DAVID BRIN's world of ideas



by David Brin, Ph.D.

An addendum to "War in the 21st Century." (Copyright © 2004)

wire to the ear blog]

On Balance...

Lots of people claim to be 'balanced' -- while steeped in 20th Century political clichés. I make the same claim -- and plan to offer partisan statements today. So how genuine is my political balance?

It may be a good sign if you manage to both affront and fascinate everybody! For example, liberal and conservative friends were equally offended when I apportioned blame evenly for the sickness of modern American cynicism. (See my essay, "Been Up So Long, It Looks Like Down to Me")

Yet, groups diverse as the Libertarian Party (see, for instance, "Essences, Orcs and Civilization," my keynote speech to the 2002 Libertarian National Convention), the Sierra Club, the Business Council and Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic Leadership Council, Procter & Gamble and the World Federalist Society have invited me to poke away at rigid assumptions that hamper agility in the modern era. I've spoken at the CIA, Pentagon and US Senate... and keynoted the 40th Anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. I have values -- strong ones. But I'll talk with anyone who sincerely offers interesting points of view.

Evenhandedness doesn't mean lack of passion. My passion is for a civilization smart and adept enough to get us across the challenges of this generation, using every tool that's proved worthwhile, toward the practical goal of both saving our planet and inhabiting it with people who are safe, happy, responsible, diverse and free. (What other goal could matter?) Some of these challenges and tools are described in my novel Earth. Others in my nonfiction book (winner of the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association) -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?

This passionate centrism is devoutly loyal to the Enlightenment and -- yes -- patriotic toward a version of Pax Americana that represents our best and smartest virtues.

There is nothing contradictory when passionate centrism is roused by events to express vigorous partisanship in a particular election. Not because I prefer simpleminded "left" or "right" -handed solutions, but because overwhelming evidence leads me to conclude that civilization is in danger from a particular gang of manipulative scoundrels.

Of course there are always scoundrels. My centrism worries about all kinds, from commissars to corporate welfare queens. From Al Qaeda to John Ashcroft. Any elite seeking to avoid accountability and gather power over our lives, while rationalizing they are the good guys, doing it for a greater good.

We were all raised by movies and tales that preach Suspicion of Authority (SOA). But most of us then fixate on just one kind of worrisome elite, suspecting them of schemes to become Big Brother. Democrats worry about conspiring aristocrats and conniving corporate CEOs. Republicans fear snooty academics and meddlesome bureaucrats. Fundamentalists see elitist-humanists under every bed, conspiring to spread filth. Nationalists fret over foreign powers. Others focus on organized crime or a burgeoning techno-elite. No one ever comments on the common (SOA) theme that we all share. In truth, human nature means that all power centers try to avoid scrutiny. All need it.

Today -- with communism a laughingstock, with regulators in hiding and macho terrorists getting all the attention -- one group seems especially worrisome to me: A pack of knaves who, in slavish service to a foreign power, are relentlessly and insatiably pursuing an agenda that endangers the civilization I love.