PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, May 29, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Controlling information to protect us

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Controlling information to protect us.

I have looked at this issue from the big arguments such as military
secrets, aliens and global warming, and a few more. Despite our
revulsion to control information my extreme example beautifully
highlight the real moral issues involved.

In the meantime this is the link to Ruel's essay

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to an essay I wrote on the topic for Sunday´s PhiloMadrid:
Thanks and see you on Sunday.


Controlling information to protect us

It makes sense to control military secrets, but of course not military
blunders. Although telling the enemy how incompetent your military are
might itself be revealing useful information that can help the enemy;
but then again they probably already know.

Take for example the use of iud's in Iraq, maybe telling the world about
the morale effects these weapons were having on coalition troops might
have aided the enemy by encouraging them to plant more. Never mind for a
minute that the strength and specifications of the armoured equipment is
in the public domain, and that information about the troops might easily
be found on twitter.

The problem we have is not the legitimacy of keeping military secrets
but rather control of information to hide blunders, incompetence,
arrogance and stupidity within the military and government in general.
For example why are we really getting more military insiders telling us
that the JSF F35 fighter bomber is useless or at the very least not
capable of doing what it is supposed to do? And why did the Chinese
leave out the problem parts of this aircraft in their obvious replica of
this aircraft? One might hope that the Americans would have compromised
the plans of this aircraft when they discovered that the Chinese were
accessing secret computer networks. In the same way that the British and
French compromised the plans of Concorde when they discovered that the
Russians had access to the plans of the Concorde; the Russians build the
Tu144 which most of you will remember crashed in the Paris air show soon
after its introduction into service.

There is no doubt that controlling military secrets is legitimate, but
certainly not military blunders and incompetence. Maybe not all these
blunders need to be made public, but they certainly need to be
supervised by some independent body from the state and that citizens can
trust. Unfortunately, the courts are not always the right organisations
to oversee this blunder type of information; maybe an independent
commission made up of representative members of society (not the
privileged few) headed by the head of state (not the Prime Minister).

Controlling information to protect us might be legitimate in the context
that if others had access to that information they would use it against
us. But this is not really a big issue.

There is another type of information control that might be applied by
states to protect us. Of course, by virtue of the fact that this type of
information would devastate us we do not really know whether this
actually has happened. For purely sensational reasons I would call this
the "alien argument" which is basically: if the government knew we were
going to be annihilated by the aliens tomorrow and there is nothing we
can do about it, what's the point of telling the population ahead of the
day? And when I say there is nothing we can do, there is nothing we can do!

And for those who fail to see the argument for the sensation, lets
imagine that the government have solid evidence that a deadly virus is
about to invade the country in a day or two and there are no antivirals
for this virus. And of course the consequence is that most of the people
will die. Alerting the population will only cause panic and neighbouring
countries will immediately close their boarders and introduce a shoot to
kill policy against those trying to enter their country.

Although we can find many moral dilemmas and unpleasant moral issues in
this "deadly virus" argument, the decision to control information or not
is not an easy one. We might accept the alien argument is impossible,
but the deadly virus scenario is well within human events. I personally
don't think there is a right answer to this argument but what is
valuable for us is that it raises a number of moral issues that are
clear cut and well defined; tell the people and risk a social panic,
don't tell the people and thus condemning those who might be able to
save themselves etc.

It might be argued that in the real world deadly viruses do not limit
themselves to a single country; they usually operate as a function of
location and their ability to infect enough people and keep them alive
long enough to spread the deadly infection. Thus, given such a deadly
virus we have to share information at least with the specialists of
other countries, if not the people.

Of course, a few years ago we did have the SARS (and later the bird flu)
scare and information was not always forthcoming by some governments who
had victims of this disease. But despite the control of information it
was also true that at the time no useful antivirals were available so
very little could have been done in the short term. Hence, we have a
situation where, controlling information was not the best solution even
though there was very little one could do in the short term before we
became victims of a pandemic. Maybe the precautions taken after the
sharing of information help save the day; or maybe not enough was known
about this virus at the beginning.

Now what if we have a situation, where we already have enough
information in the public domain to support legitimate scientific
arguments, we also have enough information in the public domain to
reasonably predict the consequences of certain events we already know
off. Except that the government are controlling information in order to
reach the conclusion that the scientific information is not conclusive.
The underlying argument is that there is nothing to worry too much about
and that any attempt to deal with the situation would affect the economy

Of course, I am referring to climate change/global warming and the
direct causal effect that this is going to have in increased malignant
and non-malignant skin cancers amongst other serious diseases. If one
had to search the term "skin cancer and global warming" one will find
enough information to conclude that this is a valid serious problem. If
the 80's and 90's were the decades of lung cancer due to smoking, the
2020's and 2030's will be the decades of skin cancers due to the effects
of global warming.

Despite the legitimacy and militancy of those trying to push the global
warming agenda to the fore and the disdain governments treat this lobby
the situation is not straight forward, this is an issue that is not
going away anytime soon.

Any attempt by one government to control their country's contribution to
global warming would immediately affect employment and the marketability
of goods. But the worst possible effect would be other unscrupulous
countries taking advantage of the efforts by our government. Even more,
it is not clear that it is physically possible to maintain our level of
progress without the energy resources we consume today. And furthermore,
is humanity going to advance medical science fast enough to develop
treatments for all the cancers and other diseases what are going to be
caused by global warming in ten or twenty years time?

Maybe in situations that are legitimate, controlling information is
still not a straight forward affair: we still have moral dilemmas and
moral issues without being able to identify what is right from what is
wrong. The skin cancer scenario above certainly creates a situation
where even with uncontrolled information made available to us, we still
cannot protect ourselves by virtue of the knowledge we now know from
that information.

In other words, if governments control information thinking they are
protecting us, not withstanding legitimate cases, but they are not
(Deadly Virus argument), making information available might not give us
better chances (Skin Cancer argument).

Those who don't want to do much about global warming they have always
implied that if we had to try and stop global warming we would destroy
all our economy and condemn many people to unemployment. Yet, they would
argue, we cannot be sure that everyone will cooperate.

But has anyone considered that governments are not too keen on
controlling global warming precisely to expose the population to such
things as skin cancer. Thus we have a natural way to control the
population and corporations might profit from developing medical care
for these diseases. Indeed being able to invent technologies that might
be environment friendly might be a good reason to jump on this global
warming bandwagon to sell these technologies at high profits. Not to
mention giving us an economic advantage when we insist that products
entering our country must be environment friendly.

Could it be that the issue for us is not the control of information per
se, but rather what information is being controlled? And where is the
information coming from?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
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from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Controlling information to
protect us

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