Patriot Act/Snowden Era
In light of what's been revealed and will continue to pour out in this, the Snowden Era, as some of us now call this Epoch (9/11 is so...like...yesterday, man), I'd like to point out that it's still not too late to get filled-in by what Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post accomplished in their stellar research and collating and just overall journalist mega-due diligence in Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State. Dig how Bush/Cheney privatized surveillance on such a massive scale that Priest and Arkin found nondescript snoop centers in industrial parks all over Unistat. And I mean all over. And they're not government agencies! It's privatized now. It pays better than the low-mid-level gummint spook gig, so why not defect to the private sector, get paid more, and have absolutely zero ideas about democratic principles? No more of that nagging, cognitive-dissonance-y pangs that you may not be serving the people of Unistat, but only the servicing the needs of the 1%.
Of course, we still have ye olde fashioned spooks, like the alphabet soup of NSA/CIA/FBI, et.al...that we're paying with out tax dollars to listen in on...well, just about everything, really.
Here's Richard Rhodes's review of Priest and Arkin. A passage:
“A culture of fear,” write journalists Dana Priest and William Arkin, “had created a culture of spending to control it, which, in turn, had led to a belief that the government had to be able to stop every single plot before it took place, regardless of whether it involved one network of twenty terrorists or one single deranged person.” The resulting “security spending spree,” they report, “exceeded $2 trillion.”
But let's not worry too much. The number of people who have Top Secret Security Clearance is only at least 854,000.
A few years ago a film about life in East Germany under the Stasi came out: The Lives of Others. The Hollywood elite voters gave it the Oscar for Best Foreign Movie of 2006. Way back in 2006! I remember seeing the film and wondering how close we in Unistat were to this situation, and thinking: probably closer than most Unistatians would want to know. At the same time, another part of my brain told me, Stop being such a paranoiac...
Here's the trailer.
James Bamford's Puzzle Palace came out in 1982. Around 1995 I bought a battered paperback copy at a used bookstore and read it all, riveted. The few people I knew who were fascinated by this stuff agreed: how come the CIA are the rock star spooks, while you mention "the NSA" and the common response is, "Who?" Bamford deserves credit for doing the first extended book-job on Snowden's former employer.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the last book I read about the NSA - how evil they could be - before the Snowden stuff hit. It was Dan Brown's Digital Fortress. Yes, I admit it. I had gone through a point where I felt like I had to read DaVinci Code, if only to see what all the fuss was about. When that book sold 10 million (or however many), his previous potboilers got popular again. So I read those too. Here's someone from Democratic Underground, writing this past Bloomsday, on how oddly prescient the novel now seems. I admit I hadn't thought much about the NSA (except they were probably doing something nefarious with regards to the 4th Amendment in addition to maybe getting a line or three on possible terrorists) when I read Brown's book.
A question after all these books and films and now the Snowden Era: what are we supposed to do this all this information that They have about us? And what do They plan to do with their information about us? And a third question, if I may: must we replay something like East Germany, or is there some saner way out of this madness? What part of the 4th Amendment don't They get? (I know, I know: they get it all, but they're just obeying orders; it's nothing personal, yadda blah yadda blah meh meh meh.)
It's far too easy for paranoids like me to see a President Palin and local cops having ultra-fast digital info, based on my license plate whizzing by, that I'm an "America-Hater" and it's best for True Americans to get rid of people like me...who read Chomsky, have been involved with Occupy, support the ACLU, and are clearly guilty via documentation of hundreds of thousands of Thought Crimes...
In 1967, when Allen Ginsberg visited Ezra Pound in Rapallo, they talked about the craziness of Vietnam and how the Unistat government seemed to see the "peaceniks" as troublemakers. And they agreed: Make everything open. End the State secrets game. The artist Bobby Campbell has remarked on Timothy Leary's very similar vision, which emanates from that era. (For Ginsberg/Pound: see What Thou Lovest Well Remains, pp.36-37)
Poets as Distant Early Warning signalers...
In Only Apparently Real, a collection of interviews with Philip K. Dick with Paul Williams, the ever-present topic of PKD paranoia comes up, and PKD has ideas about the end of privacy...in 1974! (see pp.154-164)
In Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice, in 1970 the ARPANET is suspected as a future Panopticon. (see pp.364-366)
In his book of poetry, Coming To Jakarta: A Poem About Terror, Canadian-raised and later Berkeley English Professor and chronicler and theorist of "Deep Politics," Peter Dale Scott, recalls that, in the 1930s, when his father was away on conferences about economic democracy or world peace, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tapped their phone. (see p.30)
In Laurel Canyon, a history of late 1960s/early 1970s rock and folk musicians who lived in that area of LA, information about the LA County Sheriffs harassing hippies, wiretapping, surveillance. Sure, the Manson stuff could bring that on, but...
Marshall McLuhan, dying sometime in the early hours of the last day of 1980, had been wondering where the new tribalized electronic human was going, with the evident omnipresence of electronic and digital technologies, which were extensions of our own nervous systems and which changed us in ways we could not know about unless we constantly investigated and "probed" how they were working in feedback loops with our own nervous systems. Add synergetically to that: the-non-wired environment, and our conscious sensibilities. In his Catholic, quasi-anachist mind, he worried about the elimination of what he thought of as "natural law," mostly in the Catholic Church, Aquinas-on sense. The trouble with all this new tech: it seemed to render ourselves evermore "discarnate." He thought this discarnate-ness would lead to a new religious age, which could be an occult-like thing. It might be a diabolical or destructive age that was upon us. McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand takes it from here:
"There was yet another twist to the phenomenon of discarnate man, as McLuhan saw it. In an age when people were translated into images and information, the chief human activity became surveillance and espionage (recall: McLuhan died in 1980!- OG). Everything from spy satellites to Nielsen ratings to marketing surveys to credit bureau investigations was part of this intelligence-gathering, man-hunting syndrome. So pervasive was the syndrome that discarnate man worried whether he existed as nothing more than an entry in a databank somewhere." (see Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, p.250)
Do the (very) few OG readers suspect the OG could go on and on with these classic "counterculture" figures and their musings on the "Surv State" (as poet Ed Sanders often writes it)? Aye. I could. I will. But to end this blahg, let me go WAY back:
Do not revile the king even in your
or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird of the air may carry
and a bird on the wing may report
what you say.
PS: Bertold Brecht:
Some party hack decreed that the people
had lost the government's confidence
and could only regain it with redoubled effort.
If that is the case, would it not be be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?
- "The Solution" ["Die Lösung"] (c. 1953), as translated in Brecht on Brecht : An Improvisation (1967) by George Tabori, p. 17