Autocratic collectivism in the form of socialism, Marxism or communism won’t come to America in the form of a violent revolution – at least not in the sense of physical violence. It doesn’t have to – because we have given it all the tools it needs to be implements through voluntarily surrendering what is the 21st Century definition of self – our data – in exchange for convenience (we don’t have to take time to physically go to a bank, mail our bill payments, or go or a brick and mortar store), economic benefit (time is saved and goods are less expensive) and social distance (we don’t have to risk unpleasant/difficult physical interaction with other people).
While we may not be exposed to a violent overthrow, our digital image may well be – and if our digital selves are under autocratic control, so will our physical representations in this world be.
In my opinion, there are four dangerous aspects to our current situation:
- Conversion of the physical being into a digital presence
- Loss of individuality due to concentration of information
- Conversion of the medium of exchange from gold to fiat currency to electronic notations
- Doctrine of proportional response
Digital Presence: Americans like to think of our digital or “cyber” selves as avatars for our physical existence but it is becoming increasingly apparent that as more and more of our lives are lived on-line, the meat sacks we call our bodies are the actual avatars. Today, more entities (financial, health, commercial and government institutions) know us as packets of data than they know us as actual people. We live in an age when our lives are reduced to numbers for decisions on credit, what rate we will be charged for insurance and how much tax we will pay.
You may not believe you are a digital presence but let me ask – how many people depend on the Internet for voice over IP phone service? How many people don’t have a land line at all and have all their contact information stored in a mobile phone? Do you even have a phone book? How many people do you communicate with using email or text as opposed to an actual voice call? How many people with whom you communicate in person?
Loss of Individuality: Information is being aggregated at a level never before seen. Ourcalls, texts and emails are being recorded and saved. Out health data is digitized, our social media activity is being recorded and analyzed, our driving patterns and credit card usage is saved and recorded – and all for the supposed use to provide us better products and services – but these are collective decisions, you are always considered a member of one group or another for the purpose of predicting your behaviors. You are a member of the herd.
Why would entities want this?
If behavior is predicted, a plan can be devised to influence your behaviors – from shopping to societal interaction, this is the Holy Grail of Big Data – knowing something is worthless unless it can be converted into doing something (or getting someone to do something).
Medium of Exchange: Let me begin by asking you a question – How much hard cash do you have in your pockets right now? How many use debit or credit cards that rely on electronic transactions? What would happen to you and your family if only hard cash, silver, gold or barter was accepted as the only medium of exchange? How long would you last? Should it bother you if you have your paycheck direct deposited, all your transactions are either automatic drafts or electronic transfers and the only “money” you see are numbers on a screen or a bank statement that is emailed to you? What happens if the lights go out and you can no longer access your accounts?
That isn’t a criticism, I do all of that.
Proportional Response: This is something that seems incongruent with the aforementioned issues, but I think it is the reason people aren’t marching in the streets over Facebook, massive data breaches in government and commercial data stores and identity theft. People have been convinced that this stuff is “no biggie” because it often has so little immediate personal effect. If you can be convinced that someone hacking your information is no big deal, then you will respond as if it was exactly that. For example: if you had a $5000 worth of gold stacked in your den and somebody broke in and took it, you would be really angry and want to do something about it but if someone hacks your bank or the government and sells information on you to someone else for $5000, you aren’t likely to get to uptight about it.
Because we have been convinced that it’s just data – but it is YOUR data. You own it as much as you own your own person.
I have always said that things that can move forward can always go back. The base level of existence is not mobile phones, the Internet, and iPads. These innovations are not even a blip on the timeline of human existence – just think of how many things within arm’s reach right now did not even exist 5, 10 or 20 years ago (or if they did, had a fraction of the functionality of what we take for granted today). Just think how quickly our digital presence could be imprisoned or controlled by a tyrannical government at the flip of a switch. The modern Brownshirts will be digitally created by people wearing black rimmed glasses, plaids and stripes together and eating Hot Pockets.
The base of human existence is far more savage than our modern sensibilities allow us to contemplate – and our vulnerability to autocracy has never been greater.
If all of this scares you, it should.