We do what we’re told, told to do

30 07 2013

A criminal hacker criminally hacking a criminal hacker site: perfect.

I’m a cheapskate, so I rarely see movies in the theaters, but I’m thinkin’ I might get out the crowbar to see Elysium: divided society, Matt Damon, subversion, breaching the gates—sets me lil’ lefty heart aflutter!

So what does this have to do with HackBB and the so-called Dark Web? Well, it seems that so many techno-dystopias are predicated not just on an extreme divide, but also on a criminal space through which the untermenschen traverse to get to the high society or the denizens of the overlord society may slum for pleasures or sins or openings not found in their clean space.

I don’t know if that’s what happens in Elysium, but I’m bettin’ there’s some kind of passing going on.

As for other portrayals, Neo traded sims (is that right?) on the down side, Tom Cruise’s character got new eyeballs in the alleyways of Minority Report, Winston met Julia in the slums, Ethan Hawke’s character traded up to a new life in Gattaca, and on and on.  These netherspaces are dangerous, but also allow for freedoms not allowed in safer places; they might be dangerous precisely because they are free.

Dangerous and free: down- and up-side side, all in one.

We Americans like to celebrate the wholesome goodness of freedom—libertarians and anarchists, most of all—leaving a consideration of the ambiguities of liberty to scolds and scholars. Any problems with such freedom are laid on the character of those who “abuse” or “take advantage” of it, those who don’t know properly how to live freely.  Freedom is good for good people (of which we inarguably are) and bad for bad people.

So, how to preserve freedom for the deserving? Take it away from the undeserving. And how do you know who’s undeserving?

Welllll, that’s where things get tricky. You can define certain behaviors as crimes, and define those who commit those crimes as undeserving of freedom, but if you seek to stamp out every possible crime, you end up classifying everyone as a possible criminal—from whom it is acceptable to take away their freedom because: criminal!

If, however, you don’t want to treat everyone as a possible criminal, you have to tolerate a certain amount of crime. The obvious parallel is Madison’s observation that liberty is to faction what air is to fire: the only way to eliminate the problems of liberty is to eliminate liberty—an intolerable prospect, to Madison.

Even societies which are themselves intolerant of liberty allow spaces in which residents may act against the law, if only to vent harmlessly (and privately) a dissatisfaction which might otherwise be directed against the governing powers. Unless a regime is capable of stamping out every last discontent—and thus far in modern societies, only North Korea seems to have approached this goal—it has to figure out instead how to channel those discontents away from the center.

In free societies, there has been a similar kind of “blind-eye” sensibility for a whole variety of crimes (gambling most obviously), coupled with the creation or allowance of red-light districts to where other types of crime might be confined—and surveilled. It’s not that a security service is able to track every shady act in the shady zones, but that they know where to go if things get out of hand.

Which brings me back around to the Dark Web: A key feature of crime areas is that they are at least somewhat open to the police, but as encryption and anonymizing software like Tor have spread, it makes it difficult for the police to follow the criminals.

This is a problem.

Yes, it’s a problem in an obvious way: it allows child pornographers and identity thieves and the whole rotten lot to flourish. But it’s also a problem in a more insidious way, insofar as it allows private and public authorities to cast suspicions on any who don’t care to have their data dissected by corporations or cops. Because criminals hide their activities, then it must be the case that anyone who hides her activities is a criminal.

I’ve banged on about the privacy-shredding implications of this before, but here I’m making a slightly different point: As some kinds of crime and criminals become harder to follow, those who are tasked with following them are granted greater and greater leeway in their efforts to track them down. The deserving free must be protected from the undeserving, but as it becomes harder to identify the undeserving, the deserving themselves are scrutinized.

Thus some of the deserving-free readily hand over their freedom in order to signal their status as deserving, while others protest they ought to be able to retain both their status as deserving and their freedom, and still others say, screw it, if you’re going to treat me as a criminal, then I’ll throw my lot in with the criminal. That latter group might try to pass as deserving, making no overt protest and perhaps making a show of their adherence to the rules, but otherwise tolerating and perhaps taking advantage of the opportunities in the underworld.

The police might go after the protesters—they are visible, after all—but in doing so they are really attempting to get at criminal and their fellow-travellers.

Consider the approach of the FBI to environmental protesters in Seattle:

An attorney who’s working with local climate-change activists who’ve been approached by the FBI said activists were approached again yesterday. “They told him [the activist] that they wanted to talk to him because they were afraid that someone was going to get hurt in the course of the coal-train campaign,” she said. “They said something to the effect of, ‘we are afraid that someone is using the climate-change movement for nefarious purposes to hurt people.'”

As The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley points out,

It appears in this case that the FBI is not trying to solve a crime related to coal-train protests. Instead, agents are dropping by the homes of climate-change activists to express concern that they, by virtue of their activism, are involved in something that might become criminal. Or maybe they’re just trying to frighten people away.

Either way, it sounds like stop-and-frisk for environmentalists.

The mere (f)act of dissent is disreputable, and dissenters to be judged not on their arguments but by the (f)act of dissent itself, which, in this case, is seen merely as a cover for criminality.

Grrr, this post is getting away from (now you appreciate those quick hits, don’t you?), but I’m trying to make sense of trends toward both greater division and increased social-securitization.

No, I don’t believe that the US is a dystopian totalitarian state, nor do I think we’ll become one in my lifetime. But it seems that as more and more people find it difficult to support themselves above the line, they’ll dip below it in order to survive. And as more and more people dip below, the security state will grow in order to capture and segregate them from those above, which will lead to greater efforts to pass or to avoid capture, which further justifies the extension of the security state.

At some point, everyone becomes a suspect, guilty until proven innocent.

I’m amused by the HackBB story because it seems to me a clear case of, well, just desserts. But as much as I’m discomfitted both by the folks who make a living on the Dark Web and the hysteria it sets off in the security apparatus, it might, like other dodgy neighborhoods, be one of the few places where the innocently-guilty may live freely. The danger provides the freedom.

If so, it might be the case that the only thing worse than its existence would be its extinction.


h/t Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish


Is anybody alive in here?

26 11 2009

It’s far easier to end things than to figure out things past the end.

Upshot: I’m having difficulty with the dystopias.

I did manage to put together a chart, but it’s pretty spongy. I’d put in ‘violent’ here or ‘charismatic’ there, then take it out, move it around.

I don’t have it—I’m missing something; no flow, here.

So let’s just call this Dystopia-Beta

  • I. Cause
    • A. Collapse
      • i. catastrophic (SEE Apocalypse)
      • ii. gradual breakdown
    • B. Evolution
      • i. of species
        • a. human
        • b. non-human
      • ii. of society
  • II. Type
    • A. Chaotic
      • i. non-violent
        • a. few people
        • b. hostile environment
      • ii. episodically violent
        • a. individual predation
        • b. criminal gangs
        • c. militias
      • iii. war
        • a. criminal gangs
        • b. militias
        • c. organized armies
    • B. Corporate
      • i. workers controlled
      • ii. consumers controlled
    • C. Party government
      • i. everything-is-good
        • a. dissenters marginalized
        • b. dissenters jailed/killed
        • c. dissenters re-educated
      • ii. everything-is-grim
        • a. populace atomized
        • b. populace enslaved
        • c. ongoing genocide
      • iii. behind-the-scenes
        • a. omnipresent/tracks behavior
        • b. omniscient/tracks affect & intellect
    • D. Military government
      • i. military in sync with society
      • ii. military opposed to society
      • iii. entire society militarized
    • E. Theocracy
      • i. elite/exclusive
        • a. exploits populace
        • b. suppresses populace
        • c. forcibly converts populace
      • ii. populist/inclusive
        • a. cultic/centered on charismatic leader
        • b. pietistic/communitarian
        • c. dogmatic/authoritarian
    • III. Stage
      • A. Immediate post-
        • i. no control
        • ii. begin control
      • B. Semi-stable
        • i. partial control [against chaos]
        • ii. organized fight for control
      • C. Stable
        • i. evolving
        • ii. eternal

(I have to say, this was a total pain in the ass to put together—all those damned ‘li’ and ‘backslash ul’—but I did it. Still, I am lazy enough that if flow charts require anything near the persnickety-ness of a nested chart, fuggedaboudit. )

Not so great, I know, but it’s a start.

Suggestions welcome.

Walk it down, talk it down

24 11 2009

A taxonomy of terror?

Yes, again with the apocalyptic and/or dystopic pics and books. Blame a conversation with my friend, S.

So, to categorize:

I. Caused by:
A. Collapse
i. slow-motion
ii. sudden
B. Violence
i. natural
a. arising from natural forces
b. arising from altered nature
ii. inflicted
a. by humans
b. by non-humans
c. by supernatural forces

II. Threatened:
A. Avoidable
i. due to intervention by many
ii. due to intervention by few [n.b. S. doesn’t think this should count]
iii. due to supernatural intervention
iv. due to luck
B. Unavoidable
i. due to luck
ii. predestined

III. Post-apocalypse (SEE ALSO: Dystopia]
A. Immediately post-
i. happy-to-have-survived
ii. continued survival uncertain
B. Intermediate post-
i. reconstruction begun
ii. further collapse
C. Long-term post-
i. reconstruction complete
a. society similar to pre-apocalypse
b. society better than pre-
c. society worse than pre-
d. society different from pre-
ii. reconstruction amidst chaos
iii. chaos
iv. no life

(Crap. I’ve GOT to learn html so I can space all this stuff correctly. But you get the idea.)

Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever): Dystopia

Fly into the sun

18 11 2009

Could you tell my post last night was dashed off?

I was thinking Oh, man, I gotta post something. What? What? Then I did the dishes, which apparently put me in mind of the apocalypse.

As I told C. in the comments (who corrected an author error in the post: Clarke, not Huxley, wrote Childhood’s End), I was so lazy I couldn’t be bothered to tab over and look up various movie titles on IMDB.


Thus, an elaboration on yesterday’s post, as well as an important qualifier.

The elaboration

C. astutely noted that I included dystopias with my apocalypses. So true. I guess  I tend to think that any dystopia worth its salt was preceded by some kind of apocalypse, but they really ought to be separated.

Had I been engaging anything other than minimal brain power last night, I would have figured this out in my (minor) deliberations over whether to include Brave New World. I did not, because, as I noted in the comments, the shift into Fordism seemed a kind of progression, rather than break, with what came before.

My list was also quite sloppy: I Am Legend popped into my head, then popped right back out. (I saw the Charleton Heston version, and parts of the Will Smith. In either case, definitely apocalyptic.) And I couldn’t remember the name of that damned book with the conch and boys and Piggy, and so left it off. (Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I thought there was mention of an a-bomb at the end, but it’s at the beginning.)

There’s another book, too, listed at the back of the paperback edition of The Gone-Away World: Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. It veers between an occasional (and thoroughly enjoyable) nasty humor and genuine pathos. More light than heavy.

I’d count Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, too, if only because of the threat. But I didn’t include Max Barry’s Jennifer Government because, if I remember correctly, that society arose more like Huxley’s Fordist scheme than through anything apocalyptic.

And I missed the whole field of Christian apocalypse, a.k.a. the Rapture. Now, there is a very good movie called The Rapture (David Duchovny, Mimi Rogers), but that’s a Hollywood film, as opposed to a Soon-To-Be-Coming-To-An-Earth-Near-You True Believer flick. I used to be a regular imbiber of TBN and CBN (wacky evangelistic fare), and they’d regularly show rapture films. Don’t know the name of a single one.

I do know, however, The Omega Code (produced by TBN and starring Kirk Cameron), which is  basic Bible-code Armageddon. And, of course, Jenkins & LaHaye’s Left Behind series. I tried to read it, but couldn’t get through even book one. I have a high tolerance for this stuff, so you know it’s bad. (But if they make a movie of it—have they made a movie of it?—I am so there.)

There are likely many, many more of this subgenre that I’m missing.

I also overlooked the Mad Max movies. I liked the second one, Road Warrior, best, but the first and third aren’t bad. And I have the sense that those crazy Danes probably have a bunch of apocalypses hidden in their Danish libraries. (Don’t know why I have this sense; just do.)

Well, I’m counting on C. to come up with a proper doom list.

Now, the qualifier.

None of these books or movies are based on historical events. Some of these may speculate on a future which could become history (got that?), but in no case are these movies or books based on anything which has actually happened.

No Holocaust. No Hiroshima or Nagasaki. No Native American genocide. No historical genocides, period. No plague, flu, smallpox, etc. No Mt. St. Helen’s or Vesuvius or Tambora or any actual natural disaster. No Chernobyl.

No event in which actual human beings experienced their own version of the apocalypse.

I don’t put these events off-limits, not by any means. A good book or movie is a good book or movie, and I think all of the stuff of our lives and deaths is there for the taking.

But I don’t include these in my apocalypse list.

There is a glee in thinking of how the world might end, how humans might respond—wondering how I would respond—to total disaster, precisely because it is so speculative. Look at all the possibilities of our end!

Possibilities. Not certainties.

In historical ends, there is a certainty, the most significant of which is the certainty of actual human suffering and death.

Again, a worthy topic of fiction. But not of glee.