Information: Control, Divide And Conquer

Copyright © by Len Holman, 8/1/10


  Back in the days when the Information Superhighway was still a two-lane dirt road to Nowhere, the school where I worked began to wire up for the internet.  I wandered into the room where our first computers were being connected and got to talking to the guy who was doing the work.  I asked him if all this new information wasn’t inevitably going to be eventually controlled by the government or private corporations, or that  money and power would restrict what we could learn from the Web, given that infamous “invisible hand” of Adam Smith’s, and he laughed at my ignorance and naiveté.  He assured me that, with so much info at the fingertips of any American, any private citizen of the world, no one could ever control it all, that it would be accessible and free to everyone—a veritable cornucopia of facts and figures and pictures and knowledge.

  And sure enough, he was right.  I can now get the latest videos of Lindsay Lohan going to jail, and the New York Times’ latest edition, and info on the battle at Agincourt, and movie reviews and the bloody street protests in Tehran, and all manner of stuff—none of it dangerous to our ruling elite.  But when real information becomes available, important information for policy and public understanding of real events which affect our economy, our ideas of reality, and our ability to make intelligent decisions—when, in short, we could theoretically be reminded that the emperor is naked--then all hell breaks loose, as happened just a week ago.

  Last Sunday, WikiLeaks posted 70,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan, which reveal heretofore unknown knowledge, such as that the war wasn’t going as advertised.  It seems that the Taliban have become stronger, have shoulder-fired missiles (Russia, are you reading this?), that the documents divulge tactics we use on the battlefield (which, after 10 years of experiencing first hand our tactics, the Taliban must still not understand) and that the intensive drone strikes on the Pakistani border often miss their targets or else hit stuff that includes civilians and lots of rocks.  The official outrage was, well, predictable and there is going to be an investigation, probably several, and some poor Army Pfc. is going to be burned at the stake, taking his place with William Calley.  All this fuss and why?  Because the curtain got pulled back and the Wizard turns out to be a charlatan.

   The Secretary of Defense—so-called because he needs to defend against too much information getting out to the public—is tight-lipped and angry.  He claims, with no apparent sense of irony, that the document release was irresponsible: “There is no accountability.  There is no sense of responsibility.”  And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that sensitive sources may have been revealed, which comes as surprising news to the Taliban who, of course, don’t know ANY sources the U.S. uses and who wander around in the desert, shooting at goats, and just guess about intelligence sources, but raising enough angst in the Karzai household to cause the Afghan president to up the amount of his siphoned-off U.S. money he pays to them.

  There is no real danger to U.S. assets here.  What is in danger is the death-grip the administration and other interested parties have on real, true, important information.  There is nothing more important than good information for making good choices.  And whoever controls that information controls the range of choices and therefore the range of opinion allowable and available, which are artificially provided, as the recent case of Shirley Sherrod illustrates.  There are several ways to make sure good, factual information never gets to the unwashed masses.

  We are in the midst of one way right now:  fragmented, massive, unrelenting, commercialized choice.  We have phones which do not only make calls, but surf the web, show movies, find your lost dog, play music and generally divert the user’s attention from the world he or she lives in.  The web has invaded every corner of our space, in various guises such as tablets and phones and readers and game consoles, and we don’t mind at all.  We embrace it all and only a truly demented Luddite would ignore the amazing ability of a phone to be a flashlight or to play a game in which prostitutes are murdered.  So much stuff blasting at us diverts our attention and amuses us to distraction.  It’s like trying to hear a whisper while 10 people are shouting in your ear.

  The second way is to tightly control as much info as possible by laying in a very large stock of “Top Secret” and “Eyes Only” stamps and gallons of red ink, marking latrine construction projects and National Guard deployments in case of an asteroid strike, with these stamps and then fighting tooth and nail against news organizations or any other concerned citizens by making them fill out the very special forms pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act, which—if you think about that title—is a tremendous insult to anyone who considers him- or herself a patriot (you have to fill out a form to get information from your own government?).

  The third way is the Hail Mary: spin.  If damaging information gets through the tight mesh of protection, then there is the dumping dozens of spinners onto the media and dumping dozens of news stories into newspapers and on web sites to totally obfuscate, distort, deflect and deny any and all truths—no matter how small, no matter how well-known outside the American sphere, no matter how innocuous.

  The “scandal” over the Pentagon Papers was big news, with the Nixon administration screaming about danger to the troops and national security, pretty much the same as now, except for one major thing:  The American public has been successfully diverted into other areas of interest, such as the latest Mel Gibson phone call, or the newest app for the iPhone, or the X Games or maybe what that wonderfully smarmy Anne Coulter has done with her hair.  The silence is deafening and so we will be treated to bullhorn admonitions denouncing WikiLeaks and Army Pfcs, but no one will be willing to say:  “Hey, maybe there’s something in here we should be concerned about, talking about, making decisions about.”  The Greek lawgiver and philosopher, Pericles, said in a burial speech in 430 BC:

  …even those who are concerned with their own affairs are well-informed about political matters.  For we Athenians regard the man who is unconcerned with such things not as non-meddlesome, but as useless.

   So the Wizard will eventually ride off in his balloon and we’ll all go back to wondering who’ll win on Project Runway.  Our national security is already compromised.  As Pogo said:  “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


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