Sorry, We’re Not Living in Orwell’s ‘1984’:
The information leaked by Snowden should cause alarm as should the loose legal oversight governing the NSA’s massive data-mining campaign. Nevertheless, the invocations of Orwell are not unlike Bush-era claims of an emerging strain of American fascism, or the Tea Party’s frequent panting that Obama is indistinguishable from Fidel Castro. A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984.
In his 1941 essay “England Your England,” Orwell took pains to highlight this distinction. While identifying the United Kingdom’s numerous “barbarities and anachronisms”—and even declaring the country not a “genuine democracy”—he argued that these defects meant that ideas like “democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism” were colossally wrong, employing fallacious “arguments [that] boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.”
Yes, the NSA is collecting a lot of data about our communications. That doesn’t mean we live under a totalitarian state. To claim that we do is overly reactionary and keeps us from looking at realistic reforms.
Cyrus Nemadi’s “open letter” to the NSA:
Now, what happens when you raise a generation on a steady diet of data, and then try to keep naughty secrets? They’re going to ask questions. They grew up in a world where information was free, and they took advantage of that fact. They learned more about the world around them than could ever be learned in school, and they went online for the answers to the questions their parents and teachers wouldn’t answer. They grew up not just appreciating that information was free, but expecting information to be free.
It gets worse. Not only are you hiring millennials, for whom secrecy is anathema—you’re hiring millennial hackers. And hacking, as you well know, means finding ways of turning technology to serve a purpose other than its intended one. When information isn’t free, these people have the ability and the will to free it.
So the very people whom the NSA (and other top-secret agencies) have to rely upon to conduct their work are the very people who — at least in this generation — are also more likely to divulge the information they gain access to.
Let’s face it: This isn’t going to be the last time your secrets are aired to the public. It’s probably not even going to be the last time this year that your secrets are aired to the public by another Edward Snowden, because you’ve got countless Edward Snowdens on your payroll whose first—not last—instinct is to blow open your information infrastructure.
Maybe that’s why websites like this exist.