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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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Moore’s Law defines the history of technology. It held that the number of circuits etched on a given piece of silicon could double every 18 months as far as its author, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, could see. Moore’s Law has spawned constant revolutions since then, not just in computing but in communications, in science, in a host of areas. Moore’s Law applies to radios, and to optical fiber, but there are some areas where it doesn’t apply. In this blog we’ll take a daily look at new implications of Moore’s Law in real time, as it rolls forward to create our future.
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December 23, 2005

This Week's Clue: The Spring of Consensus

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

Robert_Prechter_small.jpgThis week's issue of A-Clue.Com is my annual Year in Preview essay.

You're invited to join the A-Clue.Com community by clicking this link. Always free.

One problem I have with Robert Prechter's work is its apocalyptic nature. It's the deep breath before the long plunge. The forest is about to burn, the world as we know it about to come to an end.

But even within Prechter's work on cycles, he admits, cycles continue. The Great Depression which ended the last great cycle, in 1929, was followed by a long period of growth based on more reasonable expectations. Spring, in other words, follows Winter, and while it's easy to see hunger in shoots you can't eat, you know things are going to get better.

Perhaps the better analogy is to a forest fire. In nature such fires, while rare, are healthy. They clear the swamps of undergrowth and let the water do its cleansing work. They sweep away the smaller trees and give the giant redwoods soil in which to propagate.

The climax of an Armageddon is not just an ending, but a beginning. Bad for Mordor, bad for elves, but good for men of peace, and goodwill toward hobbits. Samwise and Aragorn are left to rebuild while the rest of the cast goes into the West.

It's obvious to anyone with a brain that we're at the end times for a lot of things. For proprietary platforms, for American exceptionalism, and for the conservative movement Goldwater spawned and Reagan nurtured.

What replaces them is now the question, and the answers aren't all good. In many cases the answer is China. China is facing its own generational crisis, as the center that put down Tienanmien finds it increasingly difficult to hold on amid the great contradictions of corruption, pollution, and expectations.

The reason I think the American economy has kept going until now has nothing to do with tax cuts, and everything to do with that other cycle, the Chinese cycle. The last few years have seen us build a bridge to the 19th Century, and we know how that came out. People didn't live as long. Generations were shorter. The European crisis of 1815 was followed by conflicts in 1830, 1848 and 1870. Each time, it seemed, liberalism lost, and old habits reasserted themselves. But under the surface people were gaining power, and new institutions were forming. Great nations were being born, and the European model was taking over the world.

Of course, our time has all that history to fall back on. The point is that China's crisis is coming on a schedule that will let us meet it, take it at the flood, then fall and rise together. If we're wise.

The fact is some of us are. Many of our new technology leaders, like Bruce Perens and Richard Stallman, are themselves revolutionaries, and it's this kind of inspiration China (and India) will be looking toward in the coming months. It's not what they do, but where they stand, and the courage with which they stand there, that counts. Linux and open source are a technological Marx and Engels, only it's all fresh, unabused as yet by dictatorships of the proletariat.

What happens in an Industrial Revolution is that millions gain the knowledge, and the wealth, which formerly belonged only to a few. They are powerless individually to change systems, but together they are powerful, and stand ready when called upon to do great things.

Say what you want about the pain of that period in Europe, of how it ended in two great wars and foreign (American) intervention. But the final result today is a general acceptance of peace, a generally shared prosperity, and a general societal consensus in favor of democracy, of human rights, and of capitalism yoked to the common good.

Every day, in China and India, new people are grabbing the lower rungs of the middle class dream. They understand the need for stability, but their own aspirations beat the drum for reform, and it comes, maybe fitfully, definitely painfully, certainly through crisis, but it comes.

The Right sees this time as a great battle between democracy and dictatorship, but there's another force they aren't even aware of, a force called consensus, which is moving people ahead and which will get us through these hard times. The reason for our own confusion is that America, right now, stands wholly outside this global consensus.

Consensus is built on democratic principles but it goes much deeper. Consensus accepts that compromise is necessary between any groups with strong views. Consensus won't let the Shiites roll over the Sunnis, or the Republicans roll over the Democrats, even if they have a majority. Consensus starts with the question, what can we agree on, and negotiates from there.

Consensus is at the heart of Linux, of open source development, of the process by which the Internet evolves. TCP/IP is accepted, and Ipv6 will be when there's a consensus to move it forward. The concept of seeing the source code is accepted, and the GPL will be too when there's a consensus to move it forward. We know how the process works. It's not incompatible with capitalism.

Consensus is what drives science forward too. Evolution is just a theory, but it's accepted by consensus, because it works. Quantum mechanics is just a theory, but it's useful in developing new theories, so the consensus accepts the idea of a Big Bang, even as some look for Little Bangs to replace their old belief in a steady state universe.

Consensus is what is left when tempers cool, and while it's not a complete solution it's something which can be built on. The result of today's political crisis will not be a Democratic Hegemony, but a new consensus, a broad acceptance of principles, and ashes from which mighty redwoods may someday grow.

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