Newt Gingrich's Divided Brain

There are certain unfortunates in this world--accident victims or surgery patients--whose right and left lobes function entirely independently, unlinked, unaware of each other. Mr. Gingrich reminds me of one of these.

Half of him is a traditional, old-line conservative, whose dream America resembles Dickensian London with its smog, prisons, orphanages and workhouses. But the other half of Mr. Gingrich is an Esther Dyson-style techno-philosopher.

Ms. Dyson, in case you don't know her, is the editor of a newsletter called Release 1.0, which for more than a decade has been predicting and analyzing trends in the computer industry. But it would be a better description to say that she is famous in the computer industry for being famous. When I heard her speak to a packed crowd at a major user's group meeting almost ten years ago, she appeared barefoot on stage and was vague and enthusiastic, as a techno-philosopher should be. I guess people like Marc Andreeson will always quietly create products like Mosaic and Netscape, while people like Ms. Dyson will always talk to us about paradigm shifts and empowerment.

Ms. Dyson interviewed Mr. Gingrich recently in the pages of Wired, and after reading the interview, I felt like my head was made of cotton candy. Soul mates at last had met. But at last we had seen in detail the kind, gentle, protective (if terribly vague) side of Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich's two lobes function almost independently of one another. When he talks from the conservative side of his brain (about orphanages, for example), you could attribute his words to a nineteenth century British member of Parliament and there would be no anachronism. Computers and technology are in it nowhere. But when he talks about computers, about the Internet as an important influence in late 20th century American democracy, conservatism is in it nowhere.

Every once in a while, a lonely neuron or two fire across the gap between the two lobes, and out comes a half-baked idea like laptops for the poor. But this happens rarely.

I have a modest proposal. The Internet is the ultimate Mill-ian playground. By this, I mean that it is the finest laboratory for self-development in the way urged by philosopher John Stuart Mill. In On Liberty, he said that if the government would just leave us alone, we could each develop our own personalities in any direction that moved us. So long as we do not hurt other people, anything that comes of our explorations is our own affair. On the Net, we assume, develop and discard new identities at will, even changing genders without an operation. Let's give Mr. Gingrich a chance to develop the technophilosopher side of him; he clearly enjoys it far more than the Jesse Helms side. I will personally offer to donate space to him on the server where I reside, and will assist with HTML and other details. We will create the "Cyberleader" page, and will present Mr. Gingrich as "an important public figure whose true identity cannot be revealed until the time is right." Mr. Gingrich, under the name Cyberleader, can opine to his heart's content, answer questions, make predictions and generally develop the kind and gentle side of his personality. Perhaps he will discover there is compassion in him after all.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gingrich is not really the Cyberleader he touts himself to be.