Feelings of Doom

Logan: I’ve been doing some binge reading on the NSA and privacy and Our Police State. Binge and purge really, because I’ll read a bunch and then I’ll get freaked out and stop and then I’ll revisit, and then I’ll stop. And mostly what this process has left me with is an even greater sense of impending doom than I usually have. E tu????

Mike: What do you mean about impending doom? The thing is, nothing I’ve read so far has surprised me, nor has it made me change the way I live or do anything. What kinds of things have you read that fills you with this feeling of doom?

Logan: Well, I always make everything about me, so, I keep thinking: What if I find something that I have to leak, or someone I love finds something they have to leak: WHAT TO DO!? I mean what if someone contacted us through a secure channel and was like, “The Billfold is the only place I can share this information, you have to help society.” Would we do it? And then what country would we run to?

Mike: I mean, in this highly theoretical scenario it would depend on so many things. Who is this person, and how do we know we can trust them? What kind of information are we receiving? Why are we the only ones who can help? Whatever we’d do would implicate our entire network. And really, this would put us in Glenn Greenwald’s position, not Edward Snowden’s.

Logan: Mike, all I’m saying is that there are infinite scenarios that could occur in which we’d need to leave the country and I haven’t planned for that and I kind of regret that. Have you seen the movie Children of Men?

Mike: Yes. Great movie! I don’t have a plan to leave the country either. I mean, I don’t think people make those kinds of plans unless they know that they’ll have to leave the country for whatever reason. And if you have to leave the country unexpectedly, well, you’d just go. My parents came to this country to start their lives over with nothing and had to rebuild from scratch. When you are a forced into a situation, you just do what you have to do to keep on keeping on.

Logan: I think a lot about the old couple and their house in the woods and think, I kind of just want to do that. Make a shrine to old music and sit around and smoke all day and look at trees. And then kill myself painlessly when things get wack. Ha, okay I’m obviously in a weird mood! We could be talking about I don’t know, dividends? Stocks and bonds? and I’d turn it into a discussion of how nothing matters (“discussion”). One thing that does matter: Everyone paying of so much debt, so so cool.

Mike: Yeah, I love everyone who participates in the monthly check-ins. I think it’s inspiring to see people actively take control of their debt or savings situations and have the support of a community.

So, obviously our government isn’t perfect, but sometimes when I hear people say that our government is screwing over everyone and we’re all doomed, or whatever, I think about places like Somalia which hasn’t had a functioning government in 22 years and is just a dangerous and corrupt country to be in. Or I think about that story of that man escaping from the North Korean labor camp. I mean, it’s easy to read some of the crazy things that happens in our country and be like, “lol, nothing matters,” but it could be just so, so much worse.

Logan: There’s a guy sleeping on the sidewalk 10 feet away from me. Last week I was talking to a young dude, like very early 20s, and he was talking about his sort of obligatory awakening, when he realized nothing matters and human life is just one big accident and there is no meaning or purpose and certainly no god, and he was like, “Yeah that was rough, I was in bed in for like a month. And then I got over it. You have to get over it to function.” And he’s totally right. You do have to get over it to function! So I’m going to get over it and function. Friday functioning. Function function function.

Mike: I mean life matters. Sometimes it can feel like it’s just functioning—going through the motions. People matter to each other. There are things worth living and fighting for. Wendy Davis was fighting for what mattered to her and a lot of other people. Edith Windsor was too. You find meaning by living the life you want to live, and when you can’t live that life, you fight for it.

Logan: BRB putting that on a bumper sticker. Gonna make millions.

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9 Comments / Post A Comment

My favorite article about the NSA mess was the one where they interviewed the former Stasi officer. It made me think: what if Germany had decided to just keep the whole East German phone tapping/informant apparatus going after reunification? West Germany did have a lot of problems with domestic terrorism in the 70s and 80s. Could you imagine the reaction if Helmut Kohl had just been like “Yeah we’re going to keep tapping everyone’s phones, but it’s OK because I’m democratically elected and it will be overseen by a secret court. No, we won’t tell you anything else.”

Would people have really thought that was a good way to go?

HeatherYH (#4,342)

@MikeDang So true! Its an amazingly simple concept, but so many people are still trying to figure that out.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

I don’t see a lot of problems with looking at people’s telephone records to see who they called and when. For the vast majority of people, they call their friends and family. And if you’re suspected of a crime, the police are able to obtain that information in any case.

From my perspective, the difficulty is a result of the monitoring of the government employees to make sure that they aren’t abusing their snooping powers. I would be very much against the government randomly examining the content of telephone conversations. That’s what the Stasi did. That’s also the equivalent of what the IRS did to the conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. I’m not aware of any significant punishment of the IRS people who did the wrong things.

Therefore, what measures are in place to make sure that the various security agencies don’t take advantage of the technology to negatively impact citizens based on political or other personal beliefs? To me, it’s a real issue.

@WayDownSouth Well suppose the German government said, post reunification, “We are going to keep all the bugs and phone taps in place, right where they are, but we promise we will only listen to you if we have some reason to suspect you’re involved in a crime. Or that one of your friends is. Or if you call someone abroad.” Would that have been cool with everyone?

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@stuffisthings I’m not sure what you’re trying to ask me. Are you referring to the Stasi keeping track of the telephone numbers that a person called (not the contents of the conversation)? In that case, yes, I’m fine with it. It’s also worth noting that it’s not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

Or are you asking about the government listening to the contents of the phone calls themselves without appropriate court authority? I’m not aware of anyone who is proposing that it’s a good thing. If that’s your question, I don’t understand why you’re asking it.

@WayDownSouth No, what I’m getting at is whether we should have a problem with the apparatus of surveillance itself, or just how it’s used. People in the U.S. seem to not mind the government having these capabilities so long as they can assure us with some credibility that they are not being misused. People with direct and recent experiences of mass surveillance tend to have a different view (which is why I think the German perspective is particularly interesting).

(ETA: Written with the understanding that we all agree the NSA has the capability to listen to phone calls, read emails, and monitor Internet traffic, which they only do according to some mostly secret internal rules and regulations — in addition to their much broader tracking of metadata which they acknowledge already affects almost everyone.)

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@stuffisthings yes, now I understand your question.

I think that people in the US understand that some degree of surveillance is required to detect and prevent terrorist attempts to create mass casualties. If the testimony to Congress is correct, the surveillance prevented at least 50 terrorist actions. It’s a matter of trade-offs — privacy versus security.

Other countries have other surveillance issues. For example, when Australians visit the UK, they often remark on the amount of CCTV there. My understanding is that the government-operated CCTV is quite pervasive in some parts of London. If the state or local governments in the US attempted to put up that amount of CCTV, I suspect that the reaction would be negative and widespread. (Note that I haven’t been to London in many years, so I don’t have any personal knowledge of the situation there.)

I think your example of mass surveillance is a bit misleading. If you’re looking for direct and recent experience, the US is much more relevant than the old East Germany. I can’t remember the exact date of reunification, but it was in 1990. Although you and I obviously share a dislike of the East German security apparatus, it stopped 23 years ago. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure that is qualifies as either recent or relevant.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@WayDownSouth sorry, that last sentence came across as more snarky than I intended. I agree with you that the East German government’s surveillance of its citizens was grossly inappropriate. I just don’t know how relevant it is to our discussions today (since the technology and level of suppression is so different).

@WayDownSouth Well just to be clear, I’m not trying to score cheap points by comparing the NSA to the Stasi. I just think it’s an interesting thought experiment about why the West German government didn’t decide to (nor, do I think, did they even discuss) continuing the massive East German surveillance program under their own democratic auspices. Was it just because the program was so tainted by its association with the previous totalitarian government? Or was there something about the capability of mass surveillance that made it fundamentally incompatible with a liberal democracy? Germany was able to incorporate other deeply implicated organs of the East German state (like schools and cultural centers) into the democratic society of reunified Germany. So why was the surveillance program shut down, and why was there no question of continuing it? I think this is an interesting perspective from which to evaluate our own biases, at least.

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