By PATRICK HENNINGSEN
The march of modern progress has brought forth many advances for humanity, and yet man is lost. Technology, automation, and miniaturisation, along with the micro-processing revolution, allow things to happen that were unimaginable only ten years ago, let alone a century before. These rapid advances have brought with them a number of complex problems, some of which challenge the very notion of progress.
If you define the level of an advanced civilisation by how much freedom its citizens experience in their day to day lives – along with the protection of individual liberties as we have come to expect in the 21st century – then the march of the mass surveillance state over the last 15 years should be of serious concern. Despite public pleas from our leaders that, ‘if only we pass this next law or security measure’, or ‘if we can just launch one more month of airstrikes’, or ‘if the public will allow just a bit more access to their personal information…’ and so on, the state and its corporate partners have developed a firm grip on power over, and intrusions into, our personal lives that is only increasing.
In the West, a type of cognitive dissonance has already set in regard to this and other related issues – partly due to the sheer dominance of the ‘war on terror’ and national security narratives that overtook society after 11 September 2001. Since then, it seems that every six months or so the narrative is revised; as one perceived threat subsides, another emerges in its place.
What remains is a stark picture; a society where real time monitoring of every aspect of day to day home and work life is now expected, and where thought conformity is rampant. It’s a self-policing, self-perpetuating interdependent, paranoid system of globalised capitalism governed by the ruling class’s Thatcheresque trope known as the T.I.N.A. principle1 which stands for: There Is No Alternative. When challenged on the efficacy of this master default position, most bureaucrats, technocrats and neoliberal financiers will loyally cling to this mantra as if it were the only commandment etched in Moses’s stone tablets.
Welcome to the technetronic age.
Sleepwalking Into a Technetronic Nightmare
Since its inception, the dream of technological progress was sold to the West as the new liberation, embodied by breathtaking advances in automation and increased consumer convenience.
The trap has been sprung. The micro-processing revolution gave way to the Internet and the information technology revolution, but it didn’t take long for our most celebrated advances to turn on society.
A primary exhibit would be the NSA-Snowden revelations of 2013. For the first time, the mainstream media and the public at large got a broad scope look at the actual scale and reach of the digital surveillance state. Instead of fighting back, or demanding reform, the public cowed instead, as people began self-policing their speech on social networks. The mass psychological ‘chilling effect’ that so many contemporary futurists and writers warned us about has finally come to pass. A century and a half later after his death it seems Jeremy Bentham was right – the Panopticon actually works.2 20th century prophets like Eric Blair aka George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and others all issued vivid warnings about this dark prospect, but in the end it seems the intense glimmer of technology has somehow blinded society to its inherent risks.
It’s true that history often repeats itself but never in the exact same way. During the post-WWII Cold War era, Soviet citizens maintained a rigid hyper-socialised system because they feared an existential threat – in this case the possibility of nuclear attack from its ideological nemesis, the so-called ‘capitalist’ countries. North Americans and western Europeans backed a fifty year-long arms race because of a perceived existential threat from its ideological opposite commonly referred to as ‘Communist Russia’ or the Soviet Union. The United States also used this perceived threat to project power on every continent, and in nearly every country on the planet. This shaped America’s idea of itself, and also of its role in the world as a benevolent force for freedom and democracy.
In today’s Western threat matrix, yesterday’s communists have been replaced by today’s Islamic terrorists. Who will it be tomorrow?
How much of this was true or just public perception is beside the point because the systems of control erected during this long and dark era are with us today – a full spectrum of total information awareness, and a technetronic society driven by a highly mechanised military industrial complex economy.
As technology advances the fundamental questions remain: are we smarter now than we used to be? Are we living longer and more fruitful lives? Is this true progress?
What’s lost cannot easily be regained.
Smart Machines, Obsolete Man
It’s not as if philosophical and social critics didn’t see it coming. Many did in fact.
Orwell and others recognised the potential power of applied behavioural science and its dystopian clinical applications. Should the state ever have the ability and technology to claim preeminent domain over the technosphere, then a social malaise might set in not unlike that depicted in the novel 1984, or in Philip K. Dick’s story The Minority Report. What Orwell and other futurist visionaries could not fully calculate, however, was the intimacy that has developed between technology and the ‘user’. So deep is the personal relationship between these two seemingly opposite parties that the user becomes one with the technology.
The complete inversion of their relationship becomes apparent when technology is awarded a personality by society, as it’s widely celebrated for being ‘personalised’ and ‘smart’ (technological algorithms appear to predict what the user wants next). Conversely, the human is stripped of his or her individuality by being labelled a ‘user’. Here the human side of this transaction is characterised as a mechanised party, while the robotic or automated actor is celebrated as the ‘smart’ side of this interactive equation.
As man becomes increasingly dependent on technology, the difference between man and machine will become narrower. As artificial intelligence, big data and algorithm modelling amplify inside the matrix, this fusion of man and machine will beg the question: Are humans interacting with technology, or is technology interacting with the ‘user’?
This is an important fundamental point to consider because it means the difference between who is considered a superior form – man or machine. Already, today, many argue that machines have certain distinct advantages over their human creators. As technology advances, the machines become increasingly independent of man to perform certain basic functions and tasks. This can be as simple as turning itself ‘off’ and ‘on’, or as complicated as self-regulating its energy output, parsing out operational tasks, and processing and self-analysing data streams in real-time. All of these things were once considered the job of the human ‘operator’ of the machine who has been steadily replaced by programming instructions in the form of customised software ‘apps’.
Considering this phenomenon of the changing relationship between man and technology in the context of the relationship between the state and its citizens, immediately we can see certain areas that cause concern.
When a Bureaucracy Becomes a Technocracy
It’s important to both understand and recognise the technocrat and his or her mindset.
A bureaucrat can be characterised as a human administrator performing highly impersonal administrative processes. Bureaucrats will quietly celebrate delays and ‘red tape’ as proof of the primacy of ‘the process’.
The technocrat takes this management concept level higher and proselytises about seemingly omnipotent abilities of technology in performing administrative tasks, all in real time. With these new ‘smart’ tools of the future in hand, the old bureaucrat will soon be obsolete. One form of bureaucratic tyranny is replaced by another.
Here the technocrat engages in a kind of infatuation with his or her machines. For the technocrat, there is a certain beauty in the perfection and perception of infallibility of the machine. The bureaucrat’s archaic world of carbon copies, notaries and stamps seems almost organic in comparison.
Once again, the machine is elevated to a higher station than human.
Between Two Ages
When viewed with a wider social and culture lens, a clearer, albeit more disturbing picture comes into focus. In this new world, be it a progressive or free market capitalist future (depending on which new religion you subscribe to), society’s values are clearly shifting away from past traditions that were underpinned by introspection and the inherent spiritual and organic aspects of individual experience. Regardless of your political or social position, it’s a near given that most people have become acutely aware of this phenomenon at some point. That something is happening is not in question, but rather what are we shifting towards is perhaps a much more profound question. The answer isn’t hard to find. In fact, it’s right at our finger tips – every hour of every day.
In his book Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era,3 globalist luminary and geostrategist Zbigniew Brzeziński described (back in 1982) the transition between the 20th and 21st centuries:
“The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”
Arguably, Brzeziński’s vision was stunningly accurate, and some might argue this globalist architect was speaking with the certainty of a deep state insider. Indeed, recent state measures in both Australia and the United Kingdom are indicative of the very system outlined in Between Two Ages. In both instances, the technocrat state’s over-reliance on both signature and algorithmical data, coupled with an unhealthy fixation on computer modelling. Undoubtedly, this has resulted in some cold and brutal social applications.
In Australia, odious counter-terrorism laws brought in under former PM Tony Abbott seem to be going from bad to worse – with the latest power grab being the extension of “control orders” for children as young as 14 years old.
Writer Daniel Hurst of The Guardian describes Australia’s disturbing new legislation rolled out only this year.4 New draconian control order laws would allow the court to consider evidence that is hidden from the suspect – a reversal of the basic principles of habeas corpus and due process. This new regressive law would “provide the subject of a control order and their lawyer with a censored or summarised form of ‘national security information’ against them even if the court considers other, secret details when making its decision; or, Provide the subject and lawyer with none of the information in the source document, even if the court considers all of that information when making its decision.”
In the UK, through a new scheme called ‘Prevent’, an obsessive security state has been attempting to indirectly draft secondary and high school level teachers into the role of spies in order to profile and report on any young students, namely Muslims, who “might be candidates for radicalisation.” The Guardian reports that:
“Since last summer, Prevent has obliged teachers to refer to police pupils they suspect of engaging in some sort of terrorist activity or radical behaviour. The duty has been largely considered a failure by teaching leaders, partly because about 90% of referrals end without action being taken.”5
In both examples, our freedoms are now being stripped by technocrats and their computer models.
The Quantification of Everything
In the 21st century, people have been reduced to numbers, literally. While in the recent past you may have often felt like a number, and you sometimes objected to being treated like a number, today you really are a number. As society moves along the Maglev track of progress and the hyper reality of computerisation, now at the very cusp of artificial intelligence (AI), those old traditional values and deeper human ethics have been replaced with one singular, all-encompassing, all-knowing and all-powerful principle of modernity: functionality.
Writer and philosopher Jay Dyer describes this cultural chasm:
“The trek of modernity from the Enlightenment has resulted in the mechanisation of society to such an extent, everything is viewed through that lens. This is the overriding Grand narrative now – that everything is a version of technology, including nature itself and so everything is there to be quantified and measured. This is what the philosopher René Girard talked about in his work – when you mechanise everything, everything becomes just merely some statistic or quantity and this is a reflection of the binary aspect of computers. So if everything is viewed as statistics or quantities within bureaucratic processes, then you have a kind of atomisation where everything is broken apart.”
In this new world order, this is the primary principle for all value judgments and remains the only interest of any technocrat inquiry: is it functional? How well does it function? Can the outcome be measured? Can we model the data in order to profile the subject? Welcome to the brave world that is a world of mechanisation.
Notice how most capital and wealth has flowed into areas of the economy where investors place the highest value: areas integral to functionality. Big data, digital apps, social networks and automated computerised trading and transactions. As the technology becomes faster and more advanced, less emphasis is placed on the human element, which also means less value is allocated there too.
Dyer adds: “This is what the dominant mindset of Western imperialism has led to, where everything is broken apart and it’s then left to the power blocks – corporate, banking, security, media and social engineering, to take all the broken pieces and put them back together in a new form by design, and that results in the notion that you no longer have any collective belongings such as gender, or a tribe, or family, and by extension, you are no longer part of something called humanity, because there’s no such thing as human nature anymore.”
Such is the unstoppable evolution of technology, and only a few visionaries have had the foresight to see it coming and pose some warning of the inevitable evolutionary tribulation which is already taking place.
Humanity is in the process of transformation, from what it used to be – spiritual individuals part of a family, to what he or she eventually will become – a component part of a larger mechanised design.
In this new technetronic age, humans reside below and are subservient to technology within the mechanised society’s social hierarchy.
Technetronic End Game
Who shoulders the blame in this dystopian scenario – humans or machines?
One might argue that once the AI horizon is eclipsed, it’s simply too late to lament, much less analyse the merits of such advanced technology. The answer to this question may emerge from a careful psychological analysis of post-modern man.
Author Jay Dyer explains the dangers that could result from the fetish or perversion characterised by the blind acceptance of technology as an omnipotent force in the world, where society and its leaders are unable to question the manifestation of a new technology. He explains:
“This dovetails with the idea of techno fetishism, and the idea that technology can solve all our problems. The grand narrative that [Richard] Dawkins presents, this is the generic idea that we are all on this grand track of progress where technology fits into this scheme where everything is automatically progressive. This fetishism can be extended even to military applications. For instance, someone detonates a nuclear bomb and this is seen as high technology, and therefore progressive.”
Dyer is not merely exaggerating by introducing the prospect of thermonuclear warfare. Partly due to a mainstream media that is either afraid or too ignorant to address this issue, the majority of the public are unaware of recent advances and increased stockpiles of next generation nuclear weaponry, held primarily by the United States. In all likelihood, these will be eventually sold and distributed to its strategic geopolitical partners.
Enter the next generation of nuclear weapons, courtesy of the Pentagon. This year’s $8 billion upgrade includes the new guided B61-12 nuclear bomb which adds features such as the nuclear yield of the bomb can be adjusted before deployment. Previously, this fell under the banner of ‘tactical’ or ‘battlefield nukes’, but now under the heading of ‘smart’ bombs.
Plans are already underway in Washington to spread these new weapons across the planet from the year 2024. The Guardian reports: “The issue has a particular significance for Europe where a stockpile of 180 B61’s is held in six bases in five countries. If there is no change in that deployment by the time the upgraded B61-12’s enter the stockpile in 2024, many of them will be flown out to the bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.”12
Former head of US Strategic Command, US Marine General James Cartwright, reveals what is perhaps the most insidious aspect of this new generation military tech:
“If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc, does that make it more usable in the eyes of some – some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.”
The Guardian article’s author Julian Borger concludes: “The great thing about nuclear weapons was that their use was supposed to be unthinkable and they were therefore a deterrent to contemplation of a new world war. Once they become ‘thinkable’ we are in a different, and much more dangerous, universe.”
Imagine that. If you consider this ‘usability’ talking point within the context of the previously mentioned prophetic statements about artificial intelligence by an esteemed panel of innovators, philosophers and scientists, then any sane person might be concerned we are passing over a dangerous threshold in human history.
It’s an epic tale, echoed in biblical lore and throughout ancient mythology. Mankind is now, again, in danger of falling prey to his own creation.
Is jumping ship an option, at least out of North America or Europe, and other urban centres around the globe? While fleeing to the remains of the old ‘free world’ in places like South America, Asia or Africa may provide temporary respite from a pernicious globalised system, it is in no way a long term solution. The long arm of progress knows no borders and if left unimpeded, it will colonise even the most remote location.
For those who truly value their freedom and want to pass on a positive legacy to their progeny, the final battle is unavoidable: standing up to, and confronting the machine.
Nine out of ten experts agree: this very well could be mankind’s last stand.
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PATRICK HENNINGSEN is the founder and editor of the news and analysis website 21st Century Wire, and is an independent foreign and political affairs analyst for RT International. He is also the host of the SUNDAY WIRE radio program which airs live every Sunday on the Alternate Current Radio Network. Learn more about this author at: www.patrickhenningsen.com.
The above article appeared in New Dawn 156 (May-June 2016)
© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.
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