I’m currently taking a class on computer networking. The textook used in this course was written by Andrew Tanenbaum and David Wetherall. Both are computer scientists of some renown.
Included in chapter one is the following passage:
Computer networks, like the printing press 500 years ago, allow ordinary citizens to distribute and view content in ways that were not previously possible. But along with the good comes the bad, as this new-found freedom brings with it many unsolved social, political, and ethical issues. Let us just briefly mention a few of them; a thorough study would require a full book, at least. Social networks, message boards, content sharing sites, and a host of other applications allow people to share their views with like-minded individuals. As long as the subjects are restricted to technical topics or hobbies like gardening, not too many problems will arise.
The trouble comes with topics that people actually care about, like politics, religion, or sex. Views that are publicly posted may be deeply offensive to some people. Worse yet, they may not be politically correct.
When I first read this passage, I literally stared at the page for several seconds, wide-eyed and staggered at the absurdity of what had been written.
I don’t know which of the authors wrote this particular passage, but I have to believe that it reflects views they share, otherwise it would not have been published in the book.
These men, for all their technical knowledge and skill, are first rate fools and blind to their own shortcomings.
Political systems in free societies are driven by, and flourish through, the open exchange of ideas — including bad ideas. Political orthodoxy, and the push to suppress the expression of political ideas that challenge that orthodoxy, are the hallmarks of societies that are not free. The solution to the problem of bad ideas is the vigorous expression of ideas that are better. Only those whose ideas are flawed and weak feel threatened by the expression of ideas that challenge their own.
That these two men call for political orthodoxy, and fret over the power that widespread internet access gives to those who would challenge that orthodoxy, tells me two things. First, it tells me that they do not believe that all citizens should have a say in the structure and policies of the society in which they live, but that only those who believe in their preferred political orthodoxy should. In other words, they do not believe in popular sovereignty. They do not believe that government derives its structure and its very authority from the consent of the governed.
If you were to ask them, and if they were to answer truthfully, they would likely say that the power to shape and direct society belongs in the hands of experts – such as themselves obviously, and that the common person should defer to their judgment. In this they are typical leftists. They truly believe that the problems of the world would be solved if people like them were in charge. This betrays an almost comical lack of insight into human problems or the aspects of human nature which lie behind these problems.
The second thing their desire for political orthodoxy tells me is that they subscribe to ideas that cannot be defended, and that they know this. It is hard to sell the idea that most of us are children who need to be looked after by a benevolent dictatorship of elitists and technocrats.
People like these two used to make me quite upset. Today I almost laugh. The principal emotion I feel is one of pity. The change in feeling came when I realized that people such as this are lost souls. They do, in their own flawed way, want to make things better. But they’re not nearly as smart as they think they are. Expertise in one area, such as computer science, does not make one qualified to make better decisions about anything else, such as public policy. As Richard Feynman once said: “A scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”
These guys are pretty dumb.