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The Internet, Technology, Social Atomization and Snowden

Over the last few days, I started writing a post about the Edward Snowden saga on at least four different occasions, only to be interrupted by new information or good articles by other writers. I would especially recommend a series of articles on the broader implications of the NSA surveillance scandal and Snowden himself in the The Atlantic. I will write about my thoughts on those and other related issues in subsequent posts.

Many other writers and bloggers have written about the nature, implications, mindset of the NSA or the motivations of Snowden etc. But few realize that what happened in the last three weeks was made possible by a combination of fairly new circumstances and resultant possibilities. The old system and old men in power simply could not have factored it in their calculations.

This rest of this post is about an overlooked aspect of the story- specifically, why something like what happened in the last three weeks would have inconceivable even a decade ago.

The first major but often understated change is that the world we live in today is functionally multipolar. It was not so 10 years ago when it was functionally unipolar, or indeed any time since the end of WW2 when it was mostly bipolar. The USA simply does not have the ability to project unbridled power as it used to in the late 1990s and early 2000s after the collapse of the former USSR. Any remaining illusions about the actual capabilities of the USA has been irreversibly compromised by the events in Afghanistan, Iraq and the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis.

There is a pretty good reason why Snowden initially went to Hongkong rather than a city in Western or Eastern Europe. The guy has a pretty good understanding of the real boundaries and constraints of american power. His decision to go to a Chinese city that is not quite part of Mainland China is therefore far shrewder than most people realize. He is actively using his public notoriety and the ambiguous status of Hongkong to make him far harder to target than if he was went to a city in a pushover country like Sweden, UK or Poland.The Chinese establishment for all their greed and inscrutability do not want to be seen as the butt-boy for ‘extra-white’ WASPy yanks. It certainly helps that Hongkong is one plane flight from Hawaii. Zones that function like Hongkong does today simply did not exist 10 years ago.

Then there is the state of the internet today or rather its ubiquity. A decade ago, the internet was much smaller and far less ubiquitous. Moreover, many of the companies on the PRISM co-operation list did not even exist in 2003. But there is another side to this story, namely how Snowden used its reach and ubiquity to get his side and version of the story to hundreds of millions and potentially billions BEFORE the establishment could respond. Ten years ago, this sort of thing was just starting to become a possibility in a few countries. Today, a person like Snowden can use the reach and ubiquity of the internet to pull of a preemptive multi-national information strike of a magnitude previously associated with large nation states. It also helps that the establishment cannot filter news or discussion about these things by controlling the mainstream media, because the remaining reader- and viewer-ship of dying mainstream media is geriatric.

We also cannot forget the role of social atomization in making this possible. In previous generations, lots of decent men went along with very questionable orders from rich old white men without pulling a Snowden. Have you ever wondered why? The answer lies in the changing nature of society. The 1940s-1990s version of him was much likely to pull off what Snowden did for a number of reasons. There are the standard reasons such as higher levels of social cohesion, patriotic brainwashing, less access to diverse sources of information etc. But there is a deeper reason..

In previous eras- men of his intelligence, ability and income used to be married (or married and divorced) with multiple kids and many other FAKE obligations that tied them to the dysfunctional society they lived in. They stood to lose a few real and many FAKE things. The growing atomization of society and accompanying social changes (feminism, low fertility) have broken the old cycle for good.

A guy like Snowden, or for that matter any other reasonably intelligent guy of his age group, no longer believes in things that pretty much all his ancestors (even his parents) believed. Nor does he have the few real or mostly FAKE things that kept people like him in line. People who realize that have nothing real to lose behave very differently from people who maintain faith in the “old ways” even if doing so harms them. I think that, at some level, Snowden realized that he had nothing real left to lose.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. P Ray
    June 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    The other thing is that Hong Kong is pretty crowded, as a white guy he would stand out in an Asian city plus I’m very sure the aboveground and underground authorities would know if someone was planning a hit on him – or who did it, if it happened.
    Then it becomes a case of the leverage that the other side has against who killed him.
    Seems like that’s the only reason keeping him alive – smart guy for realising that exposure of people under foreign government control (and they’ll probably get expelled if they take physical action against him + other countries will find out who they are) is the best way of assuring his security.

  2. fucknuts
    June 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    A fairly insightful post overall. I would argue that Hong Kong wasn’t a particularly shrewd choice so much as a thinly veiled threat to go with the “Nuclear option” of jumping fully into bed with China. Hong Kong is still independent enough, in the judiciary sense; that extraditing him back to the U.S. isn’t the major hurdle it’s portrayed as being. It was a perceived safe haven while wetting his finger to see which way the wind would blow. Snowden is one more lost, rootless, white guy- adrift in a ( Western ) world of feminism and reduced prospects. He discovered that everything he was taught was complete bullshit, hence the appeal of Libertarianism as a means of setting the natural order and escaping his own irrelevance. The guy had dreams, “Special forces” wannabe, Super spy-vital to the cause hero…… When he realized he was an anonymous drone subservient to machines, he got angry and threw a tantrum to get even and finally be a somebody……… A Walter Mitty whose balls finally dropped.

    • P Ray
      June 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      On the other hand he really was in a no-win situation:
      – If he had accepted money for the information, he’d be done for for sure,
      – His actions prior to the leak is already GOOD grounds for termination.

      The leak was the only way he could stay alive + assure outrage if any harm came to him.
      Would you rather be jobless or a hero who could count on public goodwill?

  3. Atlantun
    June 11, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    I loved your articles on whoring.
    About that video where actual lesbians saying that porn lesbian sex is not real…
    Not real my ass!!! Do they eat pussies or not? Yes, they do, And very well. Do they trib to orgasm or not? Yes, tehy do.
    Women always liying. Hearing to women is like hearing to the Devil: “He will mix lies with trues, do not hear him, Father Carras!”.
    I have a bisexual female friend who watches lesbian porn for men to masturbate.
    I have seen lesbian porn for women and lesbian porn for men and there is no such a big diffrence. In lesbian porn for women maybe they do not wear nails or maybe they do not use strap ons. That is all.

  4. Webe
    June 12, 2013 at 4:53 am

    Au contraire, the most important point in the article is that about Snowden absconding to Hong Kong, no longer tied by whatever it was that used to tie down individuals (and capital).

  5. Ted
    June 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Personally, I was not surprised that communications are monitored. Hell, companies monitor who visits their websites, you sign-in to get into many buildings, and paying your tolls is largely done with a window monitored device. The word “privacy” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, so constant shrieking about it does not persuade me.

    What bothered me is the extent to which private companies make a killing off this stuff. That Booz Allen can be a Fortune 500 company with just one client – the Federal government – should give anyone who considers himself a booster of the private sector pause.

    Smedley Butler coined the phrase “War is a racket” way back in 1935. Just as the financial sector ensures that DC drafts economic policies to feather their own nest, so too do “security consultants” pressure DC politicians to draft policies to ensure that the money keeps coming in.

  6. IamMarktoo
    June 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Good piece. What’s surprising Is that people are surprised their government spies on them. Some guy tells us the obvious and then runs off to HK/China. Why China? Is he rich? His career appears over and he’s made himself unemployable. What’s his game? Is he acting alone (if he is he’s more fucked financially)? Is he a piece in someone else’s game? Those coder types can be so arrogant about how clever/intelligent they are that they’d make a great piece in the great game of espionage. I’d figger he’s a pawn. So, who’s being played here China, USA or another?

  7. IamMarkthree
    June 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Dude… Waka-waka-wazza!

    • IamMarktoo
      June 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Guy, that’s the noise I hear in my head! Did they iron out that one out in the Mk III

  8. fucknuts
    June 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    The guy is no hero. Most idiots willingly surrender far more private information to Zuckerberg/Apple/Google etc……At the end of the day, the G were grabbing call logs and comparing the phone numbers to bad guy targets all over the globe to see who was calling who. Not a major intrusion, and overall, a smart standard investigative technique. The phone companies themselves routinely sit on the same information for a period of time before purging it. The G just warehoused it and ran it through their program. Genuine global bad guys dumped their phones (and wiretaps went dead) the day the story broke. Not a good thing……As for the e mails, the G scans for keywords just like every e mail provider does……The only difference being, the G doesn’t sell your information -and target ads at ya. If something contained triggers an alert, they’ll poke a bit further. I may not like it, but at some point, you accept the reality that we’re living in a technological world. Do you not have the G use tools at their disposal ( with FISA and some congressional oversight ) to grab information which is essentially the same as reading the outside of a piece of snail mail (To/From,) or wing it because you’re afraid of Black helicopters

  9. June 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Good insights. I think HK was about the best choice he could have made for several reasons. Makes me think that Snowden is indeed very bright, or else he wasn’t working alone.

  10. EvilOne
    June 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    What do you consider ‘real’ attachments?

    Here is an example..

    Marriage in modern societies = giant one-sided scam and loss for guys. Hence attachment to wife and family is not real

    Marriage in older societies = had some protection and benefit for guys. Hence attachment to wife and family was not totally worthless.

  1. July 14, 2013 at 7:11 am
  2. February 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

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