Acquiring knowledge has generally been expensive. Libraries cost money for both the building and books. Education costs money, even if it is free to the student.
The internet changed all of that. Acquiring knowledge now costs such a tiny, tiny amount, that we can afford to give it away to every single member of the human race... and we give up very little for the honor of doing so. As a society, we have the privilege of being able to give every single person on this planet free and total access to the collective knowledge of all of the sciences, technology, culture, all of it.
And yet we don't. What does that say about us, as a people?
he internet has been a wonderful resource to make knowledge easier to access, but the infrastructure costs money.
No. Nothing costs money. A cost is something you give up. The cost of a car is all the things you could have gotten instead of the car. People often confuse the value of a thing with the price of a thing, and in a capitalist-driven society, it's hardly a surprise. The infrastructure doesn't cost money, it costs whatever we could have built instead of the infrastructure.
Now, consider all the possible things that we could have built instead of the internet. Instead of giving free knowledge to the world. Can you think of a better way to spend that potentiality? Because I cannot. No sir, your argument does not hold.
By a similar token the need for the NSA is an ugly reality. Not every group or society on the planet is willing to live in peace within their own borders.
The need for an organization that keeps tabs on legitimate threats to our safety and security, yes. The NSA... in its current form, is suboptimal for that task. It has been warped and distorted by political pressure both internal and external into something that is rapidly losing its effectiveness in that capacity. We're building data centers and collecting data, but managing intelligent assets is about more than collection, it's about analytics as well. The NSA has been overburdened with information -- tasked with watching everyone, everywhere.
It's the result of an unprecidented mass-failure of basic cognitive reasoning on the part of our entire governmental superstructure. They overvalue what they don't know, a fallacy known as the ambiguity effect. It's why we spent trillions fighting a war on terror, but we spend a mere fraction of that fighting drunk driving. They also over-value certain types of information -- a person's race, national origin, etc. All this profiling. It's been proven time and time again that the moment you develop a profile for the type of person you're looking for,.. the organization you're fighting will simply select candidates that are outside of that profile. We've created an institutional-sized case of confirmation bias with our security screening procedures. But it gets worse. The NSA is a classic example of information bias... that is, they seek information even when it's irrelevant to the choices presented. Or put another way: They're so focused on gathering more information that they've effectively paralyzed themselves.
And this isn't the first time this has happened, even here in America. All intelligence agencies go through phases where they become complacent and the intelligence feedback cycle goes off the rails, which isn't corrected until a catastrophe. Pearl Harbor. 9/11. Aldrich Ames. "The list goes on and on." After each major shakeup, there's a refocusing and efficiency goes up... for awhile. Until it deteriorates to the point that a new crisis emerges.
There will always be another boogieman in the closet. There will be another 9/11. Another Snowden. Another Pearl Harbor. These things cannot be prevented -- only the illusion that they can be. When we discuss how we wish to combat these yet-unseen and unknown forces, we must be mindful of how we structure our institutions, and what restrictions we place on them. The restrictions are not just to protect us, but the integrity of the intelligence cycle as well.
The NSA has been co-opted into a massive dragnet for political gain by people who want to suppress certain elements of society. This needs to stop. Not because of privacy, or because the terrorists will win, or blah blah fuckity blah... but because it's not sustainable. As any engineer will tell you, if you say "Build a computer", they could hand you a microwave. Say "build a computer with a monitor," and they hand you a calculator. "Build a computer with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse", and you might get a kiosk. Restrictions provide structure -- it enables us to create something that's actually useful to us, like, say, a laptop, instead of a microwave. The NSA needs restrictions in order to be useful to us.
There are may things limiting human potential. One of the biggest is human nature.
A rather nilhist perspective, but hardly a new one. Even the Romans had a phrase to describe this: Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia - Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable.
You leave your city, or your country, because you find it's full of crime, immorality, and violence. And that is fine. But ask yourself: What do you expect of the place you are moving to? Because you will find the same wherever you go. It is your expectations that creates the reality you live in. If you expect human nature to be greed, lust, and immorality... then that is all you will ever see or achieve. For this reason... I do not believe human nature limits human potential... I believe they are one in the same. The greatest advances of the 21st century will be in an expanding definition of what it means to be human. And to be honest, I think greed, lust, and immorality, have had their time for us to explore. We should be getting on to other things now.