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Why chickens don't rule the world
2012-06-03: You may say this is obvious, but I'm going to write it anyway.
There is the story of the farmer who got up one morning to find a fox, pecked to death, in the chicken coop. If those chickens were able to tell other chickens how they did it, their world would move on a great stride. As it is, they have to wait for evolution to take their genes forward while the genes of lesser chickens perish. That could take a while.
The difference, then, is communication. As humans, we evolved language and told stories around the campfires, then sang songs too, and the messages therein changed through time and evolved, themselves, until the most important, useful and uplifting messages survived.
Then we invented writing stuff down, and then the Internet. So now, if a small group achieves something amazing, where before we'd have to wait for the book and maybe get it from a library if we ever heard about it, now it's more likely to find us because we subscribe to streams of information about the things we are interested in. Basically, once someone 'kills a fox' somewhere in the world, it can go viral and reach us across the globe near instantly. Our evolution has become faster.
There's a problem with this, though. We've lost faith in filtering. Those 'most popular' campfire stories and songs were chinese-whisper filtered and adapted naturally by those around us. Nowadays filtering is done by distant people and organisations in power with something to lose, so we've learned to distrust that and to do our own research.
Most people don't know about science, they don't know about what makes knowledge and so what looks true is true enough.
Our beliefs are not us (our personality might be, but that's for another day). If I, as a Linux chap, went to work for Microsoft, pretty soon I'd become a Microsoft chap because I'd be surrounded by all their cool stuff, by people who evangelised the Microsoft way, by being thankful for my work and pay and career and status. We can change what we believe by changing what surrounds us.
So here's what I think is really dangerous about the Internet. It allows us, even encourages us, to surround ourselves with things that support what we already believe (eg. (some images may offend) Slumscape Tumblr). Where before we would socialise and herd systems would keep everyone pretty much on track, and we would read magazines and newspapers and listen to radio DJs .. all of whom potentially introduced us to new stuff .. now we don't see people so much, surround ourselves with intense work that makes us tired and knocks out our finer judgment, and pour in focussed online information. That has to contribute to our lack of tolerance, to the growth in extremism and ultimately to Anders Breivik and conflict. There is, then, some legitimate reason for authorities to monitor Internet traffic, and a legitimate reason for moderate political parties to fear instability.
We probably can't safely look at an Al-Qaeda website without fear of ending up on some database in Cheltenham (oh shit, I just googled it to find out how to spell it!), equally, if someone searched for kiddy porn many people would want that checked out, it's a question of degree. But information is a tool, like a gun, a seed, a skill. Use it for good, or use it for bad and be judged accordingly. Part of the Conservative creed that wins over Labour every time is "we should be responsible for ourselves". Don't blame the gun manufacturer, it's your actions that count.
I spent Friday in the company of some serious scientists researching ME/CFS. I started the day with the view that science has been corrupted by money, and that there's no real effort being made to cure or treat ME/CFS. I ended the day full of admiration for what is actually happening. Those people have dedicated their lives to mastering unbelievably complex human biochemistry. There are 6,000 published papers on ME/CFS now. Medicine is being open sourced (site planned to launch on 18 June 2012). Sources of funding are charities, academic institutions, governments and trusts. My truth was wrong.
I expect Internet focussing to get worse. The Internet will, in the end, reflect your view of life. Google will reshape itself for you as soon as you connect. Websites will show you what you like, and hide away what you don't.
That's all fine in moderation, but be aware of its effects. I'm not sure I've found a better set of rules to live by than these principles of nonviolent action. If you want to make a difference, listen well, love your enemies, respect people enough to let them save face, get your facts right, be flexible, educate, be patient. None of those things are encouraged by the focussing and filtering effect of the Internet. I suggest we all add something into our lives that exercises those skills.

By John Allsopp
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