The fictionalized surveillance state
(Independent Institute, by Anthony Gregory) “Public attitudes toward government spying have correlated to popular cultural trends ever since the 1821 publication of The Spy: A Tale of Neutral Ground, the first American spy novel written by James Fenimore Cooper, the first prominent American novelist. … Spies were further elevated in a slew of American novels in the late nineteenth century, and became central heroes in the English-speaking world in the twentieth century thanks largely to films such as those in the James Bond franchise. Whereas in early American history, government spying faced a largely negative public perception, the professionalized modern spying of our era has been glorified in the vast bulk of TV and movies featuring government agents using their omniscient technological gizmos to apprehend the bad guy just in the nick of time.”
Nathan: Yes, commentary. But not as good as I would expect from the Independence Institute or Anthony Gregory.
He has oversimplified and demonized a complex history and understanding. I don’t know why he does this – except that his slanted view supports his point (if I understand his point: that people are conditioned or propagandized to accept what the NSA and CIA does).
But he’s got the cart before the horse: Cooper’s “Birch” did not make people like spies – he wrote the novel because people already DID like spies: at least, spies for their side. People like CAPT Nathan Hale and Paul Revere, and many others in the War for American Independence were heroes well before 1821.
Both South and North used and honored spies forty years later, not because of Cooper’s novel, but because of what they DID. The same thing can be said for Ian Fleming’s great creation: people didn’t love spies (for their side) in the Cold War because James Bond was a hero: they liked 007 because they liked spies. The same movies and many more ALSO portrayed spies as villains: German and Japanese and Russian and more. Why not argue that movies caused us to HATE and FEAR spies? Spies working for the wrong side, of course. As soon argue that Mad Magazine (or Get Smart) caused us to treat spies as incompetent clowns.
And still do: listen to the voices calling for allowing the NSA to keep doing what it is doing: they include both neocons AND true conservatives, as well as messiah-apologists and liberals. It is a dangerous slander to assume that all these people got their moral view out of a popcorn box in the cinema.
Right now, it is we self-governors (yes, and libertarians, civil and otherwise) that are the most outspoken. It is not WHAT spies do – how they do it, that makes them good or evil in the eyes of most people – it is WHY they do it and WHO they do it for (or against). A spy is a human tool, just like a gun or a rocket. They can be used for good or for evil: the tool is (mostly) totally neutral, even amoral (not necessarily itself a good thing). It can be used in the cause of tyranny and oppression, to cause terror in innocent people, or it can be used in the cause of liberty, for self-defense against thugs and tyrants and predators.
Even with his shading of the truth of history, Mr. Gregory sounds a true and needed alarm. But he not only over-simplifies the problem, he whitewashes the solution on the wall of the problem with a bone-dry paintbrush.
Mr. Gregory points out “government spies” are his focus, in the last paragraph, but his solution to the problem is as weak as his argument. “We know it is propaganda, but we’ll watch it anyway and just tell ourselves it isn’t real.” That doesn’t work in real life: the more we listen and watch, the more we believe. The surveillance state is NOT fiction, fictionalized as it may be: it is deadly real, and hundreds die each week around the world as a result. The TRUTH is the only antidote to fiction: and only if you stop feeding your brain (and those of the children of the planet) the fiction.