The missing tool of the fifth estate

If the three traditional estates of the realm are the clergy, the nobility and the commoners, and the fourth estate is the mainstream media, then we might say, as William Dutton has, that networked individuals enabled by the Internet are the fifth estate. 

But the Internet has not provided all of the tools for communication and democratic action that the fifth estate requires. There’s at least one important gap. 

I’ve been writing recently about Eric Weinstein’s podcast episode with Timur Kuran. We can draw from that episode an illustration of the missing tool. 

Giving conversation about abortion as an example, Weinstein says that he wants to escape the “enforced conversation of morons” in which we identify our views as one of two positions in a single dimension: either pro-life, or pro-choice. Weinstein says that he caucuses with the pro-choicers, but that his real position is “a plague on both your houses”. 

I’m not pro-choice to the extent that I’m willing to call a child four minutes before its birth ‘fetal tissue’. Nor am I pro-life to the extent that I’m going to call a blastosphere a ‘baby’. Both of those seem patently insane to me.

my key point is, look, I’ll drop these people in a heartbeat if you give me some nuanced room in which to maneuver. Let’s talk about the neural tube formation.

Let’s talk about what we think of as life…nowhere do I get to discuss Carnegie stages in embryonic development, which would be sort of a more scientific approach to what quality of life is it that we’re trying to preserve.

What Weinstein wants is to be able to convey his actual position on abortion, succinctly. Currently, he has to choose between the two: he can succinctly convey something that isn’t his actual position (“pro-choice”), or he can laboriously convey his actual position. But he can’t do both. 

His inability to do both forces him to choose. And it prevents him from accomplishing a number of important things. It makes it hard for him to be seen and understood accurately. It makes it difficult for him to have truth-seeking conversations with reasonable people. It makes it difficult for he and others, if they have different views, to find out whether they might want to caucus together for some particular purpose. 

I believe that there’s a tool that’s within our power to build which would let Weinstein and everyone like him communicate about their actual positions succinctly. Let’s call it the Disambiguator. I’ll talk about it (probably) in a future post.