- Politics and Social Issues
Signals -- For Whose Benefit?
Somebody Had a Dream
Is It Violence Or Just a Few Questions?
It is not exactly the wrath of Yahweh, but the world is a harsher place than ten years ago, twenty or thirty. It is hard to say why, though it seems connected to an unstated war not on poverty but privacy. No one has the absolute power to prevent personal data from bleeding into the public domain. There seem to be no laws to protect an individual's right to govern his or her own life within commonplace strictures. It is difficult in stores to purchase an item, no matter how insignificant, without announcing a telephone number, giving out an email address, or presenting a card that contains a record of previous purchases. The most salient instance of the systematic abuse of ordinary citizens and the ultimate antidote was Nazi Germany followed by the State of Israel. But this unique event is becoming less and less exceptional. The cat and mouse game of predator and victim goes on unabated. The only difference is that it has become more sophisticated, subtle, and psychological. Today, most people think they are full-fledged citizens with a complete set of rights that cannot be violated, but this only helps those in the business, as it were, of prolonging a lucrative myth.
I have a suspicion that a new, multi-denominational, multi-colored, and quasi-universalist, oligarchic class of predators is in the process of forming. There is less motivation to target whole groups in a more integrated, diverse, free-thinking environment, and a greater need to pursue specific individuals, regardless of race, color, and creed, whose elimination might help move forward an agenda. With the help of computerized technology, it is now possible to cultivate consumers, micro-manage constituents, and above all distract individuals with an infinite array of apps, websites, and channels. When the time comes, if it comes, where will people hide or find shelter? They will no longer be themselves, not as they once were, since all their data will have been compromised. Stolen data, by coercion, or in some other fashion, is not policed. Where are the men in blue when someone with better software monitors your trades on the NYSE for no reason other than curiosity and possibly to harbor a grudge? Then what? There was a time when only a fool would divulge his or her financial information. Now, credit card and medical forms aggressively acquire sensitive data almost without effort. Once again, reference to Germany and Israel provides a useful clue. Survivors would never put up with such prying and probing. Never again is their battle cry. Incidentally, Israel has adapted over the years to numerous unanticipated circumstances, living all the while surrounded by fanatics masquerading as clerics and acolytes. Only by means of superior strength can high-tech oppressors, like terrorists, be successfully confronted. There are no guarantees, of course. Nevertheless, weakness insures the victory of terror, whether reality- or cyber-based.
Keeping track of data compiled as a matter of course appertaining to ordinary people would seem on the surface a criminal enterprise, unless, of course, it were done by the government or with its approval, tacit or otherwise. The latter appears to be the case. High-tech has already created so many collective criminal opportunities that in the future, laws will probably only apply to the few who qualify. Thus, what is in the offing is a futuristic citizenry that can be divided, defined, and redesigned on the basis of a virtual bias that need never see the light of day. Even Kafka could not have envisioned an entire social structure in which people simply go about their business unmindful of the fact that at some point their dull lives will stumble and fall, choked and ultimately sacrificed to an overarching scheme of which they have no knowledge. Another way of looking at the problem is to add to the list of mental illnesses and physical ailments dangerous computer obsessions, much like how Marxists once identified societal excesses that were a byproduct of factories and other forms of unfair labor practices involving mechanization.
There are people today who basically sit behind computer screens and investigate for no reason at all other people. How do I know? I do not. I only have an inkling of the basics of human nature. Those coming of age in the present may not be aware of shrinking freedoms, but it would not take much effort to establish the fact. It might be said that we were already warned about Big Brother and the distribution of wonder drugs to make us docile, pliable and cooperative. The warnings came via works of fiction, so elements of doubt and grandiosity coincide. Lately, with each new administration, another faction or group, has been empowered. Who are the newest uplifted, one might ask? Who are the next in line? But the greater question is for what? Equality or inequality? Do they lose their persecutors or only join them? Do they merely become predators instead of victims? After all, no matter who lords over us, most will not graduate to positions of privilege such that they can routinely take advantage of others for the sake of personal gain. Hence, it makes no difference if either the silent or voluminous majority, as it were, is hoodwinked by Black or White, Gay or Straight, Protestant or Hindu.
Are You Okay With It?
Is it worth pondering losses of freedom and contemplating remedies?
The Good Old Days
The Seventies. I would not go further back nor forward. What we did not know probably did not hurt us. The idea of personal computers was in the air, but the object of desire, among those interested, was a very good typewriter. I was in school at the time, obligated to read enormous amounts of usually not very compelling passages from books and various publications. My dirty secret then was to sneak in novels of one sort or another, but mostly mysteries and thrillers. Now, I cannot stand so much as a page of fiction. I forced myself to re-read The Sun Also Rises, then gave up the ghost. It is different now. But during the 1970s, I never stopped reading literature. During the 1980s I was also inclined to read the daily stock market report. For a while, it really was the economy, so maybe the eighties beats the seventies after all. But it was in the 70s, not the 80s, that I got into Saul Bellow and many another writer who also made me want to write, too.
I mention Bellow only because his 1976 essay, To Jerusalem and Back, is so wonderfully dated. I read words like "Henry Kissinger" and "Teddy Kolleck". They are names, of course, but as words in print they resonate with non-verbal meanings that promise semioticians a field day. There is a reference to Ben Gurion, who distinguishes anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism. Not so today. Or how about Arab Marxists? Whatever happened to them? Then, there are words I do not encounter, like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. It is amazing how much intellectualizing had gone on about what Israel was all about. To me, scholarly talk, or let's say, meaningful conversation alone, is not BS. Yet, it all seems to have gradually developed into something else altogether, such as whether to use rubber bullets instead of missiles, or build a wall. But all in all, this arrangement, this sliver of land on the Mediteranean, of relatively recent vintage, still stands as the model for those of us now, or who will be in the years to come, judged, not by peers so much as our so-called betters.
The Rights of the Unarmed
The model breaks down when it comes to this. The reason citizens out of favor need safe havens is in part contingent upon their pacifism. Israel resorts to the use of weaponry and intelligence to defend itself. But what can individuals do who do not belong to organizations, especially militias? Are there safe havens? Maybe, maybe not. The usual sources cannot always be relied upon. Churches, for instance. Or friends and neighbors. Thus far, the need to separate from the general population as well as distance oneself from administrations based on favoritism has not yet come about. The changes enacted by the current regime will not, for example, generate a mass exodus. It is, however, being considered. Some of its policies set off alarms, such as the refusal to fight Islam, but are shown, after reflection, to be made of sounder stuff. The abandonment of Iraq and Afghanistan was inevitable. Once again, Israel is free to act without American restraints. It is more America's job to hold Russia and China in check, if it comes to that. The little democracy's crack military can handle ISIS and all the rest with the requisite force.
Nevertheless, Americans must at the very least prepare themselves for hostilities hitherto unknown -- not external so much as internal. Communistic transferences of wealth and power, for instance, regardless of the stated objective, could wreak havoc. There is a great deal of rumormongering in the grapevine about government confiscations. Banks are not what they once were. Still, even though it looks as if disenchantment will play a larger and larger role in tomorrow's America, the country has not been brought to the brink of disaster or ruin. It goes one way, voices protest, and then the winds of progress and politics shift again. The topic at hand also affords me the opportunity to introduce my favorite military tactician, Mahatma Ghandi. It was basically his idea to fight offering no resistance whatsoever. In today's world (Tiananmen Square is an example), organized non-violence makes an impression. But this will be the subject of another hub, I hope, since it does not appear on the surface to apply to the major themes above.
Alienation -- the word alone accounts for most of what is going on. Our government naturally bifurcates into domestic and international concerns. Neither can be ignored with impunity, but one can be emphasized at any given time over the other. Right now, it seems as if this administration has truly riled up Americans in a spectacular manner. Some love it; some hate it. There is also a sense in the current atmosphere that whatever happened before today, or maybe the day before yesterday, is impertinent. It is to be superceded by the new and improved. As a result, it does not matter. Keep looking ahead. Do not glance sideways or back. Maybe it works. Dwelling on the past is often enough a waste. Only time will tell anyways if mistakes are being made or not. How many cliches will it take? Regretfully, we have become too simplistic for today's mercurial world, both here at home and there overseas. Conservative means keeping it the same; liberal means alterations to account for one, several, or an infinite amount of injustices. Neither extreme is helpful in the shifting sands of the global arena. Both sides play against the middle. I cannot be the only one who wonders at times how much more I can take. Many cannot stand elite presidencies that only serve special interests. But there is no unity for any president to preside over. This is the main perception, at any rate. What American really knows the score? When enough people have had enough, they will do something about it, and seek out or create safe havens. Then what?