Separation of information and security

It’s come to my attention that some people think UR has a bad attitude. That it wallows in decadent, aestheticized despair under the inexorable velvet grip of the Polygon, pausing only to scoff at the feeble struggles of those deluded fools who call themselves the “resistance.”

Au contraire, mon frère. Well, okay, I do scoff. But I also offer serious, positive proposals for a freer and happier tomorrow. Here’s one for this beautiful spring weekend.

I believe (and I think everyone should believe) in separation of information and security.

That is: I am very fond of law and order. And I recognize that security forces are needed to impose it. I also understand that humans are basically little rock apes, and our little rock-ape eyes, ears and noses do not equip us to understand life, the universe and everything. At least not on our own. And when a little rock ape grows up knowing nothing but what it sees, hears and smells, you have a serious menace on your hands.

However, I also believe that in a free society, there is no such thing as official truth.

Granted, the security forces need some consistent picture of reality, because they need a clear idea of who they should and shouldn’t detain, imprison, shoot, bomb, etc. But this is a very narrow view of the world. It is basically limited to things legal and military. The ugly truth about security is that security, at least when it’s done right, is a boring job for boring people. It is not exciting, romantic or dramatic, and if it is you should worry.

The security forces do not need to have an opinion on whether God is three persons, one person, or no person at all. They shouldn’t care whether or not the Beatles were better than the Stones. They should favor neither Manchester United nor Bayern Muenchen. It need not bother them a bit that August Kleinzahler is a poet and John Ashbery is a poser, and nor should they sit up late worrying that the former’s work is going downhill, whereas the latter has nowhere to go but up unless he gets his hands on some heavy earth-moving machinery.

Most people would not quarrel with these statements.

However, I also don’t think the security forces should have an opinion on whether or not men tend to be better at math than women. I don’t think they are or should be qualified to decide whether or not cold fusion is real, or what the global climate sensitivity is, or whether I should or should not ingest some chemical. I am not interested in their opinions on sexy movies or first-person shooters.

Some unease may creep into readers at these bold claims. And when I add that, while it may be a matter of some interest to the security forces whether or not the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression, the Fourteenth Amendment was properly ratified, or the Mexican War was illegal, I think the security forces are perfectly capable of keeping any opinions they may have on these subjects to themselves, there may be some actual dissent.

The problem is that, at least here in the US, we have something called separation of church and state. I think this is a very good idea. After all, since a church is only a building unless it transmits information, and a state is not a state unless it provides security, separation of information and security must imply separation of church and state.

It’s interesting, though, to ask people why they think separation of church and state is so important. A typical answer is that they have a name for a system of government in which church and state are not separated. They call it a theocracy. If they have a very expensive useless education, they may also describe it as caesaropapism.

“Theocracy” is an interesting word, because God, if there is anything at all to the fellow, is at least quite secretive. Literally, “theocracy” should mean the rule of God. But God works in mysterious ways, so it usually falls on others to explain what he’s thinking. Thus “theocracy” is more accurately defined as rule in the name of God.

In other words, it involves what we can call a security-information feedback loop.

In a theocracy, you must obey the security forces, because the security forces obey God. You know that the security forces obey God, because your minister tells you that the security forces obey God, and your minister obeys God. Your minister obeys God because his salary is paid by the security forces, who obey God, who only pays ministers who obey God. This money is in turn paid by you to God. Since God does not have a bank account as such, please make your check out to the security forces, who will use it to do God’s work. Et cetera. It’s pretty clear how separation of church and state nips this particular loop in the bud, and a good thing too.

The problem, however, is that while a lion is a cat, not all cats are lions. Some non-lion cats are scary-looking but harmless. Some lions are harmless-looking and harmless. And some non-lions act like pussycats and are extremely large and dangerous.

The essential ingredient of a security-information feedback loop is that the security forces teach us to worship them. That is, we treat the security forces, or their associated agencies, henchmen, or committees, as essentially mysterious and benevolent, and they use their influence or other powers to encourage this characterization.

This “God” fellow is certainly one way to get the job done. Other familiar figures in the same capacity include Athena, Ahura-Mazda, Huitzilopochtli, and so on. But can we say it’s impossible to create a security-information feedback loop without the assistance of anthropomorphic paranormal entities?

The answer is rather important. If you treat a highly mutable infectious agent with a narrow-spectrum antibiotic, you have a recipe for resistance. If security-information feedback can be achieved without the use of God or gods, separation of church and state is in fact pretty much guaranteed to create a much, much nastier strain of the bug.

One way to see this is to look at how drastic the treatment would have to be. Imagine if you applied separation of information and security to the Western world today, in the same way that most of us apply separation of church and state.

With church and state, at least since the 1960s, we don’t just try to minimize feedback. We try to eliminate it. We look for absolute sterility. In fact, relics of the era when a little feedback was considered harmless, such as the word “God” on currency, strike most people with at least my background as a little weird.

Applying this level of scrutiny to separation of information and security would imply a state that had no involvement at all with education, journalism, broadcasting, science, or the arts. Rather, all of these fields would be completely independent.

This would be a somewhat different world from the one we live in. So you might want to think for a little before you decide this is a good idea.