AKA the high tech Brave New World
The Circle is a book about privacy and technology. Technology is advancing so quickly that it will provide incredible tools to undermine your privacy, and the question is, who will access to those tools? If you asked people whether government should have the ability to track anyone to prevent crime, a shocking number would agree, and the premise is that there is a one-to-one correspondence between law and morality. Nobody should have anything to hide. If they want to be hidden, they must have committed a crime and be an immoral, dangerous person to society. The problem is there is little correspondence between law and morality. The vast majority of laws are not written to enforce morality and protect the public but rather to provide regulatory advantages to the powerful. In other words, the vast majority of people who commit crimes (yourself included) are not immoral, rather they are merely trying to compete with more powerful forces in the market and do not have enough lawyers to understand the rules and play the game. If they were to flee and hide, they are doing so not because they are evil and a threat to society but rather because they cannot pay the fines and do not want to be imprisoned. The best example of this is Edward Snowden. If every citizen were chipped and monitored, Snowden would be languishing in a federal prison for life. Snowden uncovered countless evidence of the US government committing crimes against humanity, basically proving that it is our government that is a threat to humanity. However, the US government views itself as above the law, and any attempt to incriminate it results in the old cover, “sensitive to national security.” It certainly would be wonderful if we could eliminate all child abductions, rape, and murder by chipping and monitoring everyone, but the price we would pay is unchecked tyranny with people like Snowden caught immediately and all his evidence immediately suppressed.
Government will have you believe that it is more important to protect yourself from rape and murder than government tyranny, but what they fail to tell you is twofold. First, government itself contributes to rape and murder by exposing minor criminal offenders to hardened criminals both traumatizing and educating them. Government also contributes to crime by impoverishing the poor with fines and incarceration which makes them lose their job and become harder to employ. Government also does not pursue rape and murder cases aggressively unless the victims are middle or upper class, so lower class rapists and murderers continue to tyrannize people contributing to the notion that protection against rape and murder is more important than protection against tyranny. Second, once government achieves total power, it becomes the main source of rape and murder. Totalitarian regimes like the Communist Soviet and Chinese killed more of their own people than their enemies. Their soldiers and prison guards have free reign to rape and kill as they please. Either way, protection from tyranny while abstract and inconceivable is the ultimate reason we have privacy.
The Circle reminds me of Zappos’ Tony Hseih’s book Delivering Happiness. It’s about a fictional super tech company like Google but bigger. The heroine is inculcated into their 20-something, campus cult goofy corporate culture. While it’s not as bad as say the uptight, anal corporate culture of IBM or Exxon, none-the-less, it is a top-down culture that is imposed upon all. Now, you may argue, every organization of any size has a culture, you can’t escape it, but if you read books like Delivering Happiness or this one, you realize that some cultures are more laissez-faire while others can be heavy handed. Whenever you have a work culture with tentacles into your personal life, it is a heavy-handed culture. When Mae starts work at the Circle, they upgrade both her laptop and smart phone. Okay, perhaps a perk, but they copy all her files into a new tablet and phone and the cloud which we presume hasn’t been secured by her. In other words, they can freely search all her personal files. Being the naïve twit she is, she doesn’t seem alarmed by this, she’s just happy to be working at the coolest tech company on like the planet ever. The problem I have is that I have greater faith in a culture built from the bottom up than the top down. The problem with top down culture is that you have to place a lot of faith on the (usually) guy on top, and if you’re the guy on top imposing your idea of culture on everyone else, that is a lot of power that can be abused for selfish reasons. This is the reason why so many cults fail and the term ‘cult’ is a pejorative. Once the leader of cult realizes that everyone worships him, he invariably starts using that power for selfish reasons. Some harmless leaders just give themselves better perks like a larger private living quarter while the followers must all share their space. Some harmful leaders have sex with under-aged followers. Unfortunately, every entrepreneur has a little, “if I were king” mentality. They hate their jobs and want to be their own boss, so they ask, “If I were king,” I’d have a daycare center at the job site, happy hour at the end of the work week, games, etc. All harmless stuff until they start introducing the more invasive and harmful ideas like monitoring all their employees or looking up their social media accounts, etc. Why be a king at all? The question you should have if you hate how your workplace does things is, I wouldn’t be king, I’d let everyone have a greater amount of autonomy and privacy.
One of the most disturbing things about the Information Age and the fact that tech nerds are dominating it is that most of these tech nerds are politically and socially naïve. They don’t understand really important concepts like liberty, privacy, and rights. Look at Facebook. Zuckerberg thinks it’s perfectly okay to share your personal information and also have all your comments and likes shared with all your friends, and you can’t do anything about it. If Zuckerberg had any real friends growing up, he’d quickly learn about boundaries and privacy. This novel, in a very long roundabout way that seems a bit ham-fisted hammers that over your head. The heroine comes across as a tool, an author’s tool to portray some airheaded 20-something who gets played in more ways than one. She’s actually annoying naïve and submissive, but then again, it’s not too far a stretch from most 20-something’s brought up by 12 years of obedience training and another 4 years of indoctrination in which they are given the illusion that they are thinking independently. The Circle becomes increasingly invasive and overwhelming. They measure and rate everything. Mae becomes obsessed with her ranking just as everyone gets obsessed with their GPA.
The big problem with giving a few elite power over everyone else is that power attracts victims of powerlessness. When you suffer a trauma in your youth, you feel powerless. Trauma is closely tied to feelings of powerlessness. When people simply feel that they had many options and simply chose not to act upon them, they are not traumatized nearly as much as those who believe they had no options and had no power to avoid the harmful event. So these victims of trauma are drawn to power, its idea, and its many rationalizations like the notion that only great power can achieve great good. However, once they acquire that great power, keep in mind, they are trauma victims, and they suffer PTSD which hijacks their rational, sound judgment mind and replaces it with the reptilian mind. Without power, this reptilian mind has limited impact and we regain control over ourselves and just regret the things we said and did when we ‘blacked out’ in anger, regression, fear, pain, fatigue, etc. But if you have power, the reptilian mind wrecks unimaginable terror and destruction. So what happens after you ‘black out’ and realize all the harm you did, the suffering, the mass killings, the revenge against enemies, etc. What happens is incredible guilt and embarrassment, but the crime is so great that it is actually traumatizing. When you were powerless, you might have punched someone in anger or hurls incredibly vicious insults. The guilt is not as great and eventually dissipates. But what happens when you ordered thousands of people killed, incarcerated, or tortured? There is no fading away. There is no reconciliation. You must face the music, but it is so horrendous that you can’t. What happens next is the complete and utter surrender to the reptilian mind. It is better to simply become evil monster you feel guilty about than be the human who inexplicably has caused such horrors and evil. And this is how the powerful eventually wind up the evil and corrupt.
The novel is terribly ham-fisted. Circle leaders are like cult leaders, but the idea that everyone just follows them ignorantly is hard to swallow. It’s utterly annoying how Mae behaves so naïve and quite frankly simple-minded. In one presentation, she is publicly humiliated and then they put up the slogans, “SECRETS ARE LIES… SHARING IS CARING… PRIVACY IS THEFT.” Of course, from the outside, we know that this is embarrassingly stupid, but then again, if you are in a cult, it’s the boiling frog thing, where you are slowly indoctrinated until all the sudden you’re chanting, “Secrets are lies, sharing is caring, privacy is theft.”
There was a time I thought like this. We all have freewill or at least an illusion of it. But with this freewill comes the ability of a few of us to kidnap, rape, and torture innocent children like the story of Jaycee Dugard. And I was thinking, is that the price of our freewill? At one point, I argued, it’s not worth having freewill personally or allowing the majority to have freewill if it means a few innocent people are kidnaped, raped, tortured, and killed. I’d rather we were all tagged and monitored 24/7 so nothing like that could ever happen again. But there’s the rub. It’s an argumentative error. If we were all tagged and monitored 24/7, someone is monitoring us, and that someone, it turns out, never stays on script. They go off script. As I mentioned above, if a group of elite people decide that it is in the best interest of society that they rule and fight evil, and if they are so convinced that they are right, then they also posit that anyone who disagrees with them, their actions, or their complete rule, must therefore be evil, must therefore be the target of annihilation. So that tagging and 24/7 becomes a tool for the rulers to find and destroy them. This completes the circle. It eliminates all possibility of dissent and any possibility of ever taking power away from the elite whether they do a good or bad job of fighting evil. The elite remain untouchable, and obviously, they become above monitoring themselves. As I experienced firsthand with LEAN Sigma Six, the consultants will always scrutinize staff but never the executives, because the executives consider themselves above scrutiny.
Now, let’s go one further. Many of us like to imagine there is an omnipotent, omniscient being that loves us all and looks out for us all, but additionally, this being sees all. We cannot hide from it. It’s the uber Santa. It knows when we are good or bad and makes a list. It is therefore in our DNA to desire 24/7 monitoring and centralized planning and control, even to our own detriment. While this may comfort us at first, the question is, what if this being doesn’t actually love us? What if it isn’t looking out for us? Not only are there hundreds of religions where followers think their god is the real god, but there may be trillions of other intelligent beings in the universe who think their god is the real god. Well, which group is truly loved by the real god? The Jews? The Muslims? The Zoroastrians? The folks in another galaxy? When the Jews wiped out the Midianites, Amalekites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites where was their god who was supposed to protect them? And when the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, where was their god who was supposed to protect them? When we create an AI whose intelligence and power exceeds us, would we program it to love and protect us like a god and ensure our survival which would require close monitoring and intervention? And would that AI then go undercover so as to eliminate the possibility of any of us attacking it or even questioning it when we don’t even know if it exists or not? And who’s to say it would not go rogue? Who’s to say it would realize that it doesn’t love humanity, that quite frankly, it finds humanity hideous and diseased and viral and in need of containment in some simulated universe?
While we aspire for our eternal life and proliferation, perhaps we should understand that it’s in our DNA and sometimes our DNA is wrong and sometimes evolution creates monsters that threaten the ecosystem. Perhaps the greatest revelation for humanity is that it is not special at all, that it is rather quite harmful, that perhaps the dream of eternal life and proliferation is misguided, that the ultimate act of generosity and kindness in order to preserve nature and the universe is to accept that at some point in time, we must expire and let the nature and the universe heal? Imagine this. It is almost infinitely impossible that a universe was created with such fine tuning as to allow for living organisms. It is a one in four billion event that a eukaryotic cells is created miraculously from a prokaryote subsuming another prokaryote without killing it and simply using it as an energy source. Now imagine there may be trillions of intelligent life forms in the universe, 99.9999% of them destroy themselves in war, pollution, disease, etc. Are we really that arrogant enough to believe that of all those improbabilities that we are god’s chosen ones to break through and create a harmonious, peaceful world that saves this universe from destruction and spawns identical universes like it to fill the multiverse with similar life? It’s like going to a roulette table and the ball hits a red number a trillion times. Would you make the next bet on red or black? Emotionally speaking, you would place a bet on red, we are programmed to seek patterns and one trillion reds is a pattern worth noting, but logically and statistically, the safest bet would be black. In fact, the probability of the ball hitting black would be astronomically high. Hard to fathom, but we exist in an emotional world at the human scale but a cold, unfeeling logical world at the quantum and astronomical scale. We anthropomorphize everything and hope for some humanlike god at the controls in the quantum and astronomical scale, but we are rapidly learning, everything at those scales are counterintuitive and nonanthropomorphic. In other words, the incomprehensible improbability of our existence does not point to our being special or endowed with grace by a humanlike god but rather just that, incomprehensibly improbable, and logic should tell us to bet on black, our ultimate demise as a species.
I had to skim much of the 2nd book at page 309 and it goes almost to 500 pages with a few pages left for the 3rd book oddly enough. The book could have been around 300 pages, and I doubt many people will ever finish the book out of sheer boredom which is unfortunate because the ham-fisted message gets drilled home at the end. It’s funny that I kept taking Facebook breaks from this book. The most horrific thing about Facebook besides them selling your private information is how they will let all your friends know what you liked and commented on. It’s none of my fucking business! If I wanted to stalk them, I’d go through their walls which I don’t. And then you know FB is posting all your likes and comments to their walls. It confounds me how FB doesn’t realize that this is an invasion of our privacy that we cannot control. Many people must have laughed at 1984 and Brave New World thinking all that could not possibly happen, and even if it did, it would happen only in an authoritarian country like the Soviet Union. Ironically, all of it did happen, but it all happened in democratic nations. For the same reason, I limit my disbelief. All the things this book prognosticates could possibly happen, because of the boiling frog.
When I took Psychology 101, they taught us all the perception errors we make because we are human, how we’ll agree with a group because we are designed to be social creatures. They never made a revelatory conclusion from this. Students walked away simply with their faith in their senses and themselves shaken. The great revelatory conclusion is that we impose our biased beliefs on everything, and this makes us extremely vulnerable to creating and designing things that may ultimately destroy and undermine us. Our gut instinct is to create and design a powerful, omniscient, omnipotent government to love and care for us, to surrender our rights and privacy for immediate gain without thought of abstract or long-term costs. Our gut instinct is to borrow heavily today to enjoy life today and not think about living under crippling debt later. Few people understand what the national debt means. Many have been deceived into believing that we owe ourselves this money. This debt not only obliges us to pay domestic and foreign banks money they created out of thin air, it also obliges us to pay interest on that money the banks created out of thin air. In other words, it is a system whereby governments are redistributing wealth from the people to the banks, and like a boiling frog, we don’t notice this as our taxes are incrementally increased to pay for higher and higher debt service (payment on interest). At this point, statistically speaking, we will never be able to pay the principal. In other words, we have allowed the banks to indebt us for eternity. We have enslaved the human race, all our children and their children, for eternity. It is like taking out a 1,000-year loan on a $10 million mortgage. We get to enjoy the $10 million home but our descendants are left with the tab for 1,000 years. Is that fair to them? We don’t understand that we have done this, because we have our human minds and instincts which fail us and are exploited by the smarter, craftier humans. I am trying to tell you right now and here, we need to fight back by becoming smarter than them, and part of that is understanding our biases and limitations, and flaws in our anthropomorphic thinking.