I heard one more Repub this morning making light of the oft-repeated but categorically untrue meme that Al Gore once said that he invented the internet. This has become such a widely repeated falsehood, with the assured looks of those who ignorantly promulgate it, that to believe otherwise has become what is tantamount to implied naivety.
As far back as the 1970s, Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high-speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises. In June 1986, Gore introduced the Supercomputer Network Act of 1986, and then in 1991 would present what would become known as the “Gore Bill” to Congress, also known as the High-Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991.
UCLA professor of computer science Leonard Kleinrock, said of Gore:
“Al Gore, a strong and knowledgeable proponent of the Internet, promoted legislation that resulted in President George H.W Bush signing the High-Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. This Act allocated $600 million for high-performance computing and for the creation of the National Research and Education Network. The NREN brought together industry, academia, and government in a joint effort to accelerate the development and deployment of gigabit/sec networking.”
The bill was passed on Dec. 9, 1991, and led to the National Information Infrastructure which Gore referred to as the “information superhighway”. President George H. W. Bush predicted that the bill would help “unlock the secrets of DNA,” open up foreign markets to free trade, and a promise of cooperation between government, academia, and industry.
Prior to its passage, Gore discussed the basics of the bill in an article for the September 1991 issue of Scientific American entitled Scientific American presents the September 1991 Single Copy Issue: Communications, Computers, and Networks. His essay, “Infrastructure for the Global Village”, commented on the lack of network access described above and argued: “Rather than holding back, the U.S. should lead by building the information infrastructure, essential if all Americans are to gain access to this transforming technology “high-speed networks must be built that tie together millions of computers, providing capabilities that we cannot even imagine.”
Gore never said that he “invented the internet”. What he did say was, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of projects and technologies that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, as well as improvements in our educational system.”
The internet as we know it today did not exist before Gore’s initiatives became law. It was a government owned, private academic and military communication system which was off limits to the public.
He did, in fact, take “the initiative in creating the Internet”.
When listening people deny that they are racist, or sexist, or ageist, or any of the myriad variations on the “ist” suffix, I’ve often wondered how one defends oneself when they, truly and honestly, believe that they are being falsely accused of belonging to one of those groups.
Some try the “some of my best friends are…” or “I’ve hired hundreds of…” excuse, which causes the eyes to immediately and involuntarily roll. The problem with this argument is that many avowed racists throughout history have always found one “good one”, to whom they patronizingly refer when accused of their particular “ism”. I usually respond to that excuse by saying that that argument is no different from a man defending himself against accusations of misogyny by using the fact that he’s married to a woman as proof that he respects them. That argument suggests that even men who brutally beat their wives don’t disrespect women by virtue of the fact that they married one!
The fact is that there is no defense against accusations of, for example, racism, since we are all racist to one degree or another. We are all sexist to one degree or another. We are all ageist to one degree or another. It’s simply a matter of degree. And the more we try to prove our lack of any of those “isms”, the more it appears that we do in fact embrace them.
Intellectually, we can all tell ourselves and others that we see all people as equals, and this might be true on that level. But on a more visceral level, how true is that, really? As a 60-year-old white male, I can truly say that, given no more information, if I had the choice to be in a room filled with other 60-year-old white men or a room filled with 18-year-old black females, I would likely default to the first. Who among us would not?
Yes, that, in and of itself, proves that I am racist, sexist and ageist. The reason for this is simply because we tend to want to flock with those most like us, those with similar attributes, language and interests to us. And those who are different from us often have customs, likes and desires that are dissimilar from ours, and so somewhat uncomfortable to us.
To me, however, the test of racism, sexism or ageism is not one of whether you like or respect those who are different from you, but whether you see them primarily through the lens of their race, sex or age (this can also include religious affiliations). If you say that some of your best friends are black, then you are, by definition, a racist, since you define these friends by the color of their skin. It is your default position when accused of racism. It doesn’t mean that you don’t like or respect them. It means that you use their skin color as a way of defining them. That is the most fundamental form of racism.
On the other hand, if a white person were to purposely surround herself with nothing but black people, she too is as much of a racist as one who avoids black people at all cost, since she uses the race of her acquaintances to determine their value.
The point is that if someone were to ever define me as racist, sexist, ageist or anything of the sort, irrespective of whether I agreed with their depiction of me, the only honest response is to say, “Yes, I am. And I fight it every day of the week”.
The purpose of this post is not to excuse racism in any way, but merely to point out that, although we are all afflicted with it to one degree or another, it is always wrong. The way that I deal with my own racism, sexism and ageism is to acknowledge it, try to figure out where it came from, and try to identify the reasons for it. I then try to teach myself to not let it happen again. I am successful only to varying degrees.
In the late 1960s, WBAI, at the time a true underground NYC radio station had a very popular talk-show host named Alex Bennett. He was an anti-war, lefty, Nixon-hating borderline communist, and had a huge following among young adults and teens.
Once, an obvious right-wing racist called in and “accused” Bennett of being married to a black woman, as if this were some kind of crime. Rather than engage this imbecile or dignify his question with a truthful response, Bennett famously said, “I’ll have to ask her next time I see her. I’ve never looked at her that closely”. Although I certainly grasped the irony and sarcasm in that statement, the only person who can honestly deny that he or she is a racist is one who can say that, and mean it.