[Guest post by Keith Farnish, who has a new book out.]
Some people are prone to sleepwalking. The zombie-fuelled idea of a sleepwalker, with arms outstretched and eyes closed, magically avoiding contact with walls and tables, really isn’t the way people do it. More truthfully, their eyes are open with a level of awareness usually sufficient to avoid serious injury, but with actions more akin to a computer program than a fully aware individual. Many can communicate, of a fashion, but it is cursory and stilted. It’s an appropriate metaphor when describing the functional level of a typical citizen, compared to the fully connected and aware pre-industrial human.
Some people who sleepwalk also have night terrors. They report seeing strange figures looming over them, as if watching their every move – silent, dark, conspiratorial. Not so strange, given the circumstances...
The New Secrecy
I have spent a great deal of time, perhaps too long, pondering conspiracy theories and the vast range of plots being overseen by “those in control” against the ordinary person. It wasn’t so much the nature of these conspiracies, as the nature of the belief in such conspiracies that most interested me. This came to a head when I discovered yet another apparent plot against humanity related to that old chestnut Chemtrails. Apparently people exposed to the precisely-targeted-toxins-from-thirty-thousand-feet are finding strange threads emerging from wounds that HAVE NO EARTHLY ORIGIN! The previous emphasis is that of the Conspiracy Theorists (the capitalization of the previous two words is mine—there has to be some way of identifying crackpot theories from sensible ones).
So, about two-thirds of the way through writing my most recent book, I had a pop at the whole idea of Conspiracy Theories, with the express purpose of clarifying the real dangers we face from those who purport to control our behaviour. If we can learn to look towards that which is obvious and tangible, rather than being distracted by the ethereal and, frankly, bizarre, then we will learn an awful lot and perhaps do something about it.
Bradley Manning (soon to be Chelsea Manning, which should throw a few libertarians into apoplexy) knew that vast amounts of data were being kept out of the public realm, for no better reason than to protect the murderous activities of those keeping the information secret. His conscience, and his obvious intelligence, gave him little other option than to release what he knew – and conveniently, Wikileaks was in a position to receive that information, and channel it on to the wider media.
For this striking act of subversion, Manning is going to be incarcerated for 35 years. We don’t have a say in this, for justice has prevailed, and we must trust the judicial system to do the right thing. I suppose in another country the sentence may have been death – China perhaps. Which is ironic, for that was the first known port of call of Edward Snowden, one-time NSA operative, who revealed another set of truths about what is being done in order to keep the system safe from anyone who dare distrust the goodness of the industrial machine. The fact that I used the phrase “The government are recording everything we do on the Internet” in Underminers as an example of something that could be objectively proven, is no coincidence. When you spend time exploring raw truths about the nature of civilization, as others like John Young, Dmitry Orlov and Glenn Greenwald do so well, then what would once have seemed like wild speculation becomes obvious. Why wouldn’t governments, and their corporate owners, be trawling through and examining everything we do. What better environment to gather the thoughts and intentions of the ordinary citizen than a centralised, globalized Internet, built for the very purpose of disseminating vast amounts of information?
Who would be so silly as to put their entire life online?
Of course it’s not just the Facebook/Flickr/Twitter/Instagram generation who are making the job of the information gatherers so simple. Clandestine phone tapping, letter opening and bugging by government agencies, with the help of almost every major corporation that has ever existed, has been going on ever since it was realised information was power. We knew this happened because Hollywood and the mainstream press told us so (and also assisted in the process). Why wasn’t this kept secret? Because if you think you are being listened to then you are far more careful what you do. How many subversive plots have been foiled by such “anti-terrorist” activities? How many, so many more plots have never happened because of the fear that they would be found out?
Fear is a wonderful way of dissuading someone from doing something. Its role as a Tool of Disconnection, along with so many other methods by which people are prevented from living real, connected lives, is a far more pervasive secret than the fact that we are being watched, tracked, mapped and profiled every time we deign to communicate.
For now, though, because you are interested in this kind of thing, I suspect you would like to know how to avoid being a subject of the surveillance state. Maybe you would like to undermine the system that makes such surveillance possible, and perhaps the idea of making people less afraid and more proactive in their pursuit of a less controlled life is an exciting thought. These are all possibilities, and there are so many ways to achieve them. I tackle this in some detail in the book Underminers, however space and the need for a coherent narrative means that some things have to be discussed elsewhere – such as the role of technology in avoiding harm.
Make no mistake, the rulers of any technology that appears to help the ordinary person, are those that control its production and application. iPhones exist not to help people communicate in a fuller, more connected way, but to make Apple heaps of money. The Internet, in its current incarnation, is primarily a tool of commerce, not a tool of free and rapid communication or, if you were really thinking this, a means of subverting the system that created it in the first place. Even such apparently useful programs as TOR are, most likely, a means of allowing the NSA, Mossad or GCHQ to gather information about those who are naive enough to believe TOR is genuinely secure from government interference.
That’s not to say you cannot use such things to undermine the system, but they must be handled with great care, with neutral phrasing, innocuous subjects and vague locations and times. Always imagine you are being watched, because you probably are.
More useful is to disrupt or remove the means of mass communication entirely. Such outages or even terminations will cause far more harm to the system than to anyone who thinks they can use it to bring about genuine change.
Cut off its nose and you really can spite its face – along with the ability to sniff you out.
We need to be smarter than that, though. Communication across continents seems like a laudable thing, but to what end? Maybe the occasional document of real significance will come the way of someone who can use it to great effect, and maybe genuine empathy can be felt over the vibrating copper and pulsing fibre optics; however, the only real way to keep you safe is not to use such things at all. I know of many people who have closed Facebook accounts, thrown away their Smartphones and reverted (such a negative term) to talking directly (not over the phone) to those who really matter in their lives and writing them letters using pens and paper. Some might call this going backwards. I call it returning to your roots. The surveillance state is unlikely to be able to dig those out. The process of bugging buildings and steaming open envelopes is far too labor-intensive.
Keith Farnish is the author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis”, and more recently “Underminers: A Guide to Subverting The Machine”. Underminers is published by New Society Publishers in September 2013, and is also available in a free version for download or online reading at www.underminers.org.