Sunday, 28 September 2014

The eye of the priest

Many of us have grappled with the problem of moral imperatives in a secular society. Where do they come from if not handed down by a deity?

These [priests] are however the only teachers of ethics that the people have, and without them where should we be? Will the newspaper ever manage to take the place of the parish priest?
Stendhal - Le Rouge et le Noir (1830)

How do we replace the vigilant eye of the priest? It is hardly a perfect eye, so do we need to replace it at all? Yet if we don’t, it will surely be replaced by something because the closing of the sacerdotal eye has left a power vacuum well on the way to being filled. So what is replacing the eye of the priest? Something wise and respected?

No I don’t think so either.

So far it resembles a uniquely repressive trend slipped in under the radar while we were busy ordering a pizza with our new iWatch while playing Game of Oafs on our new phone which we never actually pay for because it’s on contract.

What follows is merely speculation, but suppose some organisation with deep pockets eventually builds a computer network which hands down moral and legal judgements. By this stage moral and legal issues could have been tied firmly together anyway, so there’s our shiny new imperative.

Imagine a judicial computer network dealing with everything from a boundary dispute with a neighbour to a divorce to an international patent dispute to a war to offensive language. All human life would fall within its remit. Or rather our lives would fall within its remit - yours and mine. The elite would live their agreeable lives well beyond the reach of the network.

In reality the elite, the effective owners of the system, would be handing down the judgements, but only in terms of policy, guidelines and approved upgrades. The day to day judgements would be left to the system. Or maybe that should be the System?

In a way there is no point speculating how the System might evolve because we are all familiar with the trends, the pieces of the jigsaw which seem to be fitting themselves into a pattern we can’t yet see except in hazy outline.

Bits and pieces of a totalitarian future seem to be coming together well outside the feeble sway of democratic control. Political pieces and commercial pieces, the difference seems to be increasingly irrelevant. They fit together quite nicely these days. I’m not convinced there is much in the way of independent human agency here though. Some kind of blind destiny seems to have us in its steely grip.

Of course the System will never be given a name. It will simply be a complex of familiar systems with some background processing we never get to know about. Still, with a bit of luck it will have too many bugs to be viable.

To be fixed in the next upgrade...


Demetrius said...

The newsagent on the corner of our street knew everything about everybody. What he did not know, the grocer on the other side did.

Sam Vega said...

I think we are perhaps nearly there already. The clever blighters have saved on the computers, though, by training people to do their work. One great big flexible bio-computer, in which the individual parts are self-selecting, self-replicating, and are fuelled by fear of being unplugged from the network.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time many will have feared God or at least have given the appearance of fearing God. Later rectitude and then respectability held sway. Now only the squeezed middle fears any retribution. You are right about the System, give up hope. I fear Sam is right.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I bet the milkman was part of the information highway too.

Sam - crikey that's a gloomy prospect. Spot on though.

Roger - yes Sam is right, the thing is becoming autonomous.

Demetrius said...

Indeed, and better than any modern mobile phone or device. Those with horses were the best. For some reason the presence of a horse endowed the milkman with authority and trustworthiness.

Anonymous said...

"a computer network which hands down moral and legal judgements"

Sorry, AK, it's already in existence, er, modesty forbids, and all that, and also it's true that not too many people are obeying my judgments. Perhaps I need a name-change.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - and so it should. He should also grow the most tasty vegetables.

David - you need to crack the whip, name and shame the slackers.