Ralph Peters shows how the Net has empowered Muslim terrorists and fanatics.
The meta-message is that the Net magnifies the characteristics a community already has. Its strengths are increased by connectedness, its pathologies are deepened. Look at the Anglophone Net, the nervous system of the global Anglosphere. It is a gigantic cultural community center and a vast trading floor and an enormous adult book store all at the same time. It is civil society and economic dynamism and vacuous hedonism all in one convenient location. Connectedness does not necessarily lead to peace — especially where that connectedness does not cross linguistic and cultural barriers. Connectedness just amplifies what is already there.
Addendum War Nerd provides some facts which suggest that the Shi’ites won’t be any easier to deal with even if they get wired to the Net.
4 thoughts on “The Net-enabled Islamosphere”
With all due respect, I think this is a flawed analysis. If we presume that human beings act rationally (I assume this is a central belief of all ChicagoBoyz :), then the explanation for a lot of self-destructive behaviour is, frankly, just the absence of information, or the presence of misinformation, NOT an intrinsic ‘culture’ or ‘community’.
In other words, information access had been tightly controlled in many parts of the world before the Internet came along. Even in the US, who knows how many times in the past Dan Rather has gotten away with forged documents. However, a newly available easy access to information allows enquiring minds to disprove falsehoods and verify verity. In the past, with a single source of (mis)information, even well-meaning and intelligent folk could be mislead into irrational behaviour. This irrationality can only be reduced by the widespread usage of the internet. Moreover, well-meaning enquiring minds can be more than consumers of information – cheap communication through the internet means they can spread information also.
Of course there are costs associated with the internet – for example, the terrorists using it for nefarious purposes. But in a cost benefit analysis, the picture is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, it is the internet that has the most potential of any tool to reduce the appeal of self-destructive fanatics and dilute their message.
At the end of the day, if human beings are rational, and if this rationality is not subject to any genetics or ‘racial’ differences, then there will be a convergence in thinking, such as the convergence which has largely taken over the Anglosphere already. I doubt the Internet tends to amplify ‘cultural’ communities… it simply brings them closer to convergence and truth, albeit through different paths.
I don’t really buy Raul’s argument. I agree that speeding information is good, and that the internet promotes the de-bunking of disinformation.
However, people don’t read all of it. Even if it was small enough for that to be possible, human communications don’t work like that. You have small knots of heavily connected people (or sites) with occasional links outside the knot.
People normally communicate with one of three groups:
– Family and close neighbors.
– Co-workers, customers and clients.
– People they like and tend to agree with.
So any reasonably effective communications medium is going to promote cultural communities of agreement. It’s just the way network costs work.
I don’t disagree with Raul’s conclusion that the internet is worth its costs. But i think Lex’s comment that amplifying cultural communities can be a cost is pretty justified.
Matya no baka
Rahul, thank you for your comment.
You point to a critical philosophical issue. Rationality as instrumental rationality or as substantive rationality? As a Roman Catholic I am an heir of a tradition stretching back through Thomas Aquinas to Aristotle which says that humans can make some progress toward knowing by means of reason what is the best type of life to live. (Eric Voegelin wrote about this point, too.) But, most people these days don’t agree with the idea that there is a knowable best way to live. And if they agree in general that there is a best way to live, they don’t agree with my picture of what that best life is. So, do I believe there is substantive rationality about ends? Yes. Do I think most people will agree with me that there is, or the ends I identify? No. Because of our common humanity, very general statements will meet with near universal acceptance, i.e. murdering children is wrong, but even on this very basic issue there is disagreement.
Where do people get their values then? They get them from the culture they inherit, the language they speak, the religion they are raised to believe in. The ends people strive toward vary from person to person and community to community. Are there commonalities? Sure. Do most people love their children? Sure. But what that means in practice can vary. It may mean they weep with pride and joy when they send their teenage daughter goes to blow herself up in a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv. Or less perniciously, weep with pride and joy when their teenage daughter goes off to be a cloistered nun. Or weep with pride and joy when their teenage daughter goes off to her first year at Harvard. Or weep with pride and joy when she marries her first cousin from Pakistan whom she has never met until that day.
None of these decisions and responses is about a lack of information. It is about drawing different conclusions about right and wrong from the same facts. Different people and different groups view the world differently. To the extent that they do so in noticeable and consistent ways, we call that culture.
(You mentioned racial differences. I didn’t. I consider them irrelevant. Culture is real. Racial differences are trivial in comparison — e.g. black people get sickle cell anemia at a higher rate than other people or hold a disproportion of certain record-setting athletic performances. Basically irrelevant stuff unless someone has constructed a racist mythology to take advantage of racial differences.)
Merely getting better information to people won’t make them change their basic beliefs. If the new information challenges a community’s basic beliefs, a more common response is to deny the new facts, withdraw into a segment of the community composed of like-minded people, and sometimes literally to try to kill the messenger.
What does that leave for rationality? We are, after all, ChicagoBoyz here. It leaves instrumental rationality. People are very consistent in being rational about the means they employ to obtain the ends they want, given the information they possess and their assumptions about what that information means. Where people are operating within a bounded area according to known rules that all agree on or that are enforced, e.g. certain markets, a high degree of very consistent practices emerges which are clearly most rational. But that model applies less and less well as the underlying assumptions are taken away. Market-like behavior is not necessarily the best model to look at all human interactions. With all due respect to Gary Becker, it does not explain much of what happens when, say, people fall in love or get married or stay married. Surely these are momentously important aspects of human life not governed by any kind of simple notions of rationality.
As to technology, you say: “But in a cost benefit analysis, the picture is overwhelmingly positive.” I don’t know this to be true, though I suspect it probably is. You are more of a technological triumphalist than I will ever be. It is too early to say whether the Internet will do more good than harm. Technology is morally neutral. It amplifies what is already there. It can be used to do more good or more evil depending on who controls it. By and large, the societies which generate new technology are also relatively orderly and law-abiding and peace-loving, since those characteristics of a society encourage economic and technological development. This gives such societies an edge, and is the reason that technology has been, so far, by and large, for most people, net beneficial. (But technically backward people have from time to time found themselves on the receiving end of higher technology, to their sorrow.) Don’t forget that once a new technology is available people who could never have invented it themselves can buy it off the shelf or steal it and use it however they wish. And they may wish to do bad things.
So, we are in near total disagreement about everything. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Marshal McLuhen wrote about this in the 60s. He stated that when media technology was dropped on a less advanced cultural it creates chaos. Eventually the society will be able to deal with the technology but it takes time work everything out.
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