Covert technology is 30 years ahead of what’s in the public realm, argues Norman Ball.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt made a splash recently at Davos with his quip about the vanishing Internet. Frankly, he does creepy better than obtuse when he all but begged the question about what the hell we’re being kept around for: “We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
Strip a man of his keyboard and all that remains is a blinking cursor and his wordless nightmares. Perhaps we are the dead already — carbon-based anachronisms awaiting the insidious hand of benign neglect to make our post-mortems official. Have we overstayed into the silicon era such that an artilect now wants our seat on the bus? Google approaches as a guillotine dressed in geek’s clothing.
Humor us, Mr. Schmidt. For you see, typing — or writing, as Truman Capote might allow for the better tappers in our midst — helps us to converge on where you seem dead-certain we already live. Yes, we’re slow, but interiority is such a tough habit to kick. Google Earth is a marvel to be sure. Yet there is no small number of keen minds for whom the non-locality of consciousness defies GPS coordinates. We might even live to survive your Panopticon and have a laugh about it on the other side. So, I’d be careful with that hubris. Some trans-human demigod could swat you absently like a four-eyed mosquito. Then where would your stock options be?
Schmidt is a particularly bad bad actor. He slips easily into an exasperated tone when asked to wax eloquent on that last stubborn fly in the ointment — humanity. It was as clear in the long faces at Davos as it was in Eurogroup Chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s withering glare when Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis put food for Greece’s children before George Soros — we’ve become a vastly populated nuisance. They want us out of here so badly, it hurts.
Imagine Zeus running out of thunderbolts and having to fall back on pushing strings. There would have been a mutiny on Mount Olympus faster than you could say Eurogroup Chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem — maybe even faster. Quantitative easing never got anyone a job who wasn’t already on the BIS Christmas card list. Austerity is a boot out to squash a colony of bugs. In their ham-fisted efforts at herding us, the elite’s faltering touch is showing. Long-term, this may be good. Short-term, it’s incredibly perilous. Never embarrass a faltering elite in broad daylight. Their numbers are too few, and their cognitive hold over we of far larger numbers too tenuous for open monetary farce to prevail for long. You’re only asking for World War III.
Mass denouement has been underway for some time now.
Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Eddie Bernays (the inventor of public relations), saw us as little more than bracketed swirls of subterranean appetites to be mined and monetized. Our irrational pleasure centers were invaded subliminally. This led to what cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han calls the Neuronal Age, where overactive receptors create unnatural fatigue and the sense of unavertable outside entreaties. And boy do we have the pounds to show for myriad uninvited entreaties. People now routinely eat themselves to death. Speaking of entreaties or at least odious treats, no one ever woke up yearning for a twinkie until a twinkie was first made to exist and then advertised onto our burgeoning list of manufactured pleasures.
Yes, victimology can be overdone. Nonetheless, we were helped along mightily by cues we never had the explicit option of refusing. Maybe mom didn’t love us enough or dad was a little too stern. Was it the market’s right to sell into our unfillable holes, banishing us forevermore to the husky section of Sears? But for another hug mommy and our asses would look just fine in these jeans. Over the ensuing period, the will to power swept through humanity like a hundred-year war. We’re looking weary and ripe for supersession.
Something is dying to usurp us and usher in the post-consumer age. The anthropic economy was an un-oiled rack of Newtonian gears and pulleys shuttling supply toward demand, groping in the dark for equilibriums, one month producing too much, the next month too little. The surveillance apparatus is not being constructed to better serve us in the sense of a market perfecting its answerability to consumer demand, although that remains the party line. They’re not cataloging our retinas to sell us cereal, in short. For one thing, we are dismally predictable and not nearly the unique snowflakes we often fancy ourselves to be. The average Internet user visits no more than a few dozen unique sites per month. They know us more than well enough by now.
Analyst Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation recently estimated US tech company losses due to government spying programs could amount to $35 billion by 2016. This is a decidedly post-economic development couched disingenuously as an undesirable consequence. Frankly my dear, what spook gives a damn? Even Senator Ron Wyden noted the suspicious absence of alarm: “When the actions of a foreign government threaten red-white-and-blue jobs, Washington gets up at arms. But, even today, almost no one in Washington is talking about how overly broad surveillance is hurting the US economy.”
This current slow-motion global economic collapse is not scheduled for either a happy ending or a people-pleasing recovery. No, the final business cycle is an abyss-by-design. We are being “descended into” transient serfdom on the way to superfluity. The main actors — central banks — are wringing their hands in premeditated angst as they stagger about “trying everything” alas to no avail; all pure theater to keep the masses spellbound and agape.
All currencies are collapsing against the US dollar, after which the latter will perform the very last swan dive. Then structured economics will vanish. The economy is being put out to pasture. Mad Max barter might play a role on wild, wide stretches of highway. But for the most part, Adam Smith’s invisible hand will be replaced by the Panopticon’s invisible eye.
The great underlying tension that girded capitalism for decades was something akin to the Keystone Cops. Capital was forever teasing out the maddening vagaries of human want, often with humorous results. The landscape is littered with edsels and new coke. Nothing was wasted though. These misfires fed powerful feedback loops. The ultimate goal was never for capital to please man, but for man to furnish capital with the ultimate prize: perfect control. Otherwise, what a way to run a railroad, chasing every Tom, Dick and Harry as though their appetites amounted, in some qualitative sense, to a covetable hill of beans.
Market research, product placement and needs assessment were midterm gestures until manufactured consent could perfect the ultimate gloved fist of demand implantation. Rather than stooping to glean the silly ramblings of the man on the street — as if that mattered — real power looked forward to the day when it would know what the man wanted before he articulated the desire for it. This is Huxleyian dystopia. Consent becomes the organizing principle on the way to the final solution.
Capitalism was the interim stalking horse the bankers used to perfect the final mousetrap. Widely available prosperity was the inducement that coaxed the best minds into an endgame endeavor that ultimately they, nor their families would live to partake. And to think we fell for the myth of sustainable upward mobility. Who can’t feel it in the air? There is a sense now they have all that they need. It’s written all over Schmidt’s smug mug. Covert technology is 30 years ahead of what’s in the public realm.
You see, it was never about serving markets. It was about serving up servitude. The mark of the beast might get you a twinkie when total submission becomes the new coin of the realm. Relax. Most people will enjoy the final act, and they say diet soma is low in calories. Only the poets will suffer.
Until death do us part, comrade.
*[A version of this article was originally published by CounterPunch.]
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