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Blogger for James Bond; and, A Theology of Blogging

I just read a fascinating article in the Dec. 3, 2006 edition of New York Times Magazine called "Open-Source Spying," by Clive Thompson. (The abstract is on the internet here, but to read the whole article costs about $5. I would recommend going to a library if you want to read this--most libraries would carry the NYT Magazine.)

The main point of the article was that the United States' intelligence community is moving away from covert operations and classified secrets; instead, the tactics of terrorists (our main enemies these days) are forcing CIA spies, FBI agents, intelligence analysts, and a host of other government employees to collaborate what they are learning in government blogs and wikis (a wiki is a web page that allows anyone to update information on any given subject, like on Wikipedia). The rationale is that information is now too spread out and too rapidly moving for older methods of gathering intelligence:

Beat cops in Indiana might be as likely to uncover evidence of a terror plot as undercover C.I.A. agents in Pakistan. Fiery sermons printed on pamphlets in the U.K. might be the most valuable tool in figuring out who's raising money for a possible future London bombing. The most valuable spy system is one that can quickly assembly disparate pieces that are already lying around--information gathered by doctors, aid workers, police officers or security guards at corporations.

The premise of spy-blogging is that a million connected amateurs will always be smarter than a few experts collected in an elite star chamber; that Wikipedia will always move more quickly than the Encyclopedia Britannica; that the country's thousand-odd political bloggers will always spot news trends more quickly than slow-moving journalists in the mainstream media. (p. 101-102)

Obviously, there are technical and privacy issues for such systems (for example, how do you separate the information on declassified, Secret, and Top Secret wikis?), and such systems fly directly in the face of a long-standing "Need to Know" policy in these agencies. The article readily admits that these systems have a long way to go.

However, my main interest in this article relates to the reason I am again interested in blogging. I had gone through a huge slump--the six month silence on this blog testifies to that statement. It wasn't until I realized how important blogs have been in the formation of much of my theology and general interests that I wanted to start posting again. In other words, it wasn't until I could see the value in posting that I could justify the massive amount of time that blogging consumes.

Why not simply rely on books, which are generally more credible than blogs? In a book, I can hear someone's thoughts on a particular subject; the problem is that I can't interact with what they say. With blogs and wikis, anyone is free to ask questions, point out flaws in arguments, or offer vitally different perspectives. This type of collaborative thinking takes seriously the notion that no one individual is infallible.

Certainly, this method opens the floor to fools as well as to the wise, but that reminds me of something G. K. Chesterton wrote. Although I can't remember the exact quote (perhaps it was in Orthodoxy?), his point was that Christians believe in democracy not because we have a high opinion of human nature, but because we have a low opinion of it. We cannot trust any one person with a lot of power because that person can be easily corrupted (Total Depravity!); instead, we split the power among many who will, in theory, hold each other accountable.

In theory, this is the way the world of blogs works. A vast range of people post, and, over time, the best ideas rise to the top--the others end up somewhere in the middle or at the bottom. Instead of giving any one person the power to present his thoughts and beliefs, the entire world has that opportunity. Certainly, the best writers might have the larger readership, but that in no way stops anyone else from continuing to write, potentially making an enormous contribution at some point in the future.

As for me, even if very few people end up reading what I write, and even if what I write amounts to very little, I humbly offer my thoughts to the blogosphere in the hopes that what I write might sharpen others, and that what others write might sharpen me. Of Bald Men and Bears might not ever stop a terrorist plot, but perhaps God will use some of this, somehow, in bringing about someone's salvation and/or sanctification.

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