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March 22, 2003

War and Complexity

While no post of mine feels relevant with the war going on, I will post anyway. The protest rallies are in action here in San Francisco just as they are in other cities around the world. I share their concern and am certainly not convinced that we are proceeding along the best path for our future.

I'm saddened by the general lack of meaningful conversation about the situation, and instead we endure a barrage of simplistic symbolism intended to sway public opinion from both the pro- and anti-war positions. Whatever the motivations here, the forces are in motion and we must prepare for the repercussions, good and bad. I am hopeful that we handle the complexity of these new worldwide problems much more effectively than we have to date. As I am generally an optimist and definitely a technologist, I can't help but be hopeful that we can improve our ability to grapple with complexity.

In the aftermath of World War II, Albert Einstein wrote an address to the United Nations on the threats to world stability exacerbated by technology, and the importance of a strong United Nations to maintain world balance. We are now hearing more and more about the technology of war, of control, of monitoring, of detection. I believe we should be at least equally focused on the technology of communication, understanding, cooperation, and developing united resolve to address the problems before us.

We have the raw materials of the Internet and the worldwide web as early steps to increase our capabilities. Douglas Engelbart made such a pursuit his lifelong mission after participating in the last World War, and his vision for Augmenting Human Intellect was published in 1962, resulting in the eventual development of many computer concepts we take for granted today, such as the graphical user interface, the mouse, and hypermedia. Those of us in the technology world ought to do our best to continue the process of bootstrapping humanity to higher levels of capability to enable us all to effectively deal with the complexity facing the world, fostering good over evil.

22 Mar 03 11:23 AM


san says:

You had me until "good over evil". Those are such loaded words, I shy away from them in public discourse. In a multicultural, inter-faith world, I think they are perhaps best defined as "right" and "wrong", respectively. Certainly the triumph of "right over wrong" is something we can all applaud. But who's right and who's wrong? We'll never answer that question, not in this lifetime, or our children's lifetime, or a thousand generations hence.

Saddam is certainly not right. The Bush administration is not right in the manner they chose to eradicate the wrong. The complexity of this conflict is astounding. If it were all about oil, aligning oneself with one of the two principal factions would be so much easier. Most would agree that a war to seize the natural resources of another sovereign nation is wrong. But what about a war to impose the political, social and moral system of one society upon another, when the aggressor society is convinced beyond shadow of doubt that their system is right? I certainly believe it's wrong, but in that light, it is more comprehensible how others have difficulty making up their minds. Or are swayed to the pro-war position, because, after all, our way of life is "right".

My greatest disappointment is that in America contemporary communications technologies have not created a better forum for the exchange of ideas on a large scale. In addition to accessing myriad valid sources for "hard news", I communicate on a weekly basis with individuals from Sweden, Canada, Australia and Japan. Although I may be more inclined to do this than others with Internet access, I am no more enabled. Yet many Americans seem to have retreated into isolationism in considering the perspectives of other people from around the world.

Regarding Einstein, he seemed to have a better grasp of the far-reaching implications of his discipline than many other great scientists. Or at least he was more forthcoming with his opinions.

Posted by: san on 22 Mar 03 01:33 PM

John Dowdell says:

Sanford wrote, "who's right and who's wrong? We'll never answer that question"

I'm not sure... the Golden Rule seems like a useful place to start....

Kevin wrote, "I am hopeful that we handle the complexity of these new worldwide problems much more effectively than we have to date."

Agreed, that's the trend I see too... the more choices a people have available to them, the more likely they can make choices which simultaneously benefit others. Increasing choice, to all, is a key tactic. This seems to tie in with your final thought there...?

Posted by: John Dowdell on 22 Mar 03 02:32 PM

Todd Hopkinson says:

Moral clarity is a key issue, which in my opinion, continues to escape most of those who are opposed to the course of action the U.S. has taken with Iraq and the war on terrorism.

For a short but piercing moment, most of us collectively had that crystal moment of moral clarity on September 11th. Unfortunately as that clarity fades, so to does the ability to cope and deal effectively with the problems which beset us.

We must ask the right questions and find the right answers...thus far, too many voices have been asking the wrong questions...and the voices of clarity have been too few.

Too many have been shunning the idea of moral clarity and embracing the idea of moral relativism.

Without moral clarity we will only add to the problems we have, rather than work towards effective solutions.

In my opinion it is a mistake to assume that Americans are not "listening" to the other perspectives of other people from around the world. I think that the majority of Americans are "hearing" those clamoring voices loud and clear, but I think that in great measure we believe differently than what many of those voices are saying...and I am convinced that it is because of a collective "moral clarity" which so many Americans still well as the numerous others around the world that also believe and think likewise.

Posted by: Todd Hopkinson on 22 Mar 03 07:29 PM

g.wygonik says:

hey kevin

i think your post is _very_ relavent -- whatever we feel about the war, we can't let it stop us from dialog and giving in to feeling that we have no say...

i'm very interested, in fact almost excited, to see an interesting discussion of technology as it relates to current events. this concept is something that influences my music and lyric writing, actually to the point that most people believe our last two albums to be about nothing but(!)...

one of the things that i've been so vocal about is the ability for current technologies to build bridges between many geographically seperate cultures. IM'ing daily with people from all over the world constantly reminds me of the fact that regardless of where people are, we really are not that different, and the only thing that makes us "foriegn" to each other are the ideologies of our respective "leaders".

i've had great hope in that as more people get connected, this borderless arena would cause more and more ideological walls to come down, and wars like what we are experiencing would not be happening.

there are two things that really freak me out at the moment...

1) as much as i see the global community growing, i also fail to see that _any_ of the folks in the current US administration grasp this concept, and its implications. it seems that their only interaction with technology is seeing how their stocks are doing on etrade and everyting else is cause for suspicion and concern. this unfortunately spills over into other sectors including the whole P2P/CARP stuff. big business (the old school) still equates to what is "right" in government's mind, and that is really disturbing. to me that mentality seems quite inconceivable in this day and age. of course there are those that say that the government _does_ know whats going on, and is working to undermine the global community's unity. which leads to my second concern.

2) in ways it seems technology has added to the complications we all face in these times. everyone and their brother can put up a web site and claim that they speak the truth. i really feel that this capability has corrupted the big, "real" news sources to a greater degree and there is absolutely _nothing_ that can be believed at face value - everything is spun in someway. because of this, general populations can type in what they want to hear and google or any other search engine will report a plethora of links to reassure them that they are right.

this is why your post has relevance (at least to me). you're not attempting to claim to know what's right or wrong. but you seem genuinely concerned with where we are headed, and are open to discussion. other blogs have taken much more confrontational approaches, and rather than discuss the situation, both sides shove link after link of words that back up their side.

what led me to type a response in the first place was your statement about the lack of meaningful conversation about the situation. in my talks with folks all over the globe, this concern is one shared by many. subsequently, i think its only through continuing discussions like this that we'll be able to keep our heads above the muck, and really be influential in working ourselves out of this mess.

so, please don't think your words are not relevant. they are. very.

Posted by: g.wygonik on 22 Mar 03 08:23 PM

san says:


We'll never have consensus. Each faction will always believe they are following the Golden Rule.

Posted by: san on 23 Mar 03 08:43 AM

Pope says:

Kevin with all respect, I submit,
Technology and or science are not the answer to the dilemma. While they can improve the experience of life, they can not be the solution to mankind’s basic dilemmas. These are derivatives of their creators, and nothing can be greater than the sum of its parts. This approach to problem solving is symptomatic at best and does not address the deeper “cause and effect” factors. Politics and diplomacy will not resolve the conflict at hand. Politics is the art of “what’s in it for me” and diplomacy is noting more than debate unless all parties involved adhere to basic tenets of culture.

The first basic mistake in all of these efforts is the belief that mankind is basically good. Post modernism would have us to believe that we will find the answers within. I think we can look to all the failed programs of the 60’s and see this is far from the truth. Man in all his capacity is evil. Self-preservation and self-interest is the order of the day, so to say we can find that divine spark within must not have any credence to it. I have never seen a child have to be taught to be selfish or greedy. These are natural reactions and if these actions have no consequence, the self-centered child will grow into a tyrant that will rule with uncontrollable and unquenchable appetites. Corporal or other forms of punishment are used to cause the child to see the err of his or her way so that they might have an epiphany of right and wrong, and will set them on the course to respect what is good. If unchecked, a child will grow into an adult who will conveniently forget or overlook what is right or wrong even thought they have had the self realization of what they are i.e. see Bill Clinton “please define the definition of what “is” is.”

Moral absolutes are what must be used to form equitable societies. This demands that all who participate in that society volunteer to submit to the authority of that moral absolute i.e., murder is wrong. If they refuse to submit, then like an UN-ruly child they must be made to submit.

Weak people allow the erosion of true culture. What we need are statesmen and not politicians who understand that freedom has a price; and that price is dear. Men and women who understand that there is a black and white rule of law and that it is universal. It has been written on the hearts of all men, what is right and what is wrong. When we use this as our basis for our conversation, our vision is not blurred and our course of action is clear, at that point, then we can come to reason with one another. Until that touchstone those who do not agree are either in self-denial or self indulgence.

Perhaps this will be an epiphany for some and for others a confirmation.

Posted by: Pope on 24 Mar 03 06:59 AM

Patrick Whittingham says:

Mr. Lynch,

I would think of a person of your stature in a corporation, would not talk about politics or war
in your blog. No matter if one is for/against the conflict in Iraq, one should talk about IT and not
other factors. I have notice too much attention in various Flash blogs about this conflict. It doesn't
seem to be in Cold Fusion blogs. When you speak about other issues not related to IT, you are not helping
your company. Please keep your comments to yourself, because one doesn't want to put foot in mouth.

Posted by: Patrick Whittingham on 24 Mar 03 10:05 AM

David Humphreys says:

Wow, Patrick - I couldn't disagree with you more.

One of the ways to deal with the difficult situation we all find ourselves in is to discuss it with our peers and social groups. I have a lot of respect for Kevin's opinion, because he's demonstrated himself to be wise and capable in a variety of arenas. I'm glad he spoke out.

Limiting ourselves to conversation of IT will make us all quite dull and fairly simple-minded, I'm afraid.

Finally, please heed the standard "the views on this website are my own..." on his home page. Kevin is not Macromedia, and Macromedia's not Kevin -- although both benefit from the other. Welcome to the age of blogging.

Posted by: David Humphreys on 25 Mar 03 05:36 AM

Patrick Whittingham says:

I'm not saying that Mr Lynch doesn't have the right to say his opinion, but that one can put 'certain' comments into a different portion of a web site. I think his comments about computers/technologies very interesting. As a current customer of your product line, one should be more user-friendly.

Posted by: Patrick Whittingham on 25 Mar 03 04:57 PM

san says:

Patrick, directory assistance calling: you were looking for This is An easy mistake considering the URLs look so much alike.

Posted by: san on 27 Mar 03 06:51 AM

CHris says:

Bravo for your post. Your call for an increased level of communication on this issue is certainly what is needed. It seems that most of the sources of information that we have these days are one-sided - both accusing the other of blatant propaganda and neither working to explore both sides of an issue.

Your commented that we should be "focused on the technology of communication, understanding, cooperation, and developing united resolve to address the problems before us," and I agree. I've been connecting to people using online services now for over a decade and it's a wonderful capability for people to have. Building understanding between people and letting different cultures understand that really we all have more in common than we might think is the key to a peacful future.

Finally, it is sad to see people criticising you for posting on this topic especially in light of your comments about communicating. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Please keep posting about things that matter.


Posted by: CHris on 27 Mar 03 08:43 AM

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