Making the Minions Marionettes

By Selwyn Duke

If a new application of the Global Positioning System (GPS) passes muster and finds favor with the Big Siblings of Western democracies, speeding may eventually become a thing of the past.  Being tested in Canada and at least contemplated in Britain, the system would be placed in vehicles and communicate with orbital satellites, informing the car’s computer about the speed limit of the road being traversed.  All the government need do then is mandate that automobiles be fitted with speed-limiting devices and, voilà, your car would be prevented from exceeding any speed limit, no matter how unrealistic it was or what emergency arose.

Elements of this technology have already been used to a similar end in our nation, albeit by a private entity.  It was found that the Acme Auto rental car company was using GPS technology to monitor its customers and then charged them a $150 penalty every time they drove at least eighty miles-per-hour for more than two minutes.  And while a GPS installed in your vehicle can enable law enforcement to locate it if it’s stolen, it could also allow insurance companies to ascertain the frequency with which you use your car, the distance you travel and speed at which you drive.  They would then be able to base your rate on the data.   

However, it’s governmental exploitation of such technology that’s most troubling.  And the phenomenon that makes such advancements alluring reminds me of a somewhat analogous event from my childhood, although its relation may not be readily apparent. 

One day my first or second grade class was in gym, ready to enjoy a much-anticipated dose of activity.  It was at this time that one girl classmate did something wrong, and while I don’t remember her transgression, I’ll never forget the teacher’s response.  She immediately removed whole class from gym, thinking, I suppose, that the shame and guilt the lass would feel and the scorn she would endure at our hands would be the worst punishment of all.  Funny, though, I didn’t sense that she was racked by the pangs of a tormented conscience.  As for the rest of us, having the short memories of childhood, the sun didn’t set on our anger.  So scorn wasn’t in the cards.

It occurs to me, though, that one principle the teacher might have forgotten is that “misery loves company,” especially among seven-year-olds.  Besides, there’s no saying that the girl even liked gym.  But I digress. 

I have long viewed this anecdote as a metaphor for the modern concept of criminal-justice and societal control.  After all, think about the philosophy inherent in the teacher’s misguided actions.  There was an apparent unwillingness to single out the perpetrator for punishment; rather, the rights of the many were stripped as a response to the misdeeds of the few (one).  And, if you have your finger on the pulse of our culture, this philosophy is evident at every turn.

For instance, we see this in gun-control legislation and in the “knife-control” (I’m not kidding) effort in England.  A sane society would simply punish transgressors harshly enough to create a deterrent that dwarfed the incentive to commit the crime, thereby minimizing the behavior by tilting the risk/reward factor against the criminals.  But, no, anything that would actually be effective is now labeled “cruel and unusual,” and rehabilitation is all the rage.  It never seems to occur to liberals that, by their pliant definition, their imperiling of innocents by not bringing miscreants to heel is cruel and unusual.  Besides, I’d rather see our neighborhoods rehabilitated, with the good walking boldly about and the evil cowering in fear.  Let them shudder at the thought of what will befall them if they give free reign to their darker impulses.

But because we don’t have the intestinal fortitude to administer severe punishment (liberals love the illusion that they’re compassionate, you see, as they scream for abortion as if it’s a birthright), we act like that teacher.  Since we won’t right the lawless few, we remove a right from the lawful many.  We talk about gun registrations, new limitations, or even, when the Utopians of America are struck by a moment of honesty, gun seizures like those in Australia.

This phenomenon is also evident in our attitude toward so-called racial-profiling.  While we consistently profile men – and white people in certain contexts (I wrote a piece about this issue) – we’re told that Muslims are immune from these harsh realities of life.  Thus, we are made to endure the burden of security measures that are, in the spirit of compassion, applied to all of us so that no politically-favored group will be singled out for additional, albeit proportionate, attention.

Then, some have envisioned our making a transition into a cashless society, a place where all transactions are conducted electronically.  For sure, with our increasing reliance upon credit/debit cards and automatic payment systems linked to bank accounts, we are steadily gravitating toward that state.  And should we ever make that final leap to a world of only virtual money, its advocates will proclaim it as a victory for law and order, as all transactions would be visible.  Of course, this argument would lose much of its weight if law and order already prevailed, secured the old-fashioned way.

What we lose sight of is that eschewing true punishment for the few invites tyranny for the many.  And punishment works, make no mistake about it.  Michael Fay, the boy who vandalized the Mercedes cars in Singapore and received a caning in 1994, found that out the hard way.  Perhaps he can tell you why that city-state is virtually crime-free.

But the West is now too “civilized” to civilize the uncivilized.  So instead we’re slouching toward a state of complete governmental surveillance, where Big Brother will keep an eye on all so it won’t have to punish any. 

In this vein and most ominously, the English are developing a camera and computer system for their roads that will enable them to monitor every vehicle journey embarked upon by every person.  The social-engineers say that this would make it impossible for criminals to use the roads to facilitate their illegal enterprises.  I’m sure.  Hey, why don’t we just place a computer-monitored video camera in every room of every home, too?  I mean, you have nothing to worry about if you’re not doing anything wrong, right?

Now I know why England was so often the setting in those futuristic stories about totalitarian societies that crush the human spirit.  Only, methinks the authors underestimated the technology that will be at the disposal of the bureaucratic puppeteers.    

As to the last point, the only limit to how far this can go is human imagination.  Perhaps mankind will endure to see the day when a computer chip is implanted in every newborn’s brain.  Maybe it will relate information about a person’s mental state to a central computer that will instantaneously flag anyone feeling anger or hatred.  Then the computer can send a signal that will trigger the release of chemicals that create a state of blissful equanimity, thereby forestalling violent encounters.  Of course, this assumes that “negative emotions” won’t have already been purged from man through genetic-engineering.

Regardless of how fanciful my musings may or mayn’t be, we should be mindful of the fact that people won’t tolerate lawlessness, the anxiety of living with a perpetual feeling of danger.  And man has long exhibited a willingness to trade liberty for security.  Thus, domestic tranquility must be ensured and, barring a spiritual rebirth, there are only two ways to meet that end: thoroughly punish the lawless few or thoroughly monitor the hapless many.  Assigning extra rights to criminals means fewer rights for everyone else.

As it stands now, we are pursuing the latter course.  Should this continue, we may see a dark age that will place silicon shackles on the mind of man.  Then you will be watched, controlled, obedient, and still perhaps, in some strange way, human.
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