Assuming it to be possible, should organized knowledge, codified understanding, and wisdom play a greater role in the political processes than has so far been the case? Have we perhaps reached limits on how much wisdom can be systematized for use in policy making? Is there such a thing as “wisdom in the wrong hearts”? Evil rulers, cruel tyrants, self-seeking potentates may act wisely on their own behalf but to the detriment of others. If they have at their command a concentrated, organized source of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, then their hold is even harder to break. When is it preferable to use incomplete, imperfect knowledge, understanding, wisdom rather than waiting until such knowledge and its organization is more perfect, though by then the issues may be even more complex? (p. 16)
Information for Action (1975), by Manfred Kochen.
Comment: One of the aspects of Fred’s work that I most admired was his fervor for illustrating and documenting the potential role of information for good, for positive change, for advocacy, for social welfare, for action. Fred was such a sweet man, so generous and kind to others. This book was published before his most interesting articles in this area, but as a book, it still ended up in my pile of books. I was lucky to get a copy he had inscribed to one of his friends, so you can see some of that sweetness in the inscription.
After Fred’s passing, I watched how the Internet / Web evolved, took shape, formed itself. Over the years, I’ve gone in circles regarding his thoughts in this area. Fred believed that if the general public was given access to the same types of information used by policy makers, decision leaders, and our government, that regular people would indeed select the best information from what was available, and make high quality and well informed decisions on matters of both personal and national importance.
At first, I watched and waited for this to happen. But what happened instead was that all the high quality information was mixed up with biased and inaccurate information, some of which was designed to intentionally mislead. I became disheartened, and thought Fred had been naïve. Little by little, especially watching health information online, I came back around to something closer to Fred’s original optimistic view, which I see as aligning closely with the thoughts of David Brin on the need for diverse views, diverse information sources, and engaged conversations in order to get at truths that may not be popular or credible at the moment they are first proposed. I also see this as respecting the rights of the individual to select their own information sources, make their own choices, and then live with the results of those choice.
The threat to privacy is perhaps the gravest danger of a centralized, coordinated network. Centralization also threatens free competition and the informed choices available to clients, thus weakening quality and competition. It also widens the distance between the server and the client, making servers less responsive to clients and more to one another. Insofar as the service system proposed by Long is aimed at helping the disadvantaged — i.e., those most in need of such help — it is plagued by the basic problem of distrust. … Coordination does not remedy this: those that want business either give poor care, are too expensive, or both. The rare good ones have more cases than they can handle. (p. 5)
Merely to desire to inform is to judge that information is valuable and ought to be more freely available. In fact, that is perhaps in itself the most significant judgment, especially at a time when governments, industry, and social organizations appear increasingly able and willing to impose severe limits on the rights of the citizen to be informed. The desire to provide unbiased information should not be construed as an indifference to values; rather it should be seen as a commitment to the recipient’s right to all pertinent data, as well as the right to make his own judgment. (p. 17)
Information for the Community, by Manfred Kochen.
Comment: Here you see it again. Another book by Fred relating to the same types of concepts, those that led to the birth of the Internet, and shaping our understanding of information access and use as a force for good. Fred really was a formidable thinker in these areas. He is still highly regarded by those who knew him, but is under appreciated by many currently working in spaces that Fred first shaped.