America is going through the worst of days under the fiction (aka false consciousness) of these being the best of days. We learn only today, all part of the Snowden revelations about government surveillance, that the National Security Agency (the world’s largest spying operation, domestic and foreign) has an extremely close and still growing working relation with Silicon Valley (putatively, the harbinger of world democratic forces via the potentialities of the social media hastening connectivity), a political-structural imbrication of the public and private spheres draining the life-blood of human freedom of its citizenry: the right of PRIVACY, a main constituent of the individual’s autonomy, not constrained or shaped by thought control. Why this encroachment on our very identities as persons, not the beliefs and roles we are steadily indoctrinated to assume, but the inner core of self-development, our unfolding possibilities?
The US is now notorious in international circles for regime change. Bad enough, but it gets worse: The US, internally, perhaps as the necessary or ratifying condition which makes broad-gauged intervention, including regime change, possible (and the implicit goal of foreign policy), has taken the qualitative jump into the culture-molding process of the social management of personality. We are reaching the point of no return as a nation, assigning to privatization much of the business of data mining (and it emphatically is a business) wherein our private lives are stripped as nearly bare as possible, the information routed to government for purposes of surveillance, and to private business—often the same information—so as to stimulate wants and sell goods and services.
Crass, yes! The convergence of militarism and consumerism, nay, one better, mutual reinforcement of the two as the formula for sustaining global hegemony and capitalistic growth alike, brings us to the present day, in which surveillance + privatization = the militarization of capitalism, the former keeping us in line (i.e., social discipline through tactics of fear, in order to engender self-pacification), and the latter, giving us a depth of commitment to property as a moral law unto itself legitimating capital accumulation by any and all means (i.e., intervention, regime change, foreign conquest). Is this gross exaggeration? Not if one takes Snowden’s revelations seriously and weighs the activities of the National Security Agency (except for turf wars, inseparable from those of the CIA, FBI, and other assorted intelligence units, chiefly, of the military services) as the direct channel into the lives and minds of Americans—and, we see, foreign nationals—providing the conditions for totalitarianism where free choice is nonexistent and dictated from above.
Then, US expansionism (a euphemism for the combined thrust of imperialism and militarism) will have free reign throughout the world, aided and abetted through the promotion of the political culture of complicity in all things pertaining to war, consumption, and the inculcation of patriotic values, the last-named decisive to the reshaping of America itself so that class structure will reflect wide differentials of wealth and power—the poor as prime candidates for self-pacification in the name of the greater good. We therefore punish ourselves, a collective self-sacrifice on behalf of the glorification of power and force, as though foreign conquest can be fed back into our empty hulks (consciousness), at the expense, gladly surrendered, of a vital social safety net, a more egalitarian social structure, and freedom to think, criticize, and create alternative social systems and political economies. Hence, the masochistic element promoting capitalism and militarism to the detriment of domestic well-being.
But what of sadomasochism, delight in the infliction of pain on others, a delight in cruelty, as, these days, the horrid impersonality of incinerating others from 8,000 miles away, be they “collateral damage,” such as women and children in the vicinity of the drone strike, “signature strikes,” the deliberate targeting of funerals for the victims and of first responders coming to their assistance, or suspicious individuals, often identity unknown? Here our own masochism (sacrificing social needs on the altars of wars, intervention, nuclear modernization, and humongous “defense” spending) justifies, to ourselves, our aggression to others, obviously ungrateful to the bearers of liberty and democratic gifts. As one contemplates the scene, which I intimately associate with Obama (given his active promotion of secrecy, surveillance, and the criminalizing of divulging information exposing despotic government and illegal activities), possibly more than his predecessors, one comes to see the psychopathological nature of American capitalism, as requiring surveillance at this stage of possible senescence, in order to sustain itself. The foregoing thoughts were prompted by the New York Times editorial (June 20), which rightly criticized the conspicuous place of private contractors in intelligence gathering, and a further article on the close ties between NSA and Silicon Valley. My Comment on the editorial follows:
Privatization has become the curse of American democracy. Even specifically in intelligence, it radiates out to include the fusion of capitalism and national security, rendering government the midwife to the policy goals of business implemented via the use of force. Say what one will about Snowden (and I, for one, view him as a national HERO), his revelations have brought to light what had been a secret world of private contractors. Who paid attention to Booz Allen previously? Who imagined a half-million civilians with security clearance? The US govt. has created a moral monstrosity, in which the impetus to war, and its planning, provide the favorable environment for these private-sector firms to garner immense profits–giving them ample reason to perpetuate overclassification and render findings suitable to intervention.
Like it or not, Obama must be held accountable for this militarization of capitalism itself. Deficit reduction? Not until the entire military sector is drastically reduced. Civil liberties? Not until the govt. stops prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. The future of democracy? Regrettably, bleak, when surveillance is central to the execution of public policy.
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.