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« "N" is for Nanotechnology | Main | Science, Power, and Nanotechnology »

December 09, 2004

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Mike Deering

A few years ago we (not on this list) were discussing whether molecular nanotechnology (what we now call molecular manufacturing) would or would not be coming soon. Now we have pretty much agreed (with a few hold outs) that MM is on the agenda. We have moved on from whether it will happen to what will we do when it does.

I think we need to do the same thing with the idea world government. It is pretty obvious that our current system of ~180 semi-independent sovereign nations and numerous areas with no effective government control is not stable under the assumption of widespread availability of MM. We need to move beyond the question of, "will we have world government" to, "how can we have world government that is good for everyone?"

Chris Phoenix, CRN


Thank you, Mike Deering! As someone said in the other thread, we already have world administration in several forms.

Sheri S. Tepper made a very good point in one of her novels. You can't build a society on liberty alone--without civility, it degenerates.

If Americans knew how to be civil, we wouldn't have needed anti-smoking laws--the smokers and non-smokers would have learned how to accommodate each other. But civility and anonymity are only compatible if everyone is civic-minded.

Now let's extend that to nations. In an interconnected world, you can have unbridled sovereignty for at most one nation. The others have to be a target (and sometimes a source) of uncivilized brutality. As long as nations are weak and effects are limited, the system can be relatively stable, though gruesome. But we're now at a point, and probably will be for the foreseeable future, where nations can destroy far more than they can rule. Giving lip service to the idea that every nation should be sovereign is not enough to stabilize this situation. The big nations will continue to beat up the small nations--only now, the people in the small nations will fight back.

What's the national equivalent of civility? What incentive does a nation have to practice it? Is there any way to make present-day nations *want* to practice it? Or is the only stable solution going to involve the international equivalent of anti-smoking laws?

Chris

Chris Phoenix, CRN


Janessa, in the thread that inspired this post, you wrote: "I firmly believe, having considered the parameters of such a scenario, that such a global nanotech administration would necessarily end up ruling the world in very short order."

IIRC, your reasoning is that molecular manufacturing will be so powerful that any organization which controls it would be able to coerce anyone simply by denying the use of it. And I forget whether this next argument is yours, but I'll raise it anyway: the only way to keep control of MM is to use MM, and any organization that had a monopoly on that power really would rule everything.

The first argument has an easy answer. MM will rapidly become so easy to develop that a wholesale denial of it would quickly prompt circumvention. Any sustainable administrative strategy would not include such heavy-handed tactics.

The second argument is harder to answer. But you live under several organizations today that have the power to ruin your life or kill you. The US military, of course--whether you're a civilian or soldier, American or foreign, the US military has enough power to ruin everyone's day. The American Medical Association--they decide what medical treatments you're allowed to have. The judicial system--they can lock you up without a trial--not for committing a crime, but for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. Homeland Security. All of these organizations/institutions have abused their power. But they don't in general make people's lives miserable, although they could.

Is it possible to design an organization that has the potential to become totalitarian, but doesn't? Maybe. But the alternative to trying isn't liberty. It's a "state of nature," until some organization grabs the upper hand--and would you like to lay odds on that organization being nicer than the one we tried to design?

Chris

John B

*chuckle* "international equivalent of anti-smoking laws"? You do have a good way with words.

With something as simple as the vice of putting addictive materials, byproducts of burning plant matter, and carcinogens into your airstream and hence your body, there's significant resistance on a passive level. Smokers don't often follow the mandatory distance rules from major doors - it's cold (or hot or windy or whatever) out there! They'll obey under threat, but shortly thereafter the threat's removed or reduced, they're right back by the doors.

And that's just for smoking. Imagine the equivalents, both nationally and personally, with regards to something as potentially useful (and, yes Mike, as SCARY) as nanotech can be!

I disagree with you about democracy, by the way, Chris. Democracy is the only way I know of for the majority to get the government they deserve. *wry grin* Which may not be comfortable, friendly, or useful, admittedly.

International 'civility' is under attack from many vectors, from those who feel the system is broken in some way and by those who feel they have become the system and that it's not working hard enough in their benefit. *shrug* How do we stop that, or improve the situation?

-John

Janessa Ravenwood

This will take me a good half-hour+ to craft a response. Will try to get back after lunch (I'm the sole IT person here and have a few fires now). Good post, though.

jim moore

"So if you want to argue that extremely powerful weapons are compatible with "business as usual," feel free to argue against Einstein"

I always have had trouble arguing with dead people ;-)

Michael Vassar

Agreed with Jim Moore: Lets avoid arguments from authority, especially from the authority of dead people talking out of their field of expertise. I think we all feel free to argue with Smalley :-)

Michael Vassar

Obviously, Smalley is no Einstein, but he and Whitesides are at least in the general vicinity of their respective areas of expertise.

Janessa Ravenwood

“First, there's a huge difference between global administration and world government. The International Atomic Energy Agency is a global administration.”
-----
And as part of the U.N., a toothless one. It’s a bit of a relic and I’m skeptical that it could be founded in the current climate. They’re doing a real great job with Iran right now. I think I have more faith in an Israeli air strike to achieve actual results for that situation (go IDF!) or failing that we’ll have to do it. Neither of those options (which will get actual results) need involve even bothering to consult an international agency (waste of time when we could be blowing up our enemies).


“So if you want to argue that extremely powerful weapons are compatible with ‘business as usual,’ feel free to argue against Einstein.”
-----
No problem. Arguing with famous people does not intimidate me, but as several people have noted, he’s kinda dead so he can’t respond. At any rate, that’s been business as usual since the 1950’s. Remember the Cold War? Lots of nukes, things are still business as usual.


“IIRC, your reasoning is that molecular manufacturing will be so powerful that any organization which controls it would be able to coerce anyone simply by denying the use of it. And I forget whether this next argument is yours, but I'll raise it anyway: the only way to keep control of MM is to use MM, and any organization that had a monopoly on that power really would rule everything.
The first argument has an easy answer. MM will rapidly become so easy to develop that a wholesale denial of it would quickly prompt circumvention. Any sustainable administrative strategy would not include such heavy-handed tactics.”
-----
Yes, those are both my arguments (and Brett’s as well, I believe). I’m glad you agree about the circumvention being inevitable in the event of a monopoly. I think it was like a year ago when I believe you thought you had a good shot at attaining a monopoly, at least for a while.


“The second argument is harder to answer. But you live under several organizations today that have the power to ruin your life or kill you. The US military, of course--whether you're a civilian or soldier, American or foreign, the US military has enough power to ruin everyone's day. The American Medical Association--they decide what medical treatments you're allowed to have. The judicial system--they can lock you up without a trial--not for committing a crime, but for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. Homeland Security. All of these organizations/institutions have abused their power. But they don't in general make people's lives miserable, although they could.
Is it possible to design an organization that has the potential to become totalitarian, but doesn't? Maybe. But the alternative to trying isn't liberty. It's a "state of nature," until some organization grabs the upper hand--and would you like to lay odds on that organization being nicer than the one we tried to design?”
-----
The problem here is that you’re comparing apples to oranges. U.S. authority is ultimately answerable to the voters here while international authority is (effectively, even if not on paper) answerable to no one. Also, at least in recent years, I’ll take the domestic corruption level over the international corruption level any day of the week. The U.S. military is firmly on our side while international authority hates the U.S. with a passion so I know who I side with. So I’ll stick with my U.S.-centric view - USA first, allies next, damn all the rest of them (and the U.N. is an enemy, not an ally).

Janessa Ravenwood

I think I need to clarify the last part. If someone – even the U.S – tried to start such an agency, I don’t see how it would not end up as part of the U.N. and then it automatically becomes a corrupt agency. If we proposed one that was not part of the U.N. a good many of it’s members would howl and howl and refuse to even discuss it until the proposal was moved under U.N. auspices (and I think that little political maneuver would ultimately succeed).

However, if that were the case, we would be able to use our veto to continually hamstring such an agency so that it had no power over us. Hmmm…maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all! :-) Our veto is the one reason I recommend keeping us in the U.N. – keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Mike Deering

Obviously, Bush is not adverse to ignoring the U.N., our allies, and our enemies and doing whatever pops into his head. As soon as he gets MM capability he will be able to implement many global scale solutions to long standing problems with impunity.

Robin Green

May I interject a note of fact into this discussion, and note that neither the allegations against Iran vis-a-vis nuclear weapons programmes, or the allegations of corruption against the UN vis-a-vis the oil for food programme, have been fully investigated yet.

It's also a bit rich for a cheerleader for the US and the Zionist Entity to decry the UN for "corruption".

Michael Vassar

Robin Green: Please avoid flaming, it isn't appropriate here.

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