Yudkowsky redux: “Every eighteen months, the minimum IQ necessary to destroy the world drops by one point.”
Quibble with the (Moore’s Law satire) schedule, and the point still stands. Massive deterrent capability tends to spread.
This is ‘democratic’ in the way the term is commonly used by those seeking to latch decentralization tendencies to the ideological credibility of Jacobin legitimation principles. Consumer capitalism, the Internet, and peer-to-peer crypto-systems are notionally ‘democratic’ in this way. They subvert centralized governance, and they spread through horizontal contagion. The fact they have nothing at all to do with popular political representation is of concern only to certain rhetorical agendas, and not at all to others. It’s sophistical pop-capitalist bullshit to use the word democracy in this way, but it’s usually not worth the trouble for the Left to try to contest it, and the part of the Right that isn’t excited to be riding this propaganda strategy is usually too indiscriminate to bother disentangling it. There’s a rare piece of ‘right-wing’ functional PR here, but never enough to matter very much (and it’s too essentially dishonest for the Outer Right to defend).
Unlike Democracy® (Cathedral ideology), however, this ‘democratization’ has deep cybernetic consistency. It falls out of techno-capitalism with such automatic inevitability it’s probably impossible to shut down, without closing down the whole thing. Capital escalation produces technological deflation as a basic metabolic by-product, so the ‘democratization’ of productive capability is ineluctable. Computers have migrated from exotic capital goods to trivial components of consumer products within half a century. Study that trend and you see the whole story.
Deterrence deflation is the deep trend. Connect up the Yudkowsky quote with assassination markets to get where this is going. (Try to shelve moral squeamishness until after you’re seeing the picture.)
Imagine, hypothetically, that some maniac private agent wants only to nuke Mecca. What’s the obstruction? We can confidently say — straight off — that it’s less of a problem with every passing year. The basic historical trend ensures that. Comparatively incompetent Islamic fanatics are the only people seriously testing this trend right now, but that isn’t going to last forever. Eventually smarter and more strategically-flexible agents are going to take an interest in decentralized mass-destruction capability, and they’ll provide a far better indication of where the frontier lies.
Nukes would do it. They’re certainly going to be democratized, in the end. There are probably far more remarkable accelerating WMD capabilities, though. In almost every respect (decentralized production capability, development curve, economy, impact …) bioweaponry leaves nukes in the dust. Anyone with a billion dollars, a serious grudge, and a high-end sociopathy profile could enter into a global biowarfare-threat game within a year. Everything could be put together in secret garages. Negotiations could be conducted in secure anonymity. Carving sovereignty out of the game would require only resources, ruthlessness, brilliance, and nerves. Once you can credibly threaten to kill 100,000,000 people all kinds of strategic opportunities are open. The fact no one has tried this yet is mostly down to billionaires being fat and happy. It only takes one Doctor Gno to break the pattern.
This is the shadow cast over the 21st century. Radically hardcore, massively decentralized deterrence games are simply inevitable. Anyone who thinks the status quo state holds some kind of long-term winning hand under these circumstances isn’t seeing anything.
Global totalitarian government could stop this! But that isn’t going to happen — and because it isn’t, this will.