About ten years ago I wrote a short novel called The Religion War, a follow-up to God’s Debris. The plot was set in the not-too-distant future, which would be approximately now, and I made some predictions about how terrorism and anti-terrorism would evolve. Let’s see how I did.

The main plot element involved the idea that Islamic terrorists would regularly bomb targets in the United States using small “suicide” drones equipped with explosives and GPS guidance. I figured it was an obvious application of technology and there wouldn’t be any way to stop it. Right on schedule, an American born Al-Qaeda sympathizer recently got arrested for planning multiple attacks on Washington DC that would have used GPS-guided model planes.

Another plot device in The Religion War involved what we now call Big Data. The idea is that someday there would be so much data available about individual behavior that skilled programmers could mine it to make freakishly accurate predictions. In the book, one character accesses Big Data to search for the most influential person in the world. The so-called Prime Influencer is at the seed end of a vast social network that ultimately connects all of civilization. For plot purposes, the Prime Influencer isn’t aware of his or her power. The Prime Influencer is thought to have a way with words and a small circle of acquaintances that are moved by his or her opinions. But those people know more people, and so on. Any catchy idea from the Prime Influencer has the potential to quickly travel through the social fabric of civilization and change the world. But that’s fiction.

In the real world of today, corporations use Big Data to predict individual behavior with freakish accuracy. And we’ve also seen that one influential guy with a Facebook account can organize a revolution and take down a government. For story reasons, I needed my Prime Influencer to be one person. It’s unlikely the real world only has one such influential person. But I predict that someday the world will be controlled, in effect, by a small group of unelected people who have vast social networks and a knack for forming viral ideas. (Imagine a Rush Limbaugh talent with no radio show but a lot of Facebook friends.)

The provocative part of The Religion War involves what happens to democracy and freedom when terrorism becomes unstoppable and intolerable. It’s premature to see how well the book predicts that situation, but if terrorists keep trying to build their own drones, we’ll find out the hard way.

Note: If you decide to read The Religion War, make sure you read God’s Debris first. God’s Debris is available on Amazon and also free for download on the Internet. Unlike God’s Debris, The Religion War is written with movie pacing in mind, meaning I left out the filler descriptions of how the leaves are shimmering in the cool morning light. It keeps the book short, and the style is not for everyone.]

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +36
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:


Sort By:
Jul 13, 2012

I think this is an exceptionally loaded view of the term 'progressivism' ("progressivism is the accumulation of power for it's own sake"). It's a little bit dismissive of a lot of movements that have done a lot of good. Here is a less biased view:

I can clearly accept that the outcome of a lot of well meaning ideas has often been less than ideal - that is perhaps the Iron Law of Oligarchy at work:

But let's put this simply - if you like how the world exactly how it is then you will not want any progress. That is the 'I'm alright Jack, sod you' view of the world. Personally I cannot deny I am doing alright - or indeed very well. However I would like to improve it for those less fortunate and I believe this will be good for everyone and furthermore I think it is possible.
Jul 13, 2012
As per jlamp8, I'm not buying books in physical format anymore (well, certainly nothing like The Religion Wars, anyway). Pain? Have you heard of this? -> http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/. Anyway - let us know when you do get around to it, 'cause I'll buy it when you do. Hell, *I'd* do it for you...
Jul 12, 2012
copse: the extremes in both groups will attempt to hijack said groups for their own purpose. That's what progressivism is: accumulating power for the sake of power. It has nothing to do with party.

But according to NPR adbusters did have a link in OWS:
Even the wiki page says as much:

So unlike a political hijacking, the koches, OWS was the brain child of the far left to begin with. They saw the arab spring in action, got envious (in terms of media attention and power), and created OWS.
Jul 12, 2012

That is an interesting opinion Dino - most people not involved in the movement or not in America (who are at all interested) consider that the Tea Party is simply the corporate attack dog arm of the Koch brothers, created simply to get at the POTUS. I would personally say it is interesting that there are really actual people taken in by such rapacious greed - I'd not believe it if I didn't read it here - you're not one of the Kochs are you?


Jul 12, 2012
I don't think a "prime influencer" needs to have a lot of friends: he just needs enough friends in the right places to get the ball rolling... aka a domino effect. Example: the tea party came about because of a rant on one of the cable networks and then adbusters created OWS as a left-wing response. Theoretically all you'd need is to be friends with the ranting guy and someone with pull in adbusters, put in a word with both of them, aka moist robot programming, and you'd have been responsible for the two biggest political movements in the last few years. Or if you could reasonably predict a left-wing response, you'd just need a word with the ranting guy so he'd go off on TV and let the other side take care of itself.

So you wouldn't need the talents of a rush limbaugh or a howard stern, you'd just need pull with them. Ideally you'd want to have pull with both sides so you can manipulate them both in a direction you want.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 12, 2012
I don't think it's as easy as you say. It's hard enough to to build a toy helicopter that flies 10 km, especially in an urban area where there's lots of interference.

Even if they can get a range of 10-50 km, I don't understand what tactical advantage you're proposing that makes it more of a threat than old-fashioned suicide bombing.

Anyway, it probably wouldn't be that difficult to enforce a ban on long-range toy aircraft and develop signal detection technology to counteract such attacks.

Sending drones over the Atlantic or Pacific would be a huge technical problem for governments, let alone terrorists working out of their garage.
Jul 12, 2012
terrorism already is unstoppable - the only thing limiting it is the (lack of) skill & discipline of the terrorists. yes, we've raised the bar for success somewhat with improved intelligence but I think the more interesting question is where's the tipping point where mainstream society decides the cure is worse than the disease? personally, I'm astonished (& frankly depressed) that we tolerate grouping children in airports but I want to believe there's still a limit out there that once crossed will force people to accept the fundamental reality that no matter what we do the risk will always be non-zero & the incremental cost (both in $ & civil liberties) of incremental reduction in risk is severely hyper-linear. in other words, every zero you want to tack on to the denominator of that risk is enormously more expensive than the previous one (& that's ignoring all the worthless theatre like e-strip search machines & grouping children/elderly).
Jul 11, 2012
Lumping together anyone we don't like as "terrorists" is highly simplistic. I doubt that Martin McGuiness (current deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland) would say he was ever a terrorist, even though his organisation (the IRA) carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations etc.

Terrorism never achieves its goals - so-called terrorists are either hunted down, or eventually realise that they will have to compromise and join the democratic process - the IRA are a great example.

Maybe I'm being hopelessly optimistic, but global capitalism and democracy will slowly, but surely, wipe away notions of violent revolution. The fact is, where you have democracy and free market economics, you have higher standards of living and far less impulse to see violence as a way to improve your lot in life.

On another note....
"What I didn't predict is that individual authors can't easily publish e-books. It's doable, but a pain. I never got around to it. -- Scott"

Scott - it's a piece of cake to self-publish an ebook on Smashwords - even I managed it. Seriously Scott - put "The Religion War" on Smashwords, it will be a huge boost to indie writers to have a big name like you on there. Now go to http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/178959 - and buy my book. There, shameless plug done.
Jul 11, 2012
OK, so there's no question here. So let me discuss the terrorism aspect.

One of your statements about "The Religion War," which I find interesting (if somewhat internally contradictory), is this: ". . .what happens to democracy and freedom when terrorism becomes unstoppable and intolerable."

See if this hangs together, logically: if terrorism becomes intolerable, then we'd either have to surrender, or find a way to stop them. Terrorism needs to keep from being intolerable to continue. The events that terrorists plan need to be costly but not either too horrible (which turns public opinion against them) or so impactful that the actions demand a military response.

To the former point, consider the public beheadings that used to be a terrorist staple. You haven't heard of a lot of them lately, have you? The reason is simple: it turned public opinion strongly against the terrorists. They realized that such actions were counterproductive, and stopped them.

To the latter point, consider 9/11. That led to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether you are for or against those wars, the terrorists don't like them. I've read reports that say that internally, terrorist leaders wish 9/11 had never happened. Not only did the wars happen, but America woke up to the danger. This lead to a much stronger intelligence network, including forensic financial agents tracking down, and cutting off, the terrorists' funding.

So the goal of terrorism is to make us spend a lot of money (think TSA), and cause a lot of inconvenience (think TSA again), without becoming so horrible or so impactful that it becomes either a complete turn-off in public perception, or it demands another military response.

Now, unlike Scott, I could be wrong. Remember the goals and patience of militant Islam: they want to turn the Earth into a huge caliphate under Sharia law. Toward that end, they are using their birth rate and immigration into other countries to use the system in those countries to meet their goals. The last thing the long-term Islamist planners want is to have an event so big that defeating them becomes the civilized world's number-one goal.

Yet, they're not a group with a true central leader, nor do they all believe that slowly but surely wins the race. We've still got to consider the possibility of nuts with nukes. But I don't think that's the real problem. The bigger fear is using our tolerance against us to demand more and more balkinization, leading to radical takeovers of cities, counties and, ultimately, countries.

If you'd like to read a very interesting book that explores this theme in a fictional future, I'd recommend Dan Simmon's book "Flashback."

Ultimately, though, my position is that terrorism is only one aspect of militant Islam, and will most likely be self-limiting as only one of the many strategies of the Islamists. But we have to be prepared for anything, lest we be guilty of what the 9/11 Commission called the failure of imagination.
Jul 11, 2012
haha I just wanted to point out that the ad which showed up in my rss reader under this post was for World Class Psychic Norah who gives "Shockingly" Accurate Insights
Jul 11, 2012
I'll give you the one about drone terrorist attacks, but the concepts behind Big Data have been around for ~40 years. It wasn't just a no-brainer 10 years ago, it was already happening. I'm just waiting for Asimov's prediction of psychohistory to come about.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 11, 2012
"...is written with movie pacing in mind..." So have their people called your people yet?
Jul 11, 2012
I don't think there can be a single Prime Influencer as you describe, but the opportunities to fill that role shift from person to person and place to place at the speed of the World Wide Web.

It's like a butterfly effect, which may be magnified a million times, rather than a single person unwittingly holding the reins of power.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 11, 2012
Why isn't your book available as a Kindle/ebook? I'm not buying paper books anymore, unless I want to get the author to sign it. I have exactly 0 signed books.

[Good question. Ten years ago I cleverly kept the digital rights to that book, and God's Debris too, because I believed one day e-books would rule. What I didn't predict is that individual authors can't easily publish e-books. It's doable, but a pain. I never got around to it. -- Scott]
Jul 11, 2012
I like your idea of the Prime Influencer. I think many people (myself included) like to fantasize about being such a person. Many other people (i'm thinking of someone named Newt) are deluded into thinking they are that person.

But I wonder if there could ever be such a person. You could argue that people like Jesus of Nazareth or Buddah were such people, but even then - their ideas (like peace, brotherhood, and forgiveness) have yet to catch on in a widespread way.

Jul 11, 2012
The military controlling the government (one of the results of the freedom-in-the-face-of-terrorism) also happened in your near-future scenario.

Would it be cheaper (literally, cost fewer dollars/resources) to just bribe the terrorists not to bomb stuff? In our current reality, of course.

If we assume that every human has a base need of some level of happiness (say $50k annually for thirty years), wouldn't it be cheaper to create that happiness than to rebuild lost infrastructure and invest in even more (now defunct) military?

The idea has several flaws. But, if we "brain-drain" the terrorist leadership with pensions, who will build the drones?
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog