September 2, 2008

Web 2.0... The Double-edged Sword for Peace in the Arab World

If we listen carefully, we can hear the beat of drums just beneath the great din of our technological age. The Web, being the height of humanity’s collective achievement, has become the battleground for the minds of men.
The victors shall decide whether our earth shall be ruled by fear, or reason.

The Arab world is one of the fastest growing Internet markets in the world. It is also a land dominated by religious, racial, and social fanaticism.

In all but the most advanced Arab countries; misinformation, intolerance, and war mongering permeate the social structure. Beginning with the nuclear family, to religious communities, all the way to the institutions of government; many Arabs live their lives isolated from any ideas that have run the gauntlet of comparative analysis.

Should we assume that all this misunderstanding, ignorance and blind hatred will immediately be assuaged by the ubiquitous availability of the Internet? Won’t democracy and inter-racial cooperation be the inevitable result of the limitless interpersonal communication the new web affords? Well, many people believe exactly that. While I share their belief in the supremacy of reason; I’m concerned that the grip of fundamentalism is likely to tighten before it falls limp. When these societies are empowered with this magnitude of social connectivity, it vastly increases the ability of fanatics to reach those minds that are up for grabs. To be sure, the intellectuals are also empowered, but they are also greatly outnumbered.

Even in our own marketplace, the most meritorious ideas can be lost in the cloud of noise. Consider the staggering number of conspiracy theory sites and blogs. Such sites vary in their content from the plausible to the incredible, and their audience size ranges from laughable to the phenomenal. In the cases of the more incredible among them, the relative worthlessness of the idea does not prevent the idea from reaching large numbers of people.

I suggest that the inevitable diffusion of the Internet into the Second and Third world will bring a wave of peace, but that peace will be preceded by an inescapable (albeit fleeting) dominance of fanaticism.

The majority of the third world is ruled by a predisposition for action (i.e. totalitarian efficiency) as opposed to the First world predisposition to discourse (or, if you like, sluggish bureaucracy). The difference between the loosely defined worlds will be highlighted by the power of the new web. In our world the web has streamlined our bureaucracy, allowing the existing discourse to happen at an exponentially faster rate. In the Third world, the first thing to be streamlined will be the ability of fanatics to rally support.

I predict that fanaticism will eventually fall to reason. However, we must accept that the eventual Arabian renaissance will be preceded by darker times. Waves of fanatical enterprises will attempt to artificially recreate the Arabian Golden Age. Just as in post-war Germany, Hitler tried to force the birth of the Third Reich, similar attempts to domesticate minds of men are forever destined to catastrophic failure.

The only road to wisdom is age. The only road to knowledge is education. Man can neither wish himself a sage, nor will himself a scholar. The only road to peace is arduous discourse. Mankind can only reconcile his differences on the uncompromising and level battlefield of reason.

June 22, 2008

The American Dream: Alive and Well

On June 17th 2008 CNN ran an informal poll in which they asked if the ‘American Dream’ was dead. A surprising number of people stated, and elaborated upon an opinion that it was. A number of them cited the strife of the economy and the difficulty obtaining a job. It seems as though many people believe that our society has become so economically demanding that people are no longer free to choose their own career path based on their own interests. This is a misguided position and must be reconsidered in the light of a reasonable definition of freedom and a realistic examination of the economy as it is today.

Freedom is among the most nuanced words in the English language. Countless sons and daughters have died and suffered for the idea, and the United States is axiomatically referred to as the ‘Land of the Free.’ However, few people actually have the capacity to fully experience true freedom. Freedom requires the ability to see the world as it is, and make conscious choices while fully aware of their consequences. A free person must acknowledge that, for the most part, his situation is entirely of his own making. In essence, freedom is a state of absolute responsibility.

Today, too many people assert that they are, in fact, enslaved by an economic hegemony. While these people are in fact enslaved, it is because they have mortgaged that freedom for the petty pleasure of economic security. These people will normally complain that they should be free to choose a career based on their own talents and interests. This complaint, of course, ignores a fundamental reality of talent and interests. Talent must be developed into skills; and interests are fairly worthless without talent. For Example: If it is a man’s life ambition to play the violin in the streets, he must accept that he will likely not be wealthy. He must accept the economic reality of that ambition. On the other hand, if he aspires to play in the London Philharmonic Orchestra he must also accept the reality of the dedication and practice that such a goal requires. The truth is that while many people have talents and interests, few have the discipline it takes to make a desirable living with them.

Discipline, another nuanced word, has many varied meanings. Every one of those meanings, however, orbits around a single concept: effort. Both noun and verb form of ‘discipline’ require enormous amounts of personal effort. Those people who are willing to exert the required effort will be those who succeed. Finally, we come to the motivation of the complaint: It is far easier to blame an archetypical entity such as ‘The System” than it is to accept one’s station in life as an effect of ones own actions.

Finally we must examine the issue of the current economy. It is true that media is forecasting ‘doom and gloom’ but in reality, the country has seldom seen a more diverse marketplace. The miracle of the Internet has made a market for nearly every niche talent and craft imaginable to man. In the age of Google’s “AdSense” and EBay’s near-zero overhead business plans, there are more options available to the hard working American than ever before. The vastness of the Internet has qualitatively changed the depth of freedom available to mankind, and it is irresponsible to gainsay the true freedoms we enjoy.

Looking over it all, it is somewhat disrespectful to our forefathers to complain that we are not free enough to choose our own place in our economy. Those who crafted our world, from The Constitution to the Internet, dedicated their lives to the future. As a result a hard working man or woman is more free and empowered today, than ever before in human history. With hard work a person can craft his own future, and therefore the ‘American Dream’ is alive and well.

March 22, 2008

A New Age is Dawning

Oft heard I, Wise men proclaim
‘To all things there is a season’
to joy, and sorrow, pleasure and pain
And so, it stands to reason:

The reign of fear one day will fail
And Truth will be the victor
The dark unknown will the light assail
The New Age brought all the quicker

Whence we wander, weather we ponder
My brothers, this age is ending
Heralds asunder, hail the age of wonder
And start our race to mending.

Shine Forth