FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The NSA and the Parable of the Hoarder

In recent years, “hoarders” — people who collect lots and lots of stuff, until it overpowers them — have become a hot topic in the news and on “reality television.” The mainstream consensus seems to be that “hoarders” are mentally ill, or at least socially abnormal, and need to be “helped,” or at least stopped from amassing huge piles of stuff. I personally disagree with the idea of using force to combat “hoarding,” but I think there’s something useful as allegory in the phenomenon.

I knew a guy once who answered to the general description of “hoarder.” He collected … well, everything. Over the years I knew him, his house filled up with “antiques” (read: Any piece of furniture more than a few years old), “classic computers” (read: Obsolete electronics) and stacks and stacks of old newspapers and magazines.

My friend didn’t suffer from any lack of will to organize his life. He also collected organizing stuff — storage totes, shelves with little cubby holes for categorizing small objects, books on “taking control” of disorganized households. Unfortunately, all he did with that stuff was … well, collect it. It stacked up on top of those old newspapers, which stacked up on top of those obsolete electronics, which stacked up on top of that old furniture. Oh, and he collected cats, too. Lots and lots of cats. Which meant that all those stacks of stuff were covered with cat hair, cat hairballs, and other cat leavings. He had a lot of stuff. Most of it was probably worthless, ruined by his collecting habit if it had ever been worth anything at all.

He never did get organized, and when he died I’m sure his adult children (they had grown up and moved out before he developed his disorder, if indeed it was a disorder) had a heck of a time cleaning out his house and saving anything of value.

I was reminded of my old friend when I ran across a news story on the The NSA’s problems in doing anything useful with all the data it collects through its unconstitutional surveillance operations (“NSA Can’t Make Sense of Masses of Culled Data,” Antiwar.com, December 26, 2013).

I think a lot of us — yes, me included — may have been looking at all this illegal NSA spy stuff, revealed over the last several months by whistleblower Edward Snowden, from the wrong perspective. We’ve seen it in Orwellian terms: An omniscient state tightening its grip on the populace by tracking our every move, our every purchase, our every electronic statement.

Now I’m beginning to think that what we’re seeing may actually be the equivalent of my hoarder friend’s obsession.

To the extent that hoarding may be symptomatic of mental problems, I suspect that its genesis lies in a perception of loss of control of one’s life. The acquisition of lots and lots of stuff is an attempt to re-assert that control — to act, to take charge.

It seems to me that NSA data hoarding reveals the same set of fears. It’s not an all-powerful state asserting its power and control. Rather it is a failing, quaking, fearful state attempting desperately to re-assume its lost powers.

Like the hoarder who doesn’t understand that his stuff is controlling him rather than him controlling it, NSA can’t come to grips with the fact that the emerging anarchic world order — decentralized, voluntary networks of equally empowered peers — will determine the future of centralized, hierarchical governments, not vice versa.

That’s not to say that government and its spies aren’t still dangerous, but they’re getting more and more dangerous to themselves and less and less dangerous to the rest of us. Their stacks of newspapers are just dripping dust and cat urine through their obsolete electronics and rotting the substructure of old furniture underneath. The whole thing will eventually come down on top of them.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail