June 10, 2013

NSA, Buffalo Springfield, and the Triumph of Paranoia

In the nearly 10 years since I've been authoring this blog, I can't recall a previous period of so many lengthy posts, one after another on a single topic, as has been the case with the current NSA saga.

We've already discussed the details as we know them at the moment, as described in NSA "Whistleblower" Snowden: Hero? Fool? Traitor? Or ... ? and its ancestor postings.

So this morning I was trying to think of a unifying theme of sorts that I could use to wrap up the current round -- when an old "Buffalo Springfield" classic played forth from the music stream I had running in the background, and handed me the answer across the decades.

In their 1967 song "For What It's Worth" -- often mistakenly thought to be an anti-Vietnam war piece, but actually written as a statement about civil rights in the aftermath of a notorious "riot" and police actions on the Sunset Strip here in L.A. -- Buffalo Springfield sang these words:

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.

And therein resides the key -- not just to NSA and Snowden's story, but to so much in our contemporary lives and reaching back to the dawn of human history as well.

Paranoia and its close sibling "conspiracy theories" in fact are the only real "winners" in the entire chain of events rolling out before us over the last few days, along with the historical genesis of those events.

Paranoid terrorists and their attacks. Paranoid reactions to those attacks by Congress and yes, by the majority of Americans as well. Knee-jerk legislation like the PATRIOT Act that gave paranoia the force of law. Paranoid NSA programs. Paranoid claims about those NSA programs. Paranoid accusations against Internet firms. And on ... and on ... and on.

Conspiracy theories thrive on paranoia -- the mother's milk of emotion over logic, of fear over reason, blurring the lines between real enemies, genuine abuses, and the unreal, fantasy theories that permeate our brains like so much booze on a drinking binge.

And the recent NSA-related events seem virtually purpose-built to feed that paranoia, piling onto the inherent fears that so many persons have about the rapid pace of our technologies, so complex that it might as well just be magic as far as vast numbers of our fellow travelers are concerned.

So we have fear of cookies, fear of Web ads, fear of tracking, fear of Wi-Fi, fear of malware, and again on and on -- mixing hard technical realities with the acid blend of paranoia itself, leaving especially the nontechnical observers in a dizzying spin, gasping for air, unable to separate any underlying truths from exaggerated claims and purposeful obfuscations.

The nightmare demon, the terrifying "they" seems omnipresent, lurking in the shadows, ready to strike, feeding on a steady diet of misinformation.

They are listening. They are lying. They are covering up something.

They are out to get us.

And no matter how many times it seems demonstrated that particular fears are misplaced, that only means we haven't dug deep enough, haven't considered every fanciful possibility, haven't allowed our phobias sufficient and full bloom.

The negative stands proudly unprovable, while the path of paranoia seems clear by comparison. The glass stands half empty rather than half full, as our leaders with only the best of intentions remodel society and laws in the name of what's worst and most feared, rather than in hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

The red pill or the blue pill -- it matters not, for in the empire of paranoia, all paths ultimately lead to the inner circles of our own man-made hells.

It's way too early to fully understand the entire scope and purposes of the NSA programs that are now in the headlines. But the odds are we'll learn that NSA, exercising its own paranoia, did pretty much exactly what a paranoid Congress and paranoid administrations wanted NSA to do in the wake of 9/11, as horror at the attacks quickly gave way to jingoism, and our Founding Fathers' dreams of ascendant civil liberties gave way to the kind of political madness that has destroyed an array of civilizations down the span of the centuries.

And throughout it all, as the truths and conspiracy theories and exaggerations mix and mingle into a diseased, opaque pool of pestilence -- within yet above the fray, reigning as sovereign -- paranoia itself sits on its blood-soaked throne -- smiling, nodding in satisfaction, and knowing that in the end, it has indeed triumphed yet again.


Posted by Lauren at June 10, 2013 02:50 PM | Permalink
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