The power/economic elite want to know the mood and movements of society just as meteorologists want to examine the measurements of weather systems. But rather than preparing for a tornado or hurricane, the elite wish to prepare for and prevent challenges to their impunity. Massive surveillance is their primary method of prediction. Together with privatized and militarized police forces and a propaganda-spouting media, the elite’s surveillance regimen constitutes a three-headed hydra that acts to keep the masses firmly in place and under control.
The power/economic elite have always had one great fear, just as slave holders of the past, that the oppressed, who greatly outnumber the elite, and upon whose labor and control the elite’s impunity depends, will discover the ultimate power of the multitude. This is primarily the power to withhold their labor and sycophancy.
Massive surveillance, which is growing ever more invasive by the day, is best explained as a tool for modeling social movements rather than identifying individual dangers. Indeed, so-called terrorist events do not disturb the wealth and power of the oligarchs, but actually enhance them.
If social movements can be modeled well enough, “dangers” like the civil rights movement can be nipped in the bud before they become society changing. The Occupy Movement, for all its failings of internal organization, was actually put out the way brush fires are fought, with back-fires, strategic dousing and removal of fuel.
The basic facts are these: (1) Surveillance systems (government and corporate) have cost many billions of dollars and more billions are in the pipeline for planned development, as well as many more billions for future expansion of existing systems. (2) The explanations for this “investment” in surveillance infrastructure is “to keep us safe from terrorism,” on the one hand, and to “increase the quality and safety of our consuming experience,” on the other. These explanations are lies.
We are supposed to believe that there are many dangerous people who, in the way of a rabid animal, wish to harm us—the unquestioned assumption being that only the most penetrating surveillance regimen, enforced by a militarized and/or privatized police force, and promoted by a sycophantic media, can discover the bad guys and keep us safe.
The reality is, however, that what are being called terrorists are not very numerous and of two sorts: one is the ordinary criminal/pirate who has always been with us in varying numbers and forms (depending on the opportunities afforded by or denied by economic structures); second, the politically motivated driven by imbalances of power. The second are not terrorists—unless you’re a member of the elite.
And it’s the second group the elite is most worried about. It’s simple, really–when you oppress and endanger people, some will find ways to fight back. Great imbalances of power require, like the concentration of air in a high-pressure cylinder, powerful forces to create and maintain such imbalances. The discovery of “leaks” before they become catastrophic is essential. Spying by infiltration and by information collection has always been a tool of the powerful. New forms of communication and the technological capacities to collect, store and analyze them have simply added new tools the elite can use for prediction and control.
Our digital communications are easily collected–we send almost all of them to and through centralized processing systems, where collecting and analyzing them is only a function of processing power and speed (and the easily manipulated laws that are supposed to protect privacy). While there are commercial motivations and legitimate law enforcement motivations for some data collection and analysis, these are insufficient to account for the hundreds of billions of dollars and the force of political will being applied to the exponential expansion of surveillance.
To defeat the surveillance hydra, we have to look beyond its publicly presented justification, which amounts to disinformation spread by the elite. Surveillance is not about keeping the commoners safe from terrorists: it’s about keeping the elite safe and on top while the commoners remain supine.
To defeat the surveillance and control hydra will require a herculean effort. Seeing its true purpose is the first step in escaping its stranglehold.
James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success.