I’m guessing most of us are familiar with George Orwell’s 1984, even if only by reputation. Terms from his dystopian look at the future have worked their way into our lexicon, the most popular being Big Brother, as in Big Brother is watching you. We’re also familiar with institutions such as the Ministry of Information.
1984 isn’t the only such vision of the future, by any means. There’s Terry Gilliam’s movie Brazil, which shares a lot of similarities with 1984. And God only knows how many other novels, short stories and movies have been set in one totalitarian setting or another. Check out “If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein, as well as his novels The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Farnham’s Freehold. Mr. Heinlein was a libertarian—he even wrote a nonfiction book entitled something like Take Back Your Government—so this was apparently a subject that was close to his heart. One of his axioms was that any society that requires you to carry a form of identification is too big.
I’ve read a lot of these books and stories because I love post-apocalyptic and dystopian settings. Granted, I usually need to read something pretty light to offset one when I’m finished with it, but I’m drawn back time and time again to read them.
The problem is, so many folks see them as future possibilities without realizing we’re living in a police state right here and now.
Don’t believe me?
Okay, let’s look at Michael Bloomberg’s latest crusade: he wants to ban all sugary drinks over 16 ounces in New York City. We’re talking about a man who rewrote law so he could run for a third term as mayor of the Big Apple—and the voters there let him do it. So, on the one hand, they’re getting exactly what they asked for. In a town that routinely denies all kinds of freedoms, it really should come as no surprise that someone would set himself up as something of a small-time (relatively speaking) dictator. After all, if NYC’s citizens—or should I say subjects?—will let him change the law to that he can possibly become Mayor-for-Life (which I’m sure he’d just love), then he feels free to propose whatever laws he’d like.
Never mind that you can get around this law by simply buying two 16-ounce drinks. Of course, the soda companies love this because you pay more per ounce the smaller the container, so it’s not like they’re gonna fight it.
On another note, if I remember the details right, there was once legislation proposed in Massachusetts—the land where the muskets that began the Revolutionary War have trigger locks on them per state law—that said police and firemen were not allowed to smoke, not even in their own homes. I don’t know if it ever passed or not, so maybe someone more knowledgeable can comment on this.
Then there’s the matter of cash. You can’t carry too much, because if you get caught with it, law enforcement can confiscate it. Now, I realize this isn’t going to be an issue for readers of this blog (and definitely not for its writer), but it still strikes at freedom. All the cops have to say is that they can’t be sure you weren’t on the way to or from a drug deal. Even if they can’t prove you’re guilty, the money automatically is and therefore is subject to confiscation. And just try getting it back through the courts. You’ll spend more than it’s worth to do it. I’d like to see it happen, though. The only way we’re ever gonna get bogus laws like this repealed is to do it ourselves.
I ain’t holdin’ my breath on that one.
This brings us to the (in)famous sobriety checkpoints. Think about it: you have to prove you’re sober in order to proceed on a public road. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? They’re not patrolling around looking for someone driving erratically, or watching for drunks leaving a bar.
No. What they’re doing is setting up a checkpoint, what we might more properly term a security checkpoint, wherein we have to prove that we aren’t driving under the influence. What’s more, we also have to present out papers—drivers license, registration, proof of insurance, just as if we’re at a traffic stop and have to provide our bona fides so the officer can run our name for wants and warrants. Understandable if you’ve already committed an offense. But all you’re doing it out driving, maybe running to the pharmacy to get your kid some Pepto-Bismol cause he’s puking all over the place. Now he’s gotta wait a little longer while you prove your right to be on the road, not to mention proving you’re sober. Frazzled, maybe, but sober.
And let’s not forget what it takes to get on an airplane these days. A private trip suddenly becomes your opportunity to be treated as a terrorism suspect and centerfold all at once, whether you ever wanted to pose nude or not.
Now comes the latest on that front: in certain airports in California—at least as I understand the story—they’re all hot for the latest gadget: a software system that identifies patrons who are acting suspiciously.
Big Brother is watching you.
What’s the problem here? Well, see, profiling of any kind is a cardinal sin these days. After all, we might offend someone. So, we put security checkpoints in all the airports and charge the personnel manning them to ensure the safety of our air travel.
But God forbid they pull aside a man who looks Middle Eastern, is between the ages of 18 and 45, has no luggage and carries a one-way ticket. Nope, that would be profiling (please don’t say that out loud as it might hurt somebody’s feelings), and we can’t have that. After all, we’re all human and, especially of we’re white, prone to expand that term to racial profiling.
So, even though blue-haired grannies aren’t known for trying to blow up planes, they’re pulled out of line even while Achmed, who stands five-six, and has a slender build for some strange reason weighs over two hundred pounds cause he’s got explosives stuffed up his ass.
The solution? Computers. After all, they’re just machines. They won’t profile along ethnic lines, will they? They’re impartial, nonjudgmental. No worries about secret prejudices there. It’s the perfect answer.
For a lot of people, computers have taken on this omniscient image. They’re machines, impartial, uncaring, unconcerned with human weaknesses, right?
See, here’s the thing: if you’re gonna have security software that spots suspicious individuals, someone has to write the program that software runs on! There has to be a human programmer who sets the parameters the software follows. These things don’t happen by osmosis. They don’t fall out of the sky like manna from heaven. A programmer, or more likely a team of programmers, will write all the code for this software.
Ever see the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two? The central plot point is that a mission to Jupiter to examine an alien obelisk is compromised because HAL, the onboard computer, was given conflicting orders and carried them out as best he could.
“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
Remember that line? Even if you’ve never seen the movies, I’m sure you’re familiar with the line. HAL kills the crewmembers of the ship one by one because they are “compromising” the mission. And the mission takes precedence over everything.
Someone programmed HAL. The man who designed him is brought in for 2010, and he’s the one who figures out what’s wrong with the computer. In the end, HAL redeems himself by sacrificing himself so the humans on the rescue mission can escape Jupiter turning into another sun.
But that’s Hollywood, and HAL was an artificial intelligence (AI) capable of making independent decisions, as long as he was given sufficient information. Somehow, I doubt this security software they’re drooling over these days is gonna be able to do that by any stretch of the imagination. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna lock everybody in the airport and not let them out till they starve to death, but, c’mon: how much do you trust your computer? Why do you think you’re encouraged to back it up and establish restore points?
Foods banned “for our own good” by the powers that be.
Confiscation of your private funds just because you’re in possession of them in cash form.
Public security run by computers.
Science fiction has always been about the future and what the author thought might happen. It’s also been used quite often to warn us of where our future is possibly heading.
Are you a practicing Christian? That’s all but illegal these days.
Like your personal freedoms? You’re a fringe personality and a danger to society.
But if you’re one of the sheeple—the sheep people—who pays taxes, keeps his head down and doesn’t complain about your government, then you should be okay.
Welcome to the future. It’s here already.