David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas.
Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association's Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
As a scientist, tech-consultant and world-known author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four Worlds Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications.
where Brin rants, probes, questions & studies
jettison the orthodoxies & ideologies of prior centuries
Brin predicted it in 2007: Just as Soviet commissars recited egalitarian nostrums while relentlessly quashing freedom in the USSR, many of our new clade of American Commissars mouth "pro-capitalism" lip service while doing everything they can to cheat and foil competitive markets. In "The Relevance of an Old Nemesis — as Even Older Ones Return," he reminds us: We always have to push uphill against a perilous slope of human nature.
Could a single scientific breakthrough help get us past today's rising mass frenzy of self-righteousness that has poisoned politics in the United States and some other countries? Brin has long corresponded with experts, trying to find out. The resulting essay, "Addicted to Self-Righteousness? An Open Letter to Researchers In the Fields of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology," led to papers in psychiatric journals and a speech at the National Institutes for Drugs and Addiction.
Here's an idea: Why don't all reasonable people break free of the left-right stranglehold imposed on us by less-reputable politicians and form an Alliance for a Modern World? One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote — boldly and openly — a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind?
Fundamental to this calamitous presidency is not just the vulgarity or toddler tantrums, nor his rally-pleasing hatred of fact-professions. It is Donald Trump's essential inability to grasp what the word "negotiation" means, outside of his old worlds: real estate and reality shows.
Under conditions that are growing worse daily, millions of Americans who think they have a vote, do not actually have one. They assume they have voted because they weren't stopped or turned away on election day by one of the more overt voter suppression tactics, but when it comes to the elections that choose our legislative branches of government, most Americans have been denied any chance to choose their representatives. That is — if they are even allowed to cast a vote. There is a test that would nail down whether voter ID laws are, as their proponents say, merely ratcheting up accountability — or, whether they are blatant flagrant attempts to cheat and steal votes away from poor people, minorities, first-time voters, and women.
By quietly and gradually cranking up a process called gerrymandering, members of the Political Caste have managed to effectively deprive us of one of our most basic American birthrights — choosing our representatives. Gerrymandering 'cracks and packs' voters till each district is 'owned' by one party or another. Democratic voters in a Republican-owned district — or Republicans in a Democratic-owned district — will never cast a vote for the legislature in the only election that matters: the majority party’s primary. Unless... unless you hold your nose and re-register with whatever party owns your district.
David Brin frequently refers to the current era of American politics as the latest phase of the U.S. Civil War, in part because the political maps so blatantly copy a pattern that goes back almost 200 years. Furthermore, the social movement called the "confederacy" (and responsible for the American Civil War of 1861-1865) has been at this for a long time. Cyclically — through at least eight phases of a resurging confederacy — we find ourselves mired in dogma, instead of pragmatism, intransigent hatred instead of negotiation, and nostalgia and romanticism, instead of belief that we can craft a better tomorrow.
David Brin is devoutly loyal to the Enlightenment and — yes — patriotic toward a version of Pax Americana representing our best and smartest virtues. This passion can be roused by events to express vigorous partisanship toward or against a particular candidate in an election, not because of the simpleminded "left" or "right" solutions that candidate espouses, but because of the overwhelming evidence that civilization is in danger from a particular gang of manipulative rascals.
Americans tend to feel uncomfortable when asked to look at the vast sweep of world history. Part of this discomfort may arise from a sense — nurtured ever since the Revolution — that everything was supposed to change with the establishment of our "city on a hill." All those tedious cycles of imperial conquest and oppression, of civilizations rising only to collapse, had been rendered obsolete. Thus, history gets ignored, except as a source of isolated anecdotes. Because, if you take in its vast sweep, there is plenty of evidence to support both cynical and idealistic interpretations of America's role in the world, during the last 200 years.
Back in the 1990s, David Brin participated in a discussion at an (unnamed) Washington DC agency, where the question was raised: "What could our enemies do to bring down even a pre-eminent Pax Americana?" Even then, there were many foes desperately eager to find a way.
Let's consider this issue at a more abstract level. In a very general sense, what we are seeing is one party — claiming a slim electoral majority — asserting that they have a sweeping mandate to rule without negotiation or compromise. Either their sense of history is extremely myopic... or else they think they know something that we don't know, about the political shape of our future. (Ponder this paragraph at leisure, till that last remark makes sense. And shiver.)
This essay is for those of you out there who are actually involved in, or supportive of, endeavors to game or cheat the electoral process — the henchmen (because that really is the word) who plan to manipulate voting machine results, or who are purging voter rolls or arranging for "accidental" losses of ballots or biased disqualifications or any of the other shenanigens at issue here: Have you heard of that 'cousin' of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Henchman's Dilemma?
Political metaphors, while purportedly about political philosophy, is actually about laziness... the way we frequently let ourselves accept other peoples' metaphors — their models of the world — without stopping to think or ask, 'Hey, what are we talking about?' Often, we hear exactly what we expected to hear, whether or not that was what the other person really meant. Thus we make strawmen of others, and deny ourselves the wisdom of complexity.
Anthropologists tell us that every culture has its core of central, commonly shared assumptions — some call them zeitgeists, others call them dogmas. These are beliefs that each individual in the tribe or community will maintain vigorously, almost like a reflex. We, too, have our zeitgeist. But contemporary America's dogma is very, very strange in one respect. It just may be the first society in which it is a major reflexive dogma that there must be no dogmas!
Suppose we get a Congress that's willing to push back against idiocracy. What item should be number one on its to-do list? How about ending the War on Facts, with legislation to restore access to useful and confirmable information for public officials, politicians and citizens. Likely effect? Congress-members will no longer be able to shrug off fact/scientific questions with "I’m not a scientist."
Every few years a new battle begins in the seemingly-neverending Global Climate Change culture war. Trained as a scientist, and knowing many who research the atmospheres of 8 planets or who propelled spectacular advances in weather forecasting, Brin tends toward listening to expert advice on this one — especially since we're only being asked to do things we should be doing anyway. In 2007 he posted an essay dealing with some logical flaws in the denial-movement, going after those who claim: "I'm not denying science, just asking questions!"
Before the hate-all-government narrative becomes official government policy, we may want to re-learn the lessons of the last 6000 years. During most of that time, independent innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset their hierarchy. Moreover, innovators felt a strong incentive to keep any discoveries secret, lest competitors "steal" their advantage. As a result, many brilliant inventions were lost when the discoverers died — lost for millennia before being rediscovered after much unnecessary pain.
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns — none of which availed us at all on 9/11/2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
Of course it’s too early to forecast a major counter-trend. But indications are provocative. Rather than diminishing the role of the individual, advances in technology seem to be rapidly empowering average citizens, even as professional cynics forecast freedom’s demise.
For 2,000 years the enemies of democracy, led by that infamous so-called “philosopher” Plato, have tried to undermine the Periclean experiment by couching the debate in terms that work to the detriment of freedom. In order to do this, they pulled many tricks. Foremost, they emphasized and concentrated on the LEAST important and least honorable aspect of democracy — majority rule — while downgrading the most important aspect, which is open and knowing reciprocal accountability.
I do not need 'liberal thought' to make me favor equality of opportunity (while opposing artificial equalizing of circumstance). All I need is the blatantly obvious fact that we were wasting staggering amounts of human creative potential when people were repressed because of presumptions having to do with race and gender and class. The fantastic success of pragmatic 'liberalism' at spurring us to take on these devils is so overwhelmingly more important than any other event of the last century that the burden of proof is on anyone who disses 'liberals.'
I've long felt that the best minds of the right had useful things to contribute to a national conversation — even if their overall habit of resistance to change proved wrongheaded, more often than right. At least, some of them had the beneficial knack of targeting and criticizing the worst liberal mistakes, and often forcing needful re-drafting. That is, some did, way back in when decent republicans and democrats shared one aim — to negotiate better solutions for the republic.
Here's a silly notion that folks routinely seem to love to fall for — that history runs in patterns and even predictable cycles. This concept has been fruitless at predicting actual events since — forever. For example, almost a century ago, all the chattering classes were going on and on about Oswald Spengler's book, The Decline of the West, whih claimed that the First World War was sure evidence of the imminent collapse of Western Civilization. In fact, the "cycles" theory seems far less rewarding than the notion of "attractor states"... or pitfalls that seem relentlessly to pull in cultures, because of repetitive traits in human nature.
Proclamations of doom are perennial flowers which have sprouted in the garden of human imagination since earliest times. Oracles appear whenever turmoil causes nations and peoples to feel uncertain about the future. Ambiguity is the prophet's major stock in trade. For example, King Croesus bribed the Delphic Oracle for good news, so the priests told him what he wanted to hear — if he marched on Persia he would destroy a great empire. He marched, and the empire he destroyed was his own. Other doom-prophecies prove devastatingly self-fulfilling.
Nothing could better indicate the turn in our national fortunes than to see science no longer dismissed as a realm of pointy-headed boffins, but viewed as part and parcel of our nation's future. If we want a resilent government and responsive politicians, perhaps it's time we restore independent science advisory agencies.
The schism over global climate change (GCC) has become an intellectual chasm, across which everyone perceives the other side as Koolaid-drinkers. Right now all the anecdotes and politics-drenched "questions" flying now aren't shedding light. They are, in fact, quite beside the point. That is because science itself is the main issue: its relevance and utility as a decision-making tool.
George Orwell’s 1984 is often cited as a warning against science and technology... a terrible misinterpretation! While Oceania’s tyrants gladly use certain technological tools to reinforce their grip on power, their order stifles every human ingredient needed for science and free enquiry, creating a society that eats its seed corn and beats plowshares into useless statues.
Back in 2008 Brin wrote a series of essays proposing quick-fixes for seemingly-intractible problems with the way we conduct our politics. This essay issued alarms about the consequences of our failure to change the anti-democratic Electoral College. As he noted then, "Every four years we hear calls to replace the Electoral College with plurality popular voting (the worst of all possible alternatives). But nothing happens. Nor will it soon, because one party — the Republican — benefits from the status quo." Read his proposal to reform the Electoral College in a way that wouldn't require a Constitutional Amendment.
Who doesn't like the idea of oppositional leaders finding a patch of consensus amid a sea of discord? We cheer when heads of state, overcome differences between nations in order to sign a treaty that finds common ground. Why shouldn't politicians within parties do the same? Wouldn't you like to see the list of issues and policies that candidates from both major parties stipulated, or "agreed that they agree" about a set of issues and policies?
Face it: majority rule is no longer a part of America's politics. The winning Presidential candidate no longer earns 50% of the total vote (and is now beginning to be elected without a plurality win). Today, the House of Representatives is held by the party that received less than 50% of the vote; in 2014, Senate Democrats received 20 million more votes than the GOP and still lost seats. The long-term solution — equitable distribution — is unlikely to be implemented by a minority-ruling party. Back in 2008 Brin proposed honoring the losing majority by requiring the Minority Party meet with — and listen to — a delegation from the opposing party.
Democrats must stop approaching patriotism as a hot potato, to be handled gingerly, and instead clasp it to the bosom, assertively. They should broach it eagerly. Make the topic their own. As FDR, Truman and JFK did. Let's remember those who marched and argued and legislated and innovated, in order to make our country the brightest beacon of hope in four thousand years.
A deep flaw — perhaps the most tragic in human nature — makes delusional hallucinators of us all, blinding our eyes to any evidence that runs counter to our favorite dogmas. (This applies in all directions, to all dogmas, left as well as right.) Even more urgent is the need to find excuses forour side, our team, our tribe. In the face of this core human trait, it takes an awfully big person to admit that cherished, idealistic plans went awry... even diametrically opposite to every fervent hope.
Imagine if Pepsi and Coke had arranged to divide up the cola market into tidy little local geographic monopolies, where each could charge whatever they liked for colored sugar water... while claiming that their nearly 50:50 overall split means "healthy competition"! What we are witnessing in U.S. politics today amounts to exactly the same thing. A collusive imperative that has always been attempted by elites for their own class benefit, though hampered by tools of Enlightenment citizenship.
Will bitter ideological rifts dominate the 21st Century, as they did the 20th? Or might we shrug off some of the obsolete intellectual baggage we've inherited from past thinkers who (in fact) knew much less than we do now? David Brin's questionnaire regarding ideology and human destiny pokes at the deeper assumptions that underlie the many assumptions we take for granted.
David Brin's debt exit strategy to 'save capitalism with radical transparency' is likely to be the simplest, easiest and most effective you'll find... and thus it is the very least likely to be tried, since it would sharply reduce the power of the most-mighty. Imagine too a simple requirement, negotiated into a treaty that encompassed the world, that is so simple it can be encapsulated in a few sentences: People should state what it is that they own, and how they came to own it.
In 2009, the new Congress and President buckled down to fix the economic mess of the Great Recession of 2006-2008. We all wished them luck and wisdom... and it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — was chirping in with suggestions from the wings, calling for more than a bandaid-and-a-bailout solution. Were any taken? Can they still be implemented?
One aspect of our re-ignited American Civil War is getting a lot of air-play — the so-called “class war.” That's the tag-line ordered up by Roger Ailes: Any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates — when the U.S. was vibrantly entrepreneurial and generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history — is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping off heads in the French Revolution's "class war."
The stealing of Adam Smith's movement by fanatics and cynically manipulative oligarchs is not just a tragedy for market capitalism; it is tragic for civilization. His philosophy admires and promotes individualism and the stunning power of human competition, but also recognizes that competitive-creative markets — and democracy and science — only achieve their wondrous positive sum games when carefully regulated... the way soccer or football must be, lest the strongest just form one team, stomp every potential rival flat and then gouge out their eyes.
Brin loves a contrarian. And yet, those who have read his denunciations of romantic nostalgia — respectful denunciation when speaking of the honest romantic Tolkien, but disdainful when it comes to the cosmic ingrate, George Lucas — won't be surprised to learn that he has no patience for the romanticizers of feudalism. We owe absolutely nothing to those who hoarded secret "wisdom" (what we moderns call "useful information about the world") for thousands of years, leaving men and women to flounder and die in miserable ignorance, when they could have engineered flush toilets and sewers to battle the waves of plagues.
Those who feel only contempt for the Neoconservative Revolution are hurting their own cause by not studying how that revolution was achieved. After all, it's not the unctuous ideology or the charm of its snake-oil salesmen that convinces people to elect real-life versions of Frank Underwood or Bob Roberts. The neocons' relentless march from post-Watergate nadir to unprecedented dominion, aided by Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, ought to be studied carefully, especially by those who want to turn America away from amoral ruthlessness. Bottom line: people want promises.
The difficulty of maintaining a civilization of empowered citizenship — the "diamond-shaped social structure" — was well described by the famous historians Will and Ariel Durant, in The Lessons of History. First, that an open, citizen-based "diamond-like" system may have many of the advantages that Adam Smith wrote about, e.g., vigorous competitive-creativity and the rapid delivery of positive-sum outputs. But such enlightenment systems as markets and democracy and science, unless carefully tuned and maintained, are inherently unstable.
2006 was the year when the people took a leap of faith and voted closer to their own interests — and action that took experts, pundits, and 'conventional wisdom' by surprise. Knowing that electoral victory is meaningless if it's botched, or implemented without imagination or with a mean-spirited zealotry that plays into the hands of those who want perpetual "culture war," David Brin posted "You Broke It, So You Fix It: A Modest To-Do List for Congress," detailing how Congress could change the nation's way of governance.
Ideological polarization used to be secondary in American political life, pushed aside by a singular attitude of modernist pragmatism. This pragmatic attitude — essentially rooted in the Enlightenment — recognized several facts about history that are inconvenient to ideologues. What Locke emphasized — and his followers gradually implemented — were systems designed to take into account the devils within us, the ever-present temptations to oppress, cheat and exploit our neighbors, while creating new opportunities for the angels within to act and to grow.
Here David Brin offers some rebuttals to those denying the possibilty of human-caused climate change — with links to the full climate science. It's extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it out before your next crazy-uncle encounter. BONUS: Print too the latest report that details how denialism is beginning to harm the economy.
Across time nearly every human culture was dominated by narrow castes of men who ruled according to fiercely-protected delusional systems, crushing voices that might speak up with criticism, or alternatives, or inconvenient truths. Gradually, we developed enlightenment methods to reduce the severity of delusion, not by changing human nature but through the simple but daring method of competition. This is the magic of our five competitive "arenas": markets, democracy, science, courts and sports.
Across 4,000 years we’ve seen that whenever a small group of men become powerful enough to control an economy and command-allocate its resources, they will do so according to biased perceptions, in-group delusions and fatally limited knowledge. Whether they do the normal oligarchic thing — cheating for self-interest — or else sincerely try to "allocate for the good of all," they will generally do it badly. Time to stop using Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to rationalize oligarchy.
The oligarchs who have hijacked the GOP have manufactured and spread so many narratives, from "birther" paranoia to climate denialism, from preaching "oligarchy is gooood for you" to utter lies about U.S. history. The worst and most damning example — the George Soros demonization campaign. Let's illustrate the mad-right's narrative machine, and how sadly incurious millions of our neighbors have become.
The worst aspect of this century's polarization has been the devolution of politics into clichés, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward scientists and every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. Isaac Asimov once commented: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Nothing demonstrates the silliness of left-right "culture war" more than the illogical fight over human-caused climate change (HCC). People who take fierce positions over a scientific matter based on their politics should be ashamed of themselves. Originally published in Skeptic Magazine, "Skeptics versus Deniers: Creating a Climate of 'No!'" shows you how to tell a true "skeptic" from an opportunistic "denialist."
Why do so few politicians — especially incumbents — run ON their record? They run FROM it: Every election they vow to tackle problems they were elected 10, 20, even 30 years earlier to fix. What do they do between elections, when they are supposed to be exercising the power they've been given? Are there any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders normally brag about their past effectiveness? In this article, "The GOP won’t run ON their record — they run FROM it," Brin takes a look at the notably substance-free campaign rhetoric.
The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be a disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. In reviewing Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, Brin explores how politically-based interpretations explain much of this collapse of confidence. Alas, politics — despite centuries of hard refinement — is still far more ego-driven art than craft.
After every mass murder journalists, shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motivation, perhaps hoping that knowing what sparked that particular killing frenzy might prevent the next one. Yet, when we stop and look for common threads, a pattern emerges: these seem to be less about the killers' specific hatreds than a frenzied, bloody tantrum staged by a string of losers with one common goal: immediate, global fame. It's time to deny killers the notoriety they seek.
What the deep-right calls "culture war," Brin suggests, is actually Phase Three of the American Civil War: "... an educated person knows that Marxists at least have thought a lot more than the rest of us have about this whole 'class' thing that most of us blithely ignored, during the anomalously flat era from 1945 to 2000."
There are still millions of our neighbors who are sincere in seeing themselves as reasonable (if conservative) Americans — who have agreed to look the other way while their beliefs are redefinition into its opposite. From prudence to recklessness, from accountability to secrecy, from fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy, from consistency to hypocrisy, from civility to nastiness, from logic to unreason — no cherished principle has been left intact. And still they aert their eyes. In "The Ostrich Papers: How It Will Take ALL Decent Americans To Restore Decency To America" Brin proposes begin a dialogue with the ostriches. Perhaps you might want to start by studying how the GOP so successfully demonized Bill Clinton during his Presidency (the tactics and techniques haven't changed).
American neoconservatism and Islamic fundamentalism would — at first sight — appear to be polar opposites. Indeed, that appearance deliberately cultivated by both groups. After the folly of the Iraq War, Brin wrote a nuanced, abstract dissection, "Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War," describing the weird symbiosis between the various neoconservative movements. Now the façade that the two are ideological opposites has crumbled.
The widely-circulated nostrum called the "Tytler Calumny" is the great example of what has gone wrong with the mental processes of our friends on the right, who used to be represented in sage debate by great minds like Barry Goldwater and Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley... but who are now reduced to slinging around aphorisms and fact-free faux-assertions.
We don't yet live in a civilization that rewards openness and forgiveness, Brin reminds us, and in a warning to enthusiastic-yet-incautious neophytes and idealists, he advises a little "protective paranoia." Powerful people will see idealism as a threat to their interests, and some of the more unscrupulous may seek to neutralize that threat using one of the most basic ancient techniques — going back to biblical times — of entrapment and blackmail, which can systematically undermine even the most well-meaning person.
Naturally, we needn't look at this struggle over human hearts and minds as a "war." When Brin called it that in a speech at Brigham Young University in 1989, few had heard about memetics. At the time, we were in the final phase of a Cold War waged mainly through propaganda. So warning about a coming meme war was intentionally a bit provocative. Subsequent events have established "Survival of the Fittest Ideas" as a predictive hit.
None of the observations Brin offers can be made to fit the most pervasive, misleading and mind-numbing political metaphor of all time: the left-right political axis, which trivializes complex issues, masking their inconsistencies and contradictions. Yet, we cling to obsolete oversimplifications because they have proved effective at just one thing: enforcing alliances between people who disagree deeply about everything excepting their hatred for a common enemy. This is how our quadrennial culture war was fought.
For those who want to fight for the Enlightenment, in order to keep those values alive, here are David Brin's suggestions. A few of these recommendations will be aimed at political parties, while the rest are for concerned citizens. We must find ideas that will work to end the culture war, and we will find them because Ideas R Us, and because we have got to get on with Civilization.
In 1999 Time Magazine had crowds throng to its web site eagerly voting for who should be named "Person of the Century." Brin's pick was George Marshall, who — as he explains in "My Candidate for Person of the Century" — gave the world a few decades of respite from the slaughterhouse of ideologues like Hitler and Stalin.
Marshall was also the strategist behind a miraculous event that happened seventy years ago — when liberals and Democrats went through a wrenching, painful self-transformation to preserve that hard-won peace.
Should President Obama and the Congressional Democrats have pushed for truth and reconciliation investigations, as David Brin proposed in these essays, when the malfeasance and turpitude and skullduggery merely ruined our economy? Amid an atmosphere of rancorous culture war, we cannot expect the core rulers of the GOP to negotiate in good faith, as a loyal opposition, to punish the wicked and restore trust.
What to do with the prisoners currently held in Guantanamo? Or others we might capture amid a war without borders or fronts? Calling the violent men in Guantanamo "POWs" does not mean they can be tortured. They must be treated according to Geneva protocols. But it does mean they can be held indefinitely, in a military facility on American soil, so long as hostilities continue in a plausible state of war
Every election American taxpayers watch, wait, and hope for the candidate who will turn to the camera and say, "Of course the rich pay too little tax!" — and just like that Supply Side economics would end. In "The Fairness Divide: Intervention That Liberals and Conservatives Can Agree On," Brin looks what we could choose to replace it with. Do we prefer interventions that increase opportunity for all, or interventions that aim at fairness in outcomes?
David Brin's blog post on how to improve our current tax system got picked up by both Pop Sci and io9. He expanded on it and turned it into an article here: "The 'No-Losers' Tax Simplification Proposal."
What's a Transaction Fee, why do we need it, and how would it save us from the "Terminator"? The answers to these questions — and to a number of other economic conundrums — may surprise you! But those computerized parasitical systems will howl in agony! Thus, it will give you a better chance to gain from your own savvy and insight, when you log into your E-Trade account.
The principal goal that Osama bin Laden had in mind, in perpetrating the crimes of 9/11, was to lure America into an extended, interminable quagmire of attrition in the "land where empires go to die." If you were a foe of the United States, you would study which past errors almost destroyed America — the Civil War and Vietnam.
One side of our national character hungers for change and tomorrow, treats the range of possible futures as ambition-attracting terra incognita, and prepares our children for a boundless future. It is our dedicated proposition, our mission. But there is an opposing passion — the temptation to wallow in nostalgia, romanticism, sanctimony, authority and the comforting rigidity-of-caste that dominated nearly every other civilization, across 6000 years. It was called feudalism and humanity's greatest heroes fought to liberate us from that beastly, limiting and dismal way of life.
This essay's topic is war. I will concede that we are at least another generation away from abolishing the foul practice, at long last. Until then, wars will happen — as today's primitive nations and angry peoples jostle for advantage, as shortages of resources, even water, propel rising tensions, and as fierce cultural drivers that ignite the worst violence. Instead, let's focus on how our two U.S. political parties differ in the ways they wage war — their distinctions in doctrine, policy, professionalism, style and effectiveness.
What makes the Republicans so successful at building unlikely coalitions? How are they able to bring together groups that — on the surface — have nothing to gain in becoming allies? Strictly in terms of practical realpolitik, that accomplishment merits respect and careful study, the kind of respect any foe ought to give, if grudgingly, to opponents who can reinvent themselves, adopt compelling new messages, recognize unlikely opportunities, and seize the slimmest advantages — the kind of respect that precedes an effective effort to fight back.
Most third-party and non-partisan voters know — far better than others — that the hoary old left-right political spectrum is worse than useless. Alas, some of the "better alternatives" only serve to muddy the waters. This speech-transcript to the Libertarian convention offers a few insights into the paradoxical appeal of ideology that could be useful for any truly alternative party.
For the last three decades the American people — when polled in a neutral manner — tend to prefer Democratic positions on policies, like transparency, low-secrecy, accountability, energy research, moderate environmentalism, tolerance of individual eccentricities, and responsible attention to international affairs. BUT the Republican Party has proved incredibly adept at using politically innovative tactics to win despite these policy disadvantages: Democrats won the Presidency in 2008 and again in 2012, but succumbed again in 2016. In 2005 Brin wrote "How Progressives Can Win Back America", which proposed both strategic and concrete plans. Perhaps it's time for a re-read?
What people tend to ignore is that all health care systems practice rationing. There is simply no way to avoid it, as we all would pay any price, for any chance of health. We’ll take our dying loved one to the best doctor, period, and screw the price and screw second best. The chief difference between the US and the rest of the civilized world is that we let profit-driven insurance companies do the rationing, and they do it based solely on profit considerations and whatever they can get away with.
Are we slipping into a putsch-coup by a conspiratorial oligarchy? The patron deity of capitalism, Adam Smith, declared that the very worst enemies of markets (far worse than socialism), are conniving aristocrats and top lords of finance. We cannot continue to ignore the cheat that brought us the Great Recession and provoked public wrath. This cheat goes deeper than any problem of excessive-leverage, or negligent mismanagement, or failures of regulation.
Can we expect calm, measured and enlightened rule from the New Lords who are — even now — making their moves to restore the ancient social order, and replace the middle class and its diamond-shaped social order with a traditional pyramid of owner-lord privilege? Of course not. For every Lorenzo de Medici or Henry Plantagenet there were thousands of fools who let flatterers talk them into believing ego-stroking stories — that they were lords because of their own genius, or inherent superiority, or God-given right.
The issue of guns in America seems intransigent. But polls show that most Americans don’t wish to eliminate personal gun ownership, they simply want more accountability. Here is a possible compromise, one of many. Moderate gun owners just might accept reforms that treat most personal weapons like motorcars — including registration, mandatory training, licensing and insurance — if they were also offered some surety against the dreaded slippery slope.
Should we establish a new and important post, the office of Inspector General of the United States? Far from creating another vast new bureaucracy, this proposal would utilize current Inspectors General, already charged with examining operations and issuing warnings — or else stepping in more vigorously when things get out of hand. The problem? Nearly all of these inspectors owe their jobs and paychecks to the very same secretaries and directors who head the agencies they are charged to scrutinize. Often they are appointed pals, ensuring partiality and conflict of interest.
We should distinguish between two kinds of foreign intervention — those that are like "emergency room" operations and others that more resemble "elective surgery." If the nation must sacrifice its warriors, its treasury, its international goodwill and peace of mind, then we should be called upon to mobilize, as our ancestors did, rich and poor, to willingly pay whatever must be paid. If convinced, millions would step up to enlist. And the rich would, as in times past, come forward to offer billions. Whether a projection of force is an emergency operation or an elective enforcement of national policy, truthful evaluation of short and long term costs is essential.
To many U.S. voters, one issue towers foremost — the Fiscal Cliff of rising public debt. Frightened by the much-worse debt crises in Greece, Spain etc, Americans fret about floods of red ink that reached more than a trillion dollars a year under George W. Bush, and that have gone down only slightly under Barack Obama. Want to invest some time into understanding the deficit and the debt? Brin lists and appraises the EIGHT major reasons that deficit so quickly grew. We need to understand these 8 factors — how they happened, and how the decisions were made — before we're lulled into another cliff-dive.
Slavery is gone, so why are we still blatantly fighting the same Civil War, 150 years later? Across pretty much the same geographical and cultural divide? Can it be something deeper and psychological? A current that flows through impenetrable veins, that made slavery a poisonous side effect and not a primary cause? Perhaps we should remember what Mark Twain said — blaming the war on the addictive quasi-fantasy novels of Sir Walter Scott and the streak of romanticism that wove through Southern sensibilities.
It's all-too-easy to forget that Karl Marx was brilliant in some areas. His work on the underlying process of capital formation was a huge leap forward... before he got sucked into the egomania of becoming a cult guru. Still, what his true believers (of all kinds, not just Marxists) cannot wave aside is a decisively mistaken explicit prediction, one that is absolutely fundamental to the entire Marxian edifice... and one that has proved diametrically wrong.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson interviews Brin and Boise State University professor Justin Vaughn how our cameras-everywhere culture is affecting the candidates, presidential campaigns and us.
In Living Planet Magazine, takes on the role of science fiction in proposing solutions to our environmental challenges.
A panel discussion at Arizona State University on reputation systems, surveillance technologies, and the future of the Internet as a problem-solving tool.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 300 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings. Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
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"Even the more advanced and older alien races are not just godlike beings of infinite wisdom, anymore than the Gubru and similar nasties are simply scientific demons. Brin's gift for diversity and for showing paradoxically the human side of alien races is something extremely rare in science fiction authors."
— Fantasy Book Review
"New tech is handing society tough decisions to make anew about old issues of privacy and accountability. In opting for omni-directional openness, David Brin takes an unorthodox position, arguing knowledgeably and with exceptionally balanced perspective."
— Stewart Brand, Director of Global Business Network
"The struggle to save the planet gives Brin the occasion to recap recent global events: a world war fought to wrest all caches of secret information from the grip of an elite few; a series of ecological disasters brought about by environmental abuse; and the effects of a universal interactive data network on beginning to turn the world into a true global village. Fully dimensional and engaging characters with plausible motivations bring drama to these scenarios."
— Publishers Weekly
"This is a fun novel, rich with ideas, that examines on a very human level the ramifications and side effects of our ambitions and the things we take for granted. It's also a hard-boiled murder mystery with levels of physics and metaphysics that work your brain. But for me, as always, it's David Brin's characters that really pull me into the story and keep me up until three in the morning."
— Barnes and Noble Review