Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NSA Revelations and Edward Snowden: Some of What Froths For Me, Now

I don't know what part of me remained surprised, or even why, after Snowden outed the NSA. Because the topic has been a leitmotif in conversations with all of my friends, since at least the too-Orwellianishly-named Patriot Act passed. But I guess there were a few clusters of neural circuits that were in denial: maybe no one's really spying on me. And you know: that would be just...grand.

[But: in 2011, hadn't Dana Priest's and William Arkin's "Top Secret America" articles in the Washington Post annihilated any last vestige of that neurally stubborn naivete? Apparently not...]

Now: the more "adult" clusters of neurons, the ones that neurobiologists implicate in learning, which have been actively buzzing each others' synapses, exchanging glutamate and acetylcholine, strengthening each other's connections, building on other circuits, merging different circuits, looking for patterns...that part of me was not surprised. Because I've been following the topic of "surveillance" and "privacy" and "the corporate state" and the Panopticon ever since that summer after I graduated from high school, when, just for "fun" I read Brave New World, then immediately: 1984. As soon as Winston Smith learned to love Big Brother and that whole boot stomping on the face of humanity forever thing, I chased those two novels with Fahrenheit 451. I was naive. I was a budding conspiracy theorist. I was an adrenaline junkie. I didn't know what to make of these three books, which acted synergistically in my nervous system...and well, frankly, they fucked me up one side and down the next pretty good. And yet: I "enjoyed" them.

Since then, I like to think my thinking/feeling in those areas has become far more nuanced. I mean: that poor 18 year old gangly naif! All hair and fear and testosterone and yea, verily: idealism.

Other times I seem to have not changed much, only lost a lot of that hair. (And I was all hair, really. I played guitar in metal bands and it was sorta like Marty Friedman's, only dyed with Miss Clairol Number 52 Blue/Black...and I was 6 feet tall and weighed about 135. Yes: a freak. Like Cousin It, only with a well-used library card.)

So what to make of Snowden coming out and confirming what intellectual paranoids like myself already suspected?

Well: I was pleased to see that sales of 1984 jumped 5000%, but was equally disappointed by my fellow Unistatians that they weren't already on board with Orwell's ideas. I mean: you'd think the Patriot Act would've done it fer ya, eh? Also: I suspect only about 15% of those who ordered it from Amazon will actually read it all the way through. Also: I remembered the story of Amazon's Kindle owners having their Orwell (and other books) erased. Remotely.  Because they could. Hey, they apologized and gave your money back. And said they wouldn't do that again under "those circumstances." But they can do that. Just another reason why I love the dead-tree book.

No need to point out irony. I hope...

As far as Ray Bradbury's book: no one is burning libraries. Not yet. Oh, you have your Christian fascists getting together for a good ol' Two Minutes Hate and burning, say, Harry Potter books. And there are always classic Murrrkin a-holes harassing librarians and school boards for teaching from commies like John Steinbeck or Mark Twain. Get a load of it HERE.

I think Aldous Huxley's 1932 book cements him as a seer. Just that book alone. The ideas about an entire society made drug-dependent and infantilized, with the overwhelming assumption that some people are "naturally" better than others so there ought to be a way to keep the lessers away from the betters...all with an overarching ethic of consumption, of buying things and consuming them as a way to obtain a self-identity? Aldous was legally blind, a modern Tiresias. Aldous's World Anti-Sex League is far too...2013 Kansas for me. It's spooky.

Orwell. Let's see. For his dystopian state to meet ours we need, indefinite detention just because the State says so (check!). We need the State to be able to torture people for any reason they want and get away with it. (We have lift-off on that. Roger!) The State can decree that it can kill anyone they want, anywhere, and they're supposed to have a reason for this but they can choose to not tell anyone what those reasons are, and no one can compel them to tell why they're assassinating people. (We have this, now, under a "liberal" President in Unistat, June, 2013.)

And of course, the State can have surveillance over all communications. (Edward Snowden on Line 1.)


What about..."Justice"? Presumably there's a Justice system. I mean, there's a Justice Department, just as there was a Ministry of Truth, that put out non-stop propaganda. One of my favorites from 2013 - so far, and there's a cornucopia of this crap to choose from - was the President of Unistat coming in, assuring us that his would be the most "transparent" administration we'd seen. In "reality" as I see it, his Admin has been one of the most opaque when it comes to..."extrajudicial" (Orwell!) matters. (My blogspew on "neomedievalism" might be a germane link here?) And other matters. Liberals have been taken for a ride with this guy.

Time to re-think. What? Hillary Clinton will clear it all up and make it better in 2016? If you believe that and you're reading this blog, you're in the wrong place. Hillary is set as a Neoliberal thinker...better than NeoCon, but really: she's an embodiment of the very outmoded way of thinking about economics and foreign and domestic policy that led us into this morass: a new sort of Failed State, where the government can't even get background checks on gun sales despite about 90% of the public wanting them, us Idiot Citizens thinking it's about time we take even the most trivial steps towards trying to keep from getting accidentally slaughtered by a "lone nut" when we go the goddamned mall. This new sort of Failed State spends as much on military matters as the rest of the world, combined, while the infrastructure crumbles, the actual unemployment level is closer to 20%, and there's a welter of staggering statistics that show how the 1% have run away from the 99%. This government can't even insure its citizens health care, but it can kill any one of its citizens, for any reason.

Justice? Who goes to prison? The poor. And any insider who blows the whistle on the rampant theft in banking, or the gross injustices in the military policies overseas. And let's just wait to see what happens to Snowden.

One thing that many smart writers have missed: even if the NSA can decide to hone in on a domestic citizen with potentially "subversive" ideas, they probably are really only after communications from abroad, looking for "real" terrorists: the infrastructure for a future President Brownback/Palin/Ted Cruz/Newt Gingrich is in place, and it's not going anywhere. If Wall Street or the college loan debt bubble or a combination of both plus something else (another terrorist attack?) happens, this is a real threat to make Orwell's Oceania look like Sesame Street.

We now know that young well-educated people in Unistat who became politically active in order to avert more economic or environmental disasters were heavily surveilled by the State apparatus. As Chomsky has been telling us for at least 15 years: the internal dialogue of the Military/State/Corporate complex refers to the citizenry as "enemy territory."

"The U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." - Sean Hannity, "Hannity's America," June 6th, 2008.

                                  Seth Rosenfeld, author of the stunning Subversives

Seth Rosenfeld Hasn't Had A Proper Hearing Yet:
Another thing a lot of smart, perspicacious writers are missing surrounding the NSA/Snowden clusterfuck: there seems an assumption of linearity in history: we're getting dangerously out of hand, and we need to dial it back. But it's not that simple. Look at what turned up in 30 years of Freedom of Information Act requests in Seth Rosenfeld's 734 page book about Ronald Reagan's and J. Edgar Hoover's wildly paranoid hatred of the University of Berkeley, Subversives, which came out last year. The FBI fought Rosenfeld tooth and nail, but ultimately, the 9th Circuit sided with him. What did we find? A dizzying number of new things that haven't yet filtered into our discourse. Among them:

That Reagan was a snitch for the FBI since 1947. That the FBI sent poison-pen letters (where they make up stuff about someone they don't like) to officials in order to get people fired...that the FBI helped Reagan get elected Governor or California. That the FBI broke into offices, stole and copied and planted information, falsified documents and planted false news stories, assumed both Mario Savio (a brilliant but disturbed Philosophy student and architect of the Free Speech Movement) and UC Berkeley President Clark Kerr (a Quaker and pacifist) were both "communists." The FBI did everything they could to ruin both of their lives, and they succeeded fairly well. (Kerr and Savio were, in actuality, opposed to each other politically regarding the policy of Berkeley.)

To those students of COINTELPRO: yes, it seems like you've seen this; it's not "new" to you. But the depth of Rosenfeld's research ought be considered a series of at least "major" important footnotes to "all that." To those of you who have not been students of COINTELPRO, or only have a cursory knowledge of it: Rosenfeld's book is a perfect place to start, if only because he's so wonderful at narrative using his research. It's a thick book but I found it hard to put down. (Get it from your library as some sort of ethereal shout-out to Ray Bradbury?)

Above all, for our purposes here: the FBI created massive secret lists of "subversives" who should be rounded up "in case of emergency." This included students who were interested in alternative points of view about political and social ideas. If you were an 18 year old English major who signed a petition agreeing that the HUAC should be disbanded, you got on the Hoover/Reagan shitlist. And if your friends or family members subscribed to (or especially: wrote for) publications they thought were "UnAmerican" you were suspect. The brightest young people at the best public university (where much of our actual wealth originates: in new ideas) were enemies to Hoover and Reagan.

This is a hell of a book, so far criminally overlooked. Just because it's about one university, albeit maybe the top public university in Unistat, always productive of Nobel Prize winners, in one small area of Unistat, doesn't mean it's not germane to you who live in some other part of the country...or the rest of the <cough> "free world."

So - and sorry I've gone on far too long once again here - it has already happened here. But a digital infrastructure just makes it possible to do again, but about a million times more - and here's a favorite fascist's word - efficiently. Or, as Edward Snowden put it, we have extended the "architecture of oppression."

Oh, and the "subversives" in Rosenfeld's book?: they're not Savio or the SDS or professors who ordered books on communism. Guess who they are.


Eric Wagner said...

Great piece, as usual. The majority of what I want to say I won't (in such a public place).

I think of that Hank Williams Jr. song "Family Tradition."

Did you like the film "Brazil"?

Happy Yeatsmas. McLuhan likes to quote Yeats a lot. Driving in to work this morning I recited two bits of Yeats I memorized in my twenties (getting ready for the world of Fahrenheit 451 in my small way).

Bobby Campbell said...

Once again, as always, you've wrangled a very messy issue and directed it towards constructive contemplation. Great work!

The #Snowden media virus is a fascinating thing indeed! I think this hero/villain cipher has constructed a very formidable catalyst for change. The most interesting part is the double-bind logic that makes him right even if he's wrong. Even if the character assassins are absolutely right, and this guy is a treasonous criminal, then he is a perfect example of why NSA/PRISM's data mining capabilities are seriously problematic, because it can give unparalleled access to our national security data to treasonous criminals! Now an argument on that level of abstraction probably won't make the nightly news, but it's useful in other ways.

The Mcluhanesque interpretation of a medium such as a global info surveillance would suggest there is a destabilizing double edge to that sword, as already exemplified in the continuously streaming leaks and the resultant back lashings.

My favorite part of Leary's autobio "Flashbacks" is when he discovers his phone is tapped and (perhaps strategically) expresses enthusiasm for the opportunity to communicate w/ the covert audience, because "we're doing this for you too!"

Very thankfully not everyone has that POV, and my endless appreciation goes out to the activists and concerned individuals who dedicate themselves to fighting against this stuff.

For my own part, I don't fight forces, I use them.



Anonymous said...

There's a few things you left out.
(What a coincidence, ...GRIN)

The surveillance apparatus is built on the core of the Net. The Net was made from a conceptual breakthrough which involved doing things in a new
fashion. The other stuff is ancient thinking and methods.

Example: who gets taken down by the
use of the new in old ways. It's the rising star being groomed for great things. it happened while he was head of the CIA.

Here's the punchline, the Net is interactive. You can't just connect to it one-way, the instant you attach it is two-way. Early users knew that throwing a rock got you on the recieving end of 10% of those who were offended by the rock. At that time about 30000 rocks aimed at you.

So NSA stores everything but to do so they have to be connected and that makes it accessible via the tech they have to use.

Since it contains everybody, it also holds the patterns for politicals. Politics isn't done well in the cold light of exposure.

If you weed the corrupt you get the advocates of Auto-da-fe and those who think the bonfire of vanities are not metaphors as leaders.

The politicals are now wide open to risk of exposure by the monster they created with their zeal.

Relax and enjoy the show, it has only just begun to be interesting.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Your point that the surveillance apparatus has been created for the next crazy Republican administration is a good one. If there is any "good news," it is that the Democrats are so bad, the Republicans can't be much worse.

Did you see the poll that showed that most Democrats think being spied on is fine, so long as it's their guy?


michael said...

@ Eric: I like all the Gilliam films, if only for the way they look. That there's a sardonic/absurdist dystopian view in much of his work: yea, I find I lump him in with Orwell, Huxley and a few others. An acquaintance urged me to read a David Brin book on a future surv-State, but I'll have to Google it to find the title.

After reading Fahrenheit 451 I thought for years about what book I'd choose to memorize, if Things Came To That. I ended up thinking Shakespeare would be covered, but Ulysses would be hard. When I happened on Wilson, I thought Illuminatus! was worthy, but the prose and info-density were such that I might only be able to do 250 pages. (And where? In a vast underground bunker?)

How do you feel about making the choice to not say what you think on Internet? I figure I've already crossed whatever lines Authority/Control will not like, so I may as well go on with it. They know I'm a potential problem. But I don't want to live in a State that would make me disappear anyway!

(I do see many shades of possible ways of Being here.)

michael said...

@ Bobby Campbell: I LOVE your riff on the double-bind with Snowden and NSA. It reminds me of a bit in Rosenfeld's book I flogged in the blog:

By 1959, incoming freshmen at Berkeley were given this essay Q:

"What are the dangers of a national police organization, like the FBI, which operates secretly and is unresponsive to criticism?"

Hoover didn't like this Q at all, and had his men track down the professor who wrote it, to try and ruin his career. They tracked down a very conservative professor! What a bunch of fuck-ups! With our money! Anyway, back to the loopy logic:

The FBI ended up acting like a fascist organization, by targeting anyone who accused them of acting like a fascist organization, in an effort to prove to the public that they weren't a fascist organization.

You're right that the Snowden/NSA possible Strange Loop will not make the corporate nightly news...but I could see some "comedian" approaching the idea. Maybe.

Your riff about the McLuhanesque POV model is something I think about quite a lot. "Anonymous" below brings up something isomorphic to that. I see an asymmetry in all this, so far. Clearly, the uber-complex intertwingling of Netstuff can allow any one of us to make long lists of scoundrels and looters of the public treasury, and just plain ol' garden-variety asshole politicians: who went down because of this new hyper-tool. But Assange/Manning/Thomas Drake/Kiriakou/Aaron Swartz/etc, etc, etc: what has happened to those people implies a horrific asymmetry to me.

OTOH, I wonder about the former Soviet Union and esp E. Germany. I see many differences between them and us, but there seem to be enough similarities that it keeps me thinking. Look at what happened there. Will the ancient class warfare between the 1% and the rest of us result in an implosion, followed by a new sort of open gangster-state?

I can see many other possibilities, some much more sunnier...

I also have thought a lot about Leary's (and RAW entertained this idea, in part, for awhile, also) radical openness: No Secrets! Open up all the files! Sunshine on everything! Because secrets imprison those who keep them, etc: it's a beautiful idea. I do not foresee it being implemented anywhere, least of all at the State level. The Owners will not have it.

This is where Robert Anton Wilson's work is still avant-garde: the SNAFU Principle, but especially the idea that conspiracy is normal mammalian politics. It's so rampant that most academics can't see it right in front of their faces: there's so much inter-corporate spying going on it's stunning that anyone with a degree still pretends it's Fine School Form to knee-jerk and laugh at the Little People, the hoi polloi, who entertain and "believe in" conspiracy theories. And a multitude of powerful, wealthy interests are always conspiring against each other/making secret alliances/double-crossing each other/spreading disinfo/trying to see past others' disinfo...

I will stay tuned. Thanks for the good vibes, as always.

michael said...

@ Anonymous: I always sit down to blog and intend to write three paragraphs, but I always get carried away. Of course I left "a few things out."

Hell: I left almost all of it out.

The Petraeus dynamics, or anything resembling them, fascinate me. But as I wrote above in response to Mr. Campbell, I currently see an asymmetry in it all, in that the State has historically unheard-of punitive powers. Petraeus had to step down and retire to civilian life, give highly-paid speeches, write books, and act as a "consultant" or whatever the fuck he's doing. I'm presenting a general model (HA!) of what happens to these people, part of the higher State apparatus.

But if you're Bradley Manning...or Anwar al-Awlaki's 16 yr old son...or a farmer trying to meet his mortgage payment by growing pot in the wrong state...

I see your point, and I think it's basically right. But the asymmetry of the situation is what really alarms me. Maybe this will change.

I would like to be able to relax and enjoy the show, but maybe my temperament doesn't allow it. My folks aren't wealthy, I don't have all that many resources, and I have shown The State, since at least 1989, that I'm definitely against them. (It seems fairly certain that was the year I got on their "subversives" list, or whatever they're calling it now.)

I'm pissed at what's happened to Manning, Kiriakou, Drake, and Swartz. Among many others. And I'm pretty sure there are plenty of the "Real Americans" with State power behind them that don't like that I'm pissed about it. And so...it's not fun.

But in truth? Most of my days I'm not letting it get to me. There's a time and place.

michael said...

@ Tom Jackson: Yep! I've seen plenty of that. It's not surprising. Well, the extent of it is a bit surprising.

The good thing about this: we achieve a sort of separation, and can more easily find those who care about State power getting out of hand no matter what little idiot letter follows a name.

Have you seen Michael Lind's attacks on Libertarianism in Salon? He's written at least three in the last two weeks. He evinces next to zero knowledge about the history of libertarianism and anarchism. I'm still estranged from my books, but this will be over soon and at some point I have to get in a blogspew about the semantic problems between Lind and Ron Paulists and guys like Chomsky and Robert Anton Wilson and the anarcho-libertarian-socialist ideas they draw from, going back to the 18th century at least.

Meanwhile Three Loud Raspberries for staunch "Big D" Democrats and their Obama-love.

Sue Howard said...

Off-topic slightly, but imagine: Chomsky's early linguistics work was Pentagon-funded (and it was, demonstrably). This new direction in linguistics served the military's purposes... skip forward 50 years, and... NSA language algorithms! But the NSA code can't cope with the vagueness, polysemy or metaphoric or connotative connections in my tweets! I'm misunderstood.

It'd make a good novel, but Prof Chris Knight has already written about it here, for European Review:


Sue Howard said...

I try again with that link:


Anonymous said...

This seems to be a hot topic. There are a lot of things to be hot about the treatment of people by the current interpretation is one.

I don't think you can ever justify any form of extrajudicial murder of children. I don't think enforcers of law are immune to the inevitable backlash. This goes from the little local bureaucrat all the way to the top.

Nuremburg set the precedent and I knew it would come back to haunt the governments. Winners narratives may make it seem plausible but in the long run there is only one way capitalists want a government to work. Mark Blyth and his GoogleTalk have a lot clearer picture of what I'm hinting at.

The transparency exists, it is only seen by those who understand the tech details and it was built into the tech for another purpose.
The Net is a Black Swan and like other things of that type it can't be controlled or fenced in.

The massive blundering and overkill of this federal bureaucracy is asymmetry based on fear. Our fear is miniscule compared to their fears, that is why you see the monstrous lashing out at the innocuous to show they are not afraid and in control.

I think Terry McKenna was right, the ego drives itself ultimately into total paranoia if unchecked
by some internal balance. When a government tips into this abyss it becomes a horror and it's leadership is at risk of the usual form of historical rectification.

Petraeus was well on his way to being president when he was blown by a system he didn't understand.

What was even more interesting is that it almost took out a second generals career as well.

Once you pull a thread loose the whole mess of dubious interconnections starts to unravel.

But we know the conspiracy that runs the world is yourself and your friends.

That's why Pope discovers Gay faction in Vatican is a nice example of todays headlines.

Eric Wagner said...

I feel sad about not speaking my mind, but so it goes. "Silence, exile and cunning" - well, I haven't chosen exile and I think I've overestimated my cunning.

michael said...

@Sue Howard: Thanks for making my week: If we consider The Chomsky Problem as something to be solved, I think in Chris Knight we may have a winner!

And I hadn't even known who he was!

I've since read a TON of his stuff; what a fascinating thinker.

Re: the Chomsky/NSA Mega-Irony: Yea, and all because of Noam's admitted "quirk in my brain that makes it work like buffers in a computer." (!)

Just think: Noam was good friends with John Deutch at MIT and even supported him for Prez of MIT, even though the larger faculty voted him down...and then Deutch became head of the CIA!

I'm lucky to have such readers/commenters as you, Ms.Howard. I suspect I learn more from you than you do from me.

michael said...

@Anonymous: I still like the conspiracy of me and my friends. Those who've accomplished anything must have had some variation of this idea working in their thought.

Your ideas about them being more afraid of us is an idea I think of often. Fear will inhibit clear thought and will lead to stupid decisions. We all know this from our own lives. If it's legitimate to extrapolate to a faction of Ruling Elites, this seems to explain much. Many of us read the latest news and think, "My gawd! What idea about human nature are they operating with?"

I actually thought the Bush Admin higher-ups would be subject to Nuremberg Laws, but so far I feel like I got ripped off there. And I think we all did: get ripped off. They got away with it. For now it looks like Cheney, Rummy, Wolfie, W, et.al are indeed "immune." I find this glaring, stark.

The Net seems to give birth to Black Swans at an explosive rate; one that history has never even come close to seeing. Did you see that presentation on "How to Revive the Middle Class" thing last week by one of Obama's economic advisors? It used the business of rock and roll to show how a few artists sell about 80% (I forget the number, actually) all the rock music now. It's a winner-take-all economy. As if anyone in Obama's cabinet of advisors is going to do anything to change that?

Anyway, that'a a Black Swan right there. That's Taleb right there! (But AFAIK Nassim wasn't mentioned.)

Wait: it's here in case anyone cares to look:

Your riff on the thread coming loose: I'm hoping Snowden has pulled it out far enough that everything begins to unravel from here on out...but if it does - and I'm not holding my breath, a Harvard Prof was interviewed by Bill Moyers earlier this week and quoted Snowden that the worst fear he has is that nothing will change and the Harvard Prof thought that's what will happen: nothing will change - if it does unravel, let's hope it's toward a saner socio-economic system. There seem no guarantees.

You cited Mark Blyth's recent talk. If anyone reading hasn't seen it and wants to get up to speed on the now-proven-bogus economic theory of "austerity," you MUST see this, a 67 1/2 minute education:


michael said...

@ Eric: I think I understand. Hang in there, man.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share........