2 + 2 = 5

Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like a child’s game, with children’s songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviours who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient – and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death. But we shall keep the secret, and for their happiness we shall allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. Though if there were anything in the other world, it certainly would not be for such as they. It is prophesied that Thou wilt come again in victory, Thou wilt come with Thy chosen, the proud and strong, but we will say that they have only saved themselves, but we have saved all. We are told that the harlot who sits upon the beast, and holds in her hands the mystery, shall be put to shame, that the weak will rise up again, and will rend her royal purple and will strip naked her loathsome body. But then I will stand up and point out to Thee the thousand millions of happy children who have known no sin. And we who have taken their sins upon us for their happiness will stand up before Thee and say: “Judge us if Thou canst and darest.” — Dostoevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

Suppose we could destroy an idea.

Should we?

Take sexism for example. Or homophobia. Or fascism. I think most of us can probably agree that these are Bad Ideas, and that the world would be better off without them. Suppose we could line the isms of our choice up and have them shot — erase them from human consciousness, never to return. Who gets to decide what stays and what goes? How would we justify the legitimacy of their decision? Is it desirable, or even possible, for human society to continue to evolve without Bad Ideas?

I am sure you can guess what the Grand Inquisitor would have to say on the subject.

Modern technology is often seen as a democratizing force. However, I would argue that the same technological infrastructure makes it possible to brainwash people on a scale never before imagined. It is tempting to believe the internet offers pure, unfettered access to information. In reality what most of us call “the internet” is a whole bunch of pages indexed by a search engine. The search engine mediates access to information. The search engine quite literally shapes our perception of reality.

Take a look at Hidden From Google. There is a fine line between the Right to Be Forgotten and the Power to Alter Reality. In a sense they are one and the same.

Again, the Grand Inquisitor:

We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient – and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy. There will be thousands of millions of happy babes, and a hundred thousand sufferers who have taken upon themselves the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Peacefully they will die, peacefully they will expire in Thy name, and beyond the grave they will find nothing but death.

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