Stress levels rise whenever we’re in somebody’s sights.
Any animal reacts to being watched. Predators track prey, and if the prey becomes aware, it goes into full four-f response.
Humans are not different. Cameras and wiretaps make us extremely nervous. It has nothing to do with having anything to hide — except what every animal must hide to survive: its existence and location and movement, and the same for its family; what it likes to eat, where it likes to live; whether it’s pregnant, nursing or fertile; all the information predators need. Including its emotional state.
Unrelenting stress is a textbook definition of traumatic abuse. Blanket surveillance is the essence of terrorism.
We all live on the radar now. Somebody is locked on, every moment. And we are scared shitless. Neurological, biological fact. Privacy is a basic survival necessity, hardwired into the most primitive areas of our brains.
Our tolerance for this form of unrelenting stress is stretched very thin just now. We don’t necessarily know this, as the whole thing is subliminal, unconscious. Instead, it shows up as some form of the “Fight or Flight” response: fight for dear life, run like hell, bunch up with a crowd, or hold very still and don’t breathe.
Some of the more noisy groups on the political “left” or “right” exhibit the “Flock” response, seeking safety in a sympathetic crowd. The “Fight” types don’t make noise, they just start shooting, and they aren’t very choosy about targets. Runners run, and maybe that takes the form of accumulating a lot of money and building high walls or deep bunkers; or maybe just disappearing into the ranks of the addicted, or the homeless. The people who Freeze look like part of the scenery, conforming, not rocking any boats.
But on the whole we’re very jumpy. Sudden noises or motions will set us off before we have any plan or intention. Like the sensation of passing the tipping-point as you tilt your chair, this sends your body into a momentary shock of pointless action. Flailing to restore balance. Protecting vital organs. Locking all the doors at school and interrogating visitors.
Terror is exhausting. So we go back to sleep. But it’s not a peaceful sleep. Stress has physiological as well is psychological impacts. It affects brain development in children, measurably. Special Education costs are off the charts and rising. The government is helping out by reducing funding.
Why all the surveillance? Really: what is the point? Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and we’re all staring wide-eyed in terror — at each other?
A government that just wanted to watch everybody would never let the citizens know — if it was that competent. That would only add costs to the operation. But it won’t do: we are reminded, more often than is necessary (which would be, never).
Because the state of general terror is more useful than the knowledge of everybody’s secrets. Edward Snowden is the best thing that ever happened to the US Government, from the point of view of the surveillance state. It would have cost a bundle to create that much fear, and he did it for free.
A government or a politician can derive more power, quicker, from the fear. There’s no need to find guilty people to pick on. Instead you create a condition in which it’s easy to threaten and scapegoat people, and change all the rules capriciously, and perpetrate all the other forms of bullying and abuse we know and love.
In Orwell’s prescient “Nineteen Eighty Four”, the Big Brother slogan was the whole point — not the actual surveillance, which was quite limited in Orwell’s imagined dystopia, and allowed for the hero, Winston, to participate in subversive activities quite easily. Easily enough to catch him a lot more efficiently than deploying expensive surveillance hardware and software and wetware to do it.
As the generation that remembers Nazi Germany dies off, we are reminded less often that authoritarianism was here long before internet snooping came along, and did quite well for itself, thank you.
In reality, there is now so much “Big Data” on everybody that it might as well be none at all: nobody can possibly keep up with hourly terabytes of raw incoming information. They can store it, in vast acres of airconditioned warehouse space, adding storeage capacity as fast as they can install it.
Maybe, if there’s a big crime or something, they can search it. But the search depends on the quality of the query. And the people who like surveillance are not always the best at constructing search algorithms. They tend to search for answers they like. You don’t want to search the Big Data only to find out your purported perps are as innocent as the driven snow, and the real culprits are sitting over there on PA Avenue.
Those Big Data wonks, private contractors all, are just another crowd of hustlers milking the government tit. No government cares about all that claptrap. They just need the terror it generates. That’s why the politicians are running the intelligence agencies, and not the other way around.
In J. Edgar’s day, things were more personal, but now anybody can be outed on “social” media by anybody, for whatever crime the generations of helpless victims have now gathered in solidarity to expose. Innocence and guilt are relics of the bygone Information Age, when there was power in them. Facts may be sorted out later, in the Attention Age. After the terror has lost its flavor like last week’s chewing gum. That is, after the news-cycle has moved on.
Roosevelt was dead-on about the only thing we need to fear.
©Copyright 2019 Peter Barus