Friday brought two horrible-looking pieces of news that have made their way around the ‘Net fast and fearfully:
The NSA is building a super data center in Utah. One that can — and will — scoop up the complete text of all our emails, break our encryption, and even report on where we parked last time we went to lunch.
And a new executive order is a setup for “peacetime martial law” in America.
By now, even Walmartian grannies have probably heard all this, and true paranoids have retreated to underground bunkers with their Super-Whiz-Whacker 3000 assault rifles and colossal caches of ammo.
And who am I to say they shouldn’t?
BUT. This is a perfect example of what Rolf Dobelli means when he wrote that we should quit our news habits because they’re warping our brains and totally screwing our priorities.
Does it freaking suck that the No Such Agency (and who knows who else) spies on us at will, never mind some silly little piece of scrap paper called the Bill of Rights?
Yes, it sucks.
Does it freaking suck that the latest pollutant to slime the White House has issued an executive order pretending to give himself and his minions the right to take over pretty much everything in he country if he happens to feel like it?
Yes, it sucks.
But let’s do a little reality check here. The NSA story is well-written and thorough. The picture it paints is scary. But exactly what is new, aside from the data center? Are we surprised that we’re being spied on by totalitarian creepoids? Hell no. We’ve known all along that they never killed off their eye-in-a-pyramid Total Information Awareness system. We knew they never would. Everything we’ve read or heard for the last 10+ years has been pointing in exactly this direction.
In fact, though, the picture painted in the Wired article makes the NSA seem SO scary it’s unreal. My first thought — after OMFG, we’re doomed! — was … wait a minute. The NSA isn’t the all-powerful, omnipotent God. It’s a government agency — and we know exactly how well they operate. Can it really scoop up that much data? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not.
But what’s it going to do with it — besides go into total overload and put any fellow agencies who have to act on the data into total overload, as well?
In fact, that article is so scary that in a perverse way it feels like a government propaganda piece: “Cower, little people. We Know All. Resistance is futile!”
Resistance? It’s never futile. And while I’m quite sure the NSA is a well-funded and villainous servant (or master) of the police state, I’m also quite sure it’s not quite up to the job Wired has implied for it.
And that executive order? Yes, it’s ominous. (As ominous as it is deadly boring to read.) But while I don’t agree with every word Ace of Spades has to say about it, he’s completely correct that president after president has issued virtually this same executive order.
In fact, I found Clinton’s version of it (EO 12919 which Ace erroneously identifies as issued by Bush 41) much scarier.
We were just as panicked and indignant about that one back in 1994. But the troops didn’t come marching down our streets then and we weren’t conscripted into federal emergency service, either.
Of course it’s more ominous now because in the 18 years since then there’s no question: the fedgov has gotten bigger, more frightening, more snoopy, more ruthless and more confident of its ability to get away with anything.
Of course there’s something very, very, very wrong with a government that’s so desperate to spy on its own citizens. Of course there’s something wrong with presidents who repeatedly feel the need to issue declarations of their own dictatorial powers.
But the main thing that’s wrong — and we keep forgetting this — is that these things, these new bazillion dollar NSA data centers, these huffy-puffy executive orders — are signs of how coweringly frightened our own government is. How frightened it is of US — of We the Plain Old People.
And of course it should be (though perhaps not for the reasons all those spy-o-crats and executive self-puffers imagine).
So keep cool. Don’t panic. “Humanity is Rising.” The so-called powerful, as cruel and dangerous as they are, FEAR US. And in their terror they retreat into a fantasy that modern history has shown to be just that — fantasy. They imagine that they can control the whole world from some centralized Tower of Power.
Day after day after day, our minds slip out of their control. Our parents, our grandparents, respected government. They believed the propaganda about it being Our Wise Protector. They Obeyed. We increasingly see government for exactly what it is.
This is what matters in the long run. We shouldn’t be trembling or getting our blood pressure into a spike over this. We should be laughing at the bastards who imagine they can control us forever.