I imagine that the PRISM news put a bit of a dampening on the opening weekend box office of The Internship, as it didn’t even clear $20 million. Much as I imagine a film extolling the virtues of the South African government would have suffered a hit at the box office if it opened the week of September 12, 1977. Upon reviewing The Internship (for the record, I tried to torrent it, but like hell was it getting my money), Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly said that “A lot of the film is devoted to showing how the cult of technology and the human element don’t need to be opposed; they can, and should, work hand in hand.” Whether he knows it or not, what Senor Glieberman is describing is the technological singularity, also known as the Terminator moment, as prophesied by Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google. What he left out in that prophesy is that the singularity, indeed the whole “cult of technology”, is also a project of US imperialism.
I will use Google search approximately 78 times in the course of writing this blog post. The links that help me write this, and almost anything else on this blog are all repositoried on a Gmail account, or in a Google Drive document. My Android phone sits next to me. But none of that nullifies this central thesis: that Google and the rest of the Silicon Valley power elite officially constitute a system of oppression, and that system must go the way all oppressive systems must go.
Now, there are a great deal of misconceptions going around about PRISM, but like most stories that tear up the media, the truth is actually more harrowing than the legend. In this instance, the big revelation is not that the PRISM program is used to spy on Americans; it’s that it’s used to spy on the rest of the world. All data that runs through the US servers of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Apple, AOL, and PalTalk is subject to real-time monitoring by the NSA, who will then share their information with all the other federal agencies. That includes the Facebook that is supposed to be the liberator of all brown-skinned oppressed peoples over the world. Indeed, Facebook had been on Team PRISM a full 18 months before the Arab Spring even happened.
But even more insidious than the revelation of PRISM is the way the US government/media is steadily conflating access to to American “tech” companies with the concept of Internet freedom itself while at the same time, those companies, especially Google and Facebook spread into the developing world by having them access the Internet exclusively through their services (when Eric Schmidt talks rapturously about the next 3 billion people to gain Internet access, he has a pretty significant idea as to who will give it to them). Taken together with PRISM, what you have is a colonial imperial project of staggering proportions. Whole continents of people whose every actions on the Internet will be caught in the NSA’s dragnet, as all to the tune of profit for American multinationals. So when Iran says that YouTube and Gmail are Western imperialist tools designed to undermine the regime,
I want to be clear here. This is not cyber-colonialism, where tech companies take over the digital developing world, or some other euphemism that makes it seem as though there are no consequences IRL. Communications/Internet infrastructure are the new railroads in terms of powerful and essential industries, but ole’ Leland Stanford never tried to go global. America’s soft and hard control over the Internet is a real power projection. And more than that, did you forget that Apple, Google, and Microsoft also make operating systems? So these motherfuckers are all up in the world’s computer guts. Did I mention that a weaponized virus co-developed by the US government called Flame can disguise itself as Windows Update?
But indeed, none of this is new. Silicon Valley has always been BFF with the military/national security-industrial complex, contrary to the mythology of plucky upper middle class turning the world on its head through a sheer combination of grit and brilliance. As per this PBS documentary, the integrated circuit, the fundamental basis for the modern computer, was created specifically to guide ICBMs. The Internet started out as a research project for the Department of Defense (hence them calling it ARPAnet). The the companies that Google bought in order to make Google Earth were created by the CIA’s venture capital firm. Today we have Palantir, Silicon Valley’s favorite data-mining defense contractor, founded by former employees of Facebook.
Would enough that Silicon Valley were just yet another tool of US imperialism, but it also has the dubious honor of being the primary engine of postindustrial shitty-ass capitalism, aka the one that destroys the middle class. What do you think the whole cult of disruption is about? It’s about putting millions of people out of work so an exponentially smaller amount of people can make billions. George Packer gets into the Google-bus-splashing-puddles-on-homeless-people levels of inequality created by Silicon Valley in his rather well-researched article, but he stops short at getting at the root of the problem, which is the conception of the technology industry itself. As long as we accept the paradigm that a specific power center has a monopoly on technological progress, we will always imagine ourselves helpless to combat it.
But let us take a moment to imagine a world without Google. There are other email clients out there, other directions software (or you could just look at a goddamn map), other search engines, other web-based word processors, many of them freeware. Root your phone and run Linux. And those that don’t exist could easily be created. Above all, it’s a gotdamn lifestyle change. And yet we act as though our lives would be destroyed if these companies went away, as though humanity didn’t get by for the first 10,000 years of civilization without these companies’ existence.
I mean fuckin’ seriously y’all, are we that pathetic? “Yeah, the global surveillance state sucks, but like, you want me to actually remember the url for the San Francisco Giants’ website?” The irony of anti-capitalist struggles is that they can largely be brought about through consumer activism, but people are just too lazy to do it.
I’ma do this Batman Begins-Ken-Watanabe style: The company has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. Google (and the rest of the Silicon Valley elite) must be destroyed.
How must Google be destroyed? Well, considering that the NSA is watching, it would not behoove me to get into details, but none of it is that hard if people are committed.
Look, fuck everything you’ve heard; technological progress at the hands of a certain set of capitalists is not inevitable. There are an infinite amount of possible futures that will happen. Google is betting on one, but all of us can just as easily bet on another. History is a function of will.
The whole world is counting on us; y’all realize that right? The American people are the most reliable, meaningful check there is on American imperial power. The chattering class and the corporations whose services you think you depend on are already hard at work trying to convince you that the PRISM revelations are not that big a deal, that the American government and America’s greatest corporations are just Marvel Teaming Up to keep this nation safe. The dirty secret of corporate America is that for all the griping they do about government overreach, they are mad jelz. The prospect of being enlisted by the national security apparatus in order to protect America is still cool to these motherfuckers, especially being enlisted in a program that that is so secret, they can’t even acknowledge that it exists. All the claims about desiring transparency are PR, pure and simple. These corporate people are American Patriots.
So where does that leave the rest of us? I dunno. Where do we want to be? Do we want to be forever prostrate because the prospect of wearing a search engine sounds cool? Are we OK with a global panopticon because it’s a panopticon that runs really efficiently and has cool smartphone integration?
Smash the machines. There is beauty in those words. Far from being a helpless act of desperation by those already written out of the next chapter of history, resistance against capital is one of the most significant acts a person can take. If we want to stop the engines of “progress”, the engines have to actually stop. The whole reason I have this blog, the whole reason I affect this rhetorical posture, is for moments like this.
We’ll rise nigga, change lives nigga, break ties from the everyday lies nigga. It’s not time, until it’s our time. This is beginnig to feel like the bolt busted loose from the lever. This shit is not over.