Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Time and Politics 10: Police State Futures

"Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest in Kiev, Ukraine" on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

According to Plato, the régime that inevitably follows democracy is tyranny (the cycle is: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.). Wiki:
The Kyklos (Ancient Greek: κύκλος, IPA: [kýklos], "cycle") is a term used by some classical Greek authors to describe what they saw as the political cycle of governments in a society. It was roughly based on the history of Greek city-states in the same period. The concept of "The Kyklos" is first elaborated in Plato's Republic, chapters VIII and IX. Polybius calls it the anakyklosis or "anacyclosis". According to Polybius, who has the most fully developed version of the cycle, it rotates through the three basic forms of government, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy and the three degenerate forms of each of these governments ochlocracy, oligarchy, and tyranny.
Aristotle defined the cycle as: "the rule of One, the second as rule of the Few, the third as the rule of the Many. It keeps repeating."

Tyranny. It would be so nice if we could just skip that stage. I don't relish the notion of some future Gen Z technocrat perusing this post in 2033, deciding that it violates the latest advisories, and concluding that something needs to be done about future me at three in the morning because of my early 2010s' blog. And so, in light of a day I hope never arrives, today's post concerns how to avoid the establishment of 21st century police states.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

A father and son confront a police officer. Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: Anonymous.

The explosion of the Internet in 2000s gave birth to two great, competing behemoths: statism and anti-statism. On the one hand, there is the potential rise of totalitarian super-states, which will mobilize data-gathering to control their citizens. This is the subject of today's post. On the other, the Internet has fueled a fascination with anarchy and giddy infatuation with libertarianism. Many users on the Web are mesmerized by the lure of stateless chaos and total, Net-driven freedoms; they rejoice in a complete sweeping away of the moribund establishment and the creation of unregulated interactions, whether in communications or trade. That will be the subject of an upcoming post.

You don't need to visit an oracle to understand that everything is in flux, and in this period speeding toward the 2020s, "it's all up for grabs, it really is."

Everything is up for grabs. It's like watching an animated chess board; all the pieces are moving and we don't know where they will land. Reactionary attempts to control, regulate, monitor, misinform, obfuscate around emerging trends are well under way. So are radical counter-efforts. It is impossible to gauge how things will appear when the movement stops. Borders will shift. Struggles erupt between those in power and those seeking power. Everywhere, there are protests and crackdowns. Expect resurgences of radical nationalism, irredentism in places like Crimea, Taiwan, bits of the Middle East  and Africa - and separatism in previously placid places, like Scotland and Quebec. Far-sighted agents rush to anticipate and seize the position of final control after this period of upheaval.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: HuffPo.

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone intro on the totalitarian state which renders itself obsolete. Video Source: Youtube.

How to avoid police state futures? Above, some wisdom from Rod Serling. His work on larger moral and metaphysical questions on the Twilight Zone grew, ironically, from his experiences serving during World War II in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US Army's 11th Airborne Division. He warns against sophisticated societies' destruction of freedom and attacks on the "worth, dignity and rights of man" in possible future dictatorships. In a rising superstate, there is one "iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace."

But here is the problem: we can no longer distinguish logic or truth. The Internet, which should be a fundamental source of logic and truth, turns out to be locus of disinformation, confusion, ahistorical faux research, conspiracy theories, false logic. Superdata is anti-data. It can be manipulated, massaged, misunderstood, misapplied and recontextualized to create new fake realities, all under the guise of being rational and authoritative, because it is 'information.'

One Youtube commenter responded to this video: "I'm actually from Egypt and our country is fucked up by revolutions, riots and ignorance of the people. [A] real advice from someone who also asked the same question 'Why are all those people in the streets?,' if we really need change we must change ourselves from the inside." Another commenter: "I am Syrian, and we know the suffering and crime against you, people of Free Ukrainian .. the same pain and the same accusations of criminal and tyrannical government ...we stand by you revolutionaries Ukraine." Video Source: Youtube.

Above, a video from early February 2014 raised a lot of support for Ukrainian protestors on Youtube, and some skepticism. Ukrainian protestors claim that the violence indicates that Russia is moving to re-exert control in Eastern Europe. It certainly appears to be the case, and in the most alarming way.

One commenter questioned the protesters' video: "Profesjonalny klip, bardzo zadbana kobieta, podniosła przemowa, obrazy i muzyka mówią ci co masz myśleć. What the fuck? [Professional clip, very well groomed woman, elevated speech, images and music tell you what to think. What the fuck?]" There are left-leaning conspiracy theorists who think that the Ukrainian protestors are controlled by the Europeans, Americans and Israelis. There are critical rumours that some of Ukraine's protestors are members of the extreme right and include a contingent of anti-Semitic neo-fascists - who are also popping up elsewhere.

The Youtube comments show that people can look at February's horrific footage coming out of the Ukraine and cannot agree on what is happening there. If we can't tell what is logical and what is true, how are we supposed to know when logic and truth are being violated?

See my earlier post on How to Recognize Political Horror: political horror arrives when any attempt to agree upon, or believe in, a standard, generally-accepted truth disappears.

For the past 60 years, older, accepted pre-1945 truths were labeled as the warning hallmarks of tyranny, of imposing one group's assumptions and values onto another group's. That rule of thumb justified post-war credos - universal sets of values - held up as general truths to maintain stability in the liberal democracies. These took different forms: neo-constitutionalism in the United States; multicultural liberalism in Canada; social welfare in Europe; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the UN. But by the turn of the Millennium, it was evident that the free democracies did not reach the consensuses their leading lights thought they had after the Second World War.

By the turn of the Millennium, the political centre began to clear. What remained was a right-left battle inside the establishment for control of the liberal democracies. Since 9/11 erosion of the political centre has gotten worse, with each side demonizing the other. This is also happening outside professional politics in the political culture. 50-50 splits in elections in the 2000s gave way to wild swings toward the left or right after the recession.  Left-liberals and conservatives (who are, these days, actually right-liberals of various stripes) each insisted that they had the answer to financial problems, while their opponents were totally to blame for the poor economy. Both sides accuse the other of threatening the bases of civil society and good government. This is a dangerous trend, where neither politicians nor the electorate are minded to seek agreement. Instead, supporters of the left and right each battle to attain unilateral hegemony in government and culture.

Protesters entered house of Yanukovych loyalist Pshonka: "A man sits on a chair in the house of Ukraine's former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka in the village of Gorenichy outside Kiev February 24, 2014." Image Source: Konstantin Chernichkin / Reuters.

Beneath the fierce battle inside the establishment for absolute control, there is a tech-fueled grassroots anti-establishment movement coming up from below. This is like being caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The conventional and unconventional options are all worrying.

Street protestors in oppressive régimes appear to be idealistic freedom fighters battling against tyranny; until tyrants are toppled; protestors seize power; and a new police state mushrooms up out of the same old peat.

Protesters entered house of Yanukovych loyalist Pshonka: "A man walks past a bath tub in the house of Ukraine's former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka in the village of Gorenichy outside Kiev February 24, 2014." Image Source: Konstantin Chernichkin / Reuters.

"On Sunday [23 February 2014], protesters and journalist[s] entered the house of Yanukovych loyalist Pshonka. Pshonka's official salary (as the public prosecutor of Ukraine) should only have been $54,000 a year (which is still over 11 times the median salary in Ukraine). Inside the house they encountered many funny things, including paintings of Pshonka as Julius Caesar [and Napoleon], and books for exorcising demons." Video Source: Live Leak.

Loss of consensus in the moderate political culture could lead to scary über-consensuses. Political, economic and social narratives traditionally tell us how we are expected to live. But technology has overturned and revised those narratives faster than we can adapt to ensuing changes.  Under those circumstances, it is easy for people to swing toward any group that gives them a clear, unambiguous answer or 'solution.'

The only alternative is to understand that some consensus on social and political values is essential across political lines. To avoid tyranny, think beyond social, political and economic expectations; think beyond labels; think beyond blaming specific groups. It may seem odd to pursue the truth by challenging whatever one presumes to be true. But in times of rapid change, the desperate grab at certainty requires the most introspection and self-questioning.

And yet, challenging everything reflexively is not the answer either. This process precludes, for example, knee-jerk anti-establishmentarianism. This became a problem after the Second World War. German children, especially, were taught always to question authority, so that a dictator like Hitler would never rise again. But for these and other 20th century children schooled in this notion,  auto-questioning authority was falsely presumed to offer sure results. Judgment lost its meaning. Whole generations absorbed the post-WWII rule of thumb that if you have automatically questioned the recognized authority, and positioned yourself opposite that authority, then you must be in the moral and political safe zone of good judgment. Mindless, faux-virtuous auto-rebellion against the government and media was even present in the politics of Harry Potter.

There is more to effective political consciousness than that. As Oliver Cromwell declared to the synod of the Church of Scotland on 3 August 1650: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken."

There is an urgent need to find a sane, considered response to these trends. If we cannot count on political camps to achieve moderate consensus in the administration of government, we also cannot count on them not to exploit or change the legal framework that guards basic rights and civil society. The latter is in fact taking place. As a result, in America, the Union is splitting. Localities have begun to reject centralized pressure to cannibalize citizens' rights in the name of security and data control under America's National Defense Authorization Act. Municipalities and counties are legally declaring themselves to be autonomous, NDAA-free zones. Wiki describes this emerging, semi-medieval picture of free towns:
Nine counties have passed resolutions against sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA. They are: Moffat, Weld, and Fremont counties in Colorado; Harper County, Kansas; Allegan and Oakland counties in Michigan; Alleghany County in North Carolina; and Fulton and Elk counties in Pennsylvania. Resolutions have been introduced in three counties: Barber County, Kansas; Montgomery County, Maryland; and Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

Eleven municipalities have passed resolutions as well. They are: Berkeley, Fairfax, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, California; Cherokee City, Kansas; Northampton, Massachusetts; Takoma Park, Maryland; Macomb, New York; New Shorehampton, Rhode Island; League City, Texas; and Las Vegas, Nevada ( ... [passed a] joint [city-county] resolution [in March 2013]). An additional 13 municipalities have introduced anti-NDAA resolutions: San Diego, California; Miami, Florida; Portland, Maine; Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, North Carolina; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Albany and New York City, New York; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Dallas, Texas; Springfield, Virginia; and Tacoma, Washington.

Northampton, Massachusetts, became the first city in New England to pass a resolution rejecting the NDAA on February 16, 2012. William Newman, Director of the ACLU in western Massachusetts, said, "We have a country based on laws and process and fairness. This law is an absolute affront to those principles that make America a free nation."
Is it possible to look instead to technocrats to find truth and logic in the running of advanced civil societies? Cromwell's well-known phrase became the basis for what statisticians call 'Cromwell's Rule.' It determines the subjective probability measuring the degree to which a statement is true, or the degree to which an event is expected to happen in the future. This rule states that "that you should not give probabilities of 1 [certainty] to any event that is not demonstrable by logic to be true, and never to give probability 0 [impossibility] to any event unless it can be logically shown to be false." To extrapolate loosely in plain English: don't believe in wildly bizarre statements, arguments, or conspiracy theories that are really illogical; and don't rule out what you think is impossible, if it is in fact, possible. If we want to understand risk, responsibility and possible future outcomes, again, we need to recognize what is logical and true. Back to Square One.

What is the essential component for recognizing what is logical and true? In 2009, the aptly-named David Spiegelhalter (his name means, 'mirror holder'), Cambridge University's Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, gave a talk at SAPPUR (the Scoping Study on the Analysis, Propagation and Communication of Probability, Uncertainty and Risk ) at the University of Bristol. His notes for the talk are here. Spiegelhalter quoted German sociologist Ulrich Beck and British sociologist Anthony Giddens on the current situation:
  • Risk Society [is one] ‘where we increasingly live on a high technological frontier which no one completely understands and which generates a diversity of possible futures
  • ‘Manufactured risk’ is risk created by the very progression of human development. We often don’t really know what the risks are, let alone how to calculate them accurately in terms of probability tables
  • ‘Organised irresponsibility’ – a diversity of humanly created risks for which people and organisations are certainly ‘responsible’ in a sense that they are its authors but where no one is held specifically accountable.
Spiegelhalter concluded his talk by stating: "Robust use of quantitative methods, with due humility, is of huge value." Therein lies the problem. Where in this world of micro egos and monster egos can we find due humility and good judgment? Where will we find, in other words, the moderating, civilized, humane element of sober thought as we use quantitative methods to answer questions about risk and responsibility, or about what can be agreed on to be generally logical or true in society? This humility is the genie that has escaped the bottle for statisticians, programmers, politicians - and just about everyone else. It is ironic that Spiegelhalter has pointed to the need for an element of dignified human behaviour - a form of qualified knowledge - in order to make his quantified assessments work.

For those engineering the Matrix, and those participating in it, the worship of data brings the illusion of rational certainty, and with that, arrogance. It is an almost impossible dilemma to plead for an alternative, moderate, clear judgment and political consensus when all the touchstones and frameworks of both are falling away. But cultivating an effective civil consciousness in the sub- and transnational technosphere is what is needed now.

Below, see some warning signs of what could happen otherwise.
  • National Defense Authorization Act (amended for 2014)
  • Canadian Border Services Agency on the Canadian-American Security Perimeter (4 February 2011): "On February 4, 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States issued Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. The Declaration established a new long-term partnership built upon a perimeter approach to security and economic competitiveness. This means working together, not just at the border, but beyond the border to enhance our security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people, goods and services."
  • The Canadian (29 November 2011): Border Pact puts Canadians under New U.S. National Defense Act: "By joining the so-called Security Perimeter, Canadians will be also subject to America’s National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867). The U.S. Senate is apparently rushing to get the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867) passed to coincide with the official singing of the Security Perimeter. In order for Canadians to get better access to Target, Canadians will be giving up all their rights to a Totalitarian State South of the Border." [Update 26 February 2014: Fortunately for the broader, long-term implications of the ability of the USA to use the NDAA to impinge on the sovereignty of other states and other states' citizens under the guise of international econo-security treaties, Canadians don't like shopping at Target, after all.]
  • Business Insider (2 December 2011): The New National Defense Authorization Act is Ridiculously Scary: "By the end of next week, the US government very likely will have the power to lock up US citizens for life at Guantanamo Bay or other military prisons -- without charge and without trial. This means that, in the near future, a controversial Twitter post, attending a peaceful protest, or publishing an anti-Congress critique or anti-TSA rant on Google+ could land you 'indefinite detention' for life, in the wording of the bill. No access to a lawyer, no access to trial."
  • Forbes (5 December 2011): The National Defense Authorization Act is the Greatest Threat to Civil Liberties Americans Face
  • Legal Challenges to Indefinite Detention under the NDAA: Hedges v. Obama (13 January 2012): main Wiki entry
  • Urban Dictionary (8 December 2011): National Defense Authorization Act definition: "Reason the 'land of the free' A.K.A., the U.S.A, will lose all meaning and could very be the REAL apocalypse in 2012. Simply put, learning the Bill of Rights in school was a waste. In a 93-7 vote, declares the entire USA to be a 'battleground' upon which U.S. military forces can operate with impunity, overriding Posse Comitatus and granting the military the unchecked power to arrest, detain, interrogate and even assassinate U.S. citizens with impunity.
    CANADIAN PERSON: What's this National Defense Authorization Act I've been hearing about ... ? Something about rights?
    AMERICAN PERSON: I used to stand up for my rights.....but then I took an arrow in the knee."
  • Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper (14 December 2012): Canada and United States Report Progress on Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness
  • HuffPo (3 January 2013): NDAA Signed Into Law By Obama Despite Guantanamo Veto Threat, Indefinite Detention Provisions
  • The New American (5 January 2013): Obama Signs 2013 NDAA: May Still Arrest, Detain Citizens without Charge
  • Forbes (17 June 2013): The Web Cookie is Dying. Here's the Creepier Technology That Comes Next: "Fingerprinting may prove a more robust tracking technology than cookies because the user’s identity endures even if they erase their cookies."
  • Global Research (18 June 2013): The Integration of Canada into a U.S. Dominated North American Security Perimeter
  • Policy Mic (16 July 2013): NDAA: It Still Makes a Mockery of American Values
  • RT (17 July 2013): Obama Wins Back the Right to Indefinitely Detain under the NDAA
  • Rense.com (18 July 2013): US Courts Approve Indefinite Detention and Torture
  • National Security Agency
  • American Civil Liberties Union (2014): Petition: Our Best Chance at Reining in Dragnet NSA Surveillance
  • Wired (3 January 2014): The NSA is Building a Quantum Computer? We Already Knew That
  • Liberty News Online (25 January 2014): The National Defense Authorization Act - Has Congress Granted Obama Free Rein to Institute Martial Law?
  • Zero Hedge (26 February 2014): Obama Asks Court to Make NSA Database Even Bigger 
  • CBC (27 February 2014): UK Spy Agency Captured Private Webcam Chats, Report Says
  • Daily Tech (27 February 2014): British Surveillance Agency GCHQ Bulk Collects, Stores Yahoo Webcam Images
  • Guardian (28 February 2014): Optic Nerve: Millions of Yahoo Webcam Images Intercepted by GCHQ

1 comment:

  1. There was a time when "to pursue the truth by challenging whatever one presumes to be true" was called simply "scientific inquiry". Our lawmakers now lecture us that it is "Lies from the pit of Hell" because their presumptions don't hold up to even elementary challenges.