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Google Translate Should Get Peace Prize

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Reflections

Reflections

Our leaders frequently demonize other humankins. We are told that they are fundamentalist crazy, that they are born with soldier boots on and have the rhythm of marching in their blood. That they want to destroy us, our way of life, and we must go to war to defend ourselves. We have not been able to make an opinion of our own. Until now.

Nobody wants to be drafted into a war: the best they can possibly hope for is to make it home alive and unhurt. Whether a democratic nation goes to war or not depends on the ability of its elected leaders to create the public opinion for a war, and that is only possible if the painted enemy appears strange and impossible to understand and relate to.

In short, people will only go to war against a people they don’t have a potential of cooperating with. This is very universal. How universal? This universal:

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. … And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. … Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

– the Bible (Tower of Babel), the Qu’ran (برج بابل‎), and the Torah (מגדל בבל‎)

It struck me as I was reading Twitter the other day and comments to my post about how the Israeli Armed Forces were behind the Stuxnet attack worm. There were several — not many, but several — comments of the kind “excellent! Let’s bomb the XXXX out of those bastards. They’re all fundamentalist crazy.”

And I thought to myself, what a small mind these people have. They are writing this in a medium where they can actually speak to the people involved, where it is practical to do so for the first time ever. It’s just a matter of right-clicking and selecting Translate when something incomprehensible appears in Arabic letters, and you can read their thoughts and ideas all of a sudden. Doing so opened my mind enormously beyond what I had imagined: despite being in dictatorships, these people had thoughts on accountability and transparency far more advanced than regular people in the West.

And you know what?

“They” don’t hate anybody. “They” are mothers and fathers just like everybody else who wants to buy nice things for their children, just like us and just like everybody else. If it is anything they hate, it is the idea of being forced by their own leaders into a war where the best they can hope for is to make it home again alive.

Again, history repeats itself. Our grandmothers and grandfathers were told the same generalizations about the Japanese and the German, about how they were all warlike and that it was just in their blood. (If you live in Japan or Germany, I am assuming the opposite holds true.) Now we now better: Japanese, Korean, German, Chinese, Swedish and Canadian parents all love their children and just want to put a nice dinner on the table.

Never again will it be possible for leaders to paint another kin as demons and beat the drums of war, now that we can finally talk to one another directly and understand our fears, motivations, love, and aspirations.

With the help of Google Translate, and in particular its integration into Twitter tools and Chrome, doors have been opened for my mind that I didn’t know were there. (I know there have been translation tools before, but they have never been this accessible, which is key.) Seeing something in Arabic makes you shrug. Seeing something in Arabic and immediately seeing it flash into language you understand is something different entirely.

This is probably the first time I quote the Bible, Qu’ran and Torah — but I think they are all right in this one passage. When people understand one another, there is nothing we all can’t accomplish.

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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16

  1. 1
    Klas

    While I like the general message, there are very many reasons why people go to war.
    If the language barrier was the primary reason civil wars wouldn’t exist for instance, also, pretty much all the wars in europe ever has been between people who could make themselves understood to each other.

    So, no, I disagree with the hypothesis.

    However, it is fascination how the borders are evaporating more and more each day.

  2. 2

    Falkvinge on Infopolicy: Google Translate Should Get Peace Prize:
    Our leaders frequently demonize other h… http://tinyurl.com/47mkect

  3. 3
    Magnus

    Somewhere in all those old books you quote for the first time, there is talk about the end of time. Yes, we are reaching that point, and it has happened before, that is why those books anticipated it to happen again. This may sound apocalyptic, the end of time, but that is only becuse of interpretations made by the old powers to put fear into people. The time that is ending is only an era, and yes the world as we _know_ it, and a new era with a new tidsanda/zeitgeist begins. But there will be turmoil for at least a generation still, we can only speculate how bad. Because leaders still do beat the drums of war, Khadaffi as just an example, or why not the big imperial world domination leader mr Obama. You as well as I know that USA spends more on the military than the rest of the combined.

    Evil comes out of execution of power within a bad system. That is why ordinary decent people can become the livestock of dictatorship, they just obey order and follows the herd. Like the ordinary decent men and wimen from the army reserve that became the guards of Abu Ghraib, they where not evil people, they became evil buy the scircumstances just as gods favourite angel Lucifer, in those books again.

    I tend to agree, communication helps understanding and that undermines the drums of war. But we still need heroism as the antidote of evil, heroism that can blow the whistle loud and clear when bad systems start to trsansform ordinary decent people into a mass of pure evil. But then we need to understand what heroism is and give it space to act, right now the whole western world are going in the oposite direction for that, we tend to put heroes in prison because heroes do not obey the order to turn on the gas in the “showers”.

  4. 4
    Carl

    I’m glad to see Rick adressing the problem of language barriers. I have long claimed that language barriers are the most divisive forces for humanity, far more divisive than differences in culture or religion. Any tools to deal with language barriers will mean a lot for peace in the world.

    • 4.1

      You might be wrong though… the biggest problem for humanity is mathematics. To take one little biased hypothesis to begin with and build fantasies on top of that… fantasies you can not get rid of because you can not trace back to the initial error anymore (because it was made at a time where context and understanding were not enough to make one suspect it might be an error, and thus no historical record of traces can be found).

      Google Translate could be a fine tool… if it were not part of the tools of a big monopoly… they trace everything!

  5. 5
    David Högberg

    Just a small pointer: Saying that something is in both the Bible and the Torah is like saying something is in Book X and also in chapter 1 of Book X. The Torah is the hebrew name for the first five books of the Bible, the ones that are traditionally ascribed to Moses.

    So of course everything you can quote from the Torah is also in the Bible, since the first is a subset of the latter.

  6. 6

    RT @glynmoody: Google Translate Should Get Peace Prize – http://bit.ly/fZT2VL "With the help of Google Translate doors have been opened for my mind"

  7. 7
    Rikard

    @Klas && Rick
    All wars are fought for the same reason, Money. ( Some dictators may have started some war some time due to jealousy or the fact that they where crazy)

    But in order to sell the idea to go far from home and risk your life to kill the ‘enemy’ you have to somehow turn ‘the others’ from ‘people’ into this strange concept called ‘the enemy’. In the middle ages I can clearly see how much easier it must have been to convince your people that those other people living ‘on the far side of yonder forest’ are in fact evil and practice witchcraft etc. because most people would have no means of confirming the truthfulness of such claims (more due to distance than language).
    Today on the other hand I could just ‘google’ ‘the enemy’ and download a copy of his/her morning newspaper and/or read what the average joe has to say on current events. The way I see it it’s more a ‘communications barrier’ than a linguistic one.

  8. 9

    RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: Google Translate Should Get Peace Prize:
    Our leaders frequently demonize other h… http://tinyurl.com/47mkect

  9. 10

    @ Rikard

    Money is just an man-made instrument, and as such what happens to it or how it is handled can only be seen as a symptom.

    Causes for human behavior, reasons, can only be found in the human mind. No matter what the rest… it is accessory. The strongest cause of all is the instinctive quest for survival.

    Of course, we have strayed far away from simple monkey business… statistics, game theory, affordable losses, MAD… Machiavellian politics and financial scheming… ;) .

    Theoretically… one groups survival is only guaranteed when it has more than half of ALL available resources at its disposal, because only then all the rest of the groups together can not match his strength.

    Pure Sun Tzu… The only war you have to fight is the one your enemy does not know he can not win. Beware of stupidity though, for it does not follow logic and reacts erratically without clue, trying the impossible anyway.

  10. 11
    Magnus

    Thanks Rick, it always feels good to get +1, but now i am going go a bit aginst you, and i hope that you will agree, at least i am quite sure that i will will not neutralize that +1.

    Of course, understanding is hardly promoted by not beeing able to understand each others language. But beeing able to understand the the language does not lead to understanding. The road is not that straight, there is way to many psycological and sociological barriers and crossroads for that.

    Like the Thomas theorem as just one example, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” If you shout “Fire!” you can create panic, regardless if true or not. It all depends if people belive you, and that can depend on many things. If many people in one place believe a false rumour that their bank has become bankrupt, and all of them go to the bank to withdraw their money, the bank will become bankrupt in reality.

    Some people do not want to know, some are afraid to know, some resort to system justification, some just don’t give a shit and some are just plain old thick headed.. There is always a plethora of kognitive dissonance and apects of the Plato-cave. I actually think this old swedish translation is better.

    “Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.”/Plato

    Fear of the truth do exist, actually among all of us in varying extent and reasons. Beeing able to read another language do not help if not other mental barriers are torn down first.

    Sometimes politicians can propose something dreadful without people reacting because they do not belive it, or rather, do not want to believe it. Becase of that there will be no opposition from the people and thus the proposition become law without any fuss. Aftewards people start to justify it, even if they do not like it – it is for my own good – or it does not affect me, only the bad ones. The Niemöller effect in action.

    Marcus Schmidt has written something thoughtful about it on svpol.se, Epistemologins balkanisering (in swedish).

    I translate two cites:

    Racists do not read the latest findings on the hermeneutic methodology of cross-cultural rhetoric, the homeopath is not interested in validity of evidence-based medicine, the majority make the active choise to not read Playboy in public.

    The epistemological balkanisation is not about the truth. It is about the social networks we actively surround ourselves with, and actively avoid.

    Quite funny to write it like that actually, with all those fancy words the article will with ceartainty only be understood by those who is already actively willing to understand, absolutely not average joe.

  11. 12
    Magnus

    Oopss, luckily i got stuck in moderation, broken code, hope this is better (can you implement a preview?):

    Thanks Rick, it always feels good to get +1, but now i am going go a bit against you, and i hope that you will agree, at least i am quite sure that i will will not neutralize that +1.

    Of course, understanding is hardly promoted by not beeing able to understand each others language. But beeing able to understand the the language does not lead to understanding. The road is not that straight, there is way to many psycological and sociological barriers and crossroads for that.

    Like the Thomas theorem as just one example, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” If you shout “Fire!” you can create panic, regardless if true or not. It all depends if people believe you, and that can depend on many things. If many people in one place believe a false rumor that their bank has become bankrupt, and all of them go to the bank to withdraw their money, the bank will become bankrupt in reality.

    Some people do not want to know, some are afraid to know, some resort to system justification, some just don’t give a shit and some are just plain old thick headed.. There is always a plethora of cognitive dissonance and aspects of the Plato-cave. I actually think this old swedish translation is better (1922).

    “Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.”/Plato

    Fear of the truth do exist, actually among all of us in varying extent and reasons. Being able to read another language do not help if not other mental barriers are torn down first.

    Sometimes politicians can propose something dreadful without people reacting because they do not believe it, or rather, do not want to believe it. Because of that there will be no opposition from the people and thus the proposition become law without any fuss. Afterward people start to justify it, even if they do not like it – it is for my own good – or it does not affect me, only the bad ones. The Niemöller effect in action.

    Marcus Schmidt has written something thoughtful about it on svpol.se, Epistemologins balkanisering (in swedish).

    I translate two cites:

    Racists do not read the latest findings on the hermeneutic methodology of cross-cultural rhetoric, the homeopath is not interested in validity of evidence-based medicine, the majority make the active choice to not read Playboy in public.

    The epistemological balkanisation is not about the truth. It is about the social networks we actively surround ourselves with, and actively avoid.

    Quite funny to write it like that actually, with all those fancy words the article will with ceartainty only be understood by those who is already actively willing to understand, absolutely not average joe.

  12. 13
    Ahrimana

    Please,

    humankind is not a plural, and can’t be, since there isn’t more than one humankind. That is why our leaders have a tendency of demonizing other people, nations or a nation.

    The beginning should be:
    Our leaders frequently demonize other people. We are told that they are crazy fundamentalists, who are born with soldier boots on and have marching rhythm in their blood. *We are told* (repeat for the sake of the rhythm) that they want to destroy us, our way of life, and we must go to war to defend ourselves.

  13. 14

    Dear Ahrimana,

    There is “mankind”, the whole, one and only, as you say. But this is a theoretical concept we are only sure of (more or less, depending of how much a fan os Science Fiction you are) since we know our Mother Earth is a sphere with a finite surface we are more or less sure not to find any big holes with surprises in anymore…

    … and there is “kin”, “human kin” if among the species later in theory globally united under the label “mankind”. “Kin” is pre-mankind in its origins, and denotes common-interest groupings (on whatever basis, basically family relations, tribal relations, economic relations… any detail making one prefer to interact with known people easier than with strangers).

    As it is related to behavioral trends (altruism) and group theory (the swarm economics) of recent interest among Pirates, a few short and interesting reads:

    http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/5/1/5.html
    (Interesting bibliography!)

    http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/classes/121T/Week%208.pdf

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