Welcome to the future. It's well-observed, well documented and well-disciplined. And it comes in two primary flavors: One in which you participate in the collective conscience that guides everything you do...and one in which a well-placed technocracy (perhaps with a national security, profit motive or spiritual salvation mindset, perhaps some of all three) decides such important things for you.
Let's start with the kinder, gentler panopticon world. This is NOT your daddy's representative democracy, where a person peruses the headlines, sorts out one's particular interests and preferences in matters of public policy, and then votes every so often for representatives that more or less... represent your take on things.
No, in the participatory consociations to come (and they'll come somewhere, just not necessarily here), you're watched, you're recorded and you're advised, rewarded and sanctioned based on your compliance with a kind of real-time collective conscience that your opinions contribute to. There's an individual-group-individual feedback mechanism in play - all societies across all ages require conformation principles to function - and you're playing in that loop all of the time.
The Framers would be aghast at such a society at first blush, because it's a cybernetic version of mob faction. Any surprise issue or crisis (say, the revelation that laws were promulgated, interpreted and executed in complete secrecy) would run the risk of panicking the zeitgeist down an ugly path - like the temptation to engage in violent retribution or (worse) hold a peaceful protest where pepper spray might have to be released or (WORST of all) blog critically about the secret rules.
Because if we talk about Things We're Never Supposed To Talk About Because Even If Secret They're Legal And If Even If Not Quite Legal They Keep Us And Our Freedoms Safe, the terrorists win. Or worse, the Tea Wees. Or worst of all, liberal critics of Democrats who don't quite accept that rejecting total surveillance, drone assassinations and the odd incidence of rendition and torture is Communism, and America won't have no truck with no Commies.
(More, below the icon for Hating Us For Our Freedoms.)
Now, let's turn this very interesting discursive toy around to the other side, not in terms of red herring kabukis like the threat of global terrah. In its absolute worst year (2001, perhaps you remember it?) foreign-originated terrorism can't keep up with American-on-American violence in a slow month. In any other year but 2001, it can't keep up with intramural murder and mayhem for one single week.
That's how much American blood is spilled by American hands, blunt instrument, edged weapons and that holiest of Aztec-minded holies, ritual human sacrifice with firearms.
Now, let's twist the conversational cube to yet another side: All states arm themselves first - and most thoroughly - against their own citizens. The verity, the essential truth, of states is that they get to decide who has and does not have the legitimate right to use deadly force in their territories. To the extent they can enforce who gets to enforce at all, they run the show.
Nation-states are simply states that have mobilized the buy-in of a like-minded population in a (usually) contiguous territory to contribute identity, blood and treasure to keep the whole thing going in a practical and not just imaginary way.
Cajoling and, yes, enforcing that participation - and ongoing subsidization from smaller units to the larger social and political regime - is what having a functioning government is all about. And keeping those 'when in the course of human events' moments at bay is widely considered a good career security move amongst technocrats in the capital, any capital.
Thus, the imperative of states to arm themselves first, and most, against their own cash cows, I mean, their own subjects, I mean, their own citizens.
Turn the cube again. Perhaps that strikes aspiring and actual political insiders as unfair or, worse, accurate but it's crass to write openly of such matters (like discussing the manufacture of sausage or what kind of plunger works best for, well, you know). That transparency isn't REALLY that good a thing, now that we think about it. And really, if you thought it through, YOU wouldn't ask for it either.
Because knowledge is a tool. And tools can be abused or overused. It's also a consumption item; too much of the wrong kind of knowledge, or just too much of the good stuff, can hurt you.
See? By being LESS transparent, Those In The Know might argue, we're being good to you!
Less satirically, power since the advent of mass media is exercised much differently from the time before, when flagrant displays of violent potential - and willingness to exercise said violence was demonstrated by actually committing horrors.
In the modern epoch, it's the secrecy that punishes. And fear of secret reprisals that you'll never see coming. You end up having the most effective policeman of all, the one whose beat is not your street corner but inside your head: Your own fear.
And the less you know about that, the happier the state will be - and you will be.
Which brings us to the darker flavor of the well-observed, well-documented and well-disciplined future: The one where you don't have a say in the laws and customs that guide your life. The one where the collective conscience is imposed from above, where the sheet music of your life is not only handed out daily and reinforced every minute of the day, but may change without notice, all record of what the music was the day before (or the minute before) not just lost and forgotten but treated as inappropriate and offensive to even try to remember.
In this real-time mutable reality of information, you don't do any of the mutating - and you cannot do any muting of the inflow and editing of your memories, your experiences, your aspirations to make best use of same.
And you don't want that sort of thing; life's too short and there's too much to be gained by being part of a talented, cohesive orchestra of many voices that all sing a lovely, intricate song, greater than the sum of its parts.
Who would have a problem with that? Why, misfits and rebels, people who have problems communicating and just don't fit in. The types that force us to make an example. We don't want to do this but we do what we must...
Which is when you'd realize that a society that orchestrates its population so tightly isn't an orchestra.
It's a prison.
One last turn of the conversation cube: "The Shawshank Redemption" is one of the finest movies of the last thirty years, perhaps of all time. And "Shawshank" speaks very clearly about the dangers of becoming first inured, then acclimated and then addicted to the walls, the bars, the structure and routine of being watched over, monitored, ordered about. To fit in. To be cared for. To have clear and unambiguous signals of what is and is not expected, what will be punished - and what will be rewarded.
Now, as anyone with the least of familiarity with actual prison practices knows, that level of clarity and consistency in norms is a fiction. And it's a fiction in "Shawshank" as well. Random, capricious violence comes from all corners. It never stops. Instead, it's incorporated as yet another mode of control.
And that just increases the appetite that someone, anyone, provides more control.
In the coming age, rather the age that we've existed in for over a century, information is power. Whosoever holds custody of that power guards the gates, walks the beat and orders lights on and lights out in the cell blocks of all our lives...if we accept the secret orchestration of our lives as something that's legitimate and, after well-practiced force of habit, something we embrace.
The present debate is whether or not our presumably elected government can and should write its own rules about surveillance of citizens in secret, get these guidelines signed off in secret by secret courts, funded secretly through the budget process and enacted in secret.
This is actually the sideshow issue, because say that, sometime next week, both houses of Congress up and decide, you know, we're getting rid of this crap. We're not going to accept the collection, analysis and acting on data without the consent of our citizens.
If that 'we' does not include the companies that collect this information as a matter of course, then we will have handed over half of the foundation of modern state power - control of information - to private enterprise.... and those states that just don't have a problem reading other people's online bank statements and emails.
I don't think we can wish away the existence of this information. I'm not sure if a modern state of any flavor, be it nation-state or post nation state, democracy or various flavor of autocracy, can survive without one foot planted on the pillar of military power and the other on the pillar of media power. It's through these levers that regimes keep the inflow of subsidies coming - the goods, services, taxes and goodwill - that keep them going.
The world spends close to $100 billion a year on marketing goods and services of various types. The total value of telecommunications stocks alone is in the trillions of dollars. The combined value of government-issue bonds, as pure a measure of 'corporate goodwill' in our various political regimes as you will find, is in the tens of trillions. Information is not only power: It's wealth. Actual, measurable, fungible wealth.
And guess what? You're not getting paid for yours. That's why, even way off its IPO high, Facebook's market capitalization is north of $50 billion.
And that's a pittance next to the likes of Google and Apple (circa $290 billion and $415 billion, respectively).
These three companies are but a small fraction of a vast wealth extraction event taking place at your expense, not only against your rights as a citizen (and a human) but as a income earner. Remember all that 'goodwill' in government bonds? Now, MOST of it isn't tied up in the public sectors' control of your data, you might think. However, there is no such animal as a public sector without it.
And you get to pay taxes so that information can be collected. You get to PAY someone to take your data without due process or compensation.
Or even more outrageous, you get to pay the government to pay companies like Facebook, Google and Apple to take it from you without paying for it.
Now imagine if they had to share some of the revenue with their subjects: With you. Not all of us, just... some finite fraction.
Well, suddenly taking your data for free would have a measurable cost. It wouldn't be infinitely profitable, after paying for physical plant and salaries and the occasional lavish corporate junket to entertain friends and allies.
This wouldn't stop the collection of data...but it would attach a sticker price to it. That would at least stem the inexorable tide of collecting more, and more, and more information. It would abate the continental drift toward ever tighter control of people's lives, first through monitoring of what they see, then controlling what they are allowed to see, then manipulation of their reactions to what they are allowed to see.
In a word: Want to limit and even reverse abuses of total intelligence gathering? Make those who have stolen your private information from you pay for it.
Really. Make them actually pay sticker price for it...and regain some modicum of control over your own identity.
Or...do as the long-timers in "Shawshank Redemption", and let those walls hug you tightly and never let you go.