“But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone—quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…”
“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” Brave New World (17.31-3)
There’ll come a time when you’ve gone too far with your thinking. You’ve crossed the Imaginot line. Which is to say, à la Descartes, that you’ve gone too far with your being. Cogito ergo sum. A knock comes on your door. You open to find an agent of information (AI) say, “We have so much information on you. Please, follow me. We need to blow out your candles. Have your cake and eat it too. A long convalescence. Some adjustments and renewal.” They’re not asking and God help anyone who tries to stop them.
Amazon, Google, Facebook. Recorded Future, predictions of what you’ll do. MyActvity, the copious details of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and implicitly what you’ve thought.. Algorithms up the yinyang. Fused databases, a life’s postings of “thoughts”. Cogitos you cannot defend. Offenses “Made” on the run, arbitrary, charges bespoken, tailored to your presumed needs. You’ve always been a criminal — like, say, Trevor Noah — but never knew until the fascists came to collect you. To blow your mind to kingdom come. And reset to factory default.
As in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’ll be the Savages who want to be left alone, off the grid, who appreciate the value of privacy, who will be targeted, breaking as they do from the conditioning required by late metastatic Techno-Capitalism breaking real bad. In an information age your cogito is the final frontier for economic growth, your thoughts mere commodities. Settled into Soma, you’ll soon be swimming with the endolphins and feeling new porpoise, but the reality is that the sharks are swimming all around you in algorithmic circles. Only a savage would want to be free.
In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley discusses his new book Enemies of Freedom (retitled Brave New World Revisited) and the myriad ways growing technology can be used to influence mass thinking, and suggests ways that a candidate could be pushed by subliminal forces to elect a person that reasoned consideration would otherwise have rejected. One thinks of Trump, the pushing of emotional buttons, the swarming action, the slogans, rallies, and Triumph of the Buffoon’s Will.
One also thinks of the frenzied Joseph Kony campaign, the sudden swarming by millions of largely white, clueless suburban teenagers invited to join an intervention to capture an evil, but obscure African warlord in a staggering display of militarized political correctness. Lots of money raised. Congress, which can do nothing about gun control, immediately mobilized to pass a bill to allow American soldiers to foot-down in Uganda, where oil, by coincidence, is in great supply. Nobody’s looking for Kony today; nobody any longer cares. Kony is said to be alive and still kickin’ in Central Congo.
The Trump and Kony campaigns highlight how the Internet can be used and abused by nefarious forces to create flash floods of chaos online and in the ‘hood. It’s exactly the kind of desecration and trashing that has put the father of the Web, Tim Berners Lee, into teary despair. It’ll get worse: we know now the US military regards the Internet as a battlefield, needing constant reconnaissance, and a look-out for spies. We’ve come to see that ordinary citizens can be mobilized in an instant by government agents, some of whom may not have democracy’s best interest in mind.
We’ve gone way beyond just needing to Keep the Bastards Honest. As we’ve been reminded often enough, ex-general Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his final presidential address, warned explicitly about the threat to democracy by the secretive powers and influences of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Only a well-informed democratic populace is capable of keeping the bastards honest. That’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Today, through mergers and shutdowns, there are fewer and fewer newspapers, and only three global mainstream newspapers of record: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Guardian. But they aren’t trustworthy.
The NYT once quashed a crucial story by its prize-winning staff journalist James Risen about the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying on American citizens — a story that might have derailed Bush’s re-election a couple of weeks later. The NYT claimed that they didn’t want to influence the election; but not running the story did just that. The Washington Post has, primarily through owner Jeff Bezo’s work with the CIA, been undermined; and they have worked to defame legitimate alternative news sources, such as CounterPunch and Black Agenda Report. The Guardian, while famous for helping to report on Edward Snowden’s leaks and a one-time partner with Julian Assange, has curiously withdrawn a vigor of reportage on national security issues and seemingly gone to war with Assange.
It seems like Julian Assange has been at war with the MIC forever. At least, that’s how he’s been depicted. He’s always known the Bastards couldn’t be kept honest by simple, ordinary mainstream means — not when they’ve turned into paper tigers and no longer practice adversarial journalism (their approach to Trump being the exception — and instructive). He also seems to appreciate the Abbie Hoffman yippie credo: Revolution — for the Hell of It. And he understands that the Cogito is facing extinction, threatened like never before by the forces of conditioning that will only deepen as we approach the Singularity. He’s even written an extremely thoughtful book about cryptography, how it will be required to protect privacy in the future.
In his 2012 Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, which he calls a “warning” rather than a “manifesto, Assange writes, “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen…within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.” Hacker, certified, ethical or otherwise, Assange has demonstrated he is a kind of hero for the new dark digital age. And he’s provided tools to fight back to a new generation of ethicists.
Rewatching “Collateral Damage,” the Wikileaks video from 2010 that shows an American Apache gunship firing on unsuspecting Iraqi civilians, one is awed not only by the brazen cold-blooded murder depicted but also what the incident encapsulated: The war on journalism; the disgusting impunity the War on Terror has engendered; the secrecy and lack of accountabilty; and the sheer pleasure in the double-tap murder exhibited that goes against all the boastful bullshit of democratic America’s exceptionalist imperialism.
Well, Assange may end up a martyr for the freedom we all threw away, cogs instead of cogitos, locked away in America after an Espionage Act conviction in a max security prison, in the hole, his privacy ‘privileges’ taken away, hosed down constantly by the surveillance camera hanging from the ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see if the MSM comes to his emotional rescue when he goes on trial, criminally charged with the adversarial journalism they’ve so often neglected in the name of protecting what used to be called the bourgeoisie.
For now, they treat him like he’s all wrapped up like a douche in the night, comparing the wicked leaks of his condom one night to his wikileaks, the idea being in each case that he’s careless with the information he disseminates, and leaves behind questions as to whether his hacking was ethical or not. While the ‘vast conspiracy’ of right wing sexual hypocrites continue to press for his annihilation, Assanges and his work endures. Keeping these secrets, our thoughts — this is the last frontier. “If we do not [redefine force relations], the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.”
John Kendall Hawkins is an American expat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times. He can be reached at his blog.