Technology Will Not Save Us

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Theodore_von_Karman_-_GPN-2000-001500States have a long tradition of bringing the best and the brightest into its sphere. The National Socialists, for example, certainly had no shortage of highly qualified and ingenious intellectuals on its side, from a great many medical doctors and engineers, to brilliant intellectuals like Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl. The Soviet regime employed no shortage of more-than-adequate engineers, physicists, filmmakers, and musicians. Some of history’s greatest advertising minds and writers (i.e. propagandists) have worked for states. (Of course, the US government had no problem with hiring Nazi scientists.)

The private sector may have invented aviation and wireless communications, but states were the ones who stole billions in tax revenues for the purpose of pouring billions into development of new technology for use by the state and its many highly-intelligent employees.

Robert Higgs knew all of this when he recently wrote:

Many of my friends think of the state as stupid, and therefore an easy foe for determined dissidents to defeat. I have a different view.

For one thing, the state has always had ready resort to those with cutting-edge expertise in the private sector, from the days when it hired Eli Whitney to manufacture muskets with interchangeable parts to our own time, when it hires Oracle, Microsoft, and a host of other high-tech companies to help it spy on us. History has shown that no task is so revolting and criminal that the state cannot attract private contractors to carry it out.

True enough. It is naive in the extreme to think that some new invention will render the state irrelevant, as if the state were incapable of figuring out how to use new innovation to tighten its grip on on the taxpayers. If no one at the state knows how to do it, then the state will simply hire someone who can.

The state was already hard at work making Silicon Valley its latest adjunct when Julian Assange penned “The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil” in response to the fact that Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas, were being warmly welcomed into the bosom of the American national security state, where they are “advisors.”

The new digital age of the global techno-elites is just the next step in a global order run by states for states. Says Assange:

“The New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley…

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

But not to worry, surely the next group of geniuses, who found the corporation that displaces Google as the leading techno-megacorp, will never be convinced to join forces with the the federal government. Why would they? I mean, the federal government would never have enough resources at its disposal to threaten, cajole, flatter, and sucker anyone it wants. Right?

The use of the best and brightest runs well beyond any one industry or corporation of course. Mathematicians have been used for years by the NSA, for example, to help perfect the NSA’s tools for spying on us. In fact, the NSA is said to be the largest employer of mathematicians in the country. It’s so widespread that some mathematicians who are independent-minded went out of their way at the recent Joint Mathematics Meeting to ask that mathematicians stop helping the NSA:

Thomas Hales, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who describes himself as a “mathematician who’s upset about what’s going on,” is dismayed at the idea of the brightest minds in his field going to work for the agency. In reaction to the Snowden revelations — which started exactly a year ago –  about NSA’s mass surveillance and compromising of encryption standards, Hales gave a grant to the San Francisco-based civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation to fly a representative to Baltimore to try to convince mathematicians young and old not to go help the agency with data-mining and encryption-breaking.

“Mathematicians aiding in national defense goes all the way back to Archimedes, defending against the Roman siege and designing the catapult. Mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson destroyed his work after realizing researchers in poison gas were looking at it. Mathematicians were involved in the Manhattan Project, developing nuclear weapons,” says Hales. “Many mathematicians work for the NSA or organizations with ties to it. They’re involved in facial recognition development and big data aspects of mass surveillance. If privacy disappears from the face of the Earth, mathematicians will be some of the primary culprits.”

There’s nothing about being a technological genius that predisposes one to being a libertarian. If that is true for some, it’s nothing that a huge paycheck from the federal government can’t cure. In the end, states will only cease to have access to a large portion of the world’s intellectual elite when many in those professions begin to view working for the state as truly shameful. That will only happen when ideologies change and a significant portion of intellectuals view the state as the violent, de-civilizing, and criminal organization that it is. Many intellectuals like the NSA’s mathematicians no doubt think of themselves as independent thinkers. Their actions say otherwise, and if we obviously have a lot of work to do before the world’s genius-class would rather be free than the guest of honor at a dinner with Henry Kissinger.

5:56 pm on June 10, 2014