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"Young Men's Crypto Association," (YMCA)
"Young Men's Crypto Association" (YMCA)
George Gleason raises some interesting points about teaching ethics
and morality to nascent hackers, in the hope of heading off some of
the darker aspects of anonymous remailers, digital pseudonyms, and the
> At risk of sounding naive/idealistic, it would seem that since there is no
> way to block information passing through the net (aside from screening at
> source, impractical at least!), the solution rests with education of the
> net-using population. Power carries responsibility in equal measure. We
> are giving ourselves the power which comes with privacy; we can begin to
> take responsibility for promoting a sense of ethics in the use of the net.
> One possible place to start would be at highschool-level computer courses;
> perhaps with accomplished hackers coming in and giving guest lectures or
> something... the culture of computer-literate youth can begin to include
> strong ethical positions regarding respect for the privacy of others,
> respect for truthfulness, and a position of personal conscience regarding
> law and authority. Re the latter, this isn't the same thing as blind
I doubt this'll work. You're welcome to try, though.
We had this same discussion in a nanotech group I attend (Ted
Kaehler's "Assembler Multitude," in Palo Alto), where the concern was
about the "grey goo" that could result from replicator development.
Several folks recommended that the best approach to handling malicious
"nanotech hacking" is _education_, just as George is recommending for
what might be called "malicious crypto."
The problems are:
1. Moral education (= Christian, in the West) has been tried for
centuries, with little apparent effect on murders, rapes, war, and
pillage. I won't knock religion here, but the teachings don't seem to
have much of an effect.
2. There's usually some fringe, which may be 10% or which may be 1%,
which does the _opposite_ of the mainstream teachings. For example,
let us suppose George successfully organizes the "Young Men's Crypto
Association," or YMCA, to go out to high schools and shopping malls to
preach the virtues of crypto temperance, of the evils of computer
viruses (a parallel to the crypto stuff talked about here, and an even
better example of "hacker morality"), etc.
This YMCA will perhaps teach some set of values to perhaps 90% or even
99% of the hacker community it preaches to. But what of the rest? A
case can be made that such preaching will _energize_ this minority
into action, if only to poke a stick into the eye of society.
3. Practically speaking, how can a handful of we crypto enthusiasts
even begin to compete with the teachings of other moralists and
religious types? We've got other fish to fry.
4. Finally, many of the "crypto anarchy" views I've been espousing for
several years now have been seen by some as grossly immoral and
dangerous. Should the YMCA (the Young Men's Crypto Association,
remember) argue _against_ such ideas?
> obedience, but rather the idea that if there is to be disobedience it needs
> to be grounded in deeply held personal ethics, as for example in the case of
> civil disobedience. A strong set of cultural values in these areas might
> set a tone which discourages mindless negativity and wrecking. Now there
> will always be those who wreck for thrills.... I don't know how to address
> that problem except to note that such individuals are hardly stopped today
> by the threat of prosecution.
I agree with George that some will always "wreck for thrills." What
crypto and privacy techniques do is give us some protection against
these vandals. Like locks on doors, or sealed envelopes, these
techniques protect us a lot better than moral lectures against
thievery or fraud.
Having said all this, if George decides to go ahead with his version
of the YMCA, maybe I'll even stand outside in the cold and ring a bell.
Timothy C. May | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected] | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409 | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | PGP Public Key: by arrangement.