Where have all the soldiers gone?
The Climate Debate Daily website is a stellar example of the aggregative power of the Internet. There, in tabular form, both sides of the "Global Warming Debate" are dispassionately represented.
The site is in part the handiwork of Denis Dutton, who produces a similar digest for the more literary minded called Arts and Letters Daily. Both are wonderful resources.
Why aren't there more such sites? Probably because the content is hard to generate. Each entry represents an enormous reductive effort. What Dutton essentially does is create a sequence of symbolic keys to complex ideas. Those keys allow us -- roughly -- to refer to very elaborate narratives in a compact way. This is important because the keys; that is to say the summaries Dutton produces can be joined to other keys in useful way. In other words, the sites allow us to connect events and concepts by associating their essential ideas.
For example, Arts and Letters Daily lets us into a whole new world with the attention-grabbing summary "that at least outside the ruins of the Balkans, no European war has been fought for more than 60 years." The hyperlink to which it leads is a long IHT book review of James J. Sheehan's Where Have All the Soldiers Gone: The Transformation of Modern Europe.
Sheehan charts the journey of Europe from one of the most warlike continents on earth to the one in which military establishments have all but atrophied. The book reminds modern readers about how Europeans once thought Americans were pacifist degenerates. Evelyn Waugh wrote, "Of course the Americans are cowards. They are almost all the descendants of wretches who deserted their legitimate monarchs for fear of military service." But that is forgotten in a world where the current soundbite is "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus."
Sheehan's book raises the question of whether Europeans have achieved this new Nirvana through some enlightened rejection of conflict or whether they have abandoned war simply because they can -- now that America is providing for their defense. Yet this vast and fascinating subject, with all its connections to economics and history, would be too extensive get a handle on -- without a site like the Arts and Letters Daily. It is sites which summarize information which help us turn data into intelligence.
As the Internet increases to the point where it becomes the Mind Dump of civilization, the map of itself becomes one of the most important intellectual resources of the world. Google's fortune is built on that foundation: the need to know what we know. Yet while programmatic indexing has a large role to play in describing the outlines of human knowledge, sites like Climate Debate Daily and Arts and Letters Daily will play an important part in abstracting key concepts from a mass of information. It will help us make sense of our world, or at least give the illusion that we can.