If Marc Goodman is right, then humanity is in big trouble. Marc Goodman is the author of the amazing book Future Crimes. Back in the day, comparatively little self-command was required of individuals. This is because it was far more difficult for people to commit acts of secrecy in those days than it is nowadays. For example, adultery is hardly new. But that poignant truth is compatible with the incontrovertible reality that technology has mightily facilitated the wherewithal of individuals to commit adultery. The cell phone alone has been a major factor in that regard. After all, a spouse can easily have a cell phone that her husband or his wife does not about, where the very point of having that “private” cell phone is none other than to be able to pursue sexual relations with considerable discretion. More generally, there are a multitude of ways in which people can discretely meet-up nowadays—ways that were simply not available a mere 3 decades ago.
Again, it is obvious that owing to technology it is very easy for a person to have an alter ego and to present herself or himself as someone other than whom the person actually is. In fact, I know someone in Europe who has 3 credit cards from the same company, where there is an entirely different name on each card. So, the credit cards make it possible for that person to have two alter-egos. A somewhat analogous points holds with respect to email addresses. There is no guarantee at all that an individual is the person that she or he claims to be in the email that one receives from that person. It is essentially effortless to have an altar ego via email. And when having an email alter-ego is put together with having a credit card alter-ego, then it is quite clear that an individual can come across quite convincingly as being so-and-so, though in point of fact that is not the case.
Using the language of the economist and philosopher Adam Smith, the advances in technology are clearly requiring a considerable measure of self-command. Needless to say, the question that mightily presents itself is the following: Are human beings capable of having the level of self-command that technology is requiring? Well, that is not quite the right question; for there is a purely formal sense in which that question can be answered affirmatively. But a most striking reality is that from the fact that a person has the capacity to do that which beneficial to her or him, what does not follow at all is that the individual will so behave. Indeed, the history of humanity is full of instances where individuals fail to do what is beneficial to themselves.
Indeed, when I claimed in my first book Living Morally that human beings are quintessentially social creatures, one thing that I failed to appreciate is that in far too many instances a person prefers to fit-in with others than rather than do that which will very much contribute to her or his self-advancement. Indeed, for all the talk about being autonomous that philosophers engage in, the reality is that most human beings give pride of place to fitting-in rather than to being autonomous. So, while it is true that human beings are formally capable of being autonomous, it is simply false that being autonomous typically has pride of place in the life of most human beings.
If self-command at its very best is very much tied to being autonomous, then a quite striking reality is that even at this point in the history of human beings self-command does not routinely have pride of place in the lives of most human beings. And it is that truth that is ever so disconcerting when one considers the tremendous developments in technology that will continue to occur. For a most poignant truth is that technology in the hands of human beings who lack self-command is ever so likely to be used inappropriate ways—indeed, in countless many immoral ways. Alas, that very point is the very substance of Goodman’s book Future Crimes. If in general human beings were as creative in putting technology to good use as they are in using technology in silly and inappropriate ways, the world would already be a vastly better place in which to live.
© 2015 Laurence Thomas