Surveillance in a Time of Terror

I have to admit I’m not particularly enthralled with the 80’s; I was around only to glimpse the last two years, and I was too befuddled by my own existence to observe anything. (Before the 80’s dance, I kept thinking, “I wore the exact same stuff then that I wear now, only about one-tenth the size.”) Once my fascination with my hands and feet subsided, I intrepidly began to explore the world around me. In this period of exploration, this voyage, if you will, I perused 1984, by George Orwell. I concluded that Orwell’s ominous portrait of the inexorable nefariousness to come has been proven to be unfounded. Yet, having progressed another five years or so, I think the time has come for me to review that evaluation. In 1984, the single, omnipotent Party transmits propaganda to its captive constituents via monitors, force-feeding the masses. Their followers include everyone in Oceania, as dissent against the Party is quelled with torture. The people are ruled by Big Brother, a leader who never visibly appears, yet perpetually issues commands. He and the Party surreptitiously survey people at all times. The Party fabricates history in order to remain righteous, and the Party remains constantly at war as a means to foster internal law and order. What about today? Well, instead of fascist monitors being forced upon us, we gladly pay for the boxes that sculpt our world views – our TV’s. However, we do have a choice about who molds our outlook. Our leader’s face we know all too well from his speeches about terrorism to, well, his other speeches about terrorism. Dissent is not by any means crushed in the great country of America. But, there were those first few post-9/11 months, when the national spirit was to dogmatically adhere to the President’s every action. Democrats were afraid to criticize the Bushy Republicans for fear of appearing unpatriotic. Free speech is a beautiful yet fragile gift, one that can vanish quickly. It behooves us all to realize that we are subjected to constant surveillance. Yet, as facilities like the centralized surveillance center in Washington D.C. are constructed, we must be vigilant. Many of us feel that safety and cameras go hand in hand; thus, the amount of security cameras watching the public is increasing. Yet, in Britain, where cameras have been positioned to survey most public places, there have been no conclusive studies showing a decrease in crime. Moreover, modern phenomena like the Internet, credit cards, and cell phones are increasing the ease with which people can be monitored. As for history, it has not been severely altered, at least to my recollection; most of the information that we are given about the past has remained consistent over the years. However, it is suspicious that some people now are obdurate in their belief that the Dow never rose above 10,000 during the Clinton administration; others believe that Clinton caused the Dot-Com Bubble and began deficit spending. These are two blatantly apocryphal revisions of recent history. With regard to constant war, it seems that a war on terrorism is commensurate to the war on evil, in that both have eternal longevity. Moreover, since 9/11, the Administration has targeted a series of scapegoats on whom to concentrate public discontent and detract attention from questions about its own failure to prevent 9/11. The Bush administration engages in a pattern of focusing public attention on their chosen evildoers, like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, rather than tackling the difficult, gray problems of diplomacy. Big Brother similarly conveyed a black-and-white, us-against-them simplicity. From factious rebellion against the Roman Empire to the present day, terrorism has been present whether overtly or covertly, and thus a quest to eradicate it is rather quixotic. To sum up, I cannot say that we live in an Orwellian nightmare. Our free speech remains intact, and we are not force-fed biased news. However, I can say that we must be wary of jingoistic pride. Because if we leave our eyes closed for a while, we may never know what we’ll find when we wipe off the eye boogers.