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An Infantile Faith in Technology

How ‘Don’t’ You Lose a 777 Over a Vast Oceanic Terrain?

by BEN ROSENFELD

How do you lose a 777?” we ask, incredulously.

A more revealing question is, how don’t you lose a tiny speck of a plane over hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean – at least after it falls off radar? And why do we need so badly to believe we’re all-seeing and all-knowing?

We are so proud of our technology we are almost insulted that a thing might not ping back at us from some distant corner or depth. We might just as soon be humbled, if not a bit consoled, that our global net has holes – though amid revelations of Orwellian government eavesdropping, we could probably agree a passenger jet should be under constant surveillance.

Our certainty that any responsible aviation authority (read, our own aviation authorities) would know exactly where that plane lies, is both symptomatic and causal of some very antisocial ways of relating to the rest of the world.

Fox News has been wondering aloud lately (through Judith Miller, Judge Jeanine, John Bolton, and others) why we shouldn’t seize control of the investigation. It can’t be long before Fox pundits dust off the doctrine of preemption to justify doing so, including seizing information from the Malaysians and others by force if need be.

And because we are accustomed to believing that gaps in our technology are where malevolent spirits coil and wait to strike at us, the mystery of what happened to Flight 370 rushes in on us though our televisions as an incipient attack. Never mind that the tragedy mostly belongs to other nations.

It is a tautology to our gated-community, neighborhood watch-minded eyes and ears that if the vanishing of Flight 370 were a mere accident, our infallible antennae would have told us so. That they haven’t makes it not just mysterious, but sinister – a floodlight-sweeping, alarm-wailing breach of the perimeter, until that mystery is apprehended.

It may turn out to be sinister. But that begs the question: Are we not in some sense cocking and aiming these missiles at ourselves because we are so certain it is our God-given right, ability, and messianic duty to see and control all?

Our infantile/paternalizing faith in our technology and technical know-how, and in those who administer it, is itself a major factor in our imperialistic misdeeds around the world.

The difference between Bush I’s and Bush II’s invasions of Iraq, for example, illuminates the priapistic path we’re on. Bush I, a perfectly confident Emperor, nevertheless held his tanks short of Baghdad, knowing it would be foolhardy to occupy and run another country. But Bush II, clothed in the invisible threads of the Project for a New American Century, sped on in his little tank, shocking, aweing, and annexing Baghdad. At the core of his and the Neocons’ crusade (in addition to one-upping his father) was the truly diseased notion that they could simply raid a country as if they were waging a hostile corporate takeover, install a transitional management team, run it like a wholly owned subsidiary until it was profitable to the parent company, then hold new Board elections to make it self-governing after a fashion again.

But PNAC, Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Bolton, and Bremer, et al, didn’t hatch these ideas in a cultural vacuum. They did so backed by a country’s quasi-religious belief in the supremacy and inviolability of its technology and corporate management structure.

So instead of asking, disdainfully, how Malaysia can be so inept as to lose a jumbo jet, perhaps we should ask ourselves how we became so arrogant as to believe we can never lose anything at all, and where such hubris has and will continue to lead us.

In the meantime, we are passengers on Malaysia’s and China’s tragic ship (mainly), and we should continue to offer our respectful assistance.

Ben Rosenfeld is a civil rights attorney in San Francisco, and a Board Member of the Civil Liberties Defense Center based in Eugene, Oregon.