Friday, June 14, 2013


2 + 2 = 5. "The arithmetic of an industrial-financial counter-plan plus enthusiasm of workers."  (1931) From

We are duly informed that we are not to worry our pretty little heads about this Domestic Surveillance Thing because of all the "dozens" of Terror Plots Thwarted, dontchaknow: It's Keeping Us Safe!

Of course we needn't ask "Who is us?" That would be rude in any case, and lord knows, we mustn't be rude. Not in Times Like These.

Besides, everyone's on Facebook and Teh Goggle, so everyone is already sharing all their personal information with the whole wide world anyway. As long as you're not a Muslim-terrorist or leftish-anarchist activist, you have nothing to worry about. As long as you're not a druggie. Or a whistle-blower. Or anybody else we don't like.

See how this works? Institute universal surveillance "for your safety" and use it (carefully, of course) to go after targeted out groups only -- while spying on everyone fully. Keep mistakes to a minimum and no one is the wiser.

Since nobody really knows whether or when they will become a target, everyone tends to moderate their behavior so as to keep as low and inconspicuous a profile as possible. Nothing outspoken, nothing out of the ordinary. Conformity is key.

It works surprisingly well -- until it doesn't. And when it doesn't, it's when the society itself is self-destructing. Ask the Soviets.

It works so well I think because humans are hard-wired to be social animals, to be suspicious of outsiders, and to conform to social norms whatever they may be. Constant subtle cues tell us how we are supposed to behave, what we are supposed to believe, who we are supposed to obey, and so on. In a typical small social circle or society all these cues are given through personal interactions moment to moment, day to day, almost subconsciously. In a huge society like that of the United States or any other imperial power past or present, the cues come both from the social circle in which one finds oneself and from the implicit threat of state action against non-conformists through legal and extra-legal means, and through knowledge that the state know what you're doing (and thinking) or can know.

Though your neighbor is encouraged to report the untoward activities and behaviors you engage in (which surprisingly often they do, busy-bodies being a constant among human social groups), the neighbor's report is no longer necessary. Technology has made it possible for people to be surveilled without the intervention of neighbors and others close at hand. Their internet and communications activities are being scooped up and stored, as well as being scored for potentials. Their public activities, particularly demonstrating for or against particular polices, are being witnessed and video-recorded for later review. All sorts of every day common activities are being recorded as well. All of it is being stored and can be retrieved (unless doing so is inconvenient to those in power, which is a whole other topic) whenever circumstances warrant.

Anyone's life can be turned upside down at any time, and in many cases, a highly negative picture of anyone targeted can be built from available records, whether collected surreptitiously or openly. And quite frankly, we are supposed to fear it.

That's one reason why there is so much public airing of the supposed reality of the NSA and other domestic spying apparatus in the United States these days.

I'm not sure that Snowden and Greenwald -- and the Guardian -- set out to inspire a sense of permanent and universal dread among the non-conformist community, but that's been the effect of what they have publicized about the surveillance apparatus to date.

Activists within the community have known for many years that they are under perpetual surveillance and that they can be rounded up at any time and subjected to untold persecutions and prosecutions simply because they dissent. But until now, "ordinary people" and non-activist sympathizers with dissenters weren't sure that they could be targeted too, but they are being surveilled as well, and their data is scooped up with all the rest of it and can be retrieved whenever required by Power to make a case against them.

In fact, if the minimal information about domestic surveillance that Snowden and Greenwald released last week is taken solely at face value and extrapolated across the digital spectrum, there is little that the surveilleurs wouldn't be able to know about any individual, and there is very little or nothing the individual would be able to do about it -- unless they made it their full time occupation to avoid society and thus the scrutiny that goes with it.

Consequently, the upshot is to accept it rather than to resist it. Since there is really no practical way around it for most people, they can rail against it all they want, but ultimately they have no choice but to submit.

"2+2=5," comrade.

One submits and believes or one risks the consequences -- which, as we are well aware, can be quite dire.

Depending, of course, on who one is and what sort of example Power wishes to make of one.

Because, let's be clear, not everyone who dissents is actually subject to the consequences of their thoughts, speech, and actions. Glenn Greenwald and Medea Benjamin come immediately to mind as examples. Glenn travels the world -- and the United States -- freely and frequently, he abides in Brazil without molestation despite its long and frequently gory reputation as a police state, and his broadsides against politicians and media figures have long been noted for their intensity and verbosity. Were he considered a threat to The Powers That Be, he could have been targeted and eliminated (or more likely contained) long ago, but he hasn't been. When this simple fact is pointed out, his fans claim that Power dast not mess with Glenzilla because he is a high-profile public figure, and doing anything to him would trigger... well, something.

Much the same argument is presented to explain why Medea still has full and perpetual access to congressional offices and hearing rooms and other official spaces despite her long years of disruption and reputation for outspoken dissent. She is, they say, such a high profile public figure that Power cannot mess with her -- or there would be...something.

In my view, Power utilizes certain figures, such as Greenwald and Medea, to defuse objections to policies that are or will be in effect, much as Chomsky has long been used to argue against this or that public (or more often now, secret) policy without providing any means to reverse the policy being objected to.

During the Occupy heyday, for example, Chomsky was going around to groups in Boston saying essentially, "Do not rise up, do not speak of 'revolution.'" Greenwald has said that all he wants from the spate of NSA leaks in the Guardian is for the American people to be informed enough of what is going on to be able to have a debate about it. Medea engages in what amounts to clowning -- to make a point to be sure -- but one that is deliberately as non-threatening to Power as possible.

Managed dissent, you see.

Which brings me around to Arthur Silber's recent ruminations about his uneasiness with the way the NSA material is being presented through its various gate keepers. (h/t teri49 in comments). It is all being carefully filtered by Snowden, Glenn, and apparently the Guardian, so as not to -- they say -- jeopardize any individuals or the security apparat itself. And Silber raises a pertinent point: "WTFF?" If they have information that can bring down the "Death State" as he calls it, then present it. Nothing is more important.

But of course, they don't. I haven't checked in the last hour or so, but there hasn't been any new revelation in the Guardian for a week now and counting. Glenn has been doing plenty of teevee and twittering his various pissing matches, but there is nothing new in it. Snowden, for his part, has gone to the Hong Kong English language press with tales of NSA intrigue and spying on Chinese companies and his announcement that he wants to be tried in Hong Kong courts -- but for what isn't exactly clear. Supposedly, there is a "global manhunt" for Snowden -- who is said to still be in Hong Kong, so the "global hunt" is kind of ridiculous overkill -- and various politicians are calling for his head on a pike, again for what is not entirely clear. "Treason" being a bit of a stretch.

And there are hearings, many, many hearings. All of which tell us not to worry our pretty little heads about it. Adequate information will be provided in due time. We can all go on about our business secure in the knowledge that the designated out groups are being fully harried and harassed to the ends of the Earth... all in order to Keep Us Safe.

Hate to say it, but this is the exact argument used for every form of security/surveillance/totalitarian state I'm aware of. It's also the argument used for any number of deadly persecutions we all should be familiar with -- including a wide variety of recent and historical genocides. Let's not fool ourselves, that's where this security/surveillance fetish could easily lead. The USA has had plenty of experience.

"2+2=5" is benign compared to what's going on now. The electric signs and posters that once decorated Moscow with this apparently blatant falsehood -- which would be later utilized by Orwell to demonstrate the depths to which totalitarianism could sink -- were propaganda to encourage greater worker effort on behalf of Stalin's First Five Year Plan. The Five Year Plan could be realized in four. And it was.

Propaganda is one thing. Surveillance for control is something else again. They do go hand in hand, however...


  1. You have a great point. Why wouldn't they release all the information they have? If Greenwald wants to motivate people to effect change I'm thinking that would be great way to do it. I don't think the level of outrage on this will really change anything. As you make clear we are all terrorists now.

  2. Rather than posting more of what he's got, he's teasing readers at the Guardian and continuing with his pissing matches with various media and politicians.

    Meanwhile, others are taking up the slack, publishing plenty more information about the surveillance programs, perhaps propaganda as well, and Snowden is giving exclusives to the South China Morning Post about NSA hacking into Chinese systems and all but asking for asylum.

    If Snowden really has given blockbuster documentation to the Guardian, why do they keep teasing it rather than releasing it? Obviously this slow pace is deliberate, allowing plenty of time for governments to recalibrate their systems and calm the people before the next deliberate revelation.

    I'm sure all of us are having our potentials evaluated hourly... well, if anyone had the ability to do it!