What Have We Wrought, Part I: Technology Personified & Part II: Conspiracy Theorists and Conservatism

Below are Parts I and II of a Commentary in VII parts written by Sue Ann Martinson, WAMMToday editor.  The other parts will follow in the next week.

What Have We Wrought: thoughts on freedom, taxes, capitalism and democracy

Part I:  Technology Personified

I recently ran across this award-winning video that wants to make every person a “sensor” in the “fight against terrorism.”

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 30, 2011) — A public service announcement for the Army’s iWATCH program won two Telly Awards June 13, 2011.

Here is the text that accompanied the video (not on YouTube):

Telly Awards honor the best local, regional and cable television commercials and programs plus video and film productions and web content. The promotion for the almost year-old iWATCH — a program similar to neighborhood watch except it targets terrorism on installations — won Commercial Bronze Awards for “Public Service” and “Videography/Cinematography.”

“It gets to the heart of the matter. It’s a 60-second shot and it grabs people’s attention — ‘Hey, this could happen,’” said Alex Mascelli, chief of the Office of the Provost Marshal General’s anti-terrorism branch.

The PSA for iWATCH informs the Army community what suspicious activity looks like. The announcement uses the example of an unmarked package and reminds witnesses to contact local military police or law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.

The goal of iWATCH is to make “every person a sensor,” on installations and beyond. [Emphasis mine]

Related Links, Army.mil: Inside the Army News, Public Affairs Broadcast Specialist (46R) Career Opportunities, Soldiers Radio and Television, STAND-TO!: iWATCH ARMY, Army Antiterrorism Enterprise Portal (AKO login required)

 I hardly know where to begin.  First of all, sensor is a technical term that applies to machines, not human beings!   It shows how far we have sunk into a technocrat society that we use these terms and that we find it necessary to call our governmental system a “machine,”  a machine we may rage against, like the well-known rock band, or use to express outrage and hope, such as the demonstration planned in Washington DC on October 6, 2011 called, “Stop the Machine:  Create A New World.”  (www.October2011.org)

 But the idea of a “sensor” is even beyond “machine.”  Sensors don’t have human operators, not the way machines do—like on an assembly line or in a steel mill, for example, where some human skill and control are required.  It’s a mindset.  A way of looking at the world that views human beings as technical objects to be manipulated.  Just set them up and they’ll do their work automatically.  Human beings just don’t work that way.  So,in order for that “automatic work” to work, people have to be controlled.  Instilling fear is a way to get control.   

The videography is amateurish for being award-winning. And I can’t help but think if anyone had been paying attention (besides Coleen and the flight trainers in Minnesota who saw something suspicious) we might never have had 9/11.   That last bit in the video really gets to me.  The end of the video says, “It’s like Neighborhood Watch.”  Only it is not.  Neighborhood watch is something you do with your neighbors. Being a sensor implies acting individually, perhaps to spy on your neighbors.  Create fear and suspicion. But most of all, to live in fear and suspicion.

Part II:  Conspiracy Theorists and Conservatism

Conspiracy theorists are everywhere, in the government and those who suspect the government. The idea of conspiracy is used discredit scrutinizing the government.  At the same time, government continually seeks out those it suspects of conspiracy against them.  The idea of conspiracy is in the cultural climate, encouraged by our own government.  Conspiracy theories instill fear. 

What comes next?  One way to look at it, conspiracy theories notwithstanding (some believe 9/11 was a conspiracy by our own government, our government says it was an Al Qaeda conspiracy), is  that the overreaction to 9/11 in many arms of the U.S. government, leads to this type of video, creating fear everywhere;  and to the raids by the FBI on the homes of nonviolent activists who happen to disagree with U.S. foreign policy; and to the expansion of the FBI under Robert Mueller to the point of ridiculousness to spy on our own people─including the money it takes to run it─with the invasion of private lives  with wiretaps, monitoring the internet, a throwing away of the Bill of Rights and loss of civil liberties, and an overall culture of paranoia.

Recently I saw the question put this way:  What legal and ethical principles provide a framework for balancing individual civil liberties and constitutional responsibilities of government to protect people from harm?

Here is more on the issue of what constitutes freedom, posted by a friend on Facebook:  “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that.” — Rick Santorum in 1993 http://is.gd/MoLdJe

This argument about the state having rights to limit individuals goes back to the Social Contract (Hobbes, Rosseau, etc.), a basis for our constitution.  And to the idea of the “consent of the governed.”  That is, the governed have to agree to certain laws in government to protect themselves (for example., it is illegal to murder), while not having the government interfere in their individual freedoms, their civil liberties, including freedom of religion.

Are we consenting to becoming a fascist state?  Oh, that word!  Fascist! Control by the state is what happens in the novel 1984 (Orwell) and is fascist and totalitarian.  Not democratic.  Back to creating fear to get control.  That fear and paranoia is the underlying message of this video.  And like so many of the film clips I have seen from Nazi Germany of people going about their lives at that time, it is all seems so reasonable and rational.  What Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”:  

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness—the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.   −Wikipedia

The idea of “ordinary people’s tendency to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking”, brings me to a Facebook page I found.  It’s called “Being Conservative” and consists of a picture of Ronald Reagan with a quotation.

In the quotation beneath the photo, note that Reagan “Decreed,” like a king, monarch, or dictator.  This is 1984-ish, especially the part about “more freedom” when just the opposite is true.  This “decree” is  the creed of capitalism at its worst.  It means: less government control of corporations, less taxation on corporations and the rich, and less spending for social programs so there’s more for the rich and means the freedom of corporations and the rich to pursue profits in any way possible to fleece the rest of us, and removal of any laws that prevent them from doing so.  (See a previous post on WAMMToday, Whatever Happened to Corporate Patriotism? by Ralph Nader.)  

But people who don’t know better, those folks Arendt refers to with a tendency to obey and follow mass opinion and not think critically, perhaps not due to lack of intelligence but because they have not been taught to think critically, see this creed as being for them, not for corporations and the rich to get richer.  While they may be poor or may belong to the middle class and pay more taxes in actuality or percentage wise than the corporations or the billionaires—not to mention the millionaires and those are just plain wealthier than the rest of us—they don’t see it as a corporate capitalistic creed that works against their own interests.  And what American, after all, doesn’t want more freedom?  Sounds so good on the surface. There is that “banality of evil” again.

The symptoms are everywhere of our government becoming more controlling of our civil liberties and wallowing in fear-mongering, with a Congress and president more interested in placating the corporations because that, of course, is where the get their money to run for office and become millionaires themselves.  Not all have sold out, but so many clearly have.  The Good Samaritan?  Forget it.   So cut all those social services, and education for all, too.

This attitude flies in the face of what so many of the people who believe what they believe is the American dream, that is, the statements attached to the picture of Reagan. They are not evil people. They are people who still believe in the Christian message for the most part, the one that Jesus intended.  They may be your relative or your neighbor.  They do not in and of themselves lead evil lives; they are good people.  Yet they inadvertently support an evil empire in this country and worldwide.  This description is a generalization, of course, yet the chances are that you know someone who fits this portrayal. 

Part III:  Anders Breivik and a Culture of Conservatism follows tomorrow.

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