute for the Future


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