Wednesday, April 11, 2007

From unexpected sources

I stumbled across some profound theological thinking in an unlikely place. Usually slashdot is not a place for kiddies or those who adhere to any religion. But these two comments blew me away.

Slashdot | The Myth of the Superhacker
The biggest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist
Quite true, not mind blowing but definitely true. But he opened the door for this
St. Augustine has a worthwhile point to make here.

He was dealing with a fundamental theological problem: how does a good God create a universe in which evil exists. He came up with a novel solution: it's all good, but evil chooses lesser goods over greater goods -- an concept closely akin to the modern economic concept of opportunity cost. You cannot have the capacity to choose without the capacity to choose the wrong thing; if you were forced to choose the right thing all the time then you wouldn't have free will. Therefore free will implies the existence of evil, which is not a thing in itself, but a deficit.

Dante sharpens Augustine's point in the Divine Comedy: evil is really the result of stubborn, even aggressive stupidity. As outlandish as the punishments that are meted out in the Inferno, they're all pretty much people getting unlimited quantities of whatever it was they pursued in life.

The Devil, then, doesn't need to exist; at least if he does he has no power of his own. There is no need to believe in the nearly all-powerful devil of neo-Christian folklore. The power of Satan, both biblically and by orthodox theology, lies in the stupidity and stubbornness of humanity. A near omnipotent Devil is not really any better off than a powerless but tricky one because (a) near omnipotence is not very useful when the other side is omnipotent and (b) it is impossible to spread evil (in the Augustinian sense) by the exercise of raw power.

Which brings us to the Superhacker. There is no need for a hacker to obtain near omnipotent technical skills. In any case people with extremely high levels of technical skills have better uses for them. Instead, a hacker exploits the stubbornness and stupidity of people who own computers. They won't pay competent people to manage them. They'll choose software for superficial convenience. In Augustinian terms they choose the lesser goods of short term cost savings and convenience over the greater good of security.
Now, I don't completely agree the devil doesn't need to exist and is just a trick wimp thought, but it is correct that Satan has no power of his own. He can only corrupt and twist what is created by God.

And yes, humans are our own worst enemies. Much worse than Satan as he can only suggest, where we actually commit. And pulling that into tech terms with the hackers... Well done.

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