Can Revolution Produce Freedom in the Technological Age of Surveillance and Control?

Documenting the Downfall


Control through electronic surveillance is totally pervasive now… But can technology produce a strong revolution of freedom, independence and self sufficiency as well? I’m hopeful, but not convinced.

After reading up on the history of cybernetics, the ARPA (DARPA) Internet and television, I’m about ready to go Amish, or low-tech Amish.

The Technological Age & The End of Freedom?

The topic of the Unabomber came up again. It concerns a favorite passage of transhumanist Ray Kurzweil (included in his book Age of Spiritual Machines) and Bill Joy (which he wrote about), founder of the now acquired and defunct Sun Microsystems, in which Ted Kaczynski explains the “New Luddite Challenge” – essentially the question of what happens if computers take over completely, and if not, what happens at the hands of an elite who don’t need the masses for labor, or anything else.

Will people be simply exterminated? Will the population be gradually but sharply reduced through population control, eugenics, family planning and propaganda (as is actually happening now), or will the masses instead be treated as “pets” with cute hobbies and trivial pursuits, but no real meaning in society? The question remains, or could be a combination of all of the above.

In the face of mass unemployment and depopulation, is violent revolution justified?

For reasons I explain in the video above, likely not.

It is not clear who could be stopped with force that would in turn result in stopping, or slowing, the tyranny; the tyranny exists, but it is systematic and compartmentalized in the hands of thousands, and probably millions of people. There are countless corrupt and even evil officials, but stopping them will not stop the system. Moreover, violence has become a trivial event for media sensationalism and a tool in justifying greater police state powers, etc. Thus, violence is the wrong approach on many levels, including moral.

Gandhi made significant advances with non-violent non-cooperation, by the way –  yet was ironically inspired by the same works of Henry David Thoreau on civil disobedience and self sufficient living that inspired the violent revolutionary Kaczynski.

Liberty Through Revolution, and Liberty Through New Revelations

Meanwhile, there is the question of liberty, and the kind of freedom that America’s Founding Fathers pursued circa 1776.

Though other methods were attempting – the Tea Party protest, for instance – the revolution was ultimately fought through violent, guerilla warfare. One of Thomas Jefferson’s most famous quotes – as author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States of America – is:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Years later, in his letters to John Adams, the second president and a one-time political enemy of Jefferson’s, Jefferson posed the idea that freedom could not so easily restored through violence, particularly if the public were unenlightened and uneducated in the ways of liberty and good self government.

Jefferson discusses the case of ancient Rome, where the usurped powers of Julius Caesar transformed the republic into a thoroughly corrupt dictatorship. Caesar was killed in a conspiracy by the Senate, led by Brutus. Ultimately, the Caesar dynasty remained in control of the empire anyway.

But Jefferson argues that even if Brutus had prevailed, or other Roman icons of freedom such as Cicero or Cato in power, it would have been nearly impossible to create good government in the climate of corruption, and the era of debased, demoralized masses who were uneducated in the virtues of self-government:

“How can a people who have struggled long years under oppression throw off their oppressors and establish a free society? The problems are immense, but their solution lies in the education and enlightenment of the people and the emergence of a spirit that will serve as a foundation for independence and self-government.”

“If Caesar had been as virtuous as he was daring and sagacious, what could he, even in the plenitude of his usurped power, have done to lead his fellow citizens into good government?… If their people indeed had been, like ourselves, enlightened, peaceable, and really free, the answer would be obvious. ‘Restore independence to all your foreign conquests, relieve Italy from the government of the rabble of Rome, consult it as a nation entitled to self-government, and do its will’.”

“But steeped in corruption, vice and venality, as the whole nation was,… what could even Cicero, Cato, Brutus have done, had it been referred to them to establish a good government for their country?… No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and their people were so demoralized and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control.”

“These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government. But this would have been an operation of a generation or two at least, within which period would have succeeded many Neros and Commoduses, who would have quashed the whole process. I confess, then, I can neither see what Cicero, Cato and Brutus, united and uncontrolled could have devised to lead their people into good government, nor how this enigma can be solved.” —Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Dec. 10, 1819.

Thinking Our Way Into a Future That Needs Us

The take away here is the need for education – not just training, or common core standards to produce automatons and robot-like worker bees, but real education based upon enlightening and empowering information. If the future needs anything it is thinkers, not regurgitators, memorizers, replicators and drones – technology is undoubtedly already quite good at all that.

The Founders were great scholars of history and political theory and instituted limited government after careful consideration of all the things that went wrong with past systems, and what the best options were for encouraging freedom on several levels. They weren’t perfect, and in fact were quite flawed as individuals, but they did make a principled attempt.

Today, in the age of technology, computers and the Internet, freedom is losing to the control freaks, engaged in mass surveillance, mind control, economic centralization and oligarchical collectivism. Is there room for freedom in this technological society? Could a peaceful revolution succeed?

That depends upon what we can learn from technology’s inspiring possibilities – but also what we can learn from the many lessons of the past. Hint: most of these lessons are being wholesale ignored, as power for the state and corporate institutions concentrates and grows to levels well beyond dangerous, looming and eerie.

Or will we become just “pets,” as the musical act Porno for Pyros predicted?:

Further Reading:

Don’t Miss These Important Warnings From History (Or We’re Doomed to Repeat It)
The New Luddite Challenge & Why the future doesn’t need us
The Impact of Science on Society, by Lord Bertrand Russell
Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon

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