It’s been my contention for many years, in agreement with Ray Kurzweil and others, that the greatest battle of the 21st-century will be between those who promote and support technology and those who desire the return to a simpler life. Many opponents of the West oppose technology on either religious or political grounds. As Bill Maher has stated: we have a “clash of civilizations.”
The terrorists have seized the initiative in this war. They have no demands, other than surrender of the modern Western world to draconian and medieval laws, and are not interested in any sort of change or accommodations. They are simply interested in a total war without regard, because chaos and confusion serve their ends of disrupting and destroying order, and thwarting the ongoing progress of civilization.
It’s the inevitability of progress (technological achievement based on economic rewards and intellectual curiosity) that has the terrorists so furious. This week’s bombing in Basra, as well as the recent bombings in Spain and Saudi Arabia were indicative of this fact that out of sheer desperation the terrorists have now adopted as their goal the disruption of any and all societies, regardless of whether they are perceived to be sympathetic to Islam or the West. Al Qaeda has given us a war of the past versus the future. It is no longer a simple religious crusade.
The goal is chaos and instability. In a situation where chaos reigns, such as in Iraq today, people begin to doubt the ability of advanced societies such as United States or Western Europe to control any given situation. And deliver on the promise of freedom. It seems ludicrous to most Westerners that Iraqis would actually think this way, but that’s because we Westerners have had 150 years to get used to and even take for granted the conveniences of our lives. Iraqis on the other hand, as intelligent as many of them are, have seen a lot of chaos and have not been well treated by the US in the past 30 years. Therefore rather than seeing a situation where things may get worse before they get better, many Iraqis have fallen victim to the mindset of the terrorists who have sown pandemonium to stop the very process that would restore order and stability. Any return to a stable society would prove America right and the terrorists wrong.
So long as the terrorists can preserve the appearance of chaos and lack of security in the country, they can make the argument that the Americans brought about all the instability. Any breakdown in the social order, whether it be insecurity or loss of electrical power, or lack of basic services such as water, sewers and hospitals due to war damage, can be blamed on the US occupation. But the most brilliant of all terrorist techniques is the suicide car bomb. Used to great advantage lately in Iraq, the car bomb kills and devastates while simultaneously proving for all the world to see that America cannot save Iraq from either Al Qaeda or itself. International nongovernmental organizations cannot operate, reconstruction cannot occur. Grieving relatives and frightened citizens lash out in anger at the nearest target, which is ironically, not the suicide bomber who is lying there in a million pieces, but the Allied soldier, who is coming forward to offer assistance.
The same technique was used in Spain, whereby otherwise intelligent citizens of Spain were persuaded to change their votes by statements from terrorists that the bombing in Madrid was punishment for their participation in the war in Iraq. This is a brilliant tactic, and the terrorists are using it because it works. It’s amazing Spaniards don’t see this as a tactic and realize when they’re being manipulated. It’s amazing the level of appeasement that is taking place in Europe today and it seems like every forward-looking and Democratic country will need to have a taste of their own blood before they begin to acknowledge the need for confrontation of this enemy at its source. When the Spanish troops go marching home from Iraq in the next several weeks, the terrorists will have won their biggest political victory yet in this world war. And of course, Spain will be targeted again.
Seeking to build on this explosive coup d’etat in Spain, the militants have had the audacity to deliver an ultimatum giving the Europeans three months to form a truce. To think that wider Europe would knuckle under to such an ultimatum is quite the gambit — though plausible after viewing the events in Spain. As long as there are free and independent secular nations, who make scientific and economic progress, the Al Qaedas of the world will never rest. And any appeasement, however well-intentioned, is simply an attempt to go back to the less complex world we inhabited before September 11, 2001.
Islamists are Luddites at heart and may be joined in the future by those disenchanted Luddites in Western countries, who may opt out or be left behind by the coming wave of progress. We can easily see a time in the future where disaffected people (possibly unenhanced humans without bodily implants or other tools at their disposal) would become so economically disenfranchised and unable to participate in intellectual dialogue that they may resort to tactics such as those of Al Qaeda. This has already happened in the case of the Unabomber. In the near future, the technological laggards may prove to be comrades in arms with the Islamists and we could see the jelling and melding of the religious and secular militant Luddite movements. If not forestalled, I would anticipate this happening in the later half of the next decade.
This is not much of a stretch because Islamists have rejected all trappings of Western society, for example, Osama bin Laden himself has ordered that none of his followers use ice in their drinks, calling it a Western convenience and therefore an evil. Islamists have also rejected all concepts of rights we in the West take for granted including freedom of dress, freedom of thought, movement, speech, entertainment, women’s rights. They are also quite likely to bristle and reject the idea of robotic life and augmented human life becoming a part of society, such as will occur in the next 15 to 30 years.
We can see the there have always been the rumblings in the popular culture of the Luddite movement. An example is the marketing for an upcoming film “I, Robot”, (actually with quite the opposite point, according to insiders) which plays on the fears of technology. It might be a hell of a movie, but in the same vein as Michael Creighton’s “Prey” and other “Sorcerer’s-apprentice” or “technology-run-amok” type fantasies, the marketers play right into the Luddites hands.
Even if the film ultimately supports the concepts of Kurzweil, et al, there is still a preponderance of images in the popular culture to fuel the fires of fear. Most anti-technologists simply fear what they do not fully understand. This is not surprising, given the falling numbers of science and engineering graduates in the US and Europe (contrasted to soaring rates of the same in India and China.) By and large, as society moves on, Luddites will end up at the bottom of the economic bell curve. Bringing in the arguments of class warfare, they will object to the perceived unfairness of the new régime, where as always, the advantages will flow first to the wealthy.
Many will resent the role of corporations in commercializing the new technology. Often, they will resent their own lack of creativity or inability or unwillingness to learn the new tools as they become available. The advantages of those who are participating will be so pronounced, that many who fail to become implanted or melded with the technology, will end up on a vicious circle of unfitness for competition, which will breed further anger. This new underclass will of course have renegade associates who are brilliant and who may actually be enhanced humans, but who may harbor also the resentments of the perceived unfair advantages the machine enhancements and wealth have given technologically advanced peoples. There is room in this fertile breeding ground of technophobes for dozens of new Messiah figures to save the last true humans from the evil corporate Terminators. Just as Al Qaeda has explosives engineers and communication specialists and has trained its people to fly airplanes, there will be brilliant and technologically savvy people, who for the sake of hatred, jealousy, and old-fashioned “moral” reasons will side with the “underdog” and retain devastating loyalties to the Luddite cause.
In sum, I believe that September 11, 2001 was the start of World War III and that it will be a longer war than past world wars. It could last 20 to 50 years, during which time the stunning progress that will surely emerge will be contrasted with equally stunning perils. We may be forced to accept surveillance of our bodies and brains. Deceptive periods of peace may be punctuated by massive destruction and the civilized societies may be forced to devote ever-increasing amounts of resources to security and countermeasures. We can expect the terrorists and Luddites to ironically use the best of our technology against us. (It’s inherently MUCH easier to disrupt systems than to keep them going.) They will find better places to hide, more sophisticated ways to hack and destroy, as throwing a wrench in the works becomes the raison d’etre for a significant portion of humanity.
The conflict could potentially involve every country, and the resolution and solution may not occur until the level of technology and technological enhancements is high enough and the advantages become clear enough. It’s as much a political battle as a military one. Victory in World War III will only occur when those who have been terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and Luddites see unmistakably the benefits of joining in a common future of human development and as Ray Bradbury recently stated, form new common goals such as the colonization of nearby planets.
World War III will only be won when the majority of humanity recognizes that technology combined with brilliant and thoughtful human management has the power to eliminate poverty, disease, and hardship. It’s clear to me that the vast majority of people in the world will see the benefits. They will want the entertainment, they will want the body enhancement, they will want the increased longevity, they will want the cheap food, the cheap consumer goods. They will love the astronomical standard of living future developments will make possible. They will want the inevitable Neo-socialism that will come along with the technological triumph, (since most manufacturing jobs will have been eliminated, it seems a virtual necessity to implement some kind of incentivized socialism). Without ideology or pseudo-spirituality, all humans have the same desires according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Most of humanity will not be able to resist the temptation of a life of leisure, creativity, freedom, and self-improvement. This bright future really pisses off the terrorists and Luddites. And they’re mad enough to fight World War III to see that it never comes to pass. It will be fought on many levels, including the war of ideas, and the “culture war.” Though not central to the historical context, religions of all stripes will aid the Luddite cause. While ostensibly preaching peace on Earth, good will to men, the councils of religions will abhor the modification of DNA and the realization that humans are simply collections of chemicals. Therefore, they will try to influence governments to enact policies to restrict some of the most promising advances, such as they’ve already done with stem cell research. Hopefully they will fail.
The broader outcome is far from certain, and in large part depends on the willingness of the Western and corporate world to engage in espionage, active countermeasures, and search and destroy missions, because the Luddites will strike. If they use nuclear weapons, and then genetically enhanced viruses, they have the opportunity to cause utter economic devastation and mass casualties. And also to literally forestall the future for decades or centuries to come. It’s pretty clear to me as Kurzweil said that the Luddites cannot permanently stop the progress. We need to ask ourselves what the effects would be on science and industry if Al Qaeda were to successfully devastate half a dozen major cities around the world simultaneously? And that is, I fear, their plan.