Some Quotations from David Brin’s Transparent Society

Just finished reading The Transparent Society, David Brin’s 1998 rumination on the question of “Will Technology Force Us to Chose Between Privacy and Freedom.”

It’s a really thoughtful book about an alternative approach to the battle over privacy based on two-way transparency, or more accurately accountability. Along the way I marked a few passages in the book.

Bear in mind this was writted in 1998, well in advance of the events of Sept. 11th and the Patriot Act which of course followed it:

As terrorists, criminal, and bombers go more high-tech and lethal, each new heinous act will prompt government appeals for greater surveillance powers. Perhaps citizens will refuse these requests nine times in a row — until something truly grievous happens. Then, in the ensuing dread and panic, a frightened public will grant these new powers. (p87)

At another point he quotes a Wired commentary by Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden:

With the coming of a wired, global society, the concept of openness has never been more important. It’s the linchpin that will make the new world work. in a nutshell, the key formula for the coming age is this: Open, good. Closed, bad. Tattoo it on your forehead. Apply it to technology standards, to business strategies, to philosophies of life. It’s the winning concept for individuals, for nations, for the global community in the years ahead. (p328 – the original was an article called “The Long Boom: A History of the Future 1980-2020,” in Wired July 1997).

But my favorite was this aphorism from M. N. Plano:

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Don’t assign to stupidity what might be due to ignorance. And try not to assume your opponent is the ignorant one — until you can show it isn’t you.

A quick google search to try to locate the “M. N. Plano” to which Brin attributes this suggests it’s a variant on something known as Hanlon’s Razor, which has a vague history of misattribution. (I can’t find any other reference to “M. N. Plano” except to this exact quotation, or another on Brin’s homepage, and it is uncited in Brin’s end notes).

Anyone know who M. N. Plano might be?

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2 Comments

  1. I seem to recall him being a military general or something like that. I don’t recall where I got that from though.

  2. P THOMAS

    THERE IS ALSO A PLANO-ATTRIBUTED QUOTE ON P. 449 OF THE PAPERBACK EDITION OF THE UPLIFT WAR.

    THESE ARE JOKES BY BRIN. “MALBERG IN PLANO” IS MEANINGLESS PHRASE USED BY THE 70S COMEDY GROUP “THE FIRESIGN THEATER”. SEE [LISTEN TO] THE RECORDING “I THINK WE’RE ALL BOZOS ON THIS BUS”. CONSTERNATION TURNS TO ELUCIDATION.

    FOR ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HIS CULTURAL REFERENCES, SEE P. 321 OF THE UPLIFT WAR, WHERE HE USES THE ALIEN PHRASE “LAYLACLLAPT’N SPIRITS” [LAYLA-CLAPTON]–THE SONG “LAYLA” FROM THE ERIC CLAPTON ALBUM DEREK AND THE DOMINOES”.

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