Status and (mis)information

A default cultural norm is that people with high status know more than people with low status.

The highest status person in the world on secure information, however, the director of the CIA, did not know that Gmail is not a secure conduit for potentially compromising information.

This “small” detail, which has led to his resignation, is very telling about what high status people actually do know and how we should think of them. Basically, they don’t necessarily know even the basics.

This shows that our default cultural norm about people with high status knowing more than people with low status is not trustworthy.

Default cultural norms are “public semiotics” that can cause you problems if you question them.

Once something like the Gmail news is out, if it gets out, we can talk about it, but if you had said a week ago that just because someone is the head of the CIA doesn’t mean he or she understands basic email security, you would have sounded like a nut (a signal that you are violating a cultural norm).

High status individuals, groups, committees, commissions, etc. are not necessarily right, not at all.

How can it be that no one ever told the director of the CIA that Gmail is not a safe way to send private information? For his entire illustrious career in the military no one told him? And he never learned that on his own?

That is an amazing fact and shows why hierarchical government, determined through the status of individuals, is not working well, and never will. The time has come to start using network science and data drawn from many millions of individuals to control more of our society. Eventually, we will do best to figure out systems that do not rely on high status individuals—not their reputations, “wisdom,” nice personalities, cute families, good looks, or anything else about them.

The tools for doing that are growing by the day.

(For FIML practitioners, the detail discussed above reveals how error-prone all communication is. On this site, we often call cultural norms “public semiotics.” Just as FIML partners will uncover and remove mistaken “private semiotics” from their thought streams, so also will their enhanced lateral communication (between the two of them) give them the means to remove illusions concerning public semiotics. Mistaken semiotics, either private or public, constitute a good deal of what the Buddha meant by delusion and why he said virtually everyone is deluded.)

Edit: This gmail story broke over one year ago, before the public knew about the NSA saving all personal electronic data of private citizens. This makes me wonder if Petraeus knew what the NSA was doing. If he did not, this shows that we do indeed have levels of government that are kept secret even from top officials. If he did know that the NSA had access to his gmail account and was saving his private correspondence, well, this seems unlikely to me.

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