Star Wars Episode VII: The Rogue Satellites

Could a bunch of rebel amateurs put communication satellites into space to bring the guarantee of internet access to the galaxy?

In my view one of the most critical challenges we face as a species is the urgent need to decouple religion from politics, law, medicine, science, education and pretty much everything else of any significance.

Religious leaders miss the point when they argue the state needs religion.  They must explain why religion needs the state in the form of tax breaks and other state sponsorship, be it Establishment and religious schools in the United Kingdom or other more extreme forms of theocracy elsewhere in the world.

When these unjustifiable and discriminatory religious privileges are combined with the Kevlar-like protection afforded by historical taboos of criticism or ridicule, and the assumption that religious faith is synonymous in and of itself with morality, religions benefit from a perpetually-elevating social platform from which they can spew a perpetually-elevating level of (often very harmful) bollocks.

One of the keys to placing religion on an equal footing with other man-made ideas is free speech and free expression, which must be defended at all costs.  Stories like this about potential restrictions on these freedoms at the United Nations level literally give me sleepless nights.

So it’s nice to read a slightly more uplifting story like this one about a group of computer hackers wanting to “take the internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit” (and even putting an amateur astronaut on the moon eventually).

Although unmuzzled religion poses a grave threat to us all, we are nonetheless incredibly lucky to live in the age that we do.  Religious institutions, and other institutions which rely on their own history and the strict regulation of information for their power can no longer suppress the free flow of information.

As a practical illustration I like to offer the example of, say, a young Muslim girl (a Muslim girl, not all Muslim girls) – in the United Kingdom or elsewhere – who is raised in a hermetically sealed theological bubble on a rigorous diet of religious indoctrination, misinformation, dogma, misogyny and subjugation, washed down with a good glug of vintage infidel hatred.  Hundreds of years ago – no, maybe even just ten or fifteen years ago – she might just as well have been left to a pack of hungry wolves.  But thanks in large part to advances in technology, if this girl has access to a computer and an internet connection or even just a half-decent mobile phone, she obtains a life-giving glimmer of help and inspiration.  This could literally be the difference between being one of life’s victims or discovering she has exclusive rights over her mind and her body – and encouraging her peers to think in similar terms.

As anyone watching Stephen Fry’s excellent television series recently would have seen, the development of language has been crucial to the development and success of humans, allowing ideas to be transmitted from one generation to the next.  The good ideas are retained, built on and perfected and the bad ones discarded, but the lessons to be provided by failures are still transmitted.

Combine language’s clarity of transmission with humans’ ability to record language in some permanent or semi-permanent form – providing a degree of protection against bad memories and bad interpretations – and it’s reasonably easy to see how humans have colonised the planet and given themselves a platform from which to colonise space in what has effectively been an evolutionary nanosecond.

The internet, of course, is another huge leap forward in terms of the power of language and communication, as is its availability on mobile devices which are very cheap both in relation to other consumer goods and also the functionality they deliver.

My guess is that censorship or temporary disablement of the internet – by states or large corporations (which increasingly yield as much power as states, if not more) – would result in widespread social unrest, possibly on a global scale, so accustomed have we become to the free movement of gigabytes.

There is even a school of thought which says access to the internet should be a human right.  Given that the influence of large corporations often straddles many jurisdictions it can be tempting to define civilisation today merely as recognisable brand names writ large, but perhaps we should redefine it as reliable access to unregulated information.

The idea of a continually available global communication platform no matter what is certainly an exciting one.  There are questions, naturally, such as who holds the keys to such a formidable tool and whether all information really should be available all of the time to all of the planet.  My gut feeling is that, as with so many other advances in technology, the dangers need to be carefully analysed and mitigated but the benefits will ultimately outweigh the dangers.

Not only is the concept exciting; so too is the fact it is being discussed seriously.  This is itself testament to the ability of humans – with a little help from the internet – to disseminate ideas globally and effortlessly.  And the internet provides a final silver bullet: it gives humans the ability to actually collaborate with each other in realising the project.

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