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Framing abuse of surveillance power as merely a failure of legal accountability obscures the neoliberal social relations that sustain the surveillance state. Connecting surveillance with broader systems of neoliberal violence is necessary for sustainable solutions.


Giroux, Ryerson distinguished visiting professor, 2015

(Henry, “Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State”, Cultural Studies, 29.2, Taylor and Francis)


Yet, the neoliberal authoritarian culture of modernity has also created a social order in which participation in surveillance culture becomes self-generated, aided by a public pedagogy produced and circulated through a machinery of consumption that encourages transforming dreams into data bits. Such bits then move from the sphere of entertainment to the deadly serious and integrated spheres of capital accumulation and policing as they are collected and sold to business and government agencies who track the populace either for commercial purposes or out of fear of a possible threat to established institutions of power. Modernity in this instance has been updated, wired and militarized. The surveillance state with its immense data-mining capabilities represents a historical rupture from the foundational principles of modernity, with its emphasis on enlightenment, reason and the ideals of justice, equality, freedom and democracy – however flawed. Investment in public goods was once seen as central to a social contract that asserted all citizens should have access to those provisions, resources, institutions and benefits that expanded their sense of agency and social responsibility. But modernity is now driven by the imperatives of a savage neoliberal political and economic system that embrace what Charles Derber and June Sekera (2014) call a ‘public goods deficit’ in which ‘budgetary priorities’ are relentlessly pushed so as to hollow out the welfare state and drastically reduce social provisions as part of a larger neoliberal counter-revolution to lower the taxes of the rich and mega-corporations while selling off public good to private interests. Debates about the meaning and purpose of the public and social good have been co-opted by a politics of fear, relegating notions of the civic good, public sphere and even the very word ‘public’ to the status of a liability, if not a pathology (Cruz 2012, p. 58). The new modernity and its expanding surveillance net subordinates human needs, public goods and justice to the demands of security and commerce working in tandem to promote the accumulation of capital at all costs. Fear has lost its social connotations and no longer references fear of social deprivations such as poverty, homelessness, lack of health care and other fundamental conditions of agency. Fear is now personalized, reduced to an atomized fear that revolves around crime, safety, apocalypse and survival. In this instance, as the late Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith once warned, modernity now privileges ‘a disgraceful combination of “private opulence and public squalor”’ (qtd. in Derber and Sekera 2014). This is not surprising given the basic elements of neoliberal policy, which as Jeremy Gilbert (2013) indicates, include the: privatization of public assets, contraction and centralization of democratic institutions, deregulation of labor markets, reductions in progressive taxation, restrictions on labor organization, labor market deregulation, active encouragement of competitive and entrepreneurial modes of relation across the public and commercial sectors. (pp. 11–12) The contemporary citizen is now primarily a consumer and entrepreneur wedded to the belief that the most desirable features of human behaviour are rooted in a ‘basic tendency towards competitive, acquisitive and uniquely self-interested behavior which is the central fact of human social life’ (Gilbert 2013, p. 9). Social cynicism and societal indifference accelerate a broken culture in which reason has been replaced by consumer-fed hallucinatory hopes (Augstein 2011). With the foundations of democracy under siege, privacy is no longer viewed as a principled and cherished civil right. On the contrary, privacy has been absorbed and transformed within the purview of a celebrity and market-driven culture in which people publicize themselves and their innermost secrets in order to promote and advance their personal brand. Surveillance and its accompanying culture of fear produce subjects that revel in being watched, turning the practice of surveillance into just another condition for performing the self. Every human act and behaviour is now potential fodder for YouTube, Facebook or some other social network. Privacy has become a curse, an impediment that subverts the endless public display of the self. Zygmunt Bauman (qtd. in Bauman and Lyon 2013) echoes this sentiment in arguing that: These days, it is not so much the possibility of a betrayal or violation of privacy that frightens us, but the opposite: shutting down the exits. The area of privacy turns into a site of incarceration, the owner of private space being condemned and doomed to stew in his or her own juice; forced into a condition marked by an absence of avid listeners eager to wring out and tear away the secrets from behind the ramparts of privacy, to put them on public display and make them everybody's shared property and a property everybody wishes to share. (p. 28) Privacy has mostly become synonymous with a form of self-generated, non-stop performance – a type of public relations in which privacy is valued only for the way it makes possible the unearthing of secrets, a cult of commodified confessionals and an infusion of narcissistic, self-referencing narratives. All of these activities indirectly serve to expand the pleasure quotient of surveillance, while normalizing practices and modes of repression that Orwell could never have imagined. Where Orwell's characters loathed the intrusion of surveillance, today: We seem to experience no joy in having secrets, unless they are the kinds of secrets likely to enhance our egos by attracting the attention of researchers and editors of TV talk shows, tabloid front pages and the … covers of glossy magazines …. Everything private is now done, potentially, in public – and is potentially available for public consumption; and remains available for the duration, till the end of time, as the internet ‘can't be made to forget’ anything once recorded on any of its innumerable servers. This erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cell phone cameras, free photo and video Web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people's views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private. (Bauman and Lyons 2013, p. 33) The loss of privacy, anonymity and confidentiality has had the adverse effect of providing the basis for what Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyons (2013, pp. 13–14) call the undemocratic process of ‘social sorting’ in which different populations are subject to differential treatment, whether this means being protected by the state or being subjected to state power. This security regime works against a growing number of individuals and groups, ranging from immigrants and low-income minorities to the chronically unemployed who are considered disposable. Precarity, mobility, flexibility and deregulation all function to disempower large segments of the population who now have to be controlled, if not contained. No longer content to play out its historical role of a modernized panopticon, the modern state has become a militarized and multilayered source of insecurity, entertainment and commerce. In addition, this new stage of modernity is driven not only by the need to watch, but also the will to punish. Under the regime of neoliberal capitalism, the expansion of government and corporate surveillance measures become synonymous with new forms of antidemocratic governance and an intensification of material and symbolic violence (Gitlin 2013, Ferguson et al. 2013). The dynamic of neoliberal modernity, the homogenizing force of the market, a growing regime of repression, and an emerging police state have produced more sophisticated methods for surveillance and the mass suppression of the most essential tools for dissent and democratic action: ‘the press, political activists, civil rights advocates and conscientious insiders who blow the whistle on corporate malfeasance and government abuse’ (Karlin 2013). Fear, harassment, the crushing of dissent and mass incarceration become part of a zombie politics in which the machineries of death expand their reach in order to justify a whole new range of injustices and an accompanying culture of cruelty. Since 9/11, the destruction of privacy in the USA has been driven by an intensification of the fear of dissent. This fear is paired with a deep-seated suspicion of others, especially those non-white populations who are poor or non-Christian, and anyone who might question American exceptionalism. Such underlying fears sanction social exclusion and promote widespread religious and racial discrimination, fuel the expansion of the punishing state and have become a unifying thread of the secret regimes of surveillance. Rather than waging a war on terrorists, the neoliberal security state wages a war on dissent in the interest of consolidating class power. Whistleblowers are not only punished by the government; their lives are also turned upside down in the process by private surveillance agencies and major corporations which increasingly share information with the government and do their own spying and damage control. The merging of corporate and state surveillance systems updated with the most sophisticated shared technologies has resulted in illicit counter-intelligence operations, industrial espionage and attacks on pro-democracy movements such as Occupy as well as on other non-violent social movements protesting a range of state and corporate injustices (Boghosian 2013, Price 2014). Those who stand to benefit from massive concentrations of wealth, power and income harbour a deep fear and suspicion of democracy and have come to rely on the authoritarian and punishing state to impose forms of civil and social death on anyone who threatens their power. Indeed, the notion that the US Government should be used largely to punish rather than nurture or protect its citizens has amplified in recent years. At least ‘36 states have passed state terrorism statutes, essentially mini-PATRIOT ACTS’ (Geovanis 2014), designed primarily to criminalize various forms of dissent. The use of repressive legislation to quell and punish peaceful protests was also on full display in Oklahoma where XL pipeline opponents now face state terrorism charges for ‘dropping glitter inside a building during a peaceful banner drop’ (Geovanis 2014). Law-abiding citizens and ‘those with dissenting views within the law can be singled out for surveillance and placed on wide-ranging watch lists relating to terrorism’ (Ward 2013). This type of illegal spying in the interest of closing down dissent by peaceful protesters has less to do with national security than it has to do with mimicking the abuses and tactics used by the Stasi in East Germany during the cold war. It is worth repeating that Orwell's vision of surveillance and the totalitarian state looks tame next to the emergence of a corporate–private–state surveillance system that wants to tap into every conceivable mode of communication, collect endless amounts of metadata to be banked in vast intelligence storage sites around the country and then use that data to repress any vestige of dissent (Schneier 2013). Phone calls, emails, social networks and almost every other vestige of electronic communication are now being collected and stored by corporate and government organizations such as the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Snowden's exposure of the massive reach of the surveillance state with its biosensors, scanners, face-recognition technologies, miniature drones, high-speed computers, massive data-mining capabilities and other stealth technologies made visible ‘the stark realities of disappearing privacy and diminishing liberties’ (Epstein 2013). But the NSA and at least 16 additional intelligence agencies are not the only threat to privacy, freedom and democracy. Corporations now have their own data-mining offices and deploy their staff and new surveillance technologies largely to spy on anyone who questions the abuses of corporate power. For instance, in response to the Snowden affair, the Bank of America assembled 15–20 bank officials and retained the law firm of Hunton & Williams in order to devise ‘various schemes to attack WikiLeaks and [journalist Glenn] Greenwald whom they thought was about to release damaging information about the bank’ (Gupta 2013). The emergence of fusion centres exemplifies how power is now a mix of corporate, local, federal and global intelligence agencies, all sharing information that can be used to stifle dissent and punish pro-democracy activists. What is clear is that this combination of gathering and sharing information often results in a lethal mix of anti-democratic practices in which surveillance now extends not only to potential saboteurs, but also to all law-abiding citizens. Indeed, the political identity of citizens within a democracy collapses in the presence of new digital technologies with optical scanners that are capable of reducing everybody to mere physical objects of state control. Rather than being defined through one's relations to others and the larger society, citizens are defined increasingly under regimes of surveillance through an amalgam of unlimited biometric information including fingerprints, retina scans, genetic codes and other biological data assembled from technologies once ‘conceived for criminals’ (Agamben 2014). Giorgio Agamben (2014) argues that in a post-9/11 world, ‘biological identity’ takes primacy over political identity and ‘the unspoken principle which rules our society can be stated like this: every citizen is a potential terrorist’. The war on terrorism has become a war of terror turning every social space into a war zone and every member of society into a suspect. Meanwhile, absorbed in privatized orbits of consumption, commodification and display, Americans vicariously participate in the toxic pleasures of consumer culture, relentlessly entertained by spectacles of violence in which, as David Graeber (2012) suggests, the police ‘become the almost obsessive objects of imaginative identification in popular culture … watching movies, or viewing TV shows that invite them to look at the world from a police point of view’ (p. 119). New technologies that range from webcams and spycams to biometrics and the Internet drilling reinforce not only the fear of being watched, monitored and investigated, but also encourage a propensity towards adopting such technologies for one's own use. What is profoundly disturbing in this new intimacy between digital technologies and cultures of surveillance is their predatory nature as they probe for unseen, intimate connections to the most personal and private areas of people's lives, while their victims more or less unwittingly leave themselves exposed by publishing and documenting their interests, identities, hopes and fears online in massive quantities (Deibert 2013, Zeese and Flowers 2013). Public outrage seems to disappear, with few exceptions, as the state and its corporate allies do little to protect privacy rights, civil liberties and a culture of critical exchange and dissent. Even worse than shutting down a culture of questioning, the state embraces forms of domestic terrorism. Violence in this case becomes the preferred antidote to the demanding work of reflection, analysis, dialogue and imagining the points of views of others. The war against dissent waged by secret counter-intelligence agencies is a mode of domestic terrorism in which, as Graeber (2012) has put it, violence has become ‘the preferred weapon of the stupid’ (pp. 116–17). Within this sinister web of secrecy, suspicion, state-sanctioned violence and illegality, the culture of authoritarianism thrives and poses a dangerous threat to democratic freedoms and rights. It also poses a threat to those outside the USA who in the name of national security are subject to ‘a grand international campaign with drones and special operations forces that is generating potential terrorists at every step’ (Chomsky 2013). Behind this veil of concentrated power and secrecy lies not only a threat to privacy rights, but the very real threat of violence on both a domestic and global level. In the USA, there is a long history of state surveillance being used to commit illegal acts ranging from falsely accusing people of crimes and destroying social movements to committing deadly crimes. For example, there has been extensive research published on the FBI counterterrorism programme launched by J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s until it was dismantled in the 1970s. Although not much has been written about the Church and Pike committees, in the 1970s they exposed a wave of illegal surveillance and disruption campaigns carried out by the FBI and local police forces, most of which were aimed at anti-war demonstrators, the leaders of the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers. While a number of laws implementing judicial oversight for federal wiretaps were put in place, they have been since systematically dismantled under the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations. Documentation of the nefarious illegalities committed by the Clinton and Bush administrations has been made by journalists such as Daniel Ellsberg and Seymour Hersh. In the present historical moment, it is almost impossible to imagine that wiretapping was once denounced by the FBI or that legislation was passed in the early part of the twentieth century that criminalized and outlawed the federal use of wiretaps (Price 2013, pp. 10–14). As the renowned anthropologist David Price (2013) points out, while there was a steady increase in federal wiretaps throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was ‘in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 [that] the American public hastily abandoned a century of fairly consistent opposition to govern wiretaps’ (p. 10). As the historical memory of such abuses disappears, repressive legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and growing support for a panoptical surveillance and ‘homeland’ security state has increased to the point of dissolving the line between the private and the public. Fuelled by a culture of fear and its underside, the Obama administration has tilted the balance between security and civil liberties largely in favour of the former, with a managed emphasis on a one-dimensional notion of safety and security. The US Government, now in the control of elite and right-wing extremists, has embraced a mode of lawlessness evident in the forms of foreign and domestic terrorism that utterly undercut the obligations of citizenship, justice and morality. For example, Glenn Greenwald, who was one of the first journalists to divulge Snowden's revelations about the NSA's secret ‘unaccountable system of pervasive surveillance’ (Snowden 2013) has been accused outright by Representative Peter King of New York, along with a number of others, of being a terrorist (Weigel 2013). In the UK, the new head of MI-5, the British intelligence service, mimicked the US Government's distrust of journalists, stating that the stories The Guardian published about Snowden's revelations ‘were a gift to terrorists’ and thereby reinforcing the notion that whistleblowers and journalists might be colluding with terrorists, if not terrorists themselves (qtd. in Davidson 2013). Similar comments about Edward Snowden have been made in the USA by a number of members of Congress who have labelled Snowden a traitor, including US Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and Saxby Chambliss and House Speaker John Boehner as well as former Vice President Dick Cheney (Logiurato 2013). More ominously, ‘Edward Snowden told German TV … about reports that US Government officials want to assassinate him for leaking secret documents about the NSA's collection of telephone records and emails’ (Kirschbaum 2013). Issued as an official response to Snowden, Obama's January 2014 speech on reforms to the NSA serves as a text that not only demands close reading, but also becomes a model illustrating how history can be manipulated to legitimate the worst violations of privacy and civil rights, if not state- and corporate-based forms of violence. In the speech, Obama uses a reference to Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty in order to highlight surveillance as a noble ideal marshalled in the interest of freedom. He thereby provides a historical rationale for the emergence of the massive spying behemoths such as the NSA that now threaten the fabric of US democracy, not just terrorists. Of course, what Obama leaves out is that Paul Revere and his accomplices acted ‘to curtail government power as the main threat to freedom’ (Scheer 2014). Obama provides a sanitized reference to history in order to bleach the surveillance state both of its criminal past and its expansionist ambitions and to convince the American public that, as Michael Ratner (2014) states, ‘Orwellian surveillance is somehow patriotic’. Other politicians, such as Representative Mike Ford and Senator Dianne Feinstein, are more than willing to label anyone exercising free speech, including legitimate whistleblowers, as traitors, while keeping silent when high-ranking government officials distort the truth, such as when James Clapper Jr., the Director of National Security, lied to a Senate Intelligence Committee. Obama's appeal to the American people to trust those in the highest positions of government and submit to corporate dominance regarding the use of the mammoth power of the surveillance state makes a mockery out of the legitimate uses of such power, any vestige of critical thought and historical memory. The USA has been lying to its people for over 50 years, and such lies extend from falsifying the reasons for going to war with Vietnam and Iraq to selling arms to Iran in order to fund the reactionary Nicaraguan Contras. Why should anyone trust a government that has condoned torture, spied on at least 35 world leaders, supports indefinite detention, places bugs in thousands of computers all over the world, kills innocent people with drone attacks, enlists the post office to log mail for law enforcement agencies and arbitrarily authorizes targeted assassinations? (Turley 2012, Ball 2013, Nixon 2013, New York Times 2014). Or, for that matter, why should Americans trust a President who instituted the Insider Threat Program, which was designed to get government employees to spy on each other and ‘turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches’ (Taylor and Landay 2013), which includes ‘any unauthorized disclosure of anything, not just classified materials’? (RazFx Pro 2013). As noted above, the incorrigibility of the politics of surveillance was on full display when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper Jr., assailed Edward Snowden before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in late January 2014, insisting that Snowden had done grave damage to the country and that his leaks not only undermined national security but aided terrorists groups. Clapper provided no evidence to support such a charge. Of course, what he did not mention was that as a result of Snowden's revelations the American public is now aware that they are being spied upon by the government, in spite of the fact that they are not suspects in a crime and that governments around the world have condemned the indiscriminate and illegal spying of US intelligence agencies. In a bizarre comment, Clapper also accused Snowden ‘of hypocrisy for choosing to live in Russia while making public pronouncements about “what an Orwellian state he thinks this country is”’ (qtd. in Mazzetti and Sanger 2014). Recklessly, Clapper then implied that Snowden is a Russian spy and that he had available to him a wide range of choices regarding where he might flee following his public revelations of NSA secret illegalities. By suggesting that Snowden's living in Russia somehow serves to cancel out his critique of the authoritarian practices, policies and modes of governance, Clapper's comments reveal both an astonishing lack of self-reflection at the agency and the lies and innuendo the NSA will engage in to deflect or justify acts of criminality that are now a matter of public record. More chillingly, the NSA's scapegoating mechanisms come into full view when Clapper insinuated that ‘Snowden is conspiring with journalists, rather than acting as their source’ (Calderine 2014). This is a serious accusation designed to ratchet up a climate of fear by suggesting that reporters such as Glenn Greenwald and others working with Snowden were participants in a crime and should thus be subject to criminal reprisals. In the end, such arguments, coupled with the blatant Washington cover-up of the scope and reach of the Orwellian panoptic complex, testify to the degree to which the government will resort to fear mongering in order to silence dissent. The Orwellian nightmare exposed by the revelations of Snowden, Hammer, Manning and others provides only a small window into the workings of the NSA and the global surveillance state and says very little about the other 16 massive intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. What the American public does know is that the Obama administration has greatly extended the web of secrecy; has pursued a relentless attack on government whistleblowers; and, in the face of egregious illegalities committed by the FBI, NSA and CIA in the past, has instituted reforms that border on being laughable. Moreover, the Obama administration now promotes its own regime of lawlessness, evident in indiscriminate drone attacks, the suppression of civil liberties and targeted assassinations that include Americans. In a move dripping with irony, the Obama administration points to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, created after the hearings held by Senator Frank Church into government abuse, as a much needed reform, when in fact the court operates in secret and has proved to be a rubber stamp for just about any demand issued by the national security state. The message here for the American people is clear: secrecy is a virtue for which there is no democratic accountability, and the government can do whatever it wants in the name of security and waging the war on terrorism. Under the rubric of battling terrorism, the US Government has indeed waged a war on civil liberties, privacy and democracy, while turning a blind eye to the ways in which the police and intelligence agencies infiltrate and harass groups engaged in peaceful protests, particularly treating those groups denouncing banking and corporate institutions as criminal entities (Gitlin 2013). The government has also done nothing to restrict those corporate interests that turn a profit by developing and selling arms, promoting war and investing in surveillance apparatuses addicted to the mad violence of the war industries. What does it mean to trust a government wedded to a permanent state of war? As Hardt and Negri (2012) put it: we seem to have entered stage of history in which the state of war is never-ending, shifting from high to low intensity and back again. The global security regime under which we live does not establish a state of peace but rather makes permanent a war society, with suspensions of rights, elevated surveillance, and the enlistment of all in the war effort. (p. 58) The security state with its manufactured fears does not engender or deserve trust, but ongoing collective resistance. Unfortunately, such legal illegalities and death-oriented policies are not an Orwellian fiction, but represent a more complex manifestation of the world Orwell presciently described regarding surveillance and its integration with totalitarian regimes. The existence of the post-Orwellian state, where subjects participate willingly and surveillance links state power hand-in-hand with global corporate sovereignty, should muster collective outrage among the American public. It should generate massive individual resistance and collective struggles aimed at the development of social movements designed to take back democracy from the corporate–political–military extremists who now control all the commanding institutions of American society. Putting trust in a government that makes a mockery of civil liberties is comparable to throwing away the most basic principles of our constitutional and democratic order. As Jonathan Schell (2013) argues: Government officials, it is true, assure us that they will never pull the edges of the net tight. They tell us that although they could know everything about us, they won't decide to. They'll let the information sit unexamined in the electronic vaults. But history, whether of our country or others, teaches that only a fool would place faith in such assurances. What one president refrains from doing the next will do; what is left undone in peacetime is done when a crisis comes. As the line between authoritarian power and state governance evaporates, repression intensifies and increasingly engulfs the nation in a toxic climate of fear and self-censorship in which free speech, if not critical thought itself, is viewed as a practice too dangerous in which to engage. The NSA alone has become what Scott Shane (2013) has called an: electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes. Intelligence benefits are far outweighed by the costs entailed by illegal use of the Internet, telecommunication companies and stealth malware for data collection and by government interventions that erode civil liberties and target individuals and groups that pose no threat whatsoever to national security. More specifically, the government's refusal to prosecute government officials who torture; engage in illegal kidnappings; spy on Americans without due cause; dispatch secret operations forces wherever it wants; and illegally gather intelligence on hundreds of world leaders, business executives and foreign companies, such as Brazil's Petrobias oil firm, sends a clear message to those who run the national security state that they can act with impunity. President Obama updates and ‘elaborates President George W. Bush's notions of pre-emptive strike by claiming the further privilege to order the killing of any citizen overseas who is believed to be a terrorist or a friend of terrorists’ (Lapham 2012). In Obama's post-Orwellian authoritarian state, the unifying message is that that lawlessness has become normalized and that whatever the national security state does, however horrific, nasty and illegal, those who run it and carry out its policies and practices will not have to face a court of law and be prosecuted. State governance has been freed from the rule of law. History offers alternative narratives to those supported by the new authoritarians. Suppressed memories have a way of surfacing unexpectedly at times and, in doing so, can pose a dangerous challenge to official narratives and the normalization of forms of tyranny, including the mechanisms of a surveillance state defined by a history of illegal and criminal behaviour. As the mainstream press recently noted, the dark shadow of Orwell's dystopian fable was so frightening in the early 1970s that a group of young people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, stole as many records as possible, and leaked them to the press. None of the group was ever caught (Goodman 2014b). Their actions were not only deeply rooted in an era when dissent against the Vietnam War, racism and corporate corruption was running high, but also suggestive of an era in which the politics of fear was not a general condition of society. Large groups of people were mobilizing in diverse sites to make power accountable on a number of fronts, extending from college campuses to the shaping of foreign policy. The 1971 burglary made clear that the FBI was engaging in a number of illegal and criminal acts aimed primarily against anti-war dissenters and the African-American community, which was at that time giving a voice in some cities to the Black Power movement. What the American people learned as a result of the leaked FBI documents was that many people were being illegally wiretapped and that anti-war groups were being infiltrated. Moreover, the leaked files revealed that the FBI was spying on Martin Luther King Jr. as well as a number of other prominent politicians and activists. A couple of years later, Carl Stern, an NBC reporter, followed up on the information that had been leaked and revealed a programme called COINTELPRO, which stands for Counterintelligence Program, that documented how both the FBI and CIA were not only secretly harassing, disrupting, infiltrating and neutralizing leftist organizations, but also attempting to assassinate those considered domestic and foreign enemies (Goodman 2014a). COINTELPRO was about more than spying: it was an illegally sanctioned machinery of violence and assassination (Churchill and Vander Wall 2001, People's History of the CIA 2013). In one of the most notorious cases, the FBI worked with the Chicago police to set up the conditions for the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two members of the Black Panther Party. Noam Chomsky (qtd. in Goodman 2014a) has called COINTELPRO, which went on from the 1950s to the 1970s, ‘the worst systematic and extended violation of basic civil rights by the federal government’ and comparable to ‘Wilson's Red Scare’. As a result of these revelations, Senator Frank Church conducted Senate hearings that both exposed the illegalities the FBI was engaged in and helped to put in place a number of policies that provided oversight to prevent such illegalities from happening again. Needless to say, over time these oversights and restrictions were dismantled, especially after the tragic events of 9/11. What the young people were doing in 1971 is not unlike what Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers are doing today: making sure that dissent is not suppressed by governments, especially ones that believe power should only reside in the hands of the state and financial elites, and all attempts to make authoritarian power accountable should be repressed at any cost. Many of the young protesters in the 1970s were influenced by the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement and one of them, John Raines, was heavily influenced by the theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis. What is crucial about the FBI incident is that it not only revealed the long historical reach of government surveillance and criminal activity designed to quash dissent, but it also provided a model of civic courage demonstrated by young people who acted on their principles in a non-violent way to stop what they considered to be machineries of civil and social death. As Glenn Greenwald (2014) argues, COINTELPRO makes clear that governments have no qualms about ‘targeting citizens for their disfavored political views and trying to turn them into criminals through infiltration, entrapment and the like’ and that such actions are ‘alive and well today in the United States’. Governments that elevate lawlessness to one of the highest principles of social order reproduce and legitimate violence as an acceptable mode of action throughout a society. Violence in American society has become both its heartbeat and nervous system, paralyzing democratic ideology, policy and governance and perhaps even the very idea of politics. Under such circumstances, the corporate–surveillance state becomes symptomatic of a form of tyranny and authoritarianism that has corrupted and disavowed the ideals and reality of a substantive democracy. While the Snowden affair brought the state's capacity for spying and corruption to a level of public consciousness previously unknown, the media responded by alerting individuals to potential threats to their privacy. Media coverage did little or nothing to provide a larger context that might stir a collective response to the surveillance state that currently has American democracy under siege. Virginia Eubanks (2014) rightly argues that the practices of state and corporate surveillance should be seen as more than a violation of individual privacy rights. Any attempt to protect the privacy of American citizens must consider the longer history of how many Americans have never been safe from the state and its intrusions. For this reason, surveillance should be seen as a civil rights issue because its practice is separate and unequal. As she points out, for: most people privacy is a pipedream. Living in dense urban neighborhoods, public housing, favelas, prisons, or subject to home visits by caseworkers, poor and working people might wish for more personal space but they don't make Snowden's mistake of assuming that privacy is ‘what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be’. Regimes of surveillance must be held accountable for their wide-ranging violations of human rights and democratic values beyond individual privacy rights, including the ways they have undermined: internationalism, active citizenship, access to information, freedom of expression, democratic governance, civic participation, multilateralism, inclusivity and non-discrimination, plurality, cultural diversity, freedom of speech …. Seeing privacy as the cornerstone for democracy is a kind of naiveté we can no longer excuse nor afford. (Eubanks 2014) In a similar manner, the renowned intellectual historian Quentin Skinner insists that limiting critiques of surveillance to charges of violated privacy does not account for the underlying cause: abusive power. On this point, Skinner (qtd. in Skinner and Marshall 2013) is worth quoting at length: The response of those who are worried about surveillance has so far been too much couched, it seems to me, in terms of the violation of the right to privacy. Of course it's true that my privacy has been violated if someone is reading my emails without my knowledge. But my point is that my liberty is also being violated, and not merely by the fact that someone is reading my emails but also by the fact that someone has the power to do so should they choose. We have to insist that this in itself takes away liberty because it leaves us at the mercy of arbitrary power. It's no use those who have possession of this power promising that they won't necessarily use it, or will use it only for the common good. What is offensive to liberty is the very existence of such arbitrary power. Under the surveillance state, the greatest threat one faces is not simply the violation of one's right to privacy, but the fact that the public is subject to the dictates of arbitrary power – and a power it no longer seems interested in contesting. It is not simply the existence of unchecked power, but the wider culture of political indifference that puts at risk the broader principles of liberty and freedom which are fundamental to democracy itself. The dangers of the surveillance state far exceed attacks on privacy and warrant much more than simply a discussion about balancing security against civil liberties. Any understanding of the growth of the surveillance state must be connected to a growing culture of violence, the criminalization of social problems, the depoliticization of public memory, the militarization of American society and the rise of the punishing state with its secret prisons, state-sanctioned torture and one of the largest prison systems in the world, all of which ‘are only the most concrete, condensed manifestations of a diffuse security regime in which we are all interned and enlisted’ (Hardt and Negri 2012, p. 23). The authoritarian nature of the corporate–state surveillance apparatus and security system in the USA, with its ‘urge to surveil, eavesdrop on, spy on, monitor, record, and save every communication of any sort on the planet’ (Engelhardt 2013), can only be fully understood when its ubiquitous tentacles are connected to wider cultures of control and punishment, including security-patrolled corridors of public schools, the expansion of super-max prisons, the hyper-militarization of local police forces, the rise of the military–industrial–academic complex, and the increasing labelling of dissent as an act of terrorism (see Giroux 2011, 2012, 2014). Undeniably, one of the most dreadful consequences of neoliberal modernity and its culture of surveillance is the ideological war being waged in order both to eliminate any public spheres capable of educating the public to hold power accountable and to dissolve all social bonds that entail a sense of responsibility towards others. In such circumstances, politics has not only become dysfunctional and corrupt in the face of massive inequalities in wealth and power, but it has also been emptied out of any substantive meaning. At the same time, ‘citizenship has become depoliticized, reduced to an act of producing, consuming, and discarding without pause, hastening the exhaustion of life and the depletion of resources’ (Crary 2013, p. 17). As surveillance and fear become a constant condition of American society, there is a growing indifference, if not distaste, for politics among large segments of the population. This distaste is purposely manufactured by the ongoing operations of political repression against intellectuals, artists, non-violent protesters and journalists on both the left and right. Increasingly, as such populations engage in dissent and the free flow of ideas, whether online or offline, they are considered dangerous to the state and become subject to the mechanizations of a massive security apparatuses designed to monitor, control and punish dissenting populations.

Neoliberalism guarantees extinction and social crisis – the judge has an intellectual obligation to evaluate the social relations that underpin the plan prior to evaluating the outcome of the policy – vote negative because the system the aff partakes in is fundamentally unethical


Molisa, Philosophy PhD, 14

(Pala Basil Mera, “Accounting For Apocalypse Re-Thinking Social Accounting Theory And Practice For Our Time Of Social Crises And Ecological Collapse,” http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/3686/thesis.pdf?sequence=2)


Ecologically too, the situation is dire. Of the many measures of ecological well-being – topsoil loss, groundwater depletion, chemical contamination, increased toxicity levels in human beings, the number and size of “dead zones” in the Earth’s oceans, and the accelerating rate of species extinction and loss of biodiversity – the increasing evidence suggests that the developmental trajectory of the dominant economic culture necessarily causes the mass extermination of non-human communities, the systemic destruction and disruption of natural habitats, and could ultimately cause catastrophic destruction of the biosphere. The latest Global Environmental Outlook Report published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the GEO-5 report, makes for sobering reading. As in earlier reports, the global trends portrayed are of continuing human population growth, expanding economic growth,6 and as a consequence severe forms of ecological degradation (UNEP, 2012; see also, UNEP, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2007). The ecological reality described is of ecological drawdown (deforestation, over-fishing, water extraction, etc.) (UNEP, 2012, pp. 72, 68, 84, 102-106, ); increasing toxicity of the environment through chemical and waste pollution, with severe harm caused to human and non-human communities alike (pp. 173- 179); systematic habitat destruction (pp. 8, 68-84) and climate change (33-60), which have decimated the number of species on Earth, threatening many with outright extinction (pp. 139-158). The most serious ecological threat on a global scale is climate disruption, caused by the emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, other industrial activities, and land destruction (UNEP, 2012, p. 32). The GEO-5 report states that “[d]espite attempts to develop low-carbon economies in a number of countries, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to increase to levels likely to push global temperatures beyond the internationally agreed limit of 2° C above the pre-industrial average temperature” (UNEP, 2012, p. 32). Concentrations of atmospheric methane have more than doubled from preindustrial levels, reaching approximately 1826 ppb in 2012; the scientific consensus is that this increase is very likely due predominantly to agriculture and fossil fuel use (IPCC, 2007). Scientists warn that the Earth’s ecosystems are nearing catastrophic “tipping points” that will be marked by mass extinctions and unpredictable changes on a scale unseen since the glaciers retreated twelve thousand years ago (Pappas, 2012). Twenty-two eminent scientists warned recently in the journal, Nature, that humans are likely to have triggered a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience”, which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations” (Barnofsky et al., 2012). This means that human beings are in serious trouble, not only in the future, but right now. The pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide concentration was about 280 parts per million (ppm). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates concentrations could reach between 541 and 970 ppm by the year 2100. However, many climate scientists consider that levels should be kept below 350 ppm in order to avoid “irreversible catastrophic effects” (Hansen et al., 2008). “Catastrophic warming of the earth” would mean a planet that is too hot for life – that is, any life, and all life (Mrasek, 2008). We need to analyze the above information and ask the simple questions: what does it signify and where will it lead? In terms of the social crises of inequalities, the pattern of human development suggests clearly that although capitalism is capable of raising the economic productivity of many countries as well as international trade, it also produces social injustices on a global scale. The trajectory of capitalist economic development that people appear locked into is of perpetual growth that also produces significant human and social suffering. In terms of the ecological situation, the mounting evidence from reports, such as those published by UNEP, suggest that a full-scale ecocide will eventuate and that a global holocaust is in progress which is socially pathological and biocidal in its scope (UNEP, 2012; see also, UNEP, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2007). Assuming the trends do not change, the endpoint of this trajectory of perpetual economic growth, ecological degradation, systemic pollution, mass species extinction and runaway climate change, which human beings appear locked into, will be climate apocalypse and complete biotic collapse. Given the serious and life-threatening implications of these social and ecological crises outlined above, it would be reasonable to expect they should be central to academic concerns, particularly given the responsibilities of academics as intellectuals. As the people whom society subsidizes to carry out intellectual work,7 the primary task of academics is to carry out research that might enable people to deepen their understanding of how the world operates, ideally towards the goal of shaping a world that is more consistent with moral and political principles, and the collective self-interest (Jensen, 2013, p. 43). Given that most people’s stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of justice, equality and the inherent dignity of all people (Jensen, 2007, p. 30), intellectuals have a particular responsibility to call attention to those social patterns of inequality which appear to be violations of such principles, and to call attention to the destructive ecological patterns that threaten individual and collective well-being. As a “critic and conscience of society,” 8 one task of intellectuals is to identify issues that people should all pay attention to, even when – indeed, especially whenpeople would rather ignore the issues (Jensen, 2013, p. 5). In view of this, intellectuals today should be focusing attention on the hard-to-face realities of an unjust and unsustainable world. Moreover, intellectuals in a democratic society, as its “critic and conscience”, should serve as sources of independent and critical information, analyses and varied opinions, in an endeavour to provide a meaningful role in the formation of public policy (Jensen, 2013c). In order to fulfil this obligation as “critic and conscience,” intellectuals need to be willing to critique not only particular people, organizations, and policies, but also the systems from which they emerge. In other words, intellectuals have to be willing to engage in radical critique. Generally, the term “radical” tends to suggest images of extremes, danger, violence, and people eager to tear things down (Jensen, 2007, p. 29). Radical, however, has a more classical meaning. It comes from the Latin –radix, meaning “root.” Radical critique in this light means critique or analysis that gets to the root of the problem. Given that the patterns of social inequality and ecocidal destruction outlined above are not the product of a vacuum, but instead are the product of social systems, radical critique simply means forms of social analysis, which are not only concerned about these social and ecological injustices but also trace them to the social systems from which they emerged, which would subject these very systems to searching critiques. Such searching critique is challenging because, generally, the dominant groups which tend to subsidize intellectuals (universities, think tanks, government, corporations) are the key agents of the social systems that produce inequalities and destroy ecosystems (Jensen, 2013, p. 12). The more intellectuals choose not only to identify patterns but also highlight the pathological systems from which they emerge, the greater the tension with whoever “pay[s] the bills” (ibid.). However, this may arguably be unavoidable today, given that the realities of social inequality and ecological catastrophe show clearly that our social systems are already in crisis, are pathological, and in need of radical change.9 To adopt a radical position, in this light, is not to suggest that we simply need to abolish capitalism, or to imply that if we did so all our problems would be solved. For one thing, such an abstract argument has little operational purchase in terms of specifying how to go about struggling for change. For another thing, as this thesis will discuss, capitalism is not the only social system that we ought to be interrogating as an important systemic driver of social and ecological crises. Moreover, to adopt a radical position does not mean that we have any viable “answers” or “solutions” in terms of the alternative institutions, organizations and social systems that we could replace the existing ones with. There is currently no alternative to capitalism that appears to be viable, particularly given the historical loss of credibility that Marxism and socialism has suffered. As history has shown, some of the self-proclaimed socialist and communist regimes have had their own fair share of human rights abuses and environmental disasters, and the global left has thus far not been able to articulate alternatives that have managed to capture the allegiances of the mainstream population. Furthermore, given the depth, complexity, and scale of contemporary social and ecological crises, I am not sure if there are any viable alternatives or, for that matter, any guarantees that we can actually prevent and change the disastrous course of contemporary society. I certainly do not have any solutions. What I would argue, however, is that if we are to have any chance of not only ameliorating but also substantively addressing these social and ecological problems, before we can talk about alternatives or potential “solutions”, we first need to develop a clear understanding of the problems. And, as argued above, this involves, amongst other things, exploring why and how the existing social systems under which we live are producing the patterns of social inequality and ecological unsustainability that make up our realities today.10 To adopt a radical stance, in this light, is simply to insist that we have an obligation to honestly confront our social and ecological predicament and to ask difficult questions about the role that existing social systems might be playing in producing and exacerbating them.

Intellectuals ought to take the status quo as an opportunity to delegitimize violence rather than make it useable through the affirmative-representations are critical to shaping the political outcomes-our scholarship is comparatively better at deescalating war and environmental destruction


Dalby, Carleton geography professor, 2011

(Simon, “Peace And Geopolitics: Imagining Peaceful Geographies”, November, http-server.carleton.ca/~sdalby/papers/PEACEFUL_GEOGRAPHIES.pdf


Thinking intelligently about peace within the discipline of geography requires us to juxtapose our aspirations to a peaceful world, one beyond war and at least the most egregious injustices of structural violence, with careful analysis of how the world is being changed so that useful advocacy is possible. Contrary to arguments that construct a real world of politics separate from peace activism, one commonly formulated in terms of an autonomous realm of the international, the arguments from both critical international relations thinking as well as the early critical geopolitics discussions were precisely that the reasonings of politics are part of politics, and that thinking carefully about the ontological framings invoked in political discourse matter as part of the political world that constitutes the possible options for political actors. The task for scholars in present times, as so often in the past has to be to keep aspiration, analysis and advocacy in creative tension; wishful thinking has to be avoided at each stage, but if intellectual activity is to be useful in making a more peaceful world then naivety is no help. Analysis can channel aspiration into useful advocacy precisely by acting as an antidote to either emotional impulse or thoughtless heroic gestures. It is crucial to the task of the academic and as such linking academic activity directly into practical action is simply part of our trade. Teaching matters greatly here, and careful advocacy of peaceful possibilities is key to teaching critical geopolitics. The scholarly research both on territory and war as well as discussions of environmental degradation and its security implications both show clearly that how these issues are handled matters greatly. Confrontation is not inevitable; political initiatives toward cooperation rather than real politik lead to constructive solutions. Continuing to challenge determinist arguments that argue otherwise remains a key task for geographers (Kearns 2009). Delegitimization of violence is a key part of all this. Ending death penalties, reducing physical abuse, torture, Amnesty International campaigns and international solidarity in the face of suffering as well as extending the norms of politics and the appropriate cultural modes acceptable for ruling. It is precisely the failure of the US to live up to supposedly higher civilizational standards in Abu Graib, Guantanamo and now in the targeting of drone weapons that undermines its legitimacy in many places (Gregory 2010,Hannah 2006). Coupled with the great lengths to which the United States has gone to render its actions legitimate, and to avoid potential problems with the international criminal court, matters of legality offer considerable options for activist geographers to contribute to changing societal norms away from militarism. The links to critical legal geographies need further attention too; jurisdiction matters (Gregory 2006)! The overall conclusion from this paper is that geographers should never forget that politics is prior to all the other discussions and understanding peace in the context of particular forms of politics is not unrelated to the forms of rule and authority invoked in particular situations. Contextualisations continue to matter greatly; there are complex geographies to all this. The world is changing rapidly but shaping that change is a matter of practical initiatives, and peacemaking. This simple point should never be forgotten neither should the opposite point that war may happen despite good intentions. No doubt in the next few years there will be further reflections on the processes that lead to the outbreak of the First World War, The Guns of August in Barbara Tuchman’s (1962)famous terms, or what Niall Ferguson (2006) discusses in terms of metaphors of a train wreck. Building institutions that can negotiate and cooperate in the face of destabilizing crises events matters greatly, notwithstanding the popular animosity towards governments built up by a generation of neo-liberal ideology and right wing populist movements generously funded by those with an interest in turning states into the tools of capital. In the face of endless neo-Malthusian fears of scarcities and disruptions to come, the possibilities of a more peaceful world remain achievable in many places. Challenging fearful cartographies, refusing the designation of difference and distance as necessarily dangerous has long been part of the geographers’ potential contribution, as Nick Megoran reminds us all frequently with his repeated invocation of Peter Kropotkin’s (1885)statement concerning what geography ought to be. Thinking long and hard about the diffusion of military technologies and the possible ways geographers might usefully contribute to the discussions of arms control, not least the key point about the implicit geopolitics in the supposedly technical arrangements of weapons limitation verifications matters too (Dalby 2011b). Arms control needs very much more attention. Ultimately geopolitics is crucial in that if the dominant mappings of politics continue to specify the world in terms of territorial domains of rule in rivalry with one another, and with military force as the ultimate arbiter, then the possibilities of its use remain on the agenda. Realists will argue that this is inevitable. But if the pacification of international national, or perhaps that should be inter-imperial, relations that the United Nations system has begun, is extended then the possibilities of a pacific geopolitics open up. Now the challenge is to see new modes of rule that deal with the most important mappings of an interconnected globe where ecological matters require mappings of interconnection rather than borders of autonomous entities (Dalby 2009b).Who decides the future of the planet matters greatly, but politics remains at least so far a matter of who decides long before it is a matter of what gets decided over. That too is a matter for peaceful geographers to tackle; the fate of the earth is at stake, and as a discipline with aspirations to study it as humanity’s home, our attention is certainly warranted. In the circumstances of rapid global change and the potential disruptions that are coming, we now have additional compelling reasons to work towards making Santayana’s dismal assertion concerning the inevitability of war a thing of the past.



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