In my previous blog, I wrote about the Stop Watching us campaign. https://rally.stopwatching.us/
And it occurred to me that you might ask, “What do privacy violations have to do with economic inequality?”
Oh dear. Everything, my friend. Everything.
What do you do when you were born without money and connections? What if your parents were crack-heads, both of them in prison while you were growing up? What if they spent more time teaching you how to do drugs, the names of various street drugs, where and when to buy them, how to avoid being caught by the police and, most of all, that whenever problems strike the first thing you should do is take a drug that’ll dull the pain rather than learn how to deal with and solve the problem–yes, what if they spent more time doing that than they ever spent taking care of you and teaching you healthy ways to live?
Maybe your parents couldn’t take care of you at all and you ended up spending your entire childhood taking care of them. Then one day you grew up. And you realized no one had taken care of you, had guided you in the right direction, had given you advice, had shown you how to set up a bank account, how to apply for a job, how to set goals for yourself, etc.
What if your parents weren’t able to take care of you and you grew up in foster care or being taken care of by various relatives and friends of family who really didn’t want you but felt obligated to care for you as long as it was temporary?
What if your family was poor and you had to drop out of high school as soon as possible to start working to help support them, so you never had a chance to go to college or to even think about what you’d like to do in your future?
What if you started out in life with a mental illness, a disability or illness, a drug or alcohol problem? What if it took you years to overcome all that?
Let’s try a little empathy, people. Please. As we learned in Sociology 101, not everyone starts out with the same “life chances.” (If you don’t know what the word “empathy” means, please check a dictionary. It’s rarely used in the USA anymore but is still listed as a vocabulary word in the English language. You may want to look up “compassion” as well. That word may not be listed in English dictionaries for much longer, so look it up now while you can.)
How do you become successful with such a sordid, self-defeating past behind you? How do you overcome the obstacles of a troubled background?
(Drum roll, please… Because here’s the answer) :
Well, you reinvent yourself, my friend. Yes, you start all over again. You might move to a different city or state. You might even change your name. You might not want people to know about your past because you want to create a new life for yourself, so you might–dare I say it–even lie about your past, telling people your parents died, that you were adopted or that you never knew your parents at all, perhaps making up a ridiculous but exciting story about your life growing up in South Africa until your parents moved to Brazil where they died in a fire while chasing after jewel thieves and then your aunt from Paris flew you to France until your cousin in the US returned you to Boise, Idaho where everyone thinks you were born but you weren’t.
I once read of a woman whose husband was regularly beating her, but because he was wealthy and powerful he threatened to lock her up in a mental hospital for the rest of her life if she ever reported him. So in the middle of the night while he was fast asleep, she grabbed her small children, smuggled them into her car then drove over a thousand miles away to a new city in a new state. She used an alias to hide her real name so that he wouldn’t be able to track her and successfully started a new life. Away from the abuse forever. And it’s all because she was able to hide her identity under an alias. imagine that. We think of criminals using aliases, and they do. Of course, sometimes they use their real names too. But what we don’t often think about is that sometimes good, honest people hide their past too, not because they’ve done anything wrong but because they’ve been wronged by their past.
Why can’t we allow people to start over again?
The USA used to be a place to go for a new start. But that is no longer true today. Immigrants are turning elsewhere in their search for a land of opportunity. And for good reason. (Of course, there may very well be no such place anywhere anymore. That’s open to question.) The atmosphere of fear has taken the chance to reinvent one’s self away. Without our right to privacy we can’t reinvent ourselves. We can’t “fake it till we make it” by pretending to be better than our past created us to be, so that others will respect us more and help us more, so that we can create a better future for ourselves. Nope, now we have to tell people who we “really” are… In other words, who the past says we are. If you’re over 30 but look 20 you can’t lie about your age anymore. If you were arrested when you were 10 for stealing a candy bar on an impulse, you’re required to tell employers who won’t hire you because of your “criminal record.” If the job requires 10 years experience in a specific field and you only have two but are uniquely suited for the job, you can’t lie about that either.
And I’m not an advocate of lying! So don’t accuse me of that, you neo-con-artist types.
But I am an advocate of people being able to recreate their identities. In a sense, you could argue that “faking it till you’re making it” is a ‘lie,’ that pretending to be self-confident when you actually aren’t is a lie. Okay, in a sense that may be considered to be dishonest. But when you start out in life with obstacles, sometimes you need to fake it. And that can mean lying about your age, your race, your religion, your politics, or misrepresenting your expertise a bit, etc. Again, it’s not that I’m advocating that but I am saying that many, many successful people have done exactly that in order to become successful in spite of their past history.
If you’re a devoted Democrat with socialist leanings and your potential boss is a right-wing Republican, would it be wise for you to offer him your political views? Probably not, but you will, whether you like it or not, because your employer will conduct a background check on you that will probably include checking social networking sites like Facebook to determine your political, racial, religious and cultural background. You may also be required to take a personality test which can reveal your perspective on life as well.
All of this privacy violating used to be illegal, of course. Now, they’re trying to make us believe that the Internet has changed all that. It hasn’t. Long before the Internet, employers could talk to your friends or relatives or schools or former employers and find out all kinds of things about you–except that wasn’t legal. (Employers were only allowed to ask specific questions related to your work history, job duties, salary, etc.) And now it is legal. It doesn’t have to be. The Internet doesn’t make it obligatory. Certainly, you can set your Facebook settings to private, for example. But our politicians are allowing it to be legal for employers to use the Internet to violate our privacy. They’ll make the claim that it is a “different world” today, that the Internet changes everything. Don’t be fooled! The Internet changes nothing. It can be illegal for Google and Facebook to collect data on their users. It can be illegal for them to track you. It can be illegal for them to prevent you from privatizing your settings. It can be illegal for them to require you to use your real name when you sign up for an account. But our government is allowing the privacy violations to be legal because it makes it easier for them to quell dissent. Governments, and people in power in general, are always looking for ways to control the people. And now they’ve found an easy, convenient new way to do it–social networking sites on the Internet.
(In fact, governments have spied on their own people long before the Internet too, and very successfully, I might add. The Internet just makes it easier but it certainly isn’t required. Without the Internet, they’ll continue to spy, to censor, to imprison dissidents, etc. They don’t need technology to violate our rights. Technology just makes it easier for them, that’s all.)
Not cool, America. Not cool. (Not very American either.)
When you read about homeless people who later managed to become successful, even here in the USA (the USSA?)–the Land of Inequality, notice what they did to survive while they were homeless. Are those methods of survival available to people now in our current surveillance state of mind? The rock singer Patti Smith spoke of her first time in NYC, long before she became famous. She talked of sleeping on the subway when she had nowhere else to go. Is that possible these days?
What would have happened to Ms. Smith if she had been seen via the surveillance cameras now aboard most buses and subways and the police had shown up and thrown her in the slammer? She wouldn’t be able to sleep on the subway again and would have to find an alternative. What would that alternative be when we’re surrounded by surveillance cameras these days and “loitering” is often considered to be a crime? With a criminal record, she wouldn’t be able to find a job as a cashier in a fast food restaurant these days, as most employers conduct criminal background checks as a condition for employment. Her entire life could have been ruined by that one simple act of sleeping on the subway. But, fortunately for Ms. Smith, she was homeless long before the surveillance state began. But does she care? Do you think she cares about the young Patti Smiths of today who’d like to do what she did, to go to NYC and seek out their dreams? (Okay, call me a cynic if you will, but how many people from that era do you see rising up to shout, “Hey, I couldn’t have made it today. Please stop making it hard for young people to succeed!”)
Looking at other stories of formerly homeless people, that of Chris Gardner, for example, we find that the things they did to overcome their situation could no longer be done today. There is no more sleeping in public restrooms, no more hiding the fact that you’re homeless from a potential employer (because they’re doing background checks now), so sorry, Mr. Gardner, you wouldn’t have made it today. And I by no means intend to insult the good qualities of Gardner, Smith and others. Truly, their talents and skills cannot be denied. Except they can be ignored, stifled, prevented from growing into fruition in a surveillance state. In a surveillance state, only those who were born with money, connections and resources can succeed because surveillance requires everyone conform and stay in their proper places. That means no change. No creativity. No originality.
Talent needs to be cultivated. You could be a genius and the most talented person in the world, but if they lock you up in a jail for “loitering,” the world won’t know it. Ever. And if you get beaten up and tasered so badly on the street that you can barely walk you won’t have the energy to try to buck the system and become successful in spite of the odds. Talent can be beaten out of a person. It’s been done many times throughout history. Women, black people, poor people, many people throughout history were forced to give up their talents, to be enslaved and never receive credit or recognition for what could have been. It’s tragic. We Americans thought we were different. Maybe we were at one time in the past. Maybe this was once the Land of Opportunity. (Or maybe that was always our delusion.) But now it is the Land of Inequality. And the surveillance state enforces the inequality, prevents those of us who started out with obstacles from overcoming them.
I’ve talked with a lot of people who’ve told me their stories of homelessness. One such man bragged that he picked himself up by his bootstraps. He told me he slept on a construction site. In the morning, he woke up and started working with all the other construction workers. At the end of the day, the employer was required to hire him because of some sort of “right to work” law. Well, that was back in the 80s. How do I break it to this guy that times have changed? Now, there are surveillance cameras all over those construction sites, and if you’re caught sleeping, the cops will show up and arrest you for trespassing. End of story. No right to work (or sleep) for you. (No right to work ever again once you have a criminal record. Thanks, America!)
So one problem with surveillance is that it doesn’t give people the freedom to overcome homelessness. In a free society, one can sleep on the street or in one’s car but maybe find some sort of job and work one’s way up from there. In the USSA, one gets arrested or bullied by the police for sleeping on a street, is forced into a homeless shelter with unpleasant conditions and then must lead an enforced and controlled lifestyle–waking up at the break of dawn, carrying everything you own with you because you can’t check back into the shelter till later that evening and may not get accepted back in, etc. Applying for a job gets tricky too. Perhaps before the police state you would have sneaked into a bathroom stall, spent the night, taken a “sponge bath” using the sink, then made yourself presentable enough to apply for a basic job. And all you’d have to do was fill out a simple application for a simple job. You could get hired right away and start working that very day! Your employer could even pay you in cash for that day’s work. Really, it used to be that way right here in the grand, old USA. But in this current state of fear, it is no longer possible.
Today, you’d have to stay in a shelter or hide somewhere on the street. (The homeless must not make themselves visible–upsets the wealthy too much to be reminded of their existence.) You might find a restroom to bathe in, but they will be watching you via the surveillance cameras, so they’ll know if you’ve changed your clothes in there. Employers conduct background checks and require you have an address and phone number. Often they require you to own a computer and to apply online. (BTW, this means giving your social security number and other personal info out onto the Internet where it can easily be hacked!) These days, employers are very suspicious of their employees. Many of them want you to take a drug test and make an appointment for a physical–just to answer phones or work as a cashier! And you might need to endure three interviews, a personality test, math and spelling tests, etc., before they consider hiring you. This, of course, can take several weeks and can be difficult to endure when you’re in a highly stressful situation such as being homeless.
So getting a job is complicated these days. One must prove one is worthy to the wealthy, prestigious employers–who are absolutely perfect people–before one might secure a job. The job might not even pay a decent, living wage, but still, one must prove one is worthy, even for an unworthy job.
And being poor means being a criminal. Poverty has been criminalized.
Now that we’re under surveillance, it’ll be easier to watch these “criminals,” these poor people.
So this is why surveillance is disturbing. It shuts down creativity completely. One cannot think outside the box when one is in an impossible situation… To think outside the box leads to doing something unusual, and anything unusual will be seen by the surveillance cameras as unusual activity and will make you a suspicious person. When an obstacle is a normal part of your life, overcoming obstacles requires doing something “abnormal.” I read of a now famous director who got his start by dressing up in a nice business suit and walking into movie studio as though he belonged there. Because there were no surveillance cameras and security guards that questioned people, refusing to allow people in whose names they didn’t recognize, he was able to sneak into the studio where he pitched his script. Today he is famous, but he wouldn’t have been able to have done today what he had done then in order to get his foot in the door in Hollywood. (I know this because I’ve been inside those studios, and I’ve seen how tight the security is over there.)
But what really irritates me is that people like this director aren’t rising up to defend the future directors. Why aren’t they rising up to say, “Hey, I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it weren’t for the freedom from surveillance I grew up with”?
But don’t bother listening to me. Everything’s great, isn’t it? After all, we have the Internet now, right?
And yes, the Internet is great. But employers being allowed to access one’s Facebook page and to decide whether or not to hire based on one’s friends and the things one might say to one’s friends outside of the workplace, is that a good thing? People going to jail because someone didn’t like something they wrote on Facebook? How is that any different from saying something someone else doesn’t like then going to jail? How is this any different from what we’ve heard of happening in Nazi Germany, the USSR, or so-called “communist” countries today?
Do we really want to be watched that closely? Do we really believe that certain authority figures are better at deciding what we can and can’t say publicly than we are? How can we create better lives for ourselves when we’ve given up our ability to privately make decisions that others who have more money and power might disagree with?