Sunday, January 01, 2006

The world is in a collossal mess. Is there a rational way out of the maze?

First, thanks to Matt who posted this comment against the Pinter post.

It touches on one of my new year resolutions for 2006 so I thought I could do worse than outlining the answer to his question:

"I was wondering if you had any strategies which might lead to the victory of liberatory forces."

As I said in my brief reply, he has, of course, asked the $64,000 question.

The answer is yes and most of them will form the 3rd part of my Chapter on War, which is in the mixing bowl as we speak. That chapter has become something of a monster. I believe the last time I checked, Parts 1 and 2 had crept up to over 100 pages (in pdf form) and my guess is that part 3 will be about as much again. It would seem sensible to turn the chapter into a book in its own right and I might well do that.

The first priority, though, is to write the damn thing. I can tell you its subtitle. Following on from Part 2 which was "Reasons To Be Fearful", I particularly wanted to use the title "Reasons To Be Cheerful - Part 3".

Partly this is a mildly humorous homage to one of my favourite singers - the late Ian Dury - who wrote a song with that exact title; and partly it is to indicate that after all the "doom and gloom" of Parts 1 & 2, there are, in fact, some very good reasons to be optimistic that we CAN (but not necessarily WILL) get through this crisis and live happily ever after.

I can also give an outline of "the plot".

It has been clear, for centuries, to most rational thinkers who don't have a vested interest in the status quo that the vast majority of our problems are directly or indirectly caused by governments. Most previous attempts at tackling such problems have been based on tweaking the existing forms of government in order to try to make them more efficient.

What I think has happened since 9-11 is that we've probably reached a critical mass within the western population in respect of recognising the illegitimacy of ALL existing forms of government.

I notice, for example, from Matt's own blog, that he wants:

"my friends and family to rise up with me and bring down authority in all its forms – police, prisons, militaries, intelligence agencies, organized crime, corporate administration, mass media. First those authorities which surround and oppress us, and once we’re done kicking ass locally, I want to take on every ruling institution in the world."

By "critical mass" I mean that Matt - and I - may still be in a minority, but it's no longer a tiny minority. Our rulers have nearly always been deceitful, incompetent and authoritarian but only recently are more and more of us having the scales lifted from our eyes and seeing the them for what they really are.

I am currently reading Carroll Quigley's "Tragedy And Hope", for instance, which covers the period 1895-1950 and spells out, in excruciating and fascinating detail, just how dumb the people "in control" at that time really were. But what he revealed was new to the world. He broke the secrecy and exposed the emperors' collective nudity.

The history of the book itself is pretty interesting. If you do a google for "Carroll Quigley" "Tragedy And Hope" you'll find mainly references to it being the "Bible" for right wing conspiracy theorists who are opposed to the "New World Order". Essentially Quigley was a respected insider who was given access to private correspondence, restricted records etc which revealed how Britain, primarily, and later Britain and America exercised their joint global domination and how, in particular, their governments (and all others) were, in turn, controlled by the Banks. For example on page 324 of his 1300 page tome, he casually reveals:

"The substantive financial powers of the world were in the hands of these investment bankers... who remained largely behind the scenes in their own unincorporated private banks. These formed a system of international co-operation and national dominance which was more private, more powerful and more secret than that of their agents in the central banks... In addition to these pragmatic goals, the powers of financial capitalism had another for-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences."

and goes on to provide comprehensive details of the agreements, what underpinned them, how they succeeded or failed and so on.

This kind of detail was not supposed to be in the public domain. The best explanation for its existence is that, coming from such a respected and trusted source, it never occurred to the "powers that be" that his book would need vetting. Even for a couple of years after it was published in 1966, no-one in authority noticed its contents and 8,800 copies were sold. Then the conspiracy theorists started using it - much to Quigley's annoyance - as ammunition.

What followed is difficult to pin down, but certainly Quigley himself believed that, once his revelations became controversial, efforts were made to suppress the book. Macmillan - the publishers - destroyed the plates for the first half of the book, making republishing impossible. Elsewhere I have read unsubstantiated allegations that efforts were also made to locate and destroy existing copies. Certainly it became increasingly difficult to obtain copies - until new publishers CSG Associates acquired the rights and republished it in 1981. Today you can buy it on Amazon. I strongly recommend that you do. It is a life changer. It's almost as good as taking the Red Pill. You will understand vastly more, after reading it, about how governments work, how international relations work and most important of all - how Money works.

Quigley is often presented - because his information is used by the conspiracy theorists - as a conspiracy theorist himself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Although he occasionally disagreed with the policies he was describing, his purpose in revealing them was not to expose a conspiracy of any kind. He was generally sympathetic to this section of the ruling class and believed that their influence was so profound that it deserved to be publicly acknowledged. It didn't occur to him that what he was revealing would be used to attack the very system he was so painstakingly documenting.

What fascinates me about the book, though, and why it is so relevant to what is going on today, is not the revelations of secret agreements and behind the scenes deals. Anyone who has taken an interest in politics over the last 50 years takes those kind of shenanigans for granted. The interesting angle for me was his superb clarification of exactly how and why the rulers' policies so often failed. In a nutshell they deceived themselves in precisely the same way we see today and they were crassly incompetent in precisely the same way we see today.

I won't bore you with too much detail, but he spells out how and why the financial mismanagement of the first World War and its aftermath became a major cause of the second World War. Essentially the bankers refused to recognise that the economic conditions which existed at the end of the first war were so radically different from before the war, that all their rule books for sound economic management needed rewriting. In particular they insisted on trying to force the world economy back on to the "Gold Standard" as it had been in 1913:

"Instead of seeking a financial system adapted to the new economic and commercial world which had emerged from the war, the experts tried to ignore this world and established a financial system which looked, superficially, as much like the prewar system as possible. This system, however, was not the prewar system. Neither was it adapted to the new economic conditions. When the experts began to have vague glimmerings of this last fact, they did not begin to modify their goals, but insisted on the same goals, and voiced incantations and exhortations against the existing conditions which made the attainment of their goals impossible."

If you've read any of my War chapter, you will be aware that we can document massive similar self deception and incompetence particularly in the American establishment's handling of the so called War on Terror.

What we learn from the likes of Quigley is that this behaviour is not new. It is more or less the way all government has operated since the dawn of government several thousand years ago. The major difference today, is that, despite enormous security and censorship resources, it is actually becoming increasingly difficult for the authorities to hide or excuse their failures. This in turn is beginning to make people ask the question "why do we let them get away with this?"

There have, of course, been protests about government and the decision making process since the beginning of government and there have been many revolutionary theories and developments along the way. Most prominently, rulers have had to partially concede the right to govern. In place of unelected absolute monarchs who ruled by "divine right", we have evolved to the stage of electing our dictators. Once elected they still retain most of the powers of the absolute monarch, but, because they must face periodic re-election, their dictatorial tendency is somewhat constrained.

They have made this concession as a result of centuries of demands for genuine democracy. So potent has the democratic ideal become that all Western governments now describe themselves as democracies. Such is the distortion of that concept in the public mind, that many of the elected dictators AND many of their voters actually believe that they do live in democracies.

The first part of my own solution is simply to try to destroy that illusion. The main thrust of my book is to provide the philosophical basis for democracy, without repeating the mistakes of "moral philosophy" (the assumption that there are or can be absolute moral guidelines to sustain concepts like "good and evil") . In the process, of course, I have to provide a comprehensive description of what democracy really is and once people understand that then, of course, they can quite easily see how no existing governments are truly democratic.

I am not particularly happy with the way I've done that to date and, as a result, I am currently involved in a fairly major rewrite of "Survival" my seventh chapter, which tries to deal with what democracy is and isn't and why it is the only ethically legitimate way to arrive at social decisions. My new version will begin by describing the nearest we've ever got to a truly democratic system - the Athenian model which gave us the name "democracy" over 2,500 years ago. It will describe how we can, today, implement an improved version of the Athenian model (for instance, excluding slaves and women wouldn't go down too well today, and greater use of secret ballotting would ensure that intimidation could not distort results) and thus, finally get back to the original design.

I will then argue that we actually need to go one step beyond the Athenian model because it was content with simple "Majority Rule". In my view that is inherently dangerous as it permits laws to be made which can oppress or antagonise very large minorities and is thus - depending on the issue - a recipe for civil war. In order to avoid such negative consequences, the ideal solution is to seek consensus (the absence of dissent) where every citizen agrees on the course of action. This, however, is unrealistic. Put 20 people in a room together and they won't even reach agreement on the weather. So the best we can pragmatically aim for is massive majorities. (Starting at 95% and working downward only if everybody agrees that a decision must be taken)

None of this requires me to invent any new systems. Only to advocate their use. The systems have already been invented. Check out "Direct Democracy" at Wikipedia or "Voting Systems" and you'll get a good feel for what we're talking about.

The second part of my solution is the provision of a framework which can be used to analyse the ethical implications of any given democratic proposal. I need to do a lot more work on that too, but the most comprehensive description to date is in my essay/chapter on how Survival Based Ethics (SBE) deals with such issues - concluding with an analysis of the biblical "Ten Commandments"

Those two - democracy and SBE - deal purely with the social decision making process. They do not prescribe or proscribe any particular policies. They do not even, for example, guarantee human rights, freedom of expression or any of the other liberal values which, obviously, I personally support. Why not? Because such matters are themselves democratic issues. If We The People want to guarantee human rights, we will do so. It is not for the decision making process to pre-empt the decisions being made. As I say in the very first chapter - my aim is not to tell the People how to run society but "how to decide" how to run society.

I recognise and expect that, in the early days after we have implemented a true democracy, we will see "We The People" making some deeply illiberal decisions. They will make straightforward mistakes every bit as stupid as those we are used to from all previous forms of government.

I do not attempt to make the case that democracy will instantly produce "better" government. (Although I do believe that truly democratic decision procedures will be able to identify and correct errors more quickly than any other system and that society will learn the lessons of such mistakes much more thoroughly in a democracy than in a system where vested interests distort and hide the evidence revealing the mistakes)

There is an honest case to be made against the "Tyranny of the Masses" (this is essentially why I plead for "near consensus" rather than mere "majority rule") I do insist, however, that those wish to argue against real democracy, in favour of one or other of the existing forms of government, make the case for their alternative ("representative democracy", meritocracy or whatever) honestly - i.e. not by pretending that what they are offering is real democracy.

Similarly I insist that before "We The People" vote to implement real democracy that they understand what they are letting themselves in for. From that moment on, they won't be able to blame politicians for anything that goes wrong - it will all be our own fault!

Finally, however, we come back to the last part of the War Chapter. In this I will propose some truly radical and innovative technical measures aimed at achieving a massive increase in Security while improving both Liberty and Privacy. Traditionally, enhanced Security is seen to be the enemy of either Liberty or Privacy. I shall show, instead, that we cannot achieve the levels of Security we need unless we first ensure much greater protection of Privacy and that, in turn, these measures will foster much greater Liberty. The most far reaching of these proposals is a system which, for want of a better name, I am calling "Trusted Surveillance".

My wife warns me that such a name will provoke instant distrust. I believe she is correct. Nevertheless, I prefer to start from the position of having you treat my proposals with as much skepticism as you can muster and thus force me to win your trust by showing how and why the system really can be trusted.

The best soundbite I've so far come up with, to begin to explain the system is this:

Untrusted surveillance is what we are increasingly living under today. It consists largely of people watching other people. Trusted Surveillance is based on the notion that we watch ourselves.

In short I propose that we use and develop technology to monitor absolutely every aspect of our own lives and record this data as securely as is technically possible so that only the individual being monitored can ever access the data - although, having accessed it, they can choose to share it, if they wish, with third parties. There will be NO circumstances under which, for example, government agencies or other hostile attackers, could gain direct access to the data -and they won't even be able to see the data you choose to access without your free and informed consent.

Other aspects of the system will ensure that the data being collected can only have come from you and that the events being recorded took place in specific locations and at specific times captured and verified, anonymously, by external trusted systems.

The result will be an audit trail of your activities which cannot be amended or spoofed without detection. One of the consequences is that any individual will be able to use their audit trail to prove either the positive (I did attend that meeting) or the negative (I was not at the scene of the crime). Another consequence is that they will be able to prove these things anonymously.

In brief, the sort of thing this will allow us to do is - if suspected of a crime - to prove our innocence, for example by proving that we could not have been at the scene. And we'll be able to do that without revealing where we were. Hence our data remains private and, in most cases, anonymous. Of course, if we are guilty, we can't use the system to prove that we weren't at the scene because we were there and cannot forge even our own data.

But it also means that, if a politician is suspected of - say - manipulating or distorting intelligence in order to persuade the country to go to war - that they will be able to use their private audit trail to prove that they did no such thing. Unless, of course, they did. In which case, no doubt, they will choose to remain silent, but those who were being manipulated will be able, if they choose, to reveal their version of events.

It also means that where we still continue to use untrusted surveillance, and those with access to that data are suspected of abusing it, they too will be able to prove their innocence. Unless, of course, they're not. And so on.

The primary aim of Trusted Surveillance is to "watch the watchers" and to make it impossible for those in authority to abuse that authority without detection. The secondary aim is to make the detection of crimes against the person almost certain, together with the identity of the attacker/s.

If these aims are achieved, political and economic corruption will be virtually eliminated as will identity fraud. Routine crime against the person will be reduced by 50-75%. These improvements, as well as being laudable in their own right, will also free up 50% or more of existing policing resources which can then be targeted against remaining crime and terrorism.

Ending the War on Drugs is the next major plank in my proposals. My chapter on the same spells out the objections to prohibition and this K5 comment describes how it will benefit both the fight against crime and the War on Terror.

In short, the solutions to the mess we're in lie in:

1) Implementing true (direct) democracy and eliminating the power of vested interests to make the rules we live under
2) Using SBE to provide an objective ethical analysis of democratic proposals, in order to inform and, hopefully, influence the democratic debate
3) Implementing a Trusted Surveillance System to protect us from Politicians and Criminals (and anyone else who seeks to cause us harm)
4) Ending the War on Drugs (and any other consensual crimes where no 3rd parties are harmed without their consent)
5) Allocating the resources saved by the above to the most intractable forms of crime and terrorism.

Clearly there also needs to be major policy changes with respect to the way we deal with the rest of the world, but although I can describe them, we can only hope to implement them if we take the first of the steps above and implement true democracy.

One of my new year's resolutions is to finish the detailed description that will, I hope, make sense of all the above, and publish it on my website this year.

Wish me luck!


DaveT said...

Your wife is right about trusted surveillance. I honestly can't imagine how such a system could be secured against abuse though. But perhaps a limited amount of abuse would be acceptable. Although good luck convincing Americans of that.

You know, low level forms of trusted surveillance could currently be implemented voluntarily by individuals to guard against wrongful prosecution today. I could envision trusted surveillance companies forming for the purpose (somewhat like insurance).

My only caveat would be that I can't imagine any government giving up the ability to raid the "trusted" surveillance company's data any time they deem necessary.

Harry Stottle said...

Greetings David

I don't want to get too sucked into detail yet but the first version will almost certainly be based on today's 3g mobile phones.

There will be no company storing the data. All the private stuff will be stored by you on your phone.

True, we need better ways to lock the data such as biometric locks but its out there already.

Also, think about the video already built in. We've seen it being used most publicly and positively to provide news footage for such things as the London bombings. Less publicly and more negatively for such things as "happy slapping". I've been trying to push the idea (for the last 18 months) of citizens using it for self and group protection.

A mugger approaches. You point your mobile at him and start vidding. What does he do? Answer - at the moment - he steals your mobile phone first!

However, imagine that the video footage is stored (in this situation) not on the mobile phone but on a privately accessible web store. Now he knows that even if he steals the phone, his picture is safely stored on the web.

citizens could also use the same trick to capture footage of attackers targeting other parties, road rage incidents, abusive police officers or other authorities. Schoolkid victims could use it against their bullies, etc etc

I contend that this little gimmick alone would eliminate about 50% of violent crime...

Harry Stottle said...

Greetings Craig

worked with HO eh? you might be interested in the paper I sent them on ID cards - (warning 33 pages pdf) - lemme know.

Yes, I concede the resolution of mobile phones is an issue. Their crap at the moment. But I anticipate that once they cotton on to the possibilities (of becoming the world's authentication platform of choice - and thus attracting enough new business to pay off their 3G licence debts) they'll start putting serious cameras into the kit. (Some already have good stills resolution up to 4 or 5 mb but they still do stupid 320x video)

Even so, as you suggest, the "fear of being identified" will still be a partial deterrent even with today's phones. In some areas that will work better than others - such as the school bully scenario.

Whether 50% is overoptimistic I don't know. I suspect it would depend on the success of the first few court cases which made use of the evidence. That would both publicise the technique and demonstrate its effectiveness. That would increase its deterrent effects. Nest ce pas?

The complacency effect would - I think - only follow from a period of success after which people might indeed overestimate the protective effects. But this sort of thing will only drive the technology development higher so the problem should gradually diminish.

The causes of violent crime are indeed the subject of a different debate, but I'm not, in this context, remotely interested in the causes, just the solutions.

I agree that most violent crime being associated with things like alcohol abuse. There are certainly scenarios where the drunken imbecile will not be deterred and others where they wont.

We can only guess what the percentages will be. But even if a small percentage are successfully prosecuted, and the resulting deterrance only prevented 10% it would still be a more dramatic impact than any other single measure we have taken in recent years AND it would still have the beneficial effect of promoting better hardware in the field, which in turn will increase the successful prosecution rate and further increase the deterrent effect and so on...

The point is, yes we will be able to develop better hardware and software over the coming decades, but why not make use of what we've already got?

DaveT said...

Sounds reasonable. However, phones as tracking devices are poor because you can leave them home or give them to other people.

Involving a trusted surveillance company would result in you having a device implanted. I suppose such a device could record your movements via triangulation, but I'd almost rather have them broadcast to the company so that criminals aren't encouraged to search for and remove the implanted devices during the course of a crime.

Harry Stottle said...

Phones as tracking devices suck. And that's untrusted surveillance. Other people have access to that data.

And there is no such thing - and in my view can never be - as a "trusted surveillance company". You should never trust anyone to store your most private data. That's (one of) my starting points. So get away from the idea that we're going to trust ANYONE to have direct access to our data other than ourselves.

Even that presents considerable problems. If someone is really intent on getting hold of the personal data you hold on your phone, the phone security is so poor at the moment that you can be pretty sure that if they just manage to "borrow" the phone for 20 minutes while you don't notice, it is almost trivial to copy all your data. So we have to try to persuade people to guard the mobiles as closely as their wallets with all those credit cards and dosh. Even so, if an amateur becomes the target of a professional, their personal security is not going to be good enough. So until we've made some pretty serious improvements to mobile security, people are going to have be more careful than they have been.

Having said all that, how many people are going to be that directly targeted?

The slogan of the anti-privacy lobby is "if you haven't got anything to hide, your haven't got any reason to worry about us looking through your private data". I tend to prefer the anti-thesis: if you have the authority and good reason to ask, I don't mind giving you the answer. That puts the onus on the questioner to justify the question. As it should be, whether the questioner is a potential fraudster, or a government.

If everybody is carrying their own security, the attackers have got to be selective. This is "herd protection". They can't target all of us. So even with the noddy level of security on your current mobile phone, if that's the only place you keep private data then whoever is looking for it must come after you. They can't simply rifle a few remote databases to get at it.

Of course, if there are good and legal reasons for them wanting us to provide information, and they don't require us to incriminate ourselves, we don't have a problem with that. Especially as we'll have our own completely secure record of all the "transactions" between us and them so that we can confirm that all the legal niceties were met - or prove that they weren't.

Tracking is not done by broadcasting your whereabouts, but by collecting anonymised receipts timestamped by a trusted server at checkpoints you pass throughout the day. Checkpoints include other peoples' mobile phones. And, optionally, mobile phone transmitters of course.

Implants may come later, but only as a bridge to biometrics with a very short range transmission to your mobile phone. (Bluetooth version 10?)

This will allow, for example, the system to become aware of whether you and your mobile have become separated. It will also optionally allow our mobile phone to monitor your vital signs. That's useful for medical purposes (eg. someone with a heart condition or epilepsy) but also pretty damn good for authentication and security. But that's possible a decade down the line and you're sucking me into too much detail here!

I'm sure you're beginning to get the picture though...

Harry Stottle said...

bollocks - you can't edit these comments once you've posted the sodding things and I've just spotted a corker.

Kindly insert the letter 'y' where it belongs in the second sentence of the penultimate paragraph.

DaveT said...

Yeah, perhaps we should forget about the details. I like the idea of keeping your own data with you, but we'll definitely need much stronger encryption and such to make it safe.

DaveT said...

Only politicians need to be that paranoid! The rest of us can be forgiven for making mistakes and learning from them.

By the way...

"I think the point really is that data will never be safe, unless you store it on devices that do not communicate with other devices and guard them with your life."

Just because a device can communicate via RF with other devices doesn't mean that it can send and/or recieve arbitrary data.

The difficult thing is securing the device itself via encryption. There is encryption strong enough to be uncrackable with anything but computers that don't exist and won't for some time (quantum computers). However, you'd need to be able to access your own data at will, so you would need to know the key. The key would be too complex to remember so you'd have to have it recorded somewhere. That's the main problem.

Harry Stottle said...

I draw a considerable distinction between exposure of an embarrassing blog entry and the audit trail of my movements. By definition, the former is public so you haven't got a leg to stand on in protesting that somebody might one day discover it!

The encryption is indeed already strong enough and the problem is indeed access control. Multiple Biometric locks are probably the strongest protection we could provide today. But we will eventually need duress protection as well (so that the system will not permit access even if it recognises you if it also detects that you are attempting access because you have a gun pointed at your head) For that we'll need something like "Brain Fingerprinting" (

But none of that is absolutely necessary to get the ball rolling. Existing technology will provide sufficient protection (even if mainly "herd") to reduce the problem to insignificant levels. We've got plenty of time to develop the bullet proof versions later.

Harry Stottle said...

Apologies - the irony detectors don't work too well on this page.

But in any case, the point about the Trusted Surveillance is that it would identify attempts by the "Watchers" to access such material...

Moving quickly on to Farwell - I too am considerably sceptical. I ran some correspondence with him 3 years ago (more of which some other time) and it seems to me that, at the very least, progress is somewhat slower than planned. But he has had one or two spectacular court successes which we can't take away from him.

But given that this is obviously an area of expertise, would you mind if I pick your brains on related issues at some time in the future?

Harry Stottle said...

Please send your email address to me using harrystottle at