A Noir America
Killers and Roller-Coaster Rides
We're all aware of the reputed Chinese curse about living in interesting times. Upheaval seems to be in the air. According to Wikipedia, the interesting times curse was linked with a second, more worrisome curse: "May you come to the attention of those in authority."
If a young computer nerd like Edward Snowden can access so much secret information concerning US citizens’ lives, what’s to stop some righteous NSA employee with the moral intelligence of Adolf Eichmann from accessing the same material and, in collusion with a para-military cabal of like-minded and armed patriots, deciding someone (me!) is a national security threat in need of neutralization?
Paranoia? Maybe. But I see it as paying attention and having the historically-based imagination to understand we’re no longer in Kansas -- that we actually live in Oz and Toto has been declared a terrorist. The basis of Franz Kafka’s absurd world, of course, is that what you know about yourself doesn’t matter if powerful, secretive elements act hostilely against you based on what they think they know about you.
At an anti-Iraq War demonstration in Philadelphia some years ago, a Civil Affairs cop took me aside and told me the FBI had just called him about me. He seemed to be warning me so I could clean up any suspicious behavior. Since I was exercising my first amendment rights, I felt I had nothing to hide. But, then, I began to wonder why exactly some FBI drone thought I might be a threat and how dangerous for me such a person might be.
It all distills down to Power versus Truth and which one is the lodestar for one’s actions. The Obama administration’s current obsession with crushing whistleblowers is clearly about Power and assuring the bloated national security apparatus he oversees retains all its accumulated Power. This is done by controlling access to the Truth.
In his 2011 book The Future of Power, Joseph Nye, Jr. says we live in an age of the “diffusion of power” in which the nation state is no longer the only game in town. “Transnational actors” of all sorts -- corporations, terrorist networks, affinity groups, media and entertainment forces -- all vie for power and attention. The fact our lives are overwhelmed by computers, social media and the forces of economic globalization is central to this diffusion. I would argue that US militarism and the burgeoning police state has become a power center in its own right separate from whatever "The United States of America" is -- and that this militaristic power center is more and more driven by its own self-aggrandizing impulses.