Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
II.2 | Contents | II.4
If it is so, as we have proposed early on, that "Nothing has ever been destined, beyond that we create what we choose, and we live (or die) with the consequences,"1 then the question of "human destiny" seems either to be moot, or beyond the power of individual determination – particularly if what is meant by "human destiny" is something "ordained from on high" that we imagine ourselves to have somehow been fashioned to fulfill. Such a concept is included in many existing mythologies, but has no part in the mythology of metaconsciousness.
Rather, the myth of metaconsciousness teaches that every metaconscious agent – from the quantum fields and "wavicles" that occupy the interstices among, between, and within the atoms, to the super-galactic, pan-dimensional entities (if any) that may be imagined to exchange information on a Cosmic scale – at once determines and fulfills her, his, or its destiny in every moment, in concert with the Cosmic destiny of "All That Is." The part and the Whole are compliments, inextricably combined in the totality of "All That Is." The human destiny is, right here, right now; and you, and I, are experiencing it, and deciding it, right here, right now. "The future of the future is the present."2
So, has humanity a destiny? Or more to the point, how may you and I contribute to an agreeable human destiny, rather than one of extinction or oblivion? It is incumbent upon us to create the myth of human destiny.
If human destiny is right here, right now, it occupies a context of all time, everywhere. Colin Tudge,3 among others, seems to agree with me that much contemporary "scientific theory," particularly so-called "objective" scientific descriptions of human evolution, have the character about them of myths.
In [the scientist's] descriptions of our ancestry [Tudge writes] they perceived and projected the genus Homo as a hero of the kind who features in the folktales of every culture: a hero who begins life humbly, is faced with a series of hurdles, overcomes those hurdles, and in doing so is honed and improved until he emerges as Homo sapiens. Finally, in many versions, Homo sapiens commits the sin described by the Greeks as "hubris" and so is destroyed.4
Such is the myth, as related by contemporary storytellers (archaeologists, anthropologists, ethnologists, etc.), of the coming of Homo sapiens to the predicament in which we find ourselves today. Tudge accepts the story as contemporary mythology, and retells it well, and at length. He carefully draws only upon evidence already acknowledged by the "mainstream" scientific community, and his narrative is rich with interest and surprise.
Contents of this section:
Learning to Live Within Our Means
It is surprising to learn, for example, that in the broad context of geologic time, the alarming biological "die-off" in headlong progress around the world today, that has been popularly laid with guilt, sorrow, and regret at the feet of civilized humans, may be but the continuation of a process that began with the emergence of Homo erectus, about 1.8 million years ago, as the most formidable predator heretofore in biological history. Tudge cites voluminous circumstantial evidence which indicates that in Eurasia, North and South America, and innumerable islands throughout the world, including Australia, large numbers of plant and animal species began disappearing immediately after the first appearance of genus Homo in their respective ecologies.5 Our earliest hominid ancestors may have entered the ecological scene on this planet as unusually effective predators, and we may have begun our evolutionary career by living from the outset beyond the capacity of the planet to replenish the losses effected by human predation. Or in other words, the idea of an idyllic Paleolithic culture evolving in perfect harmony within the biosphere of Lady Gaea, possibly implied earlier in this work, may have been an oversimplification of what actually occurred.
It certainly appears that the entrance of genus Homo upon the world stage was a unique and unprecedented development in the natural history of planet Earth; and it is not necessarily hubris to note that we bear within us capabilities never exhibited by any other species. If humanity were indeed the product of a higher metaconscious "intent," some features of our evolutionary history may have been, or could have been, anticipated.
A higher metaconsciousness could have anticipated, for instance, that this bipedal creature with an extraordinarily well-engineered hand, with opposable thumb; stereoscopic vision, excellent hand-eye coordination; an expanded brain with a capacity for complex verbal communication, and inventiveness; and a cooperative social organization, might well represent a significant ecological threat to other species in the biosphere – at least until the new species learns to self-regulate our actions, and govern ourselves so as to operate sustainably on the planet. This capability for self-discipline was evidently not "wired into" us from the outset, and the process of evolving it may have been what the past couple of million years has been all about for genus Homo.
These speculations may seem to conflict with the meme that "Nothing has ever been destined, beyond that we create what we choose, and we live (or die) with the consequences," but this is not necessarily so. There are rhythms and frequencies in the pulse of time, and by tuning into some of these it is sometimes possible to anticipate future eventualities with a good deal of accuracy. Predicting when and where the Sun will rise and set tomorrow, or a month hence, is not the same as predicting a "predestined event." There may be no such thing as a "predestined event," yet many eventualities may be anticipated with considerable confidence, most of the time, once their rhythms are understood. Nevertheless, the only way to know for sure "what's going to happen" is to witness it when and where it actually occurs – as predicted by quantum theory.
The challenge faced by Homo sapiens, possibly right from the start, has been this matter of living within our means, or living within Earth's capacity to support our numbers in balance with a dynamic global ecology. The challenge was not immediately critical, for the Earth was large, and the populations of genus Homo were small and mobile. But if it is true that other species began dying out to a more significant extent than previously, coincident with the appearance of genus Homo, then the writing was on the wall early that someday this species would have to face up to critical problems; and that day has now arrived.
Illustrative of the kinds of problems our Neolithic, or quasi-civilized ancestors may have encountered, Adolph Bandelier has told an ethnological tale of the calamity a settled tribe brought upon themselves, precipitated in part when their growing population began to press against the limited carrying capacity of the narrow ecological niche they occupied in what is now northern New Mexico.6 The descendants of those people are alive and well today, speak the ancient language, and maintain many of their ancient traditions; but they no longer live where they used to.
Humanity as a whole have faced the same kinds of problems; yet today there is nowhere else available for us to live, except right here on planet Earth – which is no longer a wide, empty cornucopia waiting to absorb the weight of our ever expanding numbers. We are now down to the endgame: all the squares are occupied, and there are very few moves left for us on the board.
Perhaps our civilized meme, "Humanity was destined from our earliest beginnings to create civilization," was right after all – in the sense that having the peculiar "toolbox" that our evolution has metaconsciously bestowed upon us (hands with opposable thumbs, big brains, stereoscopic vision, etc.) it could have been anticipated from the beginning that it was only a matter of time before we would probably employ these tools to dominate the entire Earth, simply because we could; and had not yet gained the wisdom borne of experience that would inform us of the advantages to be gained by moderating our exploits.
Ours may have been a suicidal course from the beginning; yet if so, our ancestors could hardly have been expected to have foreseen this when they began. And so it is for those of us now resident upon the Earth – or who, if any, actually survive the calamities we and our ancestors have brought upon us – to pick up whatever pieces remain, after our calamities have run their course, and decide either to, or not to, duplicate the patterns (such as "civilization") that precipitated our calamities in the first place.
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Conditions for Social Success
From this perspective, we can say that this chain of events was not "predestined" in any inevitable sense; but it could have been anticipated, and possibly was, by a metaconscious entity with a more comprehensive overview of the global ecology than we have had, at least until recently. Now, having collectively experienced the path that has brought us here, those of us who survive may have the option to rebuild our social apparatus along lines which take into consideration our inseverable relationship with the entire web of Life on Earth, and ultimately, with all of Cosmos; upon which our continued evolution absolutely depends. Perhaps now, at long last, we are in a position to see our predicament clearly, and to perceive the conditions we must meet as a species, in order to thrive upon the Earth. Here is a candidate synopsis:
It may not be easy to imagine creating a functional social entity consistent with the 12 conditions, or principles, listed above. This comes as no surprise, for such a social entity has not formed in the couple of million years of the history of genus Homo. Such a social entity has not formed for the reasonable reason that humans, at least until now, have not understood the essential conditions which must be met by a successful social entity. Social entities have been formed on the basis of many social theories, but never upon the principle (10) that "The act of a social entity preemptively imposing by any means its collective will upon that of one or more of its constituents is an act of war;" or (7) that "Warfare consists of the act, or attempt, or intent of one 'social entity' to impose preemptively his, her, or its will upon that of another, by any means, at any scale, in any context." And no social entity within historical human memory has ever been formed on the basis of the principle (6) that "Warfare is the unequivocal enemy of Life, and is without redeeming merit." And surely no "civilized" society has ever crystallized around the principle (1) that "There is no hierarchy of value in Cosmos: all entities are in the largest possible context peers, simply by virtue of existing."
Yet are these principles not sound? If not, what is wrong with them? How might they be improved? They are not, after all, "graven in stone by the Finger of God." They are subject to editing, addition, subtraction, or replacement altogether; and input, as always, is hereby once again invited.
Supposing the above principles, or something like them, are sound, however? How might a social entity be formed, particularly from where we stand, right here, right now, in the real world, based upon them? How do we get "there" from "here?"
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The Wider Dimensions of Warfare
Before embarking upon this inquiry, the matter of warfare requires further elaboration; for warfare occupies such a fundamental place at the bedrock of "civilization" that few "civilized" people have any conscious awareness at all of the astounding frequency with which ordinary people commit acts of war as a matter of daily routine. An act of war is defined (item 7 above) as "the act, or attempt, or intent of one 'social entity' to impose preemptively his, her, or its will upon that of another, by any means, at any scale, in any context." That is, an act of war is an act of unprovoked aggression among humans, aimed at securing some benefit for the actor at the expense, or loss, of the act's recipient.
Thus, all forms of theft, i.e. appropriating the property of another without the other's awareness, permission, or will, are acts of war. Virtually all forms of taxation fit this description.7 All lies, that is deliberate, informed misrepresentations of what is known or believed by the actor to be true, which damage the interests of those thereby misled, are acts of war. This includes the malicious withholding of truthful information, which results in misleading the entities from whom the information is withheld into making damaging (to themselves) decisions or choices. This is standard operating procedure among the big players in the world media, including major advertisers; and among governments, large and small, it is routine.
The "protocol pollution" described in section I.6,8 aimed at sabotaging the universal protocols upon which open-source software depends, to the intended advantage of monopolistic corporate vendors of proprietary software, are acts of war – although doubtless considered by their perpetrators as nothing more than "sound business practice," and all in an honest day's work. Similarly, the practice of large corporate department stores, as they used to be called, or "Big Box" stores, entering small town markets, and using their vast capital resources to undersell and drive out of business their "Mom & Pop" competitors, then raising their prices to whatever the traffic will bear, is the practice of waging war upon and in their target markets.
Naturally, individuals who participate, knowingly or unknowingly, in the warlike actions of larger entities, such as nations and corporations, with which they, the individual humans, identify, or by whom they are employed, are complicit in daily acts of war, and are therefore obliterating the ground upon which they themselves stand.
Out of long habit, and somnambulant complacency, few people at present seem to view their routine daily actions in this light; although this is changing, and some people are awakening to the wider consequences of their daily acts. As noted in item 8 above, the net consequence of warfare, in any of its guises and masquerades, is to narrow the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty upon which metaconsciousness at every scale depends as a prerequisite to its ongoing expansion and evolution. This is the decisive factor in the definition of warfare: that which preempts the choices of others, and narrows the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty. This is the net accomplishment of human warfare. Is there any other phenomenon in Nature that has a similar effect? I don't think so; if you can point to an example, be sure and let me know. This is why warfare is the implacable foe of metaconsciousness, and the destroyer of the very fabric of Life. There is no one and nothing on Earth or in Cosmos which ultimately benefits from warfare.
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Warfare and Predation
By an unobservant interpretation of the definition (item 7 above) of warfare, and absent the explicit elaboration of item 8, one might assume that any predatory act, such as a bobcat killing and eating a rabbit, is an act of war. And that in turn would implicate every living being (with the possible exception of carrion eaters, such as vultures and many humans, who do not themselves kill the creatures upon which they feed) in the business of warfare.
Every living being lives at the expense of other living beings; for naturally the only nourishment available for any living being must be supplied by other living beings. That's the way the web of Life is set up. Yet although virtually all living beings are, in this sense, predatory, either directly or indirectly, it nevertheless appears that only humans wage war; for the object of war is victory, not sustenance. The object of war is either annihilation of the "enemy," or the "enemy's" abject subjugation and enslavement. Perhaps other species would wage war too, if they could, but they lack the unique "toolbox" with which humans are equipped, so only humans wage war: because we can, and until now at least, "civilized" and "pre-civilized" humans alike have often not known any better.
Although it may be argued that what we identify here respectively as "warfare" and "predation" are simply different degrees of the same basic phenomenon, which are distinguishable in scale but not in kind; we emphasize again that the decisive distinction between them (item 8) is that warfare, unlike predation, narrows the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty, and is therefore the unequivocal enemy of the entire tapestry of Life, on planet Earth, and of metaconsciousness in Cosmos.
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The Games of Life, and "Win all the Marbles"
Another way to look at all this is to note that the "game of Life" and the "game of dominator civilization" are played according to two entirely different rule sets, and have entirely different objectives. The objective of the game of civilization is for someone to "win all the marbles." As some civilized person has remarked, "Whoever ends up with the most toys wins." This is inevitably a limited game, because eventually, sooner or later, some person, corporate entity, or consortium does indeed "win all the marbles;" and that's the end of the game. Nobody else has any marbles, and so there is no longer any possible action on the board, even for whoever "won all the marbles." This occurs because the process of "winning all the marbles" inevitably and inexorably narrows the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty, until eventually, the complex interchange upon which all life depends ceases to be viable. Checkmate.
The game of "win all the marbles" is naturally played by means of warfare. That is, a player with "a lot of marbles" employs those "marbles" in strategies which enable him or her9 to take preemptively the "marbles" of some other player. So the more effective warfare strategist "wins" the engagement, and the less effective strategist "loses." The net effect of this game, once again, is to narrow the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty; for its progress is to transform a wide distribution of "marbles," more or less equitably shared by everything and everyone, into a narrow distribution of "all the marbles," so that no one except the "winner" has any "marbles" anymore; and so the game is over. This is the condition that is swiftly materializing on planet Earth at this time. It is why we are now at the stage of "endgame," and are only a few moves away from "checkmate." The game of "win all the marbles" is a demolition derby, the aftermath of which is a wrecked planet incapable of sustaining Life – at least, "as we know it." Is this your idea of a good time? Nobody wins the game, finally, of "win all the marbles."
The game of Life is played by entirely different rules, and has an entirely different objective; which is simply to keep the game going as an endlessly expanding spiral of creative metaconscious evolution. This involves keeping "all the marbles" in constant circulation among all the players in Cosmos, meaning everything and everyone, or "All That Is." The game of Life never comes to an end, even though individual players are born and perish, come and go, rise and fall, begin and end. Yet everybody wins, all the time!
These are the choices before us as living beings in Cosmos: we can either play to "win all the marbles," or we can play to keep the game going. No one can have it both ways, and no one can escape playing it either one way or the other. It's your move.
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Getting "There" from "Here"
All that having been said, practically speaking, how do we get "there" from "here?" That is, how do we get (presuming this is our choice) from where we are to a post-civilized society liberated from the synonymous scourges of tyranny and war?
More to the point, how desperately do you, and I, and the people you know, and the people I know, and the people they know, actually want to live in a post-civilized society liberated from the synonymous scourges of tyranny and war? Desperately enough to stop playing to "win all the marbles," and start playing to keep the game going? Do you imagine this change is going to come about just because a few "lunatic fringe writers" like me think it should? Listen: the gang that's playing to "win all the marbles" are at war with everything and everyone alive on this planet – including, strangely enough, with themselves; but more pertinently, with you. And unless you have already taken what most people would regard as extraordinary measures to disengage from "their" game plan, you are enlisted in "their" ranks; which is to say, you are committing daily acts of war which further somebody's agenda to "win all the marbles." Which is to say in another way that, like it or not, you are actively contributing to narrowing the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty upon planet Earth, and cutting the ground from beneath your own feet.
Well, it's not for me to judge that, and if I point my finger at you, I am simultaneously pointing at least three fingers at myself; so please don't take this outburst personally. A couple of years ago or so, when the corruption and rot didn't seem to be quite so widespread as they are today, I happened to see a bumper sticker which I thought summed things up rather neatly: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention! Since then I haven't seen a whole lot of evidence that very many people are outraged; but then, I don't myself display a whole lot of evidence of being outraged either. But I am (quietly); and maybe you are too.
Unfortunately, being outraged doesn't seem to be a very effective means of bringing the human predicament on planet Earth to a satisfactory resolution. We can wail, gnash our teeth, and wring our hands until the cows come home, and still the war-makers are daily making their wars, and chances are, unless we are exceptionally vigilant about our own choices, we ourselves, with the best hopes and intentions we can muster, are helping "them" on a daily basis to cut the ground from under our very feet. How do we stop doing that, and start doing something more likely to pull our bacon out of the fire?
In 1997 a hacker10 by the name of Jim Bell began a discussion on the Net which he perhaps imprudently called Assassination Politics,11 in which he described a "completely legal" mechanism utilizing recently emergent technologies which could have the effect of allowing an "overwhelming consensus" to "meticulously weed out of the human social garden" those who persist in "playing for all the marbles," and waging war upon everything and everybody else on Earth.12 "They" were not amused, and it is believed Bell was incarcerated; which may be a kind of "official endorsement" of the effectiveness of his scheme. Or maybe not. Complicating the story is the circumstance that Bell was at the time engaged in a protracted skirmish with the IRS; and it is difficult to enter such engagements without sustaining injuries.13
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Open-Source Metaconscious Projects
By way of background, if you have read section I.6, then you are at least somewhat conversant with the development of the open-source GNU/Linux operating system in a totally unstructured "bazaar-style" global working environment.
Another open-source project that has achieved surprising success as a genuinely useful reference tool is the Wikipedia14 – a digital encyclopedia of extraordinarily bold vision, because it is deliberately designed to be write-accessible to anyone with read-access to its entries. That is, anyone who can read a Wikipedia entry – which includes anyone with access to the Internet – also has automatic permission to edit, rewrite, delete, or otherwise modify the entry – or indeed any entry. Sounds like a formula for chaos, doesn't it? But it isn't. Rather, the Wikipedia is a useful compilation of factual information contributed by knowledgeable individuals living all over the world, sharing their various domains of expertise. Factual or other errors are corrected by the peers (which could be anybody) of those who write the entries, and the Wikipedia steadily improves – that is in a sense, learns from experience – as it expands.
These are projects that at once demonstrate and expand the scope of the collective human metaconsciousness, and as such are the antithesis of war, and so-called "civilization." They demonstrate literally on a global scale the creative effectiveness of the human metaconsciousness unleashed. Possibly, a future evolution of "Bell's Scheme," as I'll be calling it, will eventually add synergistically to this evolutionary process of expanding richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty. Bell thought it would, sooner or later, almost inevitably, simply because it is now possible, and hadn't been before.15
I do not know [Bell wrote] whether I "invented" or "discovered" this system; perhaps it's a little of both. I do genuinely believe that this system, or one like it, is as close to being technologically inevitable as was the invention of firearms once the material we now know as "gunpowder" was invented. I think it's on the way, regardless of what we do to stop it. Perhaps more than anyone else on the face of this planet, this notion has filled me, sequentially and then simultaneously, with awe, astonishment, joy, terror, and finally, relief.16
Bell's Scheme rests primarily upon the ubiquitous Internet, and the recently emergent digital technology of strong "public key" data encryption, which is now legally and economically available to anyone with access to a computer. Following is a brief sketch of the emergence and nature of public key data encryption – which you may skip, if you are already conversant with the topic, or if it holds no interest for you.
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Public Key Data Encryption
The classic problem confronting anyone wishing to employ cryptography to render a message reliably private between intended parties is the means by which an intelligible message can be rendered apparently unintelligible to all but its intended recipient. In other words, even though the message has been converted to "madness" – apparent gibberish – still there is necessarily "method in it;" otherwise the gibberish could never be reconstructed by its recipient back into an intelligible message. The corresponding problem confronting any party wishing to "eavesdrop" on the encrypted exchange is to discern the "method in the madness," and to extract the message hidden in the gibberish. The tension between these two problems is as old and varied as that between conversationalists within closed doors, and the outsider bent with ear to keyhole in an endeavor to catch unobserved the drift of the conversation within.
The "method in the madness," then, is the crucial element in all cryptography; it is the key to unlock an otherwise inscrutable puzzle. In consequence, a problem corollary to that of keeping a message private, where any kind of cryptography is involved, has always been that of keeping the key private as well.
What it all boils down to is, two persons, call them Pat and Mike, wish to exchange information privately by cryptographic means. Fine; but before they can commence exchanging private messages, Pat and Mike must first arrive at a common understanding about the key by means of which their messages are to be enciphered and deciphered. If it is not convenient or possible for them to meet privately face-to-face (they live on different continents, for example), how do they reach this common understanding privately, without the hazard that their key might be intercepted, thus compromising the privacy of all subsequent exchanges? This is the classic dilemma confronting all cryptographic matters; which until recently have been of concern mostly to those engaged in some species of warfare.
So long as cryptographic matters were of interest only to "military commanders" and "spooks," these arcane concerns were relatively easy to keep under wraps. With the advent of computer networks, however, and a rapidly growing population of entrants into the digital age, a few "outsiders" began taking an interest in these forbidden topics as well. Some of the more far-thinking minds involved with computers during the early and mid 1970s were able to anticipate that as digital networks and technologies become more ubiquitous, privacy is certain to become an increasingly vital issue; and quite innocently – even naïvely – began casting about for effective means of securing the privacy of messages transmitted digitally over computer networks. What they found was that virtually all inquiries into methods for accomplishing just this little thing invariably led to the gates of the electrified, triple-barbed-wire-fenced compound of Fort George Meade, Maryland, headquarters of the National Security Agency... and disappeared into a void of silence.
The NSA in effect had a virtual monopoly on cryptography. All the advanced cryptographic research was conducted either at the Fort, or elsewhere under the strictest secrecy of which the NSA is capable – which is pretty strict. Moreover, any research conducted elsewhere, such as at universities or in industry, or patents applied for that had any bearing upon cryptography, came quickly to the attention of the NSA and were immediately classified as "munitions."
Such was the climate in which certain "outsiders," notably Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, Leonard Adleman, and others, found themselves wrestling with the issue of securing various kinds of transactions conducted over computer networks in the '70s and '80s. So, in the absence of unclassified information on the subject, these outsiders were compelled to "reinvent the wheel." What they ultimately came up with, because they didn't know any better, was the concept and implementation of an ingenious system known today as public key cryptography.
The idea of making the vital key to a cipher public flew in the face of every axiom of cryptography ever known, discovered, or imagined within the scope of classical cryptographic tradition. "It isn't done," might well have been the knee-jerk reaction of the cryptographic cognoscenti at the Fort. However, it is done now, and it evidently works; and as a result, the whole cryptographic picture has changed radically. How it all came about is a long and fascinating story, which I will not elaborate further here.
The end result is that Pat and Mike can now establish for themselves, respectively, public encryption keys capable of enciphering any message. However, the key that enciphers the message is not capable of deciphering it; what is required for this is a corresponding private decryption key known only to its owner. So Pat and Mike each have a related pair of keys, neither of which can possibly be derived from the other: one each for enciphering, and one each for deciphering their messages. Pat and Mike are now able to exchange their respective enciphering keys by any available means, including publishing them on a bulletin board, or in the equivalent of a telephone directory. This is why they are called "public keys." They can be made public because they can only encipher messages, but cannot decipher the messages they encipher.
Then, when Pat wishes to send Mike a private message, he enciphers it with Mike's public key, and sends it to Mike via any appropriate channel, such as e-mail. When Mike receives Pat's enciphered message, he deciphers it with his (Mike's) private key, known only to himself. Anyone else, intercepting Pat's message, but not being in possession of Mike's private key, cannot read it.
To reply, Mike uses Pat's public key to encipher a message which only Pat, and no one else, can decipher, using Pat's exclusively held private key.
Messages can also be digitally "signed" and authenticated by means of public key cryptography, which makes possible the electronic exchange of the equivalent of binding signatures on contracts and bank drafts. If Mike, for instance, wishes to send Pat a private message, and ensure that Pat knows it really came from Mike, and no one else, he first enciphers part of his message, his "signature," with his own private key, so it can only be deciphered with his public key. He then enciphers his entire message – enciphered "signature" included – with Pat's public key, and sends the whole package to Pat. Pat deciphers the message with his private key, and deciphers the remaining cipher, Mike's "signature," with Mike's public key, thus authenticating that the message really did come from Mike, and not from someone else impersonating him. Conversely, Mike cannot deny sending Pat a message bearing a digital signature enciphered with Mike's private key; so if the message is a contract, it can be held to be lawfully binding.
Reading about all this, particularly if you haven't given it any prior thought, may convey the impression of Byzantine complexity. However, in practice, all this can be so thoroughly automated that it is virtually transparent to users. So with appropriate software, Pat can type a message to Mike, and Mike can receive a message from Pat, both in clear text. All encryption, decryption, signing, and authentication may be handled within their respective automated systems. All either of them works with is clear text – and all anyone else ever sees pass between them is gibberish. These techniques are potentially applicable to any and all digital information, such as video signals, cell phone conversations, medical records, fiscal transactions,... anything; and the encryption can be so robust that breaking the cipher may require literally millions or billions of years of intensive computerized "brute force" attack: something possibly beyond the scope, even of the NSA.17
Naturally, the "win all the marbles" gang, particularly in the U.S., didn't much like these developments, and as already mentioned, tried at first to classify all encryption technologies as "munitions," and prohibited from export. This proved unworkable, however, when crypto hackers came up with a strong encryption algorithm, called "tiny," which involved such a few lines of code that they could be memorized and "smuggled" undetectably in one's head between one country and another.
Similarly, when movable type was invented in the 15th century, the "win all the marbles" gang of that era attempted to control the spread of the printing press, and to enforce a prohibition of the printing of works not approved by the Pope. This effort proved unworkable too, and the "ignorant masses" who had populated Medieval Europe for centuries began to take an interest in reading and writing, which had formerly been exclusive monopolies of the clergy. The subsequent blossoming of the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation, may be attributed, in part, to this invention of movable type; and the collective human metaconsciousness took a significant step forward.
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The Sometimes Surprising Impacts of New Technologies
New technologies, such as the printing press, sometimes really do have surprising and far-reaching socially significant impacts; and public key data encryption enables a good deal more than just the simple passing of private messages that cannot be read "over one's shoulder" by uninvited eavesdroppers. It is possible, as described above, to encrypt digital information in such a way that it not only can be received by its intended recipient, and no one else; it can also be certified to have originated with a particular individual, and no one else. This makes binding agreements and fiscal transactions possible between, or among, parties who may have never physically met, and may reside on diverse continents. It makes possible anonymous digital cash, such that fiscal transactions may be conducted reliably in total anonymity between or among persons located anywhere on Earth.
Briefly [Paul Maxwell wrote], digital cash is a system for transferring funds from one person to another on the Net. For this system to be as good as cash, the transactions must be capable of being conducted anonymously, just like in real life. (You go into the Seven-Eleven, buy a Cafe Latte, and nobody knows your name or your credit history. The purchase is not recorded in a database of your consumer preferences.)
Several competing schemes for digital cash have been launched, but the one that eventually gains universal acceptance will surely have this anonymity feature.18
Now imagine this – which is not exactly a description of Bell's Scheme, but could be descriptive of a future evolution of it, employing digital developments such as the wiki (e.g. the Wikipedia) which Bell's essay never mentioned: Someone sets up on a server somewhere a wiki site, inviting the participation of all interested parties in, first, airing their grievances anonymously against anyone, anywhere habitually and deliberately engaged in acts of war, as defined in item 7 above (or defined however the participating consensus thinks such acts ought to be defined).
Bell's Scheme was focused upon the idea of collecting anonymous contributions to a fund which would grow large enough to make it worth someone's while to... ah, "predict" the demise on a certain date of a particularly notorious public enemy (such as a political tyrant, or an extraordinarily destructive corporate executive); and the successful "predictor," having encrypted his or her prediction in advance, and after the fact having supplied the key to decrypt the prediction, proving it came to pass as stated, is then awarded the accumulated fund in the form of anonymous digital cash. Everything is done in strict anonymity via robust encryption, so no one has any knowledge whatsoever of any of the parties involved, actions taken, or even whether or not an actual "crime" has been committed. All that is known by anyone, except the anonymous predictor, is that numerous anonymous contributions were made to a fund publicly designated as a reward for whoever could accurately predict the demise of a particularly unpopular public figure; an accurate prediction was made by somebody, and the digital cash award was claimed. That is a thumbnail sketch of Bell's Scheme. For a great deal more detail, read his account of it.
A threat of death is certainly formidable, and the public disclosure that there is in effect a large bounty on the head of a particularly unpopular figure may be expected to have a significant impact upon that figure's living habits. The implications of Bell's Scheme, and the almost infinite variations with which it can be played, suggest, however, that a "death threat" would in most cases probably be an option of last resort. There are so many ways for an anonymous public to make their desires and grievances keenly felt through various imaginable evolutions of Bell's Scheme that simply "bumping the guy off" seems almost deficient in imagination – no disrespect intended to Jim Bell.
How many people, for instance, do you imagine would be willing to contribute a dollar, or five, or ten, to an anonymous fund to reward anyone who comes forward anonymously with provable inside information on the circumstances leading up to, and following from, the events of 11 September 2001? A thousand? A hundred thousand? A million? Ten million? A hundred million? What if a million people contributed a dollar each to such a fund, and someone with provable, documented inside information on 911 came forward and made that information public, and collected the reward? Don't you think another million people, or more, would be willing to similarly reward someone else to come forward anonymously with additional provable, documented inside information – on 911, or on any topic a lot of people might want to have the "straight poop" on?
The wiki site could become an encyclopedia of "forbidden information," multiply mirrored in many places around the planet. It could become a storehouse of material evidence in a consensus court of global inquiry into crimes against humanity, heard and adjudicated by the victims of those crimes themselves.19 Then if, on the basis of the forthcoming evidence, a consensus emerged to the effect that a particular individual should die, a fund could then be established to reward the predictor of the date and circumstances of that person's death, just as Bell described. The targeted individual would know that there is in effect "a price on his head," and how much, and why; but like everybody else, would be without a clue about the who, when, and the how. The targeted individual could even file an argument on the wiki rebutting the charges made against him (or her), or promising to mend his (or her) ways. The target's case would not be decided by any one person sitting in judgment, but by consensus of those willing to contribute, or not, to the fund rewarding a correct prediction of the target's death.
At this point, unsavory thoughts like mob rule, and reign of terror spring to mind, and so should be addressed. One can imagine the possibility of a good deal of hysteria manifesting around the Bell Scheme, and its possible future evolutions, should such a scheme actually become operational; and one may question the reliability of information brought forward anonymously by individuals who cannot be held accountable for its veracity. In the final analysis, contrary to widespread beliefs among "civilized" people, it is very difficult to prove anything, "beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt," because everything we may think we "know" occurs within a context of impenetrable mystery,20 and it is not always easy to distinguish reliably between "the straight poop" and "bull-poop," about anything. One must admit that, at best, a consensus of even a large number of interested, actively participating anonymous individuals is not infallible.
On the other hand, one must ask, would such consensus governance be worse than the so-called "governance" in place throughout the "civilized world" today? Myself, it is difficult to imagine any alternative being actually worse than the contemporary status quo, which is galloping hellbent for election toward destruction of the planet, and all life upon it. It can't get any worse than that – can it!? One may prefer the Devil one knows to something untried and unknown; yet the Devil we know is taking us straight to Hell on a sled; if that isn't clear, then I don't know what.
We live in desperate times, and it is perhaps only in such times that the collective will can be summoned to commensurately desperate measures. Right now, an unimaginably wealthy and powerful minority are at war with everything and everyone on planet Earth, as they wind up their global game of "win all the marbles." After that, unless some profound changes are made, the game is over: for you, for me, for everyone. Not everyone believes this yet, but those that do will have little difficulty embracing options that might not otherwise even be considered. Similarly, few people would leap at the opportunity to be set adrift in the middle of the ocean astride an empty flour barrel. Yet if their ship sinks from under them, sensible people will consider themselves fortunate to find the assistance of anything that floats; and the ship of "civilization" is sinking fast.
The Bell Scheme, including its possible evolutionary variants, disclose the eventuality of combining a few items of technology that have not been available to prior generations, with a wave of rising conscious awareness; which may have the effect of empowering members of the general population in relation to the powerful minority on this planet who have forged a lifestyle for themselves based entirely upon war and plunder.
Formerly, absent these technologies, and this awareness, our protests against the crimes of the warlords have been as ineffectual as the mewling of a sack-full of kittens. We have signed petitions, paraded in the streets, written letters of grievance to Presidents, Prime Ministers, Parliaments, and Editors. Now comes the possibility of responding with vision and purpose, and claws and teeth, if necessary, to the abuses we and our ancestors have endured for thousands of years – by anonymously exposing to public view the crimes of our oppressors, and even credibly threatening their very lives. The outcome of this cannot be predicted with certainty, yet it seems probable that Bell is right when he says that "this system, or one like it, is as close to being technologically inevitable as was the invention of firearms once the material we now know as 'gunpowder' was invented. I think it's on the way, regardless of what we do to stop it."
Awe [Bell continues, elaborating his comments quoted above, p. 176], that a system could be produced by a handful of people that would rid the world of the scourge of war, nuclear weapons, governments, and taxes. Astonishment, at my realization that once started, it would cover the entire globe inexorably, erasing dictatorships both fascistic and communistic, monarchies, and even so-called "democracies," which as a general rule today are really just the facade of government by the special interests. Joy, that it would eliminate all war, and force the dismantling not only of all nuclear weapons, but also all militaries, making them not merely redundant but also considered universally dangerous, leaving their "owners" no choice but to dismantle them, and in fact no reason to KEEP them!
Terror, too, because this system may just change almost EVERYTHING we think about our current society, and even more for myself personally, the knowledge that there may some day be a large body of wealthy people who are thrown off their current positions of control of the world's governments, and the very-real possibility that they may look for a "villain" to blame for their downfall. They will find one, in me, and at that time they will have the money and (thanks to me, at least partially) the means to see their revenge. But I would not have published this essay if I had been unwilling to accept the risk.
Finally, relief. Maybe I'm a bit premature to say it, but I'm satisfied we will be free. I'm convinced there is no alternative. It may feel like a roller-coaster ride on the way there, but as of today I think our destination is certain. Please understand, we will be free.21
I think he's right: "we will be free." Because the game of Life is an unlimited game, and absolutely trumps the limited game of "win all the marbles." And the game of Life inexorably, tirelessly, ceaselessly, everywhere and forever, expands the spectrum of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty.
Bell's prediction is not necessarily "human destiny," however. "Nothing has ever been destined, beyond that we create what we choose, and we live (or die) with the consequences." Yet Bell's prediction may be anticipated with a good deal of confidence by those who have finally grasped the rhythms of the game of Life. Meanwhile, it is for you, and I, and she, and he, and they, and us, to manifest the "human destiny" of our choice, every moment of every day: war, or peace; fear, or love; to "win all the marbles," or to keep the game going.
It's a good game. Don't you think it would be a "good idea" to keep the game going, here, on planet Earth, for awhile longer?
[Return to contents of this section.]
1. Prologue, p. 12.
2. Quoted in I.9. The Future of the Future. See also Heisenberg May Have Slept Here in section I.4 for a discussion of the principle of complementarity.
3. Colin Tudge, The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact, Scribner, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, 1996.
4. Tudge, 1996, p. 23.
5. See Easter Island, Tikopia, and Nauru, in section I.11, for discussions of more recent spontaneous examples of this phenomenon.
6. Adolph Bandelier, The Delight Makers, Harvest / Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, New York, London, 1971. Additional examples are discussed in Social Survival and Collapse, ff., section I.11.
7. Spooner, 1869, III.
8. Section I.6, pp. 72-4.
9. Although it must be noted that the game of "win all the marbles" seems to be significantly skewed in favor of the masculine pole of the male / female dyad, at the expense of the feminine pole. There are women who do play the "win all the marbles" game; yet women in general seem much more intuitively suited to playing the game of Life – which men are just as welcome to play as well!
10. See section I.6 for a complete definition of the term, hacker.
11. Jim Bell, Assassination Politics, 1997.
12. Section II.2, p. 165.
13. See http://cartome.org/homeland.htm for elaboration.
15. Bell, 1997, Part 7.
16. Loc. cit.
17. Adapted from J. Harmon Grahn, "WingMakers, Revisited, Part IV," 3/31/2001.
18. Paul Maxwell, Asahi Evening News, Sunday, February 4, 1996, p. 6, quoted by Bell, 1997, Part 8.
19. Perhaps in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus, "Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known." Matthew 10:26, King James Version.
20. What I Mean by Myth, in the Prologue; and section II.4.
21. Bell, 1997, Part 7.
Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
II.2 | Contents | II.4