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Private Eyes (They’re Watching You)

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Photo by vaXzine, Creative Commons Licensing.
Photo by vaXzine, Creative Commons Licensing.

I was listening to a TED podcast the other night about the “End of Privacy” and one of the speakers was talking about her efforts to make the government under Obama more open and transparent and how they are using social media as one way of doing this.

All well and good.

Then she said that the problem that they are running into is not that the people don’t trust their government, but rather that the government, our government, doesn’t trust its people. Doesn’t trust us.

My first reaction was “Well, duh! Of course the government doesn’t trust its citizenry. The citizens are supposed to have all the power and be able to take away the government if the government isn’t serving the people’s needs. It’s hard to trust those who wield so much power – particularly when that powerful group is apparently incapable of finding true consensus, as appears the case with modern America.”

Yeah, I do talk exactly like that to myself. It’s annoying.

Then I started thinking about it more and my thoughts turned darker. Or maybe more real. Yeah, that’s it, more real. It’s not our government that doesn’t trust us. It is the corporations that don’t trust us and the corporations effectively run the government. The statistics about where and from whom political funding comes from are staggering. Our elected officials spend as much or more time raising money as they do governing. And the bulk of that money comes from corporations. But we all know this.

The corporations don’t trust the citizenry because they need us to remain docile and continue to suck at the teat. If we change, if we introduce a revolution, it could spell the end of the American society as we know it, and, from a corporate standpoint, if that means less profits  then revolution is bad.

And when I talk about revolution, I mean real revolution. Not the stupid, Facebook/twitter/instagram-mediated revolutions of the recent past. Yeah, maybe some good came from those tools in the Middle East, but guess what #Occupy — every message sent, every post, like, retweet, and mutual jerkoff ya’ll did using those tools does nothing to harm the One Percent. You’re just driving traffic, which drives revenue for the very people and organizations you are protesting against.

Welcome to the conundrum of modern life. Our entire lives are so mediated by technology. We will post our most intimate secrets. We have built years and decades worth of data points on ourselves — willingly — because it is easier and more convenient to let Chrome migrate our bookmarks and passwords, across every machine we use, than it is to manually type them in. Now we can’t hide anything from the corporations anymore.

Right now Google knows that I:

  • Watch the first two minutes of rock music videos from the 90s before switching to something new.
  • That I like bikes (duh).
  • That I read email from a minimum of four accounts at any time.
  • That my wife and I have often had heated arguments via email about our differences in opinion on, well, everything.
  • That I searched out the term YOLO, which led me to the urban dictionary, which led me down paths I never wanted to go down.
  • That I watch documentaries, have a fetish for Alton Brown, and listen to too many NPR podcasts as well as the Heavy Metal Historian podcast.
  • That I once searched for instructions on how to make napalm from orange juice concentrate and gasoline simply to see if Chuck P got it right.
Image by Charis Tsevis, Creative Commons Licensing.
Image by Charis Tsevis, Creative Commons Licensing.

Google probably knows more about my day to day mental state and fascinations than anyone else, even my wife, whom I’ve been married to for 17, close to 18 years. Right now I’m building a data point in the gestalt that is me. My identity. My personality. Google is painting a complete and completely open picture of who I am. And I let them. We all let them. Maybe not Google, per se, but the corporations. If we have ever been on the web, if we’ve ever bought a do-dad from Amazon or a widget from eBay, we have given just a little bit of ourselves to the corporations. And each website address we visit, each email we receive, each photo we store all builds that picture ever more clearly. And we do this willingly.

But there is a huge paradox here. The paradox that is our abhorrence that the feds are collecting data about us. That they are listening to our cell conversations. (Guess what — if you’ve ever used Skype, or a similar type of VoIP service, your conversations were likely recorded. Remember that time you did the striptease to “Hot for Teacher” via FaceTime with your deployed boyfriend? Yeah, probably recorded and stored somewhere right now just waiting for theatrical release or your run for state senate.)

So we will willingly give corporations our most private, unmediated secrets, but we freak when the government gathers the data on us, even though we can assert that the government is really not much more than a front for the corporations at this point as our elected officials are bought and paid for by something like .05 percent of the American population — the super-rich and the corporations. Last I heard if your ass is bought and paid for you best deliver the product.

And if the government is the corporations, what is the point of holding elections and keeping up the ruse? Well, we gotta keep alive the hope that our individual votes could actually make a difference. That when we go to the polls were aren’t really just trying to choose the best of two or three bad options.

And if the government is the corporations, why should we really care that they are collecting even more data about us when we give so much of it so freely? Shouldn’t we instead be wary of all entities who are collecting data? Right now, Google may not be providing its data to the government, but given the right events and the right inducements, I can promise you that they will. Be it another terror attack or a huge paycheck from the feds during a time of depression, this data will be for sale. Data that each of us has created and given for free. It will be for sale to the government — hell, to the highest bidder.

I don’t have any answers. In fact I often feel quite defeatist about the whole thing. I don’t know that there is anything that can be done to change the way our world works at this point. There are not enough who really care. There are not enough who will really take action. There are not enough who can withstand the forces of evil to actually implement real change. There are simply not enough crackpots out there who are willing to throw their own good names under the bus in an effort to overturn it.

That, and the crackpots tend to not be able to come together in any kind of consensus themselves. Hell, even I think the guy who stands on the corner of the Palmer-Wasilla highway and the Glenn Highway with the sign with the picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache in Palmer is off his rocker, out of his gourd, full-on batshit crazy. But he’s out there doing it; doing what he thinks is right. And we, the sleeping masses, have been so indoctrinated that even if we think the government needs to change, we still think that guys like him are nothing more than looney-tunes, whack jobs.

Maybe it’s the whack-jobs who will really start the revolution?

As Mr. Mojo Risin said,  “I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames…” Words I try to live by, alright, alright, alright.

Read more from Phil B on his blog Multimodal Alaska Adventures.