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"Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler's criminal plot would not have succeeded—ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day."

An interesting counter-factual statement from the award speech of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (The Nobel Prize Laurear for Literature - 2008). The title of his speech is "In the Forest of Paradoxes". Try to dedicate 20-30 minutes. It is an interesting text: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2008/clezio-lecture_en.html

Back to Hitler and the Internet.... Let me argue (continuation of our IGF-Debate) that the Internet could not have stopped the Hitler (and "likes").

- In 1930s, when Hitler started emerging as the politician, Germany was one of the most liberal societies (probably the most liberal society in 20th century). There was completely free press (not even controlled by big businesses). There was no censorship. Technology was also available - widespread use of telegraph, press, radio. Public space was a very vibrant with open debates and criticisms. People could express themselves freely.

- Hitler managed to camouflage himself very well. I am currently reading an interesting book - "The Orientalist" by Tom Reisse. Reisse explains 1930s in Germany. It was confusing time. Quite a few Jews supported Hitler, because of his anti-bolshevism. Hitler was criticised like other politicians. Moreover Hitler's rhetoric was not completely out of sync with predominant discourse at that time (perverted form of social darvnism).

Back to our time...

- How to detect "Hitlers"? How to fight bad decisions? I am not sure that the answer is easy. The fact that we can communicate (blog, social network, e-mail) does not provide "automatic" solution. In some cases it confuses things. Similar to financial inflation.... inflation of information/text reduces the value of information/text.

- what is the "tipping point" that helps us to identify danger?

Current evaluation of the Internet....

- The Internet is a powerful enabling technology. Sometimes we take it for granted. From time to time we should step back and think "What could have happened if there had not been the Internet".

- The Internet helped many causes which could have been forgotten with the Net.

- But the Internet did not stop some bad decisions such as the war in Iraq.


We are approaching extremely turbulent time in the world history. Many people feel betrayed by political and economic elites. This frustration is moving from the head to stomach (financial crisis). The risk is incresing. People will become more open for "quick and simple" solutions. Unlike in the past when there were similar crisises, today, millions are connected. How is the Internet going to be used? Is it going to help us to find proper, fair and sustainable solutions? Is it going to help us to detect a potential "Hitlers"? Is it..... . One thing is definitely certain. The Internet will be used in completely different context. It won't be just "fun/business" medium. It is very likely to become THE communication medium that will facilitate shapping of the future of mankind (much more than traditional press or TV).

Your views?

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Comment by Joseph Mokaya Gichana on January 2, 2009 at 4:45pm
Seiiti,Emmanuel hi!,
This brings us the social aspect of it.Remember Hitler wanted the best for himself, he had spies and scients working on his cause to exterminate humanity.I think whatever level of technology we are in the mind of a criminal and his devious ways will for ever be enhanced by technology.Hitler will have used technology not because he was so servy but had the capacity to marshal the techies of those days to achieve his goal. Does " i was able to see further than the rest because i stood on the shoulders of giants" ring a bell?
Comment by Seiiti on January 2, 2009 at 3:39pm
Emmanuel, your comment is really interesting. I immediately thought of ¨The Long Tail¨ by Chris Anderson. The Internet allows reaching segmented niches more than ever.

This is the case for ¨sub-cultures¨ such as the bombers. There are many forums for other sub-sub-niche communities, such as adults who like to dress and talk like babies (they are called ABDL - adult baby and diaper lovers), World of Warcraft ¨businessmen¨ who sell stuff in a online world and so on. While geographically these folks would have difficulty in being all together in the same space (unless they took planes and expensive trips), the Internet allows the few of them scattered around the world to congregate and strengthen a community spirit.

The Hitler case seems a little bit different than the example of such suicide bombers who use Internet as a communication tool. Because it was more peer pressure and influence done by people together in a physical space. So even though an ¨average Hans¨ at the time would not have proactively sought to become a nazi (bottom up proactive search being more of Internet paradigm), he would be drawn into it by his peers and government (top down reaction of pre-Internet model).

I'm not too sure of this view I presented so would be interesting to keep this discussion going.
Comment by Emmanuel Edet on January 1, 2009 at 11:20am
Ever since the first day I read through this blog I have been itching to contribute and though I had taken a self imposed break at the end of last year I still thought about the various issues raised by Jovan, Charity and recently Joseph.

I have read through the entire text "In the Forest of Paradoxes" by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio and I am particularly intrigued by his justification of the need to preserve literature and books in particular. As far as he is concerned, the writer is the custodian of human history. My history teacher always used to tell us that history is basically the perspective and bias of the writer. I am not sure if this applies here but at the end of the day history may actually be a combination of biases.

I disagree with Mr. Le Clézio and argue alongside Jovan that the Internet if it had existed at the time would have been a source of ridicule for Hitler’s ideas and prevent Hitler’s plot from seeing the light of the day. I also argue a step further that the Internet may have actually helped Hitler realise his dreams faster than he himself would have imagined. I was watching a documentary while we were in Hyderabad which shows how suicide bombers are recruited over the Internet and how the videos of their exploits are posted amid cheers of bravery. It is just possible that during the time of Hitler his ideas were viewed as a drive by a group of people to emancipate themselves from the oppression of others. It is only after the fact that we all realise that his actions were criminal. Hitler sold a propaganda to a group of young people who believed in it. As Steve Burnett once said “Regardless of the changes in technology, the market for well-crafted messages will always have an audience.”

The issue is not about preventing the rise of the Hitlers of tomorrow. "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." – Albert Einstien. There will always be another man who believes in a cause that is so vile and irritable to the generality of mankind but believed by a select few who will defend the cause with their lives. I think the issue is about the complex nature of mankind himself, our different values and morals as well as our determination on how to apply technology.

I would conclude with two of my favourite quotes from Albert Einstien
"The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Thank you and have a great 2009
Comment by Joseph Mokaya Gichana on December 23, 2008 at 10:51am
Charity and Jovan hi!
Its great to see you guys discuss this topic, first i must give credit to Charity for bringing out the similarity between the 'birth' of the internet and Nuclear physics.We do appreciate the fathers of nuclear physics and internet, i dont know whether they foresaw this" that they were creating a platform where Natural enterprises will flourish, new economies will be formed, peace will be discussed albeit for the few wayward characters out to blurr us from deciphering this coded message.
Charity, when you mention Neir Bohr, it reminds me of my Chemistry in College where we were always reminded that despite its positive impact on our lives Bohr's invention was abused same case in the internet. This brings me to another great scientist of our time, remember Albert Einstein? of the famous Relativity theory? how he came up with Energy=MC(2) God knows! and Planks Constant?this guy was able to advance the works of Bohr by coming up with theories whcih have up to now been able to be understood by the current generation of scientists.
This great people set up the stage of natural enterprises for prosperity and peace and the platform is with us, this require us to Collaborate using the new technologies and make a new economy.
I hwoever tend to differ with you Charity on controls, remember power without control is nothing! Best control mechanisms was the missing link.....
Jovan, your text reminds me of David one of the bloggers http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2004/08/04.html#a829 who writes about the new economies and how they will greatly rely on Natural enterprises to keep afloat. Therefore i firmly believe that the internet is at the centerstage and we better be prepared to participate.
Am looking forward to reading more from you.
Comment by Charity Gamboa-Embley on December 23, 2008 at 5:07am
To follow up on that quote, Bohr said that:

"Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. The exponential increase in advancement will only continue...."

I think if Neils Bohr lived until to this very year, he could tell us a thing or two of how our very own actions can shape the good and bad of things in this civilization. Would the youth today believe a man who discovered the mechanisms of atomic fission that led to the creation of atomic weapons and advocate peace at the same time?

Jovan, have you watched the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still?" The 2008 version is a remake of the 1950 movie of an alien who came to planet Earth to warn its inhabitants to live peacefully or be destroyed. That alien in the 2008 remake wanted to talk to the UN but the US Secretary of State had him strapped to a hospital bed in an undisclosed place. They thought he was a lunatic! In the entire movie, you can sense how much the alien saw what mankind did to Earth. When the alien was asked what he was doing on "our" planet, he replied "your planet?"

Bohr played his role and he believed that "...the best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness..." It reminded me a lot during the OECD Ministerial and Civil Society Forum last June in Seoul when I witnessed the demonstration on how the beef importation issue (from the US) clashed with small time farmers in Korea due to the cheaper prices that can availed by US beef. Korean farmers are losing out. Plus, there was the mad cow disease issue found on US beef. These protestors were holding candlelight demonstration and used the Internet to get through people to understand the issues they were fighting for. Imagine the power of the Internet. Once again, we are bordering on the belief that we should democratize the Internet.

All these issues of Bohr's advocacy on openness, the alien who wanted to warn people about how we were destroying our own civilization by our own ruthless decisions, and the power of the Internet to bring issues forward - all these have shaped our thinking of technology. It is the human part of us to aspire for things beyond our own abilities. Some call it greed. But sometimes..."Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." Even "...the opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth." (you're right about this aspect). Bohr essentially made me analyze that "...every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question." Neils Bohr has very useful quotations.

Indeed, "...how wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress." :)
Comment by Jovan on December 22, 2008 at 6:42pm
Charity, you cound not fint better quote than Bohr. He is also highly relevant for the main text "In the Forest of Paradoxes". Last few weeks we have been developing course text "Cognitive Toolkit for Climate Change Diplomacy". It is part of our course on climate change diplomacy (currently running). The main idea was to map the main cognitive approaches to climate change issues (grasping complexity, scientific uncertainty, etc.). In climate change one of the main challenges is how to manage paradoxes. Here Bohr is extremely useful: "Profound truths are recognised by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd." We quoted him extensively in the text. Your text provides an excellent link to the Internet and technology. Let us reflect more on it. Any other view?
Comment by Charity Gamboa-Embley on December 22, 2008 at 5:57pm
"Every great difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it..." - Neils Bohr

On Solutions: Is it fair to say that the Internet itself will find its proper, fair and sustainable solution? (They say it is not right to answer a question with a question but such a question needs further pondering...)

***I became fascinated with Neils Bohr because he discovered something magnificent that was highly abused by political strongholds in this world. I read before that Neils Bohr escaped to Sweden during the World War II and continued his advocacy on openness between nations. Bohr himself made theoretical studies/researches on the fragmentation and disintegration of the atomic nuclei and studied the mechanisms of nuclear fission. He developed his theories from J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford. In other words, he showed brilliance even at a young age and his work was carried on by his sons. He won the Nobel Prize in 1922. Can you imagine the impact of Bohr's work in the mechanisms of the atomic weapons being used presently by other nations?

The Hitlers: Unlike Hitler or the "Hitlers" of this world nowadays, Bohr showed some sort of remorse for the impact of his work. His discoveries led people to develop atomic weapons. He was aware that such knowledge may have its consequences. But Bohr spent his last few years in this world trying to work on the peaceful application of atomic physics. There was so much political problems arising due to the development of atomic weapons. Below is Bohr's open letter to the United Nations dated June of 1950:


What-ifs: What would have happened if Bohr did not make those studies on atomic physics? What would have happened if there was no Internet?

On Quickest Solution: People took the quickest solution to war by creating atomic weapons out of discoveries related to atomic physics. Neils Bohr opened those possibilities. The "fathers" of the Internet opened doors for communication. Both discoveries shaped the history of mankind.

On the Tipping-Point: But danger lurked when people abused knowledge on atomic physics to create atomic weapons and presented threat to every nation. As to the Internet, danger presented itself when "control" is asserted. Hitler wanted to control and become the best "race" in the world.

Jovan, when you brought up the topic of Hitler, I immediately thought of Neils Bohr. In a way, I saw the similarities - the Utopian view within the social-political context of their beliefs. Bohr talked so much about divergence and wanting nations to work as a "unit" - exemplifying his almost idealistic views about technology and civilization. But if you closely read Bohr's speech to the UN, let me cite here a few direct quotations that seem to relate to what the Internet has shaped our lives:

-"the promises and dangers involved in the technical advances have now most forcibly stressed the need for decisive steps toward openness as a primary condition for the progress and protection of civilization..."

-"Any widening of the borders of our knowledge imposes an increased responsibility on individuals and nations through the possibilities it gives for shaping the conditions of human life..."

I think this discussion gives interesting comparisons to Bohr's idealistic nature. I wonder how the Internet will "force us to change it in order to find..." solutions to every danger that lurks in the "Internet Civilization."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! :)




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