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Morality, Responsibility, Technology.
Some previous thread mentioned the potential usefulness of a large
database containing private medical information, and possibly genetic
detail as well.
While I agree on the tremendous constructive potential of such a
hypothetical data-mine, I seriously doubt that Mankind has the moral
integrity to use this type of knowledge responsibly.
Supposing for example, a particular genetic "defect" were found with
such a database to have a 90% correlation with the presence of epilepsy.
Immediately, doctors & scientists would strive to find a way to gain some
leverage against this "defect." We might for example see a testing
procedure for human fetuses to determine whether a particular pregnancy
"should be" terminated. People would become famous, and much money would
change hands due to this "discovery." Generally people will conclude that
Science has given them more control over their lives than they previously
The problem is, nobody really understands just what this "defect" really
means. Nobody understands why it is there, or what kind of a choice we
are really making my attempting to remove it from our gene pool.
Remember that Sickle Cell Anemia is caused by a genetic "defect". We are
lucky enough to know that the carriers of this "defect" are uniquely able
to survive certain plagues. This so-called "defect", as troublesome as
it may be to some individuals, is really a latent strength, which is how
natural selection reinforced it in the first place, and we may need it
The term "defect" is therefore entirely out of line. We have no business
placing judgements from our own limited material value sets onto
something which has the definite potential of affecting all future
generations of Humanity. It's none of our business.
Further, when such a database is eventually created, I ask not "who" but
"what" will have access to it? What kind of non-sentient group mentality
will have sufficient authority and be presumptuous enough to declare itself
morally objective? What kind of a larger process might such an entity be
We already have many times more material knowledge than we are morally
capable of handling as a species. Here's one tiny example. The most
widespread use of the knowledge of psychology is guess what? Advertising
and Marketing. Our average American sits entranced watching hours of
television daily, unwittingly absorbing countless impressions by
advertisers with more money than morality. Can he identify the
"glittering generalities" or the "bandwagon appeals" or any of the other
effective forms of propaganda? Does he know the truth from a
lie when sexual titillation is part of the presentation? May he
readily accept what is presented, and most of all: Does he see himself
sitting there, absorbing these impressions?
We don't see our selves in action. We can't know what we're doing. None
of us have developed sufficient "presence" to know what we are really doing
most of the time. We can't possibly be objective, except in extremely
rare, life-changing moments, and even then only if we're lucky.
Just thinking about yourself thinking isn't enough, because where are
your emotions? Do you really understand why your thoughts are what they
are? Did *YOU* put those thoughts in your head intentionally, or did they
sort of happen on their own... one thought following another through some
combination of association and external stimuli? And while you've been
busy reading this, with your attention directed outward, why haven't
you been aware of the sensation in your feet, or the tension in your
face, or your posture, or your breath?
As westerners we have directed so much of our attention "outward" that
we develop little or no objective knowledge of what goes on within us.
Can we break this cycle? If there really are esoteric schools, with
disciplines and methodologies of obtaining self-knowledge, then this
knowledge must be such that by its very nature, it cannot possibly be
communicated successfully in any large, public manner.
But I digress. As a reader of this list, have you ever asked yourself
Why, why is it that you personally want strong encryption to be widely
available? It's a very powerful emerging technology, and it's in the
palm of your hands.
Douglas B. Renner