A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Gist of Surveillance:

Some examples of responses to the release of NSA data collection on the US population:

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist. The Frankendata Monster in Counterpunch: details the many iterations that the data collection apparatus has gone through to hide its activities while still being funded by the tax payer.  Makes the point that this is old news in a way, but made ignorable by the (slightly) tricky shifting of names and personnel.  He tends to focus on the immediate gain to existing operators.

Norman Solomon, on Common Dreams in Clarity from Edward Snowden and Murky Response from Progressive Leaders in Congress, presents the “legal” argument as it ping-pongs around congress: the argument ranges from Snowden as the traitor to hero, NSA spying as essential to criminal, with huge amounts of CYA as the stock for the stew.

Ray McGovern, in Secrecy’s Tangled Web of Deceit (also at Common Dreams) points out the lying as it grades from nonsense through bull-shit to damned lies to criminal lying; all out of the mouths and pens of the leaders of the surveillance programs. He details the lies being told (with appropriate Shakespearean references) and powers of obfuscation available to government and corporate insiders. 

Jonathan Taylor is a Professor in the Geography Department at California State University, Fullerton.  Apathy and Our Totalitarian Future in Counterpunch: essentially a correct understanding – not devoted to Snowden, terrorism or other tangential concerns.  The point is surveillance and the eventual uses the data is put to.

Eric Draitser states, in The NSA and the Infrastructure of the Surveillance State (also Counterpunch), that the surveillance state acts “against the interests of the ordinary Americans.”  But, we are told by the people managing the surveillance that it is not against our interests: it is to track and target terrorists and others dangerous to the people (realistically, a few hundred and at most a few thousand people).  So why billions of dollars being taken from salutary domestic uses to create both a surveillance and analysis system that can handle the total electronic communication product of the whole world?

The summary response in the “progressive” press (the reactionary press is quite another matter and requires a stronger stomach and mental construction than I possess) focuses on wasteful spending, the corrupt misuse of the secrecy system so that groups and individuals can hide behind a screen of secrecy, devices to extract money from the taxpayer, use of fear to gain control of both power and money, lack of concern because “everyone” knows that they are innocent of dangerous actions and ideas; and accepted beliefs that this has something, if not everything, to do with the attack on US commercial and military infrastructure by 15 Saudi young men plus 5 others in 2001; and/or Iranian intransigence; and/or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and/or an international movement of Muslim extremists who “hate us for our way of life.”
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But, it cannot be the targeting of individuals and groups that is the ultimate goal – the difficulties there are not improved by massive data collection – it must be rather the use of analysis programs, similar in function to climate modeling programs, to model population behavior.  The great concern for the future is how the population will respond to the increasing restrictions and limitations imposed by global “balancing” of economies, the end of economic growth and ecological perturbations, all as interpreted by the ruling elites (in their own interests).  Patterns of activity would arise out of the massed data just as thunderstorms, tornados and hurricanes are presaged from meteorological data.  It would then be possible to focus on nodes of activity and then to groups and individuals for controlling responses – a sort of pre-crime model.

This is driven by non-integrated, but compatible motives: immediate personal gain and the promise of population measurement and control.  Immediate added benefits include commercial uses and the fact that large sums of money can be extracted from the fearful taxpayer as long as he and she are frightened of the bloodthirsty “other.” 

Frankly, I see no way to stop this from happening; the potential gains in power and control are so great and the technology is rapidly increasing to levels that make such data collection and analysis functionally possible.  Our human actions will become like the humidity of the air, the barometric pressure or the direction of the wind, to which the surveillance/police state will respond.  Isolated individual communications will be of little interest, that is not the concern, but the discernment of patterns of social dissatisfaction and the forms taken will be.

Events like the Boston Bombing or even 9/11 are ultimately of little interest, it is the large movements of population attitude and potential action that frighten the elites.  They know that they are parasites on the body-public and dependent on them, even as they constantly present themselves as the superior human form.  The ruling elites could not exist without the masses; to know the mind of the masses has always been an elite goal and now they are only a few years from possessing a major tool toward accomplishing it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Nitty-Gritty

In the last essay, ‘The Ranting of a Lunatic’, I wrote these words referring to the human future: “There is only one option left; the options with which we are most familiar and therefore to which we most expect and wish to turn are gone: we must change the way that we think and we must change the things that we believe; we must make radical and rapid changes in how we live.  We will either do this with some design and planning or the changes will be forced on us by the environmental realities of a world that can no longer support our insolence.”

I have, in many earlier essays, suggested answers to how we need to think and what we need to believe, in fact, the suggestion of such changes have been a consistent theme [1], but I have been a bit cowardly in offering detail about how it is that we need to live.  The essay, ‘The Strongest Force In The World: for good or ill’, details some of the mandatory changes in our relationship with the earth, its productive capacities and biophysical systems; briefly recapped they are: take much less from the earth’s productive capacity and do much less to the earth’s sustaining systems. There are great consequences for daily life in this simple paradigm shift.

The most obvious and likely outcomes of humanity confronting these mandatory changes are the typical human responses of regional, economic, ethnic and religious polarization, conflict and war. These are also the least interesting (though the most personally traumatic): the end result would very likely be the devastation of the earth’s surface and the pollution of the atmosphere and ocean with such materials and to such levels that much of complex life would go extinct.  One can draw a number of plausible scenarios where this would be the result in whole or in part.

What follows is based on the more interesting notion that people, generally, come to some level of realization that “winning” the economic or regional battles for possession of a planet being killed off by those very battles is the greatest insanity.  After a period of adjustment to such an idea and its associated understandings, humans would be in a position to begin to fulfill two basic conditions: the biological nature of the human species and the ecological role of humans in the global ecology.  Since the most of humanity has no intention of living in grass huts and herding goats, how to do this while maintaining technological preeminence will be the greatest “entrepreneurial” challenge in human history requiring a large revision in the goals of human action.

Let me ease into this by describing first how humans will not be living.  There will not be endless shelves of consumer goods and food supplied by an international transportation infrastructure.  All high-energy consuming activities will be reduced at least 10 fold with solar capture being the primary energy source and that source moderated by the limitations on the industries that produce solar capture hardware.  Photosynthetic solar capture (including food production, but also for a variety of other uses) will become more important, but with severe limitations on it being developed to industrial levels.

Many if not most of the buffers between environmental conditions and the daily experience of life will be gone unless they are supplied by low intensity designs or direct human effort, i.e., we will get wet when it rains, cold when it is cold, hot when it is hot and dusty when it is dusty.  Gone will be effortless travel, limitless healthcare or hours spent on entertainment options. 

It should be noted that billions of people presently live like this; what would be different for them is that they would not be misguided into thinking that the impunities of wealth were an option for them.

The great question is what would replace the consumer society and its organizing expectations; because that is exactly what would have to be done.  The flippant, but necessary answer is an appreciation for life – life as the most remarkable and diverse organization of matter and energy in the universe that we know of.  The destruction of that appreciation has been the most incredible loss to the human species imaginable.  It will only be recovered by changing the details of how we live [2].
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Are you ready to bale the bathwater into the toilet as the flushing water? Would you be ready if by doing so you saved 60 gallons of water a month for drinking and cooking?  Would you be ready if that was what you had to do to get the 60 potable gallons?

Are you prepared, with knowledge and physical and emotional capacity, to supply 50% or more of your nutritional needs by gardening and gathering?  How about clothing needs, housing and protection from the “elements”?

Can you work with your neighbors? Do you have the emotional maturity and political (real negotiating and compromising) skills to organize community action for the benefit of the whole community and not just attempted self-aggrandizement?  This is the opposite of impunity; it is responsibility to the community and therefore to the ecology as a whole.

Could you raise insects for food, insects that eat, and therefore convert, compost into high-quality protein?  And more importantly, would you give your time and effort to such “insect ranching” as a community service.

Are you prepared to walk 5 miles as a normal expectation, to bicycle 10 to 25 miles to public transportation or to work?  Are you ready for that work to be community based, supplying – in whatever form – much of your needs for exchange transactions, but only 50% or less of your total needs.

Are you ready to learn the world around you so that you could both use it for your benefit, but also not abuse it so that it loses its capacity to benefit?  This is the natural relationship of every species of life to the ecology in which they live.  It is the relationship that humans must form with the world.  All other living things acquire this relationship on the uncompromising anvil of evolution, humans evolved a new form of information handling that now requires that they make this relationship explicit through acts of scientific investigation, learning and behavioral changes to fit biophysical Reality.

Are you ready to die when you are injured or diseased, when an organ fails, when you have worn out your body or when the mind is gone?  Death is still, after all these years, the unsolvable mystery, but it loses its terror after a thoughtful, fulfilled and purposeful life, especially when the values and products of that life are absorbed into the community in which that life has been lived.

Are you ready to make learning about the world (the universe), other people and life’s processes a central value? Something must replace consumerism: consuming information/experience, then applying it to more fully manifest the pleasures of living, would be a low impact replacement.  Physical activity, especially for its own pleasures, would be another; walking, running, climbing, swimming can be done without a tracksuit from AF or snorkel gear made in China. The focus is shifted to the activity and away from the accoutrements in all things as a general process.

Are you ready to live in a 200 to 400 square foot space and the whole of the out-of-doors?  Could you share that space with others?
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There would, of course, be many more changes in how we might live, but this offers a beginning view of a chance to adapt a realistic relationship with biophysical Reality.  The goal of the economic elites is that 90% of humanity live in these ways while they continue on with impunity, but that is a sure prescription for conflict, war and the destruction of ecological stability, even as it is the most likely future.

[1] list of some essays that detail beliefs needing to be changed or the new beliefs needed:

List of some essays arguing that growth must end:

[2] The key element in all of our options is how work and its value-creation are arranged. Frederick Engels summarized Marx's theory of historical change: “The materialist conception of history starts from the principle that production, and with production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order; that in every society that has appeared in history the distribution of the products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged.”  C. Wright Mills gave a compact paraphrase to Marx’s theory of history writing in The Marxists (1962): “Political, religious and legal institutions as well as the ideas, the images, the ideologies by means of which men understand the world in which they live, their place within it, and themselves--all these are reflections of the economic basis of society.”  And As Upton Sinclair said in even shorter form, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”  The work that people do is the nexus of social order and expectation.