Engineering history

On a mailing list I frequent, a regular expressed doubt about the possibility that very small subgroups of a society (less than 5% of its population) can cause large changes in the overall direction of its evolution without long historical timespans to work in. But I know from experience that this can happen, because I’ve lived it. My explanation (lightly edited and expanded) follows.

Of particular note is my explanation of how engineering design can shape history.

Sometimes, when society reaches a cusp point, the decisions of individuals and small groups can have very large downstream consequences that are even visibly large in the near term.

I have personally been present, and an actor, for at least two such hinge points of history: the finalization of the Internet design in 1983, and the mainstream emergence of open-source methods in the late 1990s. Even in the relatively short time since it has become clear that these are game-changers on the civilizational level, with ripple effects that will shape the rest of human history.

There may be other ways for it to to happen, but the way I’ve seen it happen is that a few engineers make choices that have very large implications for centralization vs. decentralization and the prevalence of information asymmetry, then bake these into infrastructure before the political class notices that the outcome could have been different.

Thought experiment: imagine an Internet in which email and web addresses were centrally issued by government agencies, with heavy procedural requirements and no mobility – even, at a plausible extreme, political patronage footballs. What kind of society do you suppose eventually issues from that?

I was there in 1983 when a tiny group called the IETF prevented this from happening. I had a personal hand in preventing it and yes, I knew what the stakes were. Even then. So did everyone else in the room.

Thought experiment: imagine a future in which everybody takes for granted that all software outside a few toy projects in academia will be closed source controlled by managerial elites, computers are unhackable sealed boxes, communications protocols are opaque and locked down, and any use of computer-assisted technology requires layers of permissions that (in effect) mean digital information flow is utterly controlled by those with political and legal master keys. What kind of society do you suppose eventually issues from that?

Remember Trusted Computing and Palladium and crypto-export restrictions? RMS and Linus Torvalds and John Gilmore and I and a few score other hackers aborted that future before it was born, by using our leverage as engineers and mentors of engineers to change the ground of debate. The entire hacker culture at the time was certainly less than 5% of the population, by orders of magnitude.

And we may have mainstreamed open source just in time. In an attempt to defend their failing business model, the MPAA/RIAA axis of evil spent years pushing for digital “rights” management so pervasively baked into personal-computer hardware by regulatory fiat that those would have become unhackable. Large closed-source software producers had no problem with this, as it would have scratched their backs too. In retrospect, I think it was only the creation of a pro-open-source constituency with lots of money and political clout that prevented this.

Did we bend the trajectory of society? Yes. Yes, I think we did. It wasn’t a given that we’d get a future in which any random person could have a website and a blog, you know. It wasn’t even given that we’d have an Internet that anyone could hook up to without permission. And I’m pretty sure that if the political class had understood the implications of what we were actually doing, they’d have insisted on more centralized control. ~For the public good and the children, don’t you know.~

So, yes, sometimes very tiny groups can change society in visibly large ways on a short timescale. I’ve been there when it was done; once or twice I’ve been the instrument of change myself.

56 thoughts on “Engineering history

  1. I believe it! In fact I think it obvious. I was never one for various theories positing that history is the slow inexorable crunching of massive levers (ie Marxism or whatever). After all, even Hari Seldon couldn’t account for The Mule…

    One of my self help gurus, Tim Ferriss, says that it’s much easier to reach difficulty level 10 goals than level 7 goals, because the latter are just that much more crowded. Any 120 IQ workaholic can become a doctor or a laywer with the right logistics in place, not everyone can become an ESR…

    If you are interested in disruptive super-empowerment of individuals, THE blog to read is John Robb’s: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/

  2. One of my self help gurus, Tim Ferriss, says that it’s much easier to reach difficulty level 10 goals than level 7 goals, because the latter are just that much more crowded. Any 120 IQ workaholic can become a doctor or a laywer with the right logistics in place, not everyone can become an ESR…

    I realize now that this sounds contradictory. When I say “much easier” I obviously don’t mean “much easier for EVERYONE”. Level 10 goals are conceptually out of reach for most people in the same way that Lisp quines or whatever are out of reach for someone who can only grok simple PHP code. But if you have the mental goods, going for those über-goals is a better strategy long term since it’s going to be less crowded in those arenas. Hope that made it clear :)

  3. >But if you have the mental goods, going for those über-goals is a better strategy long term since it’s going to be less crowded in those arenas.

    I strongly agree. I fear, however, “having the mental goods” unpacks as being at least three sigmas off the mean in some sort of talent, so this is not advice many people will be able to use. I think I can say, because I’ve been lucky enough to know several, that the people to whom it applies most strongly are polymaths with 150+ IQs. Other sorts of talent, such as artistic or musical ability, are less likely to give you leverage on “level 10″ goals, though that has occasionally happened.

  4. Yeah, I recall a recent post of yours where you talked about being 1 in 400 as the prerequisite. I can dig that.

    However let’s not over-aggrandize people with high IQs either. I usually think of it as having a really powerful CPU: it’s a good thing if you want to do extraordinary things, but you also have to have the right software! And if you install the wrong software you are just doing harm to yourself in hyperspeed…

    Speaking from my own experience, I can definitely say that IQ isn’t sufficient. Until 4-5 years ago I was just a smart loser. A smart cookie, yes, but not going anywhere, and miserable on my non-path. I had to do some major software overhauls to get my life on track:

    -How to create motivation in myself, manage my time, find my purpose, and set goals (this I got from selfhelp people like Steve Pavlina. Stephen Covey and Anthony Robbins)
    -How to understand the nature of business, wealth and entrepreneurship (this I got from various sources, but PersonalMBA.com was a big help and Tim Ferriss helped to shatter my 9 to 5-worshipping reality tunnel)
    -How to refine my understanding of reality, beliefs, and my own mind (this I got from LessWrong and Robert Anton Wilson)
    -How to grok social dynamics (this I got from PUA literature)
    -How to take control of my physical self (this I got from various powerlifting/bodybuilding websites)
    -And there are many more, these are just the obvious ones that stood out over the years

    I’ve spent the past 4-5 years just reading and applying copious amounts of self-enhancing material and trying to integrate it into myself continually and documenting the results (ie diaries and stuff like that). Now, I’m not even THAT smart (130s range) but I feel I have an edge over many other smart cookies out there due to my willingness to mercilessly self-optimize and immediately take action based on new inputs. Of course, there has been a trade-off to this journey of many tacky self-help tomes: I haven’t read much fiction at all in the last 5 years, for instance.

    Right now I am working on trying to get to extraordinary success in several areas (writing, music, fitness and money being some big ones (and success with the opposite sex, heh)) and while I am probably half a decade away from truly being teh awesome, I can at least see that my strategies are working and I know how to get to the finish line. I look at people I went to school with who were bona fide plain smarter than me, but who are not doing anything TRULY exciting with their lives. Ie they are studying to be maybe electrical engineers or biochemists or doctors and are planning to get a 9 to 5 (albeit a highly paid and interesting one) and settle down. Got nothing against that but it’s just not me, even though I could pull it off smarts-wise. And so this means I am driven as hell to enhance myself to the point where I can live the kind of life that I desire and find stimulating. But if those other smart cookies had my drive and attitude, I would very fast be outcompeted. In fact I’ve experienced this recently with a friend who is significantly smarter than me. Watching that guy assimilate books and self-optimize like some kind of meat-Skynet is an intimidating experience…

    I feel that you probably grok what I am saying here. You always seemed to me to be the kind of smart cookie who is not a boring fackidiot but rather a multi-faceted rebel-with-a-cause. Your various treatises on eg firearms, seduction and pagan rituals amply proves that :)

  5. >Speaking from my own experience, I can definitely say that IQ isn’t sufficient.

    Oh, agreed. Of the people I’ve met who I thought were brighter than me, most seemed curiously unambitious. That is, they carved out niches for themselves where their brains would make them comfortable, but they lacked the desire I have to grab the world and shake it the hell up.

    >But if those other smart cookies had my drive and attitude, I would very fast be outcompeted.

    I’ve often felt the same way. I may be brighter than most people, but I seldom competed with most people; usually, I competed with people at or above my own level of ability because that’s where the interesting games are.

  6. That is, they carved out niches for themselves where their brains would make them comfortable, but they lacked the desire I have to grab the world and shake it the hell up.

    This.

  7. I like the term “the political class”. Makes it clear that those who rule us believe that they are above and separate from us. That they are the enemy.

  8. @Russell Nelson:

    I like the term “the political class”. Makes it clear that those who rule us believe that they are above and separate from us. That they are the enemy.

    I don’t. People don’t neatly fall into either “the political class” or other classes, like, say “the wealthy class” or “the business leaders,” etc.

    In which class, for example, would you stick New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg?

  9. > In which class, for example, would you stick New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg?

    All of the above?

  10. @ Morgan Greywolf:

    Is it necessary that one be restricted to participation in only one catagory of “class”? In your Bloomberg example, he is simultanously activity as a wealthy, political and (for lack of a better descriptive) social mores “class” at the least, and frequently works at apparent cross-purpose while doing so too. I’m sure no one here will be surprised to discover how often he advances one group’s objective by advancing another’s (social mores no smoking desires to “improve public health” via increased taxation of tobacco products through the political groups macinations, for example; lying about guns to align the social mores efforts with advancement of regulatory/bureaucratic allies of the political “class” through outright violation of foundational political and social/societal principles for another).

    The more (and more apparently distinct) “classes” one can successfully participate in, the more likely of general success one is likely to be over the course of a lifetime’s effort.

  11. For a reasonably sound definition of “the political class” see Angelo Codevilla’s essay America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution. I don’t agree with everything in the essay; Codevilla’s analysis is somewhat distorted by cultural-conservative resentments. Nevertheless he correctly identifies a phenomenon that I noticed as far back as the early 1980s and have considered a major enemy of liberty ever since.

  12. Morgan: people who want governments to regulate markets rather than customers are members of the political class. Perhaps they’re willing to let some markets be regulated by customers. Do they still insist that other markets have to be regulated by government? Then they’re members of the political class.

    Other members include unions, doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, morticians; anybody whose wallet is fattened by government regulation of markets that can be regulated perfectly well by customers.

  13. “How to create motivation in myself, manage my time, find my purpose, and set goals (this I got from selfhelp people like Steve Pavlina. Stephen Covey and Anthony Robbins)”

    Yup. I’m in your IQ range and have until recently not had the knowledge to self-optimize (and fulfill potential.) “Finding your purpose” is central to the quest, as it makes all other areas adjunct to it. That’s not something specific either but an abstract metaphysical orientation that can express in various concrete ways based on circumstance.

    I think what you’re discussing above is mostly an intersection of IQ and temperament. A person with a very high IQ can have any of the temperaments, yet obviously only some want to have world-changing impact (others are content with the security of a regular paycheck, e.g.)

  14. >Other members include unions, doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, morticians; anybody whose wallet is fattened by government regulation of markets that can be regulated perfectly well by customers.

    This is not quite correct. Many of these people are clients of the political class rather than actual members of it.

  15. > Codevilla’s analysis is somewhat distorted by cultural-conservative resentments.

    Any chance you’d be willing to expand on that?

    ESR says: I’m considering doing an essay post on the topic.

  16. This quote seems apt for some reason:

    On my arrival in the United States I was surprised to find so much distinguished talent among the citizens and so little among the heads of the government. It is a constant fact that at the present day the ablest men in the United States are rarely placed at the head of affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the result in proportion as democracy has exceeded all its former limits.

    –Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Part I, Chapter 13

  17. >Other members include unions, doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, morticians; anybody whose wallet is fattened by government regulation of markets that can be regulated perfectly well by customers.

    It’s also entirely possible that there are members of these professions that might benefit themselves from governmental regulation of markets who nevertheless do not support such regulation due to their own political/moral/whatever beliefs. (Perhaps a related effect to the fact that most people do not steal, even though that may positively benefit them specifically.) Even if increased government regulation does happen, and these people get the benefits, it seems unfair to call them either members or clients of the political class if they do not seek to increase its power.

  18. > But if you have the mental goods, going for those über-goals is a better strategy long term

    As you’re planning that long term strategy, though, don’t forget to learn a trade that will let you keep food on the table and a roof over your head — like being an electrician or a plumber or a bank teller or whatever. Some people who are naturally out ahead of everyone else end up starving to death because they forget to keep their supply lines in place back to the ordinary world.

  19. I suppose there’s a difference between the political class itself, and the people whom they’ve bought off, sure, I’ll give you that.

  20. >I suppose there’s a difference between the political class itself, and the people whom they’ve bought off, sure, I’ll give you that.

    The point I’m trying to make, though, is that not everyone who actually benefits from the expansion of the power of the political class can be said to have been bought off by them, because not all of those people support that expansion. It’s not a good idea to assume that because someone has benefited from that expansion, that they are necessarily morally tainted thereby.

  21. esr Says:
    > I strongly agree. I fear, however, “having the mental goods” unpacks
    > as being at least three sigmas off the mean in some sort of talent,

    Sorry, I’m not with you on this. From what I have seen success if far more a function of working hard, and not quitting than it is of smarts. Of course you need to be smarter than a box of rocks, and it depends on the specific type of goal you are seeking. I don’t entirely subscribe to the whole 10,000 hours of mastery thing, but there is a kernel of truth in there for sure.

    An interesting phenomenon I have seen is that many smart people are lazy. Lazy because they developed lazy habits in school where they could pass the classes with barely any effort. Blame the schools that such an atrocious situation would occur, but if you don’t build good work habits early in life, it is hard to acquire them later. If you don’t have something that breaks you in school, and you don’t get so mad that you have to fight back and beat it, you’re going to have a difficult time succeeding in life. I had some extremely challenging things happen to me during my childhood that broke me, made me demand excellence of myself, and pushed me to accept no excuses for my own failures.

    I am reminded of Seven of Nine’s toast to Tom and B’Elanna Paris’ child. “May all your dreams come true, except one, that you always have something to strive for.”

  22. >Tom: was it not clear that I’m retracting my second paragraph? I am.

    Understood. My apologies.

  23. >Sorry, I’m not with you on this. From what I have seen success if far more a function of working hard, and not quitting than it is of smarts.

    Needs both. To achieve at what he calls “level 10″ takes both talent *and* hard work. I said what I did because the capability for hard work is more common than three-sigma talent. There are lots of hardworking people without enough talent to be stars, but many fewer lazy supertalents – not because supertalent is “better” or “more important”, but just because it’s rare.

  24. And yet it was the illiberal political class that bankrolled the development of the computer and the Internet, not the democratic and dynamic free market.

  25. Plato: and we would have stopped them if we could have, because markets that respond to customer regulation satisfy customers more than markets which respond to government regulation.

    Anyway, it’s completely without logic to say “As was, must always be.”

  26. >And yet it was the illiberal political class that bankrolled the development of the computer and the Internet, not the democratic and dynamic free market.

    And the Internet became what it is because DARPA repeatedly lied to its political masters about the access policy and who was actually using it. Had the actual rules been actually enforced, only direct affiliates of the government, defense contractors and (later) NSF-funded research projects would have gained early experience with it. Commercialization would have been long delayed and the culture and knowledge base that informed every development in computing from about 1975 would have been stunted.

    Technically, my use of the ARPANET/Internet was illegal between 1976 and 1985. Don’t you dare try to tell me that the political class gets the credit for what it became. I was there, and I know better than that from experience.

  27. Russell Nelson: “…It’s completely without logic to say ‘As was, must always be.’”

    No, but that currently is the case for the next technological stage. The biotechnology/biomedical fields have been nurtured and continue to be highly subsidized by the NIH.

    esr: “Don’t you dare try to tell me that the political class gets the credit for what it became.”

    Notice that I didn’t say that the political class deserves credit for making the computer or the Internet. I merely stated that they funded these technologies through funds coerced by state violence from the public. The free market did not become involved with their development until it was a viable technology.

  28. > the political class

    While this seems a pretty empty descriptor to me, its at least marginally more descriptive than the preferred term in Australia, “the elites”.

    Both suggest a shadowy collective with their hands on the levers of power, entry to which is barred except for initiates. Helpfully, the description of those “in” this dreaded collective is (Kafkatrap-style) determined by sensibilities of the person making the allegation.

    All very evocative, but somehow, to me at least, this reads more like a Grisham novel than adult experience in the real world.

  29. Yup. I’m in your IQ range and have until recently not had the knowledge to self-optimize (and fulfill potential.) “Finding your purpose” is central to the quest, as it makes all other areas adjunct to it. That’s not something specific either but an abstract metaphysical orientation that can express in various concrete ways based on circumstance.

    A problem here is that the geek/hacker community seems to loathe these types of self-help books that can actually be useful in that quest. PJ Eby (username pjeby) has written quite a bit on that over at LessWrong.com. I can attest to the same thing, having been pretty much raised on hacker culture, and then immersing myself in the whole self-help community for the last half-decade. I can totally understand why hackers are skeptical of the latter.

    Lack of purpose was the cause of a major depressive episode for me years ago. If you are smart and of the individualist temperament, you will often reject society’s pre-packaged fairytale purpose-memeplex outright, and then you are left there staring into the chtulhuoid abyss we call life and having to scavenge together your Life-Purpose(Tm) from parts varied and sundry. This all sounds very angsty, but it was case for me :p

    As you’re planning that long term strategy, though, don’t forget to learn a trade that will let you keep food on the table and a roof over your head — like being an electrician or a plumber or a bank teller or whatever. Some people who are naturally out ahead of everyone else end up starving to death because they forget to keep their supply lines in place back to the ordinary world.

    Agreed. Becoming a plumber is a good example because people are always going to need someone to come in and fix their shit-pipes, can’t outsource that (at least until they build general-AI robots). And if you’re wading around in poop-water at 2am, boy will you pony up to have someone get bluecollar on those sanitation systems :p

    However, I believe that with today’s technology it IS possible to monetize one’s talent earlier than it used to be. Ie today you might start a blog, write about your passion, get your 1000 True Fans within a few years (a Kevin Kelly meme btw), sell a few e-books, etc. There’s a lot of info on this type of “make money from your passion”, quite a bit of it isn’t even snake oil! I recommend Gary Vaynerchuk – Crush it! for a brief introduction. I can give more tips if asked.

  30. “Both suggest a shadowy collective with their hands on the levers of power, entry to which is barred except for initiates.”

    That’s because you’re working from a fundamentally Marxist definition of “class”. (Which is not to say that I think you’re a Marxist. Marxist language has all but taken over, these days.)

    A class is a group with one or more defining characteristics, which distinguish members of the class from non-members of the class. The notion that a given person must belong to a single, unitary class, which defines them and everything psychologically or sociologically relevant about them, is a misnomer that causes a lot of miscommunications. It is _particularly_ inapplicable when one speaks of “the political class”, defined as that is primarily by a person’s behavior, which can be changed any time the person chooses to change it. (Having power either directly over the coercive machinery of the state or indirectly over the course of public opinion that directs the democratic process is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition as well. But even that criterion, while harder to change than the behavioral choice of the moment, is itself derivative of past behavioral choices.)

    ESR says: Very well put, Matt.

  31. @Tom:

    From what I can see, Matt has a good grasp of this concept. The essay esr linked to provides a very good, if somewhat distorted description of “the political class.” Think of it not as a shadowy conspiracy as much as it is sort of a ‘good ol’ boy’ network. It’s basically the ultimate groupthink.

  32. >The essay esr linked to provides a very good, if somewhat distorted description of “the political class.”

    Codevilla makes, in my opinion, three significant errors, one of omission and two of commision:

    1. He doesn’t anatomize the extremely important role of Gramscian subversion and cold-war Soviet propaganda memes in shaping the shared ideology of the political class in the U.S. and Europe, particularly as regards its commitments to anti-capitalism, redistributionism, transnationalism and identity politics.

    2. He overestimates the hostility of the political class to religion and also overestimates the country class’s attachment to it. This reflects his attachments as a religious cultural conservative.

    3. He attributes to a conscious kulturkampf on the part of the political class some trends that are actually epiphenomena of technological change, especially the separation of sex from reproduction following the debut of inexpensive oral contraceptives in the early 1960s.

    Please do not hijack this thread to comment on this; I’m probably going to write a much more detailed response to Codevilla in a blog post.

  33. “Needs both. To achieve at what he calls “level 10″ takes both talent *and* hard work. I said what I did because the capability for hard work is more common than three-sigma talent.”

    Where does one find a definition of the various levels? My search turned up zilch.

    My limited reading of history suggests Eric is right. One must have the brains to know what to work hard for in the first place, and being able to recognize, envision and outstrategize are clearly necessary components that a very high IQ bestows.

  34. > Thought experiment: imagine a future in which everybody takes for granted that all software outside a few toy projects in academia will be closed source controlled by managerial elites, computers are unhackable sealed boxes, communications protocols are opaque and locked down, and any use of computer-assisted technology requires layers of permissions that (in effect) mean digital information flow is utterly controlled by those with political and legal master keys. What kind of society do you suppose eventually issues from that?

    This has already been done as part of the background to S.M. Stirling’s Draka books. As a result of the perpetual war between the Draka and the Alliance, the development of computers (mostly in the Alliance) was much more strongly subject to security requirements. This has effects such as rigidly separated code and data memories and virtually no computer hobbyist class. Computers developed more from machine tool control designs and cam based systems.

  35. Where does one find a definition of the various levels? My search turned up zilch.

    Level 7 = something that is hard but has lots of prior art (ie becoming a neurosurgeon).
    Level 10 = something that is hard and unprecedented, or at least extremely rare.

    That would be my definition!

  36. >Level 10 = something that is hard and unprecedented, or at least extremely rare.

    Yes. Having achieved at level 10 or not far below it and known others who have done so, I will say this. On the basis of my sample,

    1) Hard work is necessary but not sufficient
    2) Some talent three sigmas off mean is necessary but not sufficient
    3) Plain blind luck is a significant factor.

    I know many people will find this uncomfortable hearing, because our culture has an egalitarian ethos that wants to see determination and hard work as sufficient for anything, but reality is what it is. Level 10 success comes only to those who are willing to work harder than most people ever do, yes, but it takes talent and luck too. The universe doesn’t care about our notions of virtue; it rewards capability, and that only unreliably (hence the necessary element of luck).

  37. Don’t count trusted computing out yet. Intel is going to have another go at it.

    Mind you, I don’t think this is a good thing — not for us hackers, anyway. But you have to admit that from a consumer, deployment, and vendor standpoint it’s a boon. The overwhelming success of the iOS platform means that closed platforms are starting to win hearts and minds throughout the industry — just as I suspected they would.

  38. Remember Trusted Computing and Palladium and crypto-export restrictions? RMS and Linus Torvalds and John Gilmore and I and a few score other hackers aborted that future before it was born, by using our leverage as engineers and mentors of engineers to change the ground of debate.

    Are you certain? Jeff Read alludes to this by mentioning iOS, but what if the impetus toward walled-garden computing is less about industries making top-down decisions to enforce things that consumers don’t want, and more about general-purpose computing being a dead end for most people? Sure, some folks still churn their own butter nowadays, but a lot of people just want to eat some goddamned toast.

    The end result of all that “leverage [from] engineers” is that computers are made for engineers. The design is fundamentally broken for most people. Influence at a cusp is one thing; influence against the desires and predispositions of the vast majority of people using these devices is quite another.

  39. >Are you certain? Jeff Read alludes to this by mentioning iOS, but what if the impetus toward walled-garden computing is less about industries making top-down decisions to enforce things that consumers don’t want, and more about general-purpose computing being a dead end for most people?

    Don’t over-focus on Aunt Tillie. What killed Palladium was opposition from big companies who run server farms. Even if we grant the premise that general-purpose computing is a dead end for non-technical end-user individuals, it’s a win for anybody running an IT shop. That’s why Intel’s latest twitch in this direction is going to go nowhere; the PC manufacturers and systems integrators know who their big customers are and they won’t be having any of this nonsense, thank you.

    Heck, there’s enough open-source penetration in the federal government now that any attempt to lock out custom Linux distro loads by regulatory fiat would be quietly smothered by DOD and the spook shops before it saw the light of day, simply because it would jack up their costs by complicating COTS hardware purchases. And that ends the story right there.

    There might have been a window before today’s practices got well established during which something like Palladium could have succeeded. But following the open-source breakout in the late ’90s there is enough vested interest on the other side to form a blocking coalition against attempts to shut it down that’s not going to fold up short of a systemic breakdown in civil society. The breadth of the coalition, which spreads from the Fortune 500 to academia and inside government, is as important as the capabilities of any individual interest group in it. How often do you see the Pentagon and the American Library Association on the same side?

    I often joke about having a sinister master plan for world domination; part of the truth behind the joke is that I consciously planned and worked for this outcome, beginning in early 1998, and it was accomplished by about 2003 (due credit: RMS’s parody of the the term “trusted computing” as “treacherous computing” did help, and so did EFF’s parallel effort – I was thinking of that when I mentioned John Gilmore). In the early stages, I was playing against Microsoft – a major Palladium backer who I thought might just have the clout to ram a “trusted computing” scheme down the hardware vendors’ throats and every business incentive to do so to foreclose competition with its OS. Later I realized that the coalition-building I was doing to stymie them was also a good play against the longer-term lockdown risks of a more political kind that were preoccupying EFF.

  40. “2. He overestimates the hostility of the political class to religion and also overestimates the country class’s attachment to it. This reflects his attachments as a religious cultural conservative.”

    You might wanna come live among the masses here in Fly Over Country and see how these people live.

    I suspect you’re seeing it this way because to you religion is a personal tool, not an unconscious, pervasive base from which you order life.

    I’m not criticizing as I don’t have any faith in anything, and to me religion is a tool OTHER people use. Which is fine, it makes them happier.

    But our “political class” isn’t attacking the kind of religion you have–a somewhat cynical adoption of a certain sets of beliefs and paradigms because they give you a framework for understanding the world. They are attacking the sort of religion that traditional Catholics, protestants and baptists hold, the sort of belief where things are right and wrong based on the statements of a being not under control of the government.

    When you look at the Catholicism of shitbags like Kennedy, Pelosi and Kerry, and compare it with the Catholicism of my mothers family, when you compare the religion of Clinton (and to a lesser extent Bush) and the religion of most of my Fathers side, there simply is NO similarity.

    I know (not necessarily like, but know) a LOT of people who do at least try to live their lives according to their interpretation of what God wanted, and they feel like their elected representatives aren’t listening to them, and are at best paying lip service to their beliefs and at worst deliberately trying to subvert them by the public school curriculum.

    I’d estimate that about 50% of our country is *deeply* religious. They don’t talk about it–especially in places like the S.F. Bay Area (Where there are a lot more well attended churches than most would suspect) or big cities outside of the mid-west were it’s just not “cool”–but they are often DEEPLY offended.

    Hell, the only two reasons the Republicans even stand a chance is because of Abortion and Gun Control.

  41. I’d estimate that about 50% of our country is *deeply* religious. They don’t talk about it–especially in places like the S.F. Bay Area (Where there are a lot more well attended churches than most would suspect) or big cities outside of the mid-west were it’s just not “cool”–but they are often DEEPLY offended.

    Your estimate is just about on the money. Gallup says that more than half of Americans believe in young-Earth Creationism.

  42. >Gallup says that more than half of Americans believe in young-Earth Creationism.

    [citation needed]

    Last figure I saw for this was 18%. Which is still way too high, but.

  43. >Hell, the only two reasons the Republicans even stand a chance is because of Abortion and Gun Control.

    Against whom? The Democrats, or some hypothetical third party? If religion is the most important issue to a voter, then the Republicans are going to be the lesser of two evils, counting out third parties, for the foreseeable future. Democrats both have a history of taking positions on religiously charged issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) that are quite unpopular with conservative religious types, but they also hold positions on other things (like taxes, gun control, etc.) that are unpopular with the same type of people. (Full disclosure: I don’t like the Democrats, but it’s because of the second set of issues, not the first.)

  44. @Jeff Read
    > Don’t count trusted computing out yet. Intel is going to have another go at it.
    Intel’s version of trusted computing is not trustworthy. Real trust means each person is in control of the security of their device. Code signing and virus signature databases (aka “security theater” because it isn’t secure) means some central authority is in control.

    The proper way to eliminate the security theater (follow sub-link) and get local control over security, is for the core OS to be a provably secure micro-kernel so that full disk encryption and inter-process memory protection (and other resource protection) can be employed with certainty. Then it doesn’t matter if applications are viruses, because they won’t be able to do any harm.

    This big gain would be a proliferation in application diversity (“granularity of real-time user choice”) and destruction of lockin economic models and oligopolies, by a proliferation of real-time user changes.

    @grendelkhan
    > general-purpose computing being a dead end for most people?

    Never. Users have diverse needs, and I explained why less choice is actually more complex perhaps O(n^2) or maybe even O(n!). Misunderstanding of complexity. If ever it happens that users no longer have diverse needs, then humanity is dead (so that evolution is not).

    esr> Don’t over-focus on Aunt Tillie

    You might be surprised how diverse her needs are.

    esr> attempts to shut it down that’s not going to fold up short of a systemic breakdown in civil society

    Afaics, if we don’t bust out butts now on good globalization with the termite model of dis-intermediation and creative destruction, the math of the macro-economics is headed towards that systemic breakdown due to the delayed effect of perpetual halving of interest rates.

    Eric I don’t think the key work is done yet. You know precisely I came back to this blog to try to get that message out (note my personality type). Afaics, the threats loom very large still, not from the middle echelon (e.g. network access carriers), but from the systemic fiat model death star. I am interested in reading your analysis perhaps in your future blog reply to Codevilla. I think there is enormous profit potential for those who succeed in good globalization. You know I wouldn’t be expending effort here, if I didn’t have immense respect for you and your readers.

  45. > Codevilla’s analysis is somewhat distorted by cultural-conservative resentments.

    Eric, I agree with you, except that “somewhat” is something of an understatement!

    Codevilla’s analysis does little more than trot out the usual suspects: abortion, evolution, no-fault divorce and global warming (all “bad”) and marriage, religion and homeschooling (all “good”).

    In this context, Codevilla’s use of the term “political class” is no more than code for “liberal/progressive agenda” which he then attacks from within his construction of an alternative “country class”.

    I think there is an interesting point in his essay though – which is the extent to which the tradititonal 2-party democracies leave a large number of voters feeling that neither of those parties adequately represent them. As in the UK, in Australia this has produced the very rare phenonema of neither major political party having sufficient seats in the lower house to form government, which led to a mad scramble for each party to garner support from a small number of independents.

    I suspect this will be a continuing trend.

  46. @Morgan Greywolf
    >@Jeff Read:
    >
    >Simply wrong.

    Are you sure you’re reading those numbers correctly, Morgan?

    (Let’s leave aside for the moment the confusion about whether the stats you refer to (which relate to views on evolution) are relevent to Jeff’s assertion about young-Earth Creationism.)

  47. Don’t mean to spam the thread, but I just double-checked the Gallup polling numbers linked to by Morgan above (I thought my crapberry browser was eating some of the page).

    Here’s the statistic in all its horror. 39% of respondents thought the following statement is “definitely true” (and 27% think it is “probably true”):

    “B. Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”

    That is simply shameful.

  48. Hell, the only two reasons the Republicans even stand a chance is because of Abortion and Gun Control.

    Well, they did have a little bit of help from fixing elections.

    The Democrats have some questionable voter-recruitment practices, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of forging the vote tallies, it’s the GOP all the way.

  49. The Democrats have some questionable voter-recruitment practices, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of forging the vote tallies, it’s the GOP all the way.

    C[r]ook County, IL

  50. >The Democrats have some questionable voter-recruitment practices, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of forging the vote tallies, it’s the GOP all the way.

    Neither the statistical patterns of observed fraud nor analysis of incentives backs you up. See Game Theory and Voter Fraud.

  51. I know this is an old post, but I’m wondering if you plan to revisit Internet and open source history in light of:

    > STANFORD, Calif.–President Obama is planning to hand the U.S. Commerce Department authority over a forthcoming cybersecurity
    > effort to create an Internet ID for Americans, a White House official said here today.

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