Monday, May 27, 2002

Thomas L. Friedman wrote a new column today exploring whether or not the opinions of Silicon Valley have changed, and whether or not they should consider security in the future. In some respects this is a fairly old issue (the question of security vs. privacy/ease of use is far older than the Internet) but it's still a worthy one to investigate. Friedman himself stays fairly neutral within his "observer" status, but the comments made show that there's a growing leaning towards security. One big example?

Silicon Valley staunchly opposed the Clipper Chip, which would have given the government a back-door key to all U.S. encrypted data. Now some wonder whether they shouldn't have opposed it. John Doerr, the venture capitalist, said, "Culturally, the Valley was already maturing before 9/11, but since then it's definitely developed a deeper respect for leaders and government institutions."

I wonder, however, whether this will remain the case. Despite the constant warnings, America hasn't been attacked since 9/11, and despite the constant rhetoric the "war" seems to be at a low ebb. After all, would Bush really be able to get away with trying to drum up support for Gulf War II if there were a more pressing potential theatre for this increasingly strange and unpredictable war? (Besides the Israel/Palestine conflict, that is). People can and probably will return to a version of their old beliefs, and that will probably include the tech types. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, as does the resistance to unwanted repression.

The biggest real change that this war seems to be engendering is the growth of new connected "litmus tests"... whether you are for Israel or Palestine, and whether you are pro- or anti-America. These tests seem entirely seperated from the "right vs. left" continuum; there seems to be increasing numbers of commentators (including bloggers) who take a stand on and judge others based on their position on these litmus tests regardless of whether they're "left" or "right". The very concept of the "loony left" has been transformed from "those who support socialism" to "those who criticize the United States and/or Israel". Being seen as anti- U.S. is downright dangerous, nowadays, whether the criticism is valid or not, and being anti-Israel (as a state's government) is a good way of being labelled and dismissed as anti-Semitic (as a people).

Now let's not be simplistic: there are points to be made for both of these. Some of those who criticize Israel are indeed anti-semitic, and some of those who criticize the United States do it irrationally (even if that "envy" excuse is usually pathetic self-aggrandisement of the worst sort). Still, these sorts of litmus tests are pretty inappropriate for issues so complex that they make the abortion debate look relatively benign in comparison.

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