Surveillance, Disempowerment, Outrage Overload, and Cognitive Dissonance

18:21 Tue 12 Feb 2008
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Today the US Senate voted to authorize warrantless wiretapping, and to grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies who aided in the recent illegal wiretapping. I do, in truth, find this outrageous and disgusting, particularly since the upshot of the discovery and uproars appears to be “well, now we’ve made it legal and so you can’t cause trouble again by finding out what we’re doing in the future”. But the disgust and outrage are a tad on the anemic side.

I think there are three major reasons for this.

First, I have been successfully programmed to feel (despite what I may rationally know) that I have no political voice or clout. This is not a rationally defensible position, because I’m actually in a rather privileged and influential position compared to the majority of the world’s population. But I still feel as if there’s no way that I can have a meaningful impact.

Second, I’ve hit (and not for the first time) the point of simply being burnt out in terms of anger at the government, the Democratic Party, the establishment, the corruption, etc. There’s just a ton of it, and it seems to go on and on, and the parties involved have no shame whatsoever (not that I rationally expect them to, but the lies and hypocrisy are very wearing). There’s also a crossover with the first point: believing what I believe, and being exposed to many, many people who believe similar things about these issues (online and offline), the impression that my political power is zero is increased, not decreased. It’s the opposite of feeling empowered because you know lots of people agree with you—you look around at all these people who agree with you, and see that this makes no difference whatsoever (else these policies could not be enacted), and you reason that outrage, even collective outrage, is powerless. (Again, I don’t consider this a rational conclusion, it’s just how I’m feeling right now).

Third, cognitive dissonance. It’s not new for me to recognize that I’m in a country whose ruling elites are engaged in massive war crimes, fraud, profiteering, waste, destruction, murder, etc. It’s not a new realization that they’re expanding their power by expanding the power of the state, and that they can and will alter the law (if they pay attention to it at all) to gather more power and information to themselves. However, despite my awareness of this authoritarian state (which is obviously real and present today, given the laws we have in the country right now), I still look around and see that I’m in San Francisco. It’s not a liberal bastion of freedom in the way that it’s often presented, but it is quite different from the rest of the country. I have lots of progressive friends, I’m almost never confronted by oppression directly, I speak my mind freely, etc.—in other words, I experience directly no evidence of the authoritarian control structures that I know are there, and this magnifies the difficulty in maintaining emotional investment, the sense of powerlessness regarding those structures, and the overall anomie.

This condition isn’t necessarily permanent, and hopefully I’ll get past it, and (being really hopeful here) figure out how to have some effective voice/impact.

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One Response to “Surveillance, Disempowerment, Outrage Overload, and Cognitive Dissonance”

  1. kevintel Says:

    This may come across as trolling, but I am serious. You are living in a State which does not share your values. There are many other people living there that share your values, but ultimately the State itself does not. It does not want your values, and the people who could perhaps influence the State do not want your values either. In fact, they are both passively predisposed against your values. At best, you can hope to maintain the status quo, and ensure that this predisposition remains passive, rather than aggressive (which, as it happens, would be extremism, either to the left or the right of the political spectrum).

    I mean this quite seriously: You should consider moving to, and living in, a country which shares your social and ethical values, and enjoy how it interacts with other states based on those values. Perhaps Sweden, or Denmark. You have a good life within this State you live in partly because it holds dear values which are antithetical (is that a word?) to your personal values. If it didn’t have those, you would be paid less, and goods (and life generally) would be much more expensive. But it does, and by and large life is of a reasonable quality for everyone, which is why for the most part, you’ll see no major change. The status quo ensures that there isn’t enough to complain about for most people, and they are happy to accpet the decisions made for them.

    As I say, I think this situation makes you unhappy, and you should consider moving to a state populated and run by like-minded people. You’ll have less wealth, but you’ll be happy that your values are shared by the decision makers.

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