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 21stcentury – 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 akaGeorge 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…
This article (Technetronic Enslavement: Life Inside the Matrix of Control) was originally created and published by New Dawn Magazine and is re-posted here with permission.