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Little Brother: Towards a Civil, Free Society March 30, 2012

Posted by federalist in Open Questions, Uncategorized.
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Dystopian fantasies often revolve around a “Big Brother:” An authoritative regime with excessive powers of observation and punishment that are invariably abused by its leaders. After all, as James Madison said, men are not angels, and so we cannot trust men with unchecked power. Benjamin Franklin concurs: If we surrender our liberty in exchange for security — or any other moral good — we are bound to end up with neither. In some incarnations the Big Brother dystopia is instead a machine which, though incorruptible, is blind to the nuances of the human condition. Though it does not abuse its power it applies it mercilessly. Such dystopian fiction warns that human nature is incompatible with Big Brother authorities.

But as an information age libertarian I wonder if we couldn’t benefit from a “Little Brother:” A social medium for establishing positive norms and nudging individuals away from less harmonious behavior. I envision a non-authoritative “Little Brother” social network: a database where anyone can report and comment on behavior, positive or negative. People are free to use Little Brother as they see fit. As with all social networks norms will evolve for its use. Will an open and non-authoritative Little Brother be a positive social force, or can it somehow be twisted or abused to anti-social ends?