Sunday, December 05, 2004

A note from a paranoid consumer

My good friends know that I'm prone to a mild, generalized paranoia, which, to me, is just healthy skepticism. I take for granted that most of my public behavior and electronic communications are being surveilled, though perhaps not by any human being.1 A recurring feature of my dreams is a scene wherein the facade of reality gets stripped away to reveal what's beneath (waking up from these dreams is always an interesting experience). For me, The Matrix, The Truman Show, and the stories of Philip K. Dick weren't mind-blowing out-of-this-world fantasies, but rather variations on an old familiar theme. And I've never read a really convincing refutation of Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument.

Now, I don't believe that anyone cares about me enough to bother constructing some kind of pervasive, systematic deception specifically for me. But I do believe that large, well-organized, intentful forces are watching us collectively, and interfering with our lives, in ways that we generally ignore, for the sake of preserving the day-to-day fiction that we're living in a world hospitable and comprehensible to ape brains that evolved two million years ago on the savannah.

All this is to preface my saying that if I ever discovered that someone I knew was a "volunteer" or an "agent", I would do my best to eradicate that person from my life.

I can accept that my friends might deceive me, or at least keep secrets, for the sake of their dignity, or their reputation, or to spare my feelings or somebody else's feelings; there are all the ordinary human deceptions that knit together our social fiction. They make us human. However, deceive me in the service of an organization --- a business, a church, a government, whatever --- and you're no longer human, exactly, but rather a cell in some larger organism, trying to feed itself by extracting my money and labor; and let us remember that money and labor are abstractions for the output of our minds and bodies. In a precise sense, these agents lie in order to turn us into food; they are the glowing bulb on the forespine of the anglerfish.

1 I'm talking about computers, not aliens. Between ECHELON and the pervasiveness of surveillance cameras, you can basically assume that you're being recorded whenever you send email or walk down any commercial street. It doesn't have to be in a large city: after the Oklahoma City bombings, they used recordings from surveillance cameras all over the city to track down the van.

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