Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The New Imperial Order Foretold [ pdf ]

/ dystopia / rising /
A view of the present as a mixture of the two canonical modern dystopian futures, Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. This treatise by Varda Burstyn, appearing in this year's Socialist Register, argues that our future contains the seeds of both conflicting dystopian fantasies and goes even beyond them:

...My view... is that in fact both writers were ‘right’ – that we are living in a Janus-faced present that features the fundamental characteristics of both their visions. We are living in Brave New Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The author talks about a host of signs of a dark future that has arrived, or is threatening to arrive. While one might argue that a lot of her examples might be exaggerated (re: the threats of cloning, or of nanothechnology, which seem to suffer the sin of trusting the most exaggerated hype from the respective advocates), yet I wouldn't want to bet that on the whole she's not pointing to a, quite, possible future. A few links derived from the article, might be illuminating - and chilling:

  • A Harper's article about CEO COM LINK...
    ...Even in an administration notorious for its catering to corporate interests, CEO COM LINK affords the Business Roundtable an astonishing status. No other organization, public or private, has such a secure and open line to the top tier of government during a national disaster...
    ...But the fact remains that CEO COM LINK is the only system of its kind in America, and as such it could, during a national emergency, allow for a kind of ad hoc governance by the Roundtable and its unelected CEOs. If this seems farfetched, consider a line from Armstrong's executive summary about the April war game, in which he notes that, during the simulated bioterrorist attack on Chicago, the DHS "required input from the health-care industry to identify additional resources and to increase production of pharmaceuticals." This seems reasonable enough on its face; but if CEO COM LINK were the only communications line open, the opinions of pharmaceutical company CEOs about drug production would be consulted while those of the nation's hospital and health-care workers would not. In such a scenario, no one from outside of business could raise objections about a particular drug--as happened, for example, in December, when a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to stop giving anthrax vaccinations to soldiers in Iraq without their consent...

  • Brochures, pretty much, on the joys of human cloning.
    Also an interview of Lee Silver who more or less confirms some of Burstyn's fears:
    Can you describe where this technology could go that concerns you?

    The most disturbing part of this technology is not the cloning, where you just have a child born who happens to be related to one parent instead of two. The most disturbing part of this technology is when parents are going to try to use genes to provide their children with serious advantages.

    Now the problem is that all parents want to give their children advantages. In the United States, we have a market-based mentality, where we say that parents who have money can give their children more advantages than parents who don't have money. We all accept that. I think parents are going to keep going back to the genes and say, "I want to give my child every possible genetic advantage in the book."

    That is troubling to me, for two reasons. One is that some of these genes really will provide advantages. Advantages of longevity, decreased risks of cancer and stroke and dementia, and so these children really will have health advantages, which means that the parents who are unable to afford this technology will have children who are disadvantaged. So I see this as greatly exacerbating the gap between haves and have-nots--much, much greater than it is today. That concerns me.

  • Some companies that sound GATTACA-like and make you wonder if they're a web-prop for some Sci-Fi movie or real (they're real): GenLife (which seems design-wise as if it were created by some of the folks that made GATTACA or Total Recall - late 80s, early '90s "futuristic") and GenScript, which has the aesthetic of a run-of-the-mill webshop, and a most impressive list of products tech-wise, including geeky, ugly banner ads)

  • A three year old news item: Army is looking for a few good gamers. Military makes recruitment moves in lucrative market:
    ...The idea is to give young men and women a taste of battlefield tactics. It will be an online game, so players will be able to log onto the Internet and use team strategies to achieve their objectives.

    The game will be rated "T" for teens since the Army wanted to make sure the violence wasn't like something in the realistic World War II drama "Saving Private Ryan."

    "We did it in-house because we were very concerned about some things," Wardynski said, "and we want to make sure that this thing embedded Army values, so you win by achieving objectives, not by sort of being mayhem incorporated."

    This project has materialized and is freely available: America's Army. Here's the online version which has reached five million accounts...

  • Neuromarketing defined. The Neuromaketing powerhouse. Neuromarketing basics - the political application:

    The political consultants discreetly observed from the next room as their subject watched the campaign commercials. But in this political experiment, unlike the usual ones, the subject did not respond by turning a dial or discussing his reactions with a focus group.

    He lay inside an M.R.I. machine, watching commercials playing on the inside of his goggles as neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, measured the blood flow in his brain. Instead of asking the subject, John Graham, a Democratic voter, what he thought of the use of Sept. 11 images in a Bush campaign commercial, the researchers noted which parts of Mr. Graham's brain were active as he watched. The active parts, they also noted, were different from the parts that had lighted up in earlier tests with Republican brains.

  • Ignoring democracy, a reminder of the trampling of self-evident political rights in 2003 by Jeb Bush and the City of Miami:
    The FTAA Summit in Miami represents the official homecoming of the "war on terror". The latest techniques honed in Iraq - from a Hollywoodised military to a militarised media - have now been used on a grand scale in a major US city. "This should be a model for homeland defence," the Miami mayor, Manny Diaz, said of the security operation that brought together over 40 law-enforcement agencies, from the FBI to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    For the Miami model to work, the police had to establish a connection between legitimate activists and dangerous terrorists. Enter the Miami police chief, John Timoney, an avowed enemy of activist "punks", who classified FTAA opponents as "outsiders coming in to terrorise and vandalise our city".

    With the activists recast as dangerous aliens, Miami became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror". In fact, $8.5m spent on security during the FTAA meeting came out of the $87bn Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month.

    But more was borrowed from the Iraq war than just money. Miami police also invited reporters to "embed" with them in armoured vehicles and helicopters. As in Iraq, most reporters embraced their role as pseudo soldiers with zeal, suiting up in combat helmets and flak jackets.

  • A rather under-reported story: the account of how the Carlyle group dropped their Saudi sponsors after 9/11 (who had names such as Bin-Laden and weren't good publicity) in favour of money from the Russian oligarchs (Harper's again)- models of principled business entrepreneurship, I'm told:
    In Washington, many who note the current President's warm bond with the man in the Kremlin wonder why Carlyle would have taken the political risk of courting the oligarchs. In Moscow, however, they understand. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a number of published reports, Carlyle lost Arab investors, who either withdrew their money or saw it returned when it had become impolitic to manage. Among these investors was Shafig bin Laden, one of Osama's numerous brothers. On September 11, 2001, Shafig was at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, attending a Carlyle conference. Carlyle returned Bin Laden's investment, reportedly a paltry $2 million. But many believe that millions more have been returned or withdrawn. "They need the oligarchs' money more than ever," says a Moscow financier who has long had dealings with Carlyle. "They're replacing the Bin Ladens with the Potanins and the Khodorkovskys."

  • Ah, well... that should be enough reading for the week. Coming soon to your planet, I'm afraid, unless you do something about it.

    1 comment:

    DoDo said...

    Heh. I had similar thoughts to Varda Burstyn's. For example from the very first post on my blog:

    "I'd say while Republican voters are straight out of Orwell's 1984, most Democrats, Independents and non-voters are straight out of Huxley's Brave New World."