Osama bin Luddite

Originally published at The American Spectator

Tragedy purges the mind of trivia. Perhaps the horror of a new Black September can rescue our culture from its thrall of humorless TV Conditry. From gossip about the moral codes of mayors and actors. From the search for the combination to the loony bin of politicians and economists who believe in the lockbox for Social Security. Instead, we can focus on what is truly important: the glass ceiling facing millionairettes at Morgan Stanley. Having survived the vaporization of its 24-floor former World Trade Center offices, the Wall Street power now faces a second wave from the gender cops.

Purged too of trivia, perhaps some of the deeper minds of Silicon Valley can let go of their obsession with the threat possibly posed by computers to human dignity and supremacy, and get back to work. Computers pose no threat to humans beyond Microsoft’s blue screen of death and fatal-error messages. Indeed, information tools alone can save us from the depredations of desperate technophobes — the Bin Luddites, for whom a mud-brick New Jerusalem (“Afghanistan, Land of Nothing,” The New York Times headlined one dispatch) apparently harkens relief from the tribulations of freedom and wealth. The Bin Luddites could no more build a 767 — much less a World Trade Center, or even a flashlight — than they can feed (never mind, free) the oppressed masses whose interests they claim to advance. But armed with hijacked technologies and apocalyptic grudges, they pose a devastating menace to all civilization.

The chief thing terrorists have going for them is the lack of usable information about them. The U.S. commands the world’s supreme information technology. Neural networks — already used to scan mortgage applications and currency market turbulence — integrate huge amounts of sparse data and recognize crucial patterns (or countenances). New analog optical processors sort through troves of information in real time. Bin Laden’s bands left bit trails through the airlines, car rental companies and federal agencies. He put an infomercial video on the Net. Tom Clancy provided his plan of attack. But there was no effective integration.

We cannot win by imitating our adversaries. In a rivalry focused on secrecy and control, demonic cliques will always outperform democratic bureaucracies. Freedom and openness are our chief enduring assets. As Edward Teller points out, the U.S. nuclear and missile programs, shrouded in secrecy, could not even keep their edge against the Soviet Union’s Sputnik and hydrogen bombs. But the U.S. triumphed through entrepreneurial industries, whose innovations — and the wealth they generate — are the real foundation of our security. Washington now needs to summon those and the distributed resources of insurance firms, financial institutions, security consultancies and commercial data farms — together with the factious teams of government intelligence — to address fiendish threats to open society. Without stifling it in the process.

We should stop using the word “cowards” to describe people who board a 757, ruthlessly kill the pilots, take the controls and fly the plane into the side of an office tower. They are brave and evil. Nor should we pay attention to the pretense of their having some legitimate historic grievance over the loss of territory. Bin Luddites do not care about history or territory. They resent the Israeli demonstration that even a semi-capitalist garrison state can grow flowers and sell them all over Europe, build semiconductors in Herzliya, practice democracy under fire and supply a third of Silicon Valley’s key communications technologies.

Such envy of creative capitalists provoked all the horrors of the Twentieth century, from the Holocaust, the liquidation of Russia’s Kulaks and the expulsion of white colonists from Africa, to the massacres of Ibos in Nigeria, Indians in Uganda and the Chinese in Indonesia. Despots always promise development, but their first acts are invariably to kill or banish as many of the actual developers as they can. The Israelis are desperate to help the Palestinians out of poverty; their own leaders prefer instead that they die as suicide bombers.

In the light of the burning Trade towers, Democrats and liberals and European tut-tutters should consider that opposition to missile defense is tantamount to advocating the destruction of Israel. Without anti-missile technology, Israel is simply not defensible. It is hard to believe that Democrats are too stupid to see this. Israel has become as crucial to U.S. defense as we are to Israel’s. Israeli outposts in Silicon Valley contribute indispensably to all the leading technologies that uphold the U.S. economy. Unlike many American technologists — wringing their hands over the threat of global warming, “gray goo” and humanoid robotics — Israelis are unembarrassed to work on the weapons that will save us all.

What the enemies of Israel — and America — really hate and fear is human creativity. Flourishing only under capitalism, creativity is our key endowment, in the image of our creator. Without the miracle of mind, expressed in the art and enterprise of a free society, human beings become mere meat. Without the word that breathes spirit into creation, nature is brutal, deadly and Darwinian. Soulless butchers rule, and rush to bury civilization under the rubble. Human creativity reflects divine creation. And this arouses the unending abomination of nihilists everywhere. That is the real evil in the Luddite urge — the annihilation of the sapient creativity that lifts humans beyond the beasts and the Bin Ladens.

From The American Spectator’s October 2001 issue, which was going to press as this week’s tragedies struck in New York and Washington.

George Gilder

Senior Fellow and Co-Founder of Discovery Institute
George Gilder is Chairman of Gilder Publishing LLC, located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A co-founder of Discovery Institute, Mr. Gilder is a Senior Fellow of the Center on Wealth & Poverty, and also directs Discovery's Technology and Democracy Project. His latest book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy (2018), Gilder waves goodbye to today's Internet.  In a rocketing journey into the very near-future, he argues that Silicon Valley, long dominated by a few giants, faces a “great unbundling,” which will disperse computer power and commerce and transform the economy and the Internet.