Tactical Linguistics Research Institute

"nox sicut dies illuminabitur"

Posts Tagged ‘Totalitarianism

Wrestling with Phantoms

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Last month, ABC News reported on the results of an undercover Department of Homeland Security test to assess the effectiveness of security screening procedures at US airports.  Although the results of the study could not be independently confirmed, multiple media outlets repeated the claim that agents smuggling fake contraban through aiport security were able to get 95% of their fake weapons and explosves past screening agents the Transportation Security Administration’s travel checkpoints.

While most of the recycled news stories predictably framed the findings in terms of the ineptitude of the upopular TSA, from a statistical perspective the meaning of the report are much different.

A 95% security failure rate is the best empirical evidence we have to suggest there are no terrorists are airports.  If there were terrorists smuggling guns and bombs into airports, then, presumably, we would have heard about some horrible jihadi shooting spree at an airport by now.  It would seem the only people smuggling contraban into airports these days is the government itself.

This state of affairs — where the government bureaucracy terrorizes itself on TV, with the general population as collateral damage — has a long pedigree.  It is, effectively, a Cold War phenomenon wrapped in a new garb to keep the boogieman scary.

During the Cold War, American schoolchildren were periodically terrorized by “duck and cover” drills, which presumed to offer some defense against a suprise Soviet nuclear attack.  Despite all the hype about the Soviet nuclear threat, however, the only radioactive fallout Americans were ever exposed to during the Cold War came from the American government itself.  Decades of atmospheric tests, thermonuclear tourism in Las Vegas, nuclear accidents like Mighty Oak (radiation from which was blamed on Chernobyl) and Midas Myth, all exposed Americans to nuclear fallout in the name of fighting the Soviet nuclear threat.

Today, during the War on Terrorwhich continues despite the retirement of that epithet — we have a similar scenario, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation incites and entraps would-be terrorists in order to justify the government’s anti-terrorism policies.  From the “Detroit Sleeper Cell” (a farce created by prosecutorial misconduct) to the “Liberty City Seven”, most high-profile terrorism cases have been the creation of the FBI.  Even if the charges in these cases are overturned, once the incident gets into the mass media, the damage is done.  This is a reality TV replacement for the fruity loops terror alerts.

While the first victim in all this is the truth, the un-critical parroting of spurious claims by the media adds a new dimension to the current brainwashing.  We like to assume that because of the Internet, information is more accessible than ever.  Unfortunately, the critical distinctions between information, facts, truth, and intelligence has been lost.

Primer on Resistance and the Surveillance State

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There’s no Internet without surveillance. The Internet was built by the US military to be robust, not for privacy or security.  Privacy was not part of the Internet’s design goals.

The Internet became a commonplace household word in part because of the hype surrounding an economic bubble created during the presidency of Bill Clinton.  Under Bill Clinton, the US Congress also enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act at the same time that Windows 95 introduced Americans to personal computers and the phrase “information superhighway” introduced Americans to networking. Surveillance was an integral part of handing the Internet over to commerce.

The relationship between commerce and the surveillance state is now well-established: Apple and Microsoft are suspect, and Yahoo has made surveillance a business proposition — as per 18 U.S.C. § 2706, Yahoo’s 2009 rates ran as follows:

Basic subscriber records cost $20 for the first ID, $10 per ID thereafter; basic group Information (including information about moderators) cost $20 for a group with a single moderator; contents of subscriber accounts — including email — cost $30-$40 per user; contents of groups cost $40 – $80 per group.

Given that typical internet advertising revenue brings in only pennies per click, the current scale of Internet surveillance clearly implies that spying on customers is big business for online firms.

Other telecommunications carriers have made similar overtures, some companies have faced legal and economic reprisal for refusing to cooperate, and yet others have availed themselves of their free speech rights as corporate persons to engage in this dubious commerce.

It should be reason enough to be disturbed by NSA surveillance that the Founders prohibited this type of information gathering in the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. The excuse “I’ve got nothing to hide” misses the point.  The government should obey the law, that’s a core feature of what “rule of law” means. And the example of non-violent resistance through non-participation set by Ghandi and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and vegetarians and vegans offers a clear a lesson for how to resist the surveillance society: stop participating in an abusive system.  The Internet is cruelty to human animals and it’s bad for the social environment.

If it weren’t for so many Americans purchasing data plans on “smart” phones, purchasing home Internet access, and dutifully reporting their daily thoughts and habits psychological makeup on FaceBook accounts, the costs to Uncle Sam for maintaining the current surveillance state would very rapidly prove prohibitive.  That is, if the government had to pay your phone bill and your internet costs and pay a spy to follow you around to listen in on your conversations, it could no longer afford to spy on everybody. Through consumer habits and the cultural value placed on convenience, Americans effectively subsidize the surveillance state on behalf of the governmentDan Geer stated the matter succinctly: our online choices are between freedom, security, and convenience, but we can only pick two.

From a cost perspective, a “vegetarian” approach to resisting the surveillance state (that is, by simply opting out) is an inexpensive solution that aims at increasing the cost of surveillance to the state.  This approach requires little social coordination other than a shared will to change prevailing circumstances — and a little personal initiative.   Such a “vegetarian” approach also serves to inject additional uncertainty into what data is gathered (thereby diminishing the value of what data Uncle Sam does collect).  This doesn’t mean life without the internet any more than vegetarianism means life without food, it just means being more selective about where your internet comes from, where you take it, and what you do with it.

You don’t need to be online all day.  A good starting point would be to make a habit of leaving your cellphone tracking device at home once in a while.  Just because your cellphone is wireless, that doesn’t mean you need to take it with you everywhere you go.  If you take it with you everywhere you go, it’s more of a tracking device than a phone.  When Uncle Sam looks through your cell tower data, changing your cellphone habits will increase the uncertainty as to your location at any given time during the day.

If you care to preserve “democracy,” all that’s really needed is a little social coordination and a willingness to put up with a little less “convenience.”  This may sound incompatible with the modern world, but there’s good reason to get motivated: the modern world is incompatible with the perpetuation of the human race.  There’s more at stake than a little privacy, though the more fundamental problem is bound up with the psychology of consumer society: in a growth economy based on persuasion though advertising — where consumers must make choices about the allocation of their scarce resources — every new product requiring new investment must be presented as needful and fundamental to the modern way of life.

Many people know things have gone awry with the modern world: between the threats posed by persistent national militarism, thermonuclear war, war over resources, mass hunger, environmental degradation, climate change, shortening attention spans, new communicable diseases — something is clearly wrong.  And yet, somehow, everyone looks to another for the solution.  Nobody is willing to see their complicity and change their behavior.  So: if you don’t like internet surveillance, stop surveilling yourself.  The problem isn’t some nebulous “big brother,” it’s you. The government isn’t going to change its behavior, so stop waiting for the government to save you from the government. You have to save yourself from yourself.


Modern Libertarians and Corporatist Totalitarianism

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The term “libertarian” was first used by Joseph Déjacque in 1857 to describe a particular brand of anarchism.  I have discussed elsewhere the extent to which modern libertarianism represents a perversion of classical anarchist thought.  The extent to which this modern, impoverished view represents a clear and present danger to law and order deserves added emphasis.

Modern libertarians, in their criticism of the possibility that government action might distort market factors, consistently neglect to consider the extent to which industrial corporations distort market factors through the formation of monopolies and oligopolies.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan even went so far as to criticize anti-trust legislation on the grounds that “No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born. No one can ever compute the price that all of us have paid for that Act which, by inducing less effective use of capital, has kept our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible.”  Greenspan later acknowledged that his views contained a “flaw,” and expressed “shocked disbelief” that the banking sector failed to self-regulate.

For many industries, monopoly and oligopoly are the default market arrangements: consider Monsanto in the US soy market, Intel in the computer chip market, or the typical cable tv market, for example.  These are not isolated cases, but represent a pervasive form of corporate organization at the industrial scale.  Wherever producers are able to dictate prices, rather than rely on the signals sent by consumer purchasing decisions, producers exert coercive pressure on consumers, and market forces do not operate properly.

Given that industrial scale corporations control far more wealth and resources than the government, industrial scale corporations would seem to pose a more significant threat to individual liberty than government.  And, given the libertarian opposition to growth in government as a source of coercive influences, a self-consistent libertarian position should hold the growth of monopoly or oligopoly to be a considerable threat as well.  Given that modern industry is largely characterized by monopoly and oligopoly, a self-consistent libertarian position, therefore, would hold economic growth itself to be highly suspect.  In railing against regulation, however, modern libertarians neglect the threat posed by industry, and in effect, facilitate the growth of oligopoly.

This myopic character of modern libertarianism can be seen operating behind conservative opposition to “Obamacare,” which conservatives believe represents a government over-reach into the health care market.

The government’s intervention in health care isn’t an intervention in the free market, however, because the US health care industry isn’t governed by market forces. Take prescription drugs, for example. Each pharmacy pays a different price to the pharmaceutical company. Depending on the insurer, each consumer pays a different copay to the pharmacy. The consumer often doesn’t know the retail price of the drugs, and the prescribing doctor doesn’t know what the patient’s copay is. The price system only works when consumers — not producers — set the price. If consumers don’t know the price, their purchasing decisions don’t serve as signals to producers.

don't steal from medicare to support socialized medicine

The health insurance industry in the US is best characterized as an extortion racket. Government mandated health insurance is a problem, but not for the reasons conservatives identify.  The problem is not government interference in the market because there is no market. Because conservatives have the wrong diagnosis, their prescription for a cure is also wrong.

Free market thinker Friedrich Hayek, in the Road to Serfdom, saw monopoly as the proximate cause of modern totalitarianism.  On page 194, he observes, “This movement is, of course, deliberately planned by the capitalist organizers of monopolies, and they are thus one of the main sources of this danger.  Their responsibility is not altered by the fact that their aim is not a totalitarian system but rather a sort of corporative society in which the organized industries would appear as semi-independent and self-governing ‘estates.’ … A state which allows such enormous aggregations of power to grow up cannot afford to let this power rest entirely in private control.”

Written by Indigo Jones

May 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm

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