hubris calls for nemesis

NSA, Fort Meade Maryland

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade Maryland

Why don’t we know what we know? It is clear, is it not, that there is no possible way that Google will not be responsible for terrible crimes? Power corrupts, powerlessness corrupts. Those who can stand up to the challenge of these circumstances are often and justly lauded. It simply isn’t a good idea to overweight money or power. It virtually never turns out well.

But the lust for power never dies- men cannot have enough.
No one will lift a hand to send it from his door, to give it warning, ‘Power, never come again!’
– Aeschylus

What confuses me is why we pretend we don’t know this. Why we don’t do something about it is another matter. We both fear harm and pain to ourselves and others and in the case of overwhelming dominance, we may not have any idea how to effectively resist. But to pretend we don’t know….

The NSA surveillance, the Blackwater mercenaries, the drone strikes, all of this is a bringing together of greed, politics and technology. The technology people just carry on with their equivalent of guns-don’t-kill-people-people-kill-people blitheness, loving themselves as the good guys. They actually seem to believe this. The TED people just hugging themselves with their wonderfulness. I’ve watched, learned from and enjoyed TED talks. I am grateful for them. But if we refuse – and it is an adamant refusal – to look at the downside, it is inevitable that good will become harm. It is most likely and quickest when there is hubris mixed in and the more arrogance, the more certainty about how fucking right you are, the dirtier it will get. This was known thousands of years ago, see Aeschylus et al, and it’s known now. So know it.

It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.  – Aleister Crowley

ATHENA: You wish to be called righteous rather than act right.                            -Aeschylus, The Oresteia

If there is anyone more arrogant than the tech sector, I haven’t seen it. Even the military pretends a bit of modesty. Or feels it, maybe because many of these people have seen actual carnage in the face of good intentions and while they may feel their efforts are necessary, they also may not be able to bring themselves to truly think of war as good. And that is exactly why the techies are more dangerous still. They often have no contact with the outcome of what they do. This weightlessness leads to more and more error.

It is tempting to see our new way of waging war as having no consequences. A functionary sitting in a mountain in Colorado pushes a button, blows up three people in a field in Pakistan, and then goes to the bathroom. Suppose the brothers of those three guys are mad at America – so what? They’re in Pakistan. What are they going to do? If they start to make trouble, we’ll blow them up too.

This complacent attitude towards the consequences of war has deep roots both in American history and contemporary culture. Because of geography and military strength, America has never been subjected to the horrors of foreign invasion. (The War of 1812 doesn’t count.) Our virtual culture of video games and disembodied online interactions, in which “communities” can be composed of people who have never met and messy, all-too-human consequences can be avoided or erased with the touch of a mouse, turns war into an electronic game of whack-a-mole. And, of course, fewer and fewer Americans have ever served in the military or even seen a dead body.

All these factors make war weightless.

– Gary Kamiya

Isn’t the NSA headquarters beautiful, glowing in the night?

I say with deep and abiding love: only going into the dark can save you. You must know who is married to whom and feel into the darkness with your frightened hand until you touch the partner.

Hubris calls for nemesis, and in one form or another it’s going to get it, not as a punishment from outside but as the completion of a pattern already started.      – Mary Midgley

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