Saturday, April 08, 2006

End of XY, Birth of XYZ

I’ve not written an original bit in a while so I am going to start off with the first Larry random essay (of doom~!).
Also this random essay (of doom~!~!) may contain spoilers if you have not seen the most recent episode of south park. Normally I’d include spoiler space warnings but this post is long enough I don’t think that will be an issue.

In the beginning politics was one dimension, and you fit on either the political left of the political right. But that never worked and to those people who think it still does are a dying breed. When you see Ralph Nader and a Pat Buchanan embracing on political issue that shows there are not just two sides to an issue. So political scientists, and libertarians have put forward an alternative model that brings forward the proposition there are two axis we will call X and Y.

X we will call the social Axis. At the far ends of X are absolutes that could never work in society. Total control of a person’s social-political sphere as it reaches absolute zero is the same as an absolute social anarchy. We will call Y the fiscal axis. The fiscal axis relates to a persons ability to freely work, use capital, and make a profit without government interference. Again at the absolute ends we see a merger. Absolute fiscal libertarianism leads to warlordism and violence. Absolute control of the fiscal sphere leads to violence and corruption….so essentially it is the same thing.

At the two ends of the axis closer to the absolute you’ll have problems. Without some state control people have no sense that their capital will be protected, to much and they have no reason to make capital at all. Without the freedom to practice their religion people will be less happy, but without some sense of order and morality and state role in culture people don’t feel their belief matters and they end up not being happy and participatory.

So political systems exist in a range along their axis with extreme outliers but the vast majority along the parts of their respective grid points that meet some where in the middle.

But in the 21st century, such as it is today for us to view, I propose there is a Z axis that will soon be viewed (or should be) as importantly as X and Y. My proposal is the Z political axis is “Information”. Now I am not coming from the “Information wants to be free” perspective popularized in hacking culture. I believe that the politics of information, like the politics of the social self, and the politics of the financial self impact our ability to function in this society, and impacts the way we should view political choice that effect our lives.

Ok what do I mean by “Information”? By Information I mean the ability for information to go in a clear relatively unmolested format from one person or organization to the multitude of humanity. I say relatively unmolested because much like the X and Y axis the Z axis at the respective infinite ends does start to break down. People have rights to privacy (which impact into the X and Y equations). Information that is libelous or slanderous actually impedes and restricts the flow of information. If releasing information will directly lead to the death of some one (I.E revealing the name of a spy in a hostile territory, revealing troop movements, etc) it destroys the most fundamental right of all the right to live.
Now some people may feel my information libertarianism (which will be different the information Anarchism) will negate some of my points. Or that I go too far. Well I am on a fairly libertarian bent anyway on the traditional X/Y Grid so my positions won’t be all that surprising in the end.

I want to start off with some of the events which motivated my thinking or came to me and supported my thinking. I want to start off with South Park first because well…. It is South Park ;-). South Park went both guns a blazing into the Mohammed Cartoons controversy. Cartman reveals that once you open up the flood gates to ban something for one reason, then the gate opens wider and wider and then the source of the information (the show) is removed. That much like restrictions on the social and personal axis, often grow and expand with the quickness of the slippery slope, so to he has a larger point. Kyle who was concerned at the start these cartoons would lead to the loss of lives, soon realized that like in the Kenny is Terri Schiavo episode he was wrong for the right reasons. South Park has seen their show banned in Australia and The United Kingdom, and saw a show pulled out of rotation here in the US (and who knows maybe banned till Tom Cruise stops being famous). Their show has been taking hits from critics for being crass, rude, and gross (I’m talking to you Mr. Hankey) for years, but in so doing they weren’t saying as much. However when Matt and Trey built up the channels to direct their information (their fan base) they started to expand their “South Park philosophy” The same people who challenged them before now play religious and cultural cards of offense, to the show they were against when it was slightly hovering above the level of toilet humor. While the attacks of the Catholic Church and the alleged actions of Tom Cruise are not barbarism we see politically they are in the same section of the Z axis as those people who destroyed buildings and rioted. They are about using force to restrict freedom. The only difference is in more developed information driven societies is the options to use less violent modes of force, and the effectiveness of violence as a whole.

Now we cross from the world of South Park to the state of Minnesota. Students are fighting for the right to get important information (Information they pray a premium value for, and Information which impacts their lives) clearly and unambiguously. I am not going to get into arguments pro or con for their cause, but instead focusing on how the information politics angle formed on Fark.Com
A university professor's job technically is in research. It is different at small liberal arts colleges. I am just as upset as you to find this out, since I came to a top-tier graduate school with high hopes of becoming a wonderful teacher, but have been shot down because those goals are interfering with my research. As I've been told frankly, "There is no teaching track to a Ph.D."The guy in the first quote was generally correct, despite his misspellings. A professor who is a wonderful teacher but mediocre researcher will likely lose his job. A professor who is a wonderful/productive researcher but a crappy teacher will still keep his job. It's just the way of the business.
While you say “But Larry isn’t research information” it is indeed. But in saying the professor’s job is research we see here a restriction of information on two fronts. We see a restriction of the student’s right through their fiscal choices (and attending university is a vital fiscal choice) to receive information clearly and in a useable format, and then we see the professors providing research information that is often slanted and rarely accessible to those outside the discipline. At an organizational level the business model of the university is designed (and makes money) on restricting information and rationing it out when they are forced to. (some examples of this from Dean’s world) Is it any wonder then that we see Universities producing “political correctness” while preaching the dogma of diversity?

Over at Townhall.Com we see the Nail Yale campaign taking just such a tack and we see how information restriction breeds the same kind of bed fellows restrictions on the X and Y axis do. For those of you who don’t know Yale admitted the Taliban ambassador “at large” into a non-degree seeking program at Yale, while at the same time not admitting people his regime tortured to have a similar opportunity. Yale said they admitted him to increase the diversity at Yale, yet the institution went to court to remove the ROTC from Yale’s law school campus. Over the fact that they have a policy against homosexuality that Yale doesn’t support. So which is it Yale? Do you want more diversity or less diversity in the Yale community? What it is about is Yale’s desire to control the information of its community. Yale in their defenses stresses (among other things) that he is not in a degree seeking program at Yale. Yet Yale discounted the costs of his program so a scholarship fund could support him. Yale is controlling and manipulating the information which is leading to a lot of political ill will among the external community. When there is ill will there are several solutions. The one Yale is currently using could be called –combative-

Junior Roger Low, writing in the YDN: "By and large, the conservative pundit class does not care about what is really happening on our campus or on Ivy League campuses in general. They are interested only in bashing us..."
Yale Graduate student Zachariah Victor rants to Inside Higher Ed: “The outsiders are largely right-wing commentators...They have little expertise, so they deprecate expert opinion and appeal to populist sentiment. They cannot comprehend the breadth of our constitution, so they try to subject the rights of the few to the superstitions of the many ”
Junior Justin Trevino complains about John Fund in the Daily: "The moment outside influences seek to colonize even universities with the theology of gut-thinking should be a wake-up call to us all: students, teachers, administrators and the general public."
Yale Corporation member Charley Ellis likewise mentions in a phone call to an alum, “I think what we’re going to find is it was a mistake in interpretation primarily by outsiders rather than a mistake in execution...”.

But let’s talk about another possible approach. Suppose Yale when presented with this person who would clearly be controversial, and clearly professed belief’s that were violently and radically different then the values Yale claims to support choose Open information political solutions. They presented a transparent view of their process. They said he would need to as part of the Yale community address why what he did was wrong, and how he is learning to change his ways and become a better human being. Some people would (rightly so) be upset still, but the numbers would be far fewer. However Yale didn’t take that approach for a reason they stated in a letter to alumni groups "It isn't Yale's job to judge the moral character of their candidates." And I can feel for Yale’s position. Setting arbitrary rules of morality would be problematic at best. However Yale would not admit a former Death Squad leader from a South American regime that was allied to the United States… the concept is so laughable. The reason they could admit the Yale Taliban with impunity is due to the anti-war movement at Yale. Yale complained to losing similar prestige students so it is clear that Yale views him as something of value, and that value trumps their values. Instead of being open and honest to that end Yale hides, controls, and manipulates information in a way many of them in private would accuse those evil republicans of doing to their cause’s celeb.

I am also struck at people like Oliver Stone in his attempt to say reporters shouldn’t scoff at the views of celebrities. Is he trying to respect the natural flow of information? No, clearly he isn’t. Much like the Muhammad cartoons he is trying to restrict the flow of clear information. Alec Baldwin has no real credibility on political issues since his “threat” to move to Germany. But people can forget, and by saying that you must take the opinions of clearly unserious people seriously you are restricting that information and its flow. The Canadian government in restricting the Gomery commission information in Canada guaranteed it would be released covertly in the US and spelled their doom. Many people are not allowed to see the Muhammad Cartoons by organizations claiming to respect religious values of others that regularly shows information offensive to other religions. If they said the truth, we’d know them as information authoritarians. Eason Jordan should have told us all that when he revealed CNN punted stories on Iraq.

But this politics, like the X and Y axis isn’t purely limited to the politics of governance. Take a look at Macintosh. As a matter of Business Macintosh had for years restricted the Information (OS) people could use on its machines. But when the addition of Intel chips came a long, Apple had a choice to make and here is what happened. "Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware now that we use Intel processors," Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement.
In doing so Apple allows people to have one OS at home and at work, and thus by expanding their base of potential customers apple will do better business. They also in turn expand the potential customers for Microsoft thus they make money on the deal to. But more importantly customers have a choice about the kind of information they want in their lives.

Lets also take a look at the Professor of Death Story I talked about

Something curious occurred a minute before Pianka began speaking. An official of the Academy approached a video camera operator at the front of the auditorium and engaged him in animated conversation. The camera operator did not look pleased as he pointed the lens of the big camera to the ceiling and slowly walked away

In a sense of the word this comes down to control of information. Assuming the professor’s side is right, he created the whole controversy by trying to restrict information. Under values and mores people have which are forming that seemed illicit. However if his detractors who were there are dead on right then clearly using information politics he was trying to restrict the information to hide just how completely authoritarian he was.

Why is the Birth of the Z access important? Because restrictions of information are coming and coming very soon. With the right knowledge you can fabricate a lethal pathogen for about a quarter of a million dollars, and it’s only going to get cheaper to do. Making chemical weapons is easy; the only thing that isn’t easy is access to that information. So we are going to have to make political choices. How do we restrict clearly dangerous information without stifling the flow of information and removing the creative genius from people. In a society where camera’s are going to be everywhere and are almost everywhere now, how will we protect public information from misuse and abuse? When private companies can solicit your life’s information trail from private sources how can you protect yourself from that, and how can you aid that flow of information to your advantage.

This is the Information age people, Information age politics is coming.

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