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Big Brother, Mon Amour

Obama voter Jeff Jarvis is angry at the president, saying he’s turned himself into Richard Nixon. Excerpt:

You have been seduced by the idea that your authority rests in your secrets and your power to hold them. Every attack on that power, every questioning of it only makes you draw in tighter, receding into your vault with the key you think your office grants you. You are descending into a dark hole of your own digging.

But you know better, don’t you? In a democracy, secrecy is not the foundation of authority; that is the basis of dictatorships. Principles and their defense is what underpins your office.

First among those principles is the defense of our freedom. Security is only a subset of that, for if we are not secure we are not free. Freedom demands the confidence that we are not under attack, yes, but also that we are not being surveilled without our knowledge and consent. The balance, which we are supposedly debating, must go to freedom.

Jarvis is one of the deluded elites that David Rieff talks about in this piece saying that most Americans don’t give a rip about the surveillance state — not because they’re bad citizens, but because they know resistance is futile. Excerpt:

But while the surveillance scandal has both engaged and enraged the elites, when all is said and done, the general public does not seem nearly as concerned.

The question, of course, is, why this is the case? In an age dominated by various kinds of techno-utopianism — the conviction that networking technologies inherently are politically and socially emancipatory and that massive data collection will unleash both efficiency in business and innovation in science — the idea that Big Data might be your enemy and not your friend is antithetical to everything we have been encouraged to believe. A soon-to-be-attained critical mass of algorithms and data has been portrayed as allowing individuals to customize the choices they make throughout their lives. Now, the datasets and algorithms that were supposed to set us free seem instead to have been turned against us. All together, techno-utopianism is looking a bit dented of late, particularly that variant of it that proclaimed social media to be at the heart of the revolutions of the Arab Spring. At the very least, the coup in Egypt seems to suggest that one certainly doesn’t need Twitter to launch a counterrevolution. But while the ideology of technology as liberation may be bloodied, it is as yet unbowed.

Rieff presumes that many, maybe even most, people are bothered to some degree by the surveillance state, but they’re not overly concerned because they’ve come to accept the loss of privacy as the price of living in the modern world: More:

The great myth of the past 25 years may be empowerment through technology. But the great truth of the past 25 years has been the rise of the surveillance state, which grows stronger every day — both because of technology itself and because of the control that states and huge corporations have over the technology that people depend upon and love.

That’s a profound point. We are winning the victory over ourselves. We love Big Brother.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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