Monday, 31 March 2014

Mini Memories and the Significance of Snowden

Modern memories, like attention span, are fashionably short for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which being incessant shrinking and conditioning by the mass media. Another reason could be mental overload. There are way too many baffling issues, some real, some fabricated, designed to confuse.

Many survivors of WW2 are still alive with their scars and memories, yet the denial and reinvention of history have commenced before their eyes. No wonder Iraq has been largely forgotten. But countless Iraqis are still dead, for reasons that never existed. They are the relatively lucky ones though. Thousands of deformed children, DNA warped by depleted uranium bombs, are yet to face life in a broken country. What about Guatanamo Bay, the 21st Century torture camp operated by the most vociferous lecturer of human rights and rule of law, offering indefinite detention without bothering to stage even a show trial? 
Who’s Bradley Manning? What did he do to deserve 35 years behind military bars? Most of us can’t recall anymore. I think he pissed off the American military by revealing its true face. Oh, he wanted to be a woman too didn’t he? That was the last headline I saw of him, now slammed away, to be forgotten. To be dishearteningly honest though, what could anyone do? 

Even on-going disasters become invisible because they are on-going for too long, exhausting our attention span. Fukushima, hundreds of times worse than Chernobyl, is simply ignored when not covered up. Perhaps massive radiation leaks would just “dry up” like spilled coffee if we pretend they aren’t there? What about Libya? Gaddafi’s been executed hasn’t he? No more threat of an African gold-standard currency. Well, no news is good news. Libyans must be living happily in their cosy little democracy now, awaiting the ever after. Anyone knows the name of Gaddafi’s successor? Was he the head of the nameless rebels whom so many kind-hearted folks gave their wholehearted support, after watching CNN and BBC news?

Other major issues came like a tidal wave, then receded stealthily without leaving much of a wet spot. The Free World was morally indignant, anxiously ready to bomb Syria into powder, in order to save lives. It was on headline news three times a day for at least three months. The situation was desperate, intolerable, no room for negotiation. Uh, no can do? Really? Boo! Take it off the Free Press then, before people learnt how to spell Damascus. Arab Spring? Mmm... forget that one too.

Even things that hurt the pocket slip off our teflon memory without a trace. Lehman Brothers is ancient history, happened long long ago in 2008. The financial tsunami did a good job cleaning up though. Six years down, the top 1% has an even bigger share. Didn’t Obama promise sweeping reform? Oh he likes to make passionate promises doesn’t he, that Barack. Just a professional habit. They all do that. Don’t take it too seriously.

Recently, Michelle Obama visited China, and offered one of America’s user-friendly stock wisdoms to students at the University of Beijing. She told them a country would be stronger if it listens to the people. Aha, I bet none in the audience had thought of that one before. One of the students asked whether America’s strength came from the NSA listening to the people round the clock. She didn’t get an answer. 

I’ve got room for only one more, and would like to remember Snowden. That’s easy: he hasn’t been completely forgotten yet; his file is too big for a single release. The Free Press can’t pretend he doesn’t exist either. But many have forgotten what the fuss was about. “Let them listen! I’ve got nothing to hide.” Heard that one before? To anyone who claims that, ask to borrow his computer and smart phone for a day and see what he says. They’re probably password locked! They have a seemingly valid point though: Except a few private photos which NSA agents might find erotic or amusing, our data is virtually useless. But that would be missing the real purpose of universal data theft. Besides commercial crime and operational spying, it gives the Empire Maniacs a dark and latent power to control politics at home and abroad. 

Most people have done something deadly embarrassing, even technically illegal, in the past. No worry, just pretend it never happened, don’t think about it, and it’d be no more... unless you became  important one day, especially in politics. Suddenly, your innocent past comes back to haunt you, threatening to wreck career and/or family with just a few hundred megabytes. Oh well, the public doesn’t have to know though, if you behave. 

Universal data theft gives the eavesdropping thugs tremendous coercive power, particularly in democratic societies with a deep tradition in hypocrisy. The past can no longer be conveniently erased. That’s why they’re listening.

James Tam 

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