Archive for November 20, 2011

A Connected World Will Haunt Petty Tyrants

November 20, 2011 8 comments

Tyrants come in two sizes: the larger-than-life ones (Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, Mao, your average billionaire) and petty tyrants who work in the system to benefit the previous category. This second category ,which I have mentioned in previous posts, include occupations such as the police, judiciary, bureaucracy, small businessmen, physicians etc and do most of the dirty work for their leaders or systems.

As I have mentioned in a very recent post, it is these people who get the brunt of popular anger during systemic changes. I am now proposing that the development and ubiquity of technology will increase the effectiveness of popular anger against this group to hitherto unprecedented levels.

The vulnerability of petty tyrants comes from a peculiar feature of their position in the system. While they are the enforcers and henchmen of far bigger tyrants they have almost none of the real perks.

The average petty tyrant does not have multiple houses in countries, accounts in off-shore banks, private jets or any of the other means to escape popular genocidal anger. Most of them live in middle to upper-middle class neighbourhoods where everybody knows who they are, where there kids play, where they shop, what their driving routes are like.. you get the picture.

The only thing that stands between them and overt or covert retribution is the general belief that their existence is more desirable than their demise. Note the words ‘general belief’ not ‘fact’ or ‘truth’.

One of the consequences of our connected age is that media has fragmented to the extent that it no longer possible to feed narratives, stories, myths to a population- especially the younger age groups. The TV, Radio, Newspaper and Magazine are no longer the principles sources of information about the outside world. This has caused a massive decrease in the ability of those in control of mass media to influence popular thought, especially in the younger age groups.

The first signs of this change were obvious by the mid 1960s, when images from Vietnam started to change public opinion in a direction contrary to the motives of elites. However they still controlled the channels of dissemination. That is no longer the case and we cannot go back to that era even if we wanted to because of negative effects on general logistics and a host of other reasons that I do not want to talk about right now.

So how does all of this affect the well being of petty tyrants?

Here is how-

1. It destroys whatever little anonymity they had.

Between ubiquitous digital cameras, face recognition, social media, fairly basic data correlation and hackable databases and accounts- it is now possible to obtain the identity and other information about any petty tyrant. You can find who wrote to them, the pictures their lovers sent them, their worldview, their online purchases and a host of other information useful to exploit their weakness or deficits.

2. It exposes their internal world to public scrutiny.

The technological leaps described in 1 also allow us to create a far more hate-worthy profile of that person. You become aware of their biases, abuses and scams in a far more personal way. Moreover they can no longer deny their willingness to do questionable stuff based on a persona lack of knowledge. Thus humanizing them makes them much more grotesque and destroys the element of sympathy due to plausible deniability.

3. It spreads the word about a person, group or profession.

This is by far the most important effect of connectivity. In previous eras, spreading a lot of information that went contrary to the wishes of those who owned the mass media was basically impossible. Today a multitude of methods for person-to-person communication make it easy and extremely effective. There is a reason cynicism about the system and various privileged occupations has gone up so much in the last decade.

4. It allows a buildup of negative perceptions about a given person, group or profession.

Since people often search for more information about something or somebody online, previous experiences obtained through search engines or online peers will influence how people feel about a given incident. In previous eras, people could not pool their knowledge about negative experiences with anything approaching the efficiency and ease of access possible today. Therefore negative perceptions against individuals or groups can keep building up.

Moreover, filtering search results or blocking queries only makes people believe the worst- and people can store data on their computers and memory media or encrypt communications to the level that they are functionally effective.

So where does this all lead to?

Imagine you wanted information about somebody or something that bothered you in 2011. Any person with half-decent computer skills could get tons of information about anything or anybody within a few minutes on a smartphone or a inexpensive laptop. Unless that person took great pains to cover their tracks- you could locate them, their kids, grand-kids, parents, grandparents and much more personal information, if you really wanted to find out.

Now combine the general feeling of being wronged, an atomized society and such information. Do you see its potential to ‘change’ society at very fundamental level.

Some of you might say that- “that has not yet happened on a large scale”. My answer is- “such capability is very new and has existed on a large scale for only the last 5 years.. maybe decade”. Large forest fires require both a critical fuel density and enough time for that one ‘inconvenient’ spark to start them.