Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Cry of the Pod People

Twitter was not available to the pod people in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They had to confront the humans directly, pointing and screeching to muster the mob to attack. But now that we have Twitter, a pod person in our day and age can efficiently and remotely signal a human to the pod-people mob with hashtag HumanToo. (This hashtag is already used in other contexts, but always by humans, so no problem.)

We don't have body snatchers right now, and, for what it is worth, we have put in legal protections should the event ever occur. Barring a dystopian state, (probably inevitable should the instance arise), no one can take someone's body without due process. No one can point and screech and have the mob take over from there.

At least that is true if body snatching is considered an assault on civil liberties that are protected by law. I suspect that is the case. Just as there are other actions that require due process. No one can be incarcerated without due process. No one's property can be seized without due process. However,  there are harmful actions that can occur outside the constraints of due process, like accusations that do not rise to a threat of harm or to libel. While immune from the requirement of due process, they can destroy one's character and reputation. (Thus the term character assassination.) It can leave the victim unemployable, and set them apart from society.

The pod people had bad intentions from the start, at least from the human's perspective. But sometimes there are things going on that justify some pointing and screeching. Unfortunately, what starts off with noble motives can move into body snatcher mode. And when pointing and screeching is given free rein, that is where things inevitably arrive. With the excesses, the social winds finally turn, and any value, any noble cause, is lost in the process, even met with a backlash.

In a recent post I discussed McCarthyism. This is a good example of how a legitimate concern -- there really were spies tied to the Soviet Union infiltrating the government, intent on subverting our government -- can turn into body snatching. Accusations could be made without support. People could be targeted mistakenly or even for ulterior motives. (And, getting back to the pod people, what if a timid pod person is not body snatching, but is only body touching. Do we pile him in with the full-throttle snatchers?) All with the result that, in so charge an environment, and based on the accusation alone, they were destroyed.


  1. The "father of virtual reality" discusses the possible second order effects of the #metoo movement, namely a more powerful and socially harmful backlash enabled by big tech. Also interesting is the suggestion that Google may be more censorious than Microsoft.

  2. Jaron Lanier, in the link above, is a brilliant social commentator on the risks from our computational world. I loved his book, You Are Not a Gadget. This is a great interview, some of it is foreboding and scary.
    Just to give a tidbit:
    Norbert Wiener, one of the founders of computer science after Alan Turing and Jon van Neumann, wrote a book called 'The Human Use of Human Beings,' could condition that person and change their behavior in a predictable way. He was saying that computers could turn out to have incredible social consequences. There’s an astonishing passage at the end of 'The Human Use of Human Beings' in which he says, “The thing about this book is that this hypothetical might seem scary, but in order for it to happen, there’d have to be some sort of global computing capacity with wireless links to every single person on earth who keeps some kind of device on their person all the time and obviously this is impossible.”