They’re Watching Us

Ariel Dorfman from an revised essay collected in Homeland Security Ate My Speech .. highly recommended.

As the 2001 Patriot Act proves …, if people are frightened enough, manipulated enough, fear-mongered enough, they are more than willing to abrogate their own freedom … in the name of personal and national security. And if there were to be another terrorist attack like the vile ones perpetrated on September 11th 2001, even more invasive surveillance would be eagerly authorized, indeed demanded. Think of what fanatics like them could do with such colossal executive muscle at their disposal. Though what’s unsettling is to grasp that prospective tyrants wouldn’t require new legislation, now as during so much American history, to rein in free expression

Because now, right now, there is in place a state surveillance system that already can pry into every aspect of our lives. At this very moment, anonymous and unelected administrators scoop up and store megadata that has the potential to allow them or their masters to manipulate, blackmail, influence, browbeat, hound their fellow citizens into submission.

What is most dismaying about this situation—and most astounding to someone from a country where activists and intellectuals were able to survive because we were cunning enough to hide our secrets and thwart the spying—is that most of the records available about our lives in contemporary society does not come from a furtive government program. They are incessantly culled and mined from consensual exchange, happily, voluntarily, loudly offered up to the blatant gods of commerce and the Internet. The same people who fume about totalitarian meddling in their existence seem to be blissfully unaware that digital eyeballs are measuring and bundling and gouging their every action, every hit, every profile, every purchase, every trip, every medicine, every texting, every friending, every like, every smile, every frown.

Dorfman’s first-hand experience with the brutal authoritarian regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile lends a great deal of veritas to his writings and visions. Orwell imagined it but Dorfman lived it.

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