Imagine a future in which the governmental and corporate sectors have total control over people; where they share full disclosure of all information about you - from what you had for breakfast seven years ago to the type of fantasies you play out in your head when no one is looking - and that they use this information to make sure you stay in line and, of course, to sell you things. Imagine a future where every motion, thought, and act is recorded, analyzed and incorporated into a system of Absolute Control. As Jensen and Draffan show in this book, such a future is rapidly approaching. In fact, it is almost here.
A few up-coming technologies discussed in this book include: Radio frequency tags (RFID) that have the power to number, identify, catalog and track every item in the world; mind-reading machines; thought implantation, using a beam of sound transmitted from hundreds of yards away so focused that only one person can hear it; ubersoldiers that can leap buildings, deflect bullets with hard exoskeletons and even become invisible; remote-controlled animals; vehicle tracking systems; nanotechnologies that can target and destroy a specific group of people; pills for everything - including the suppression of pesky emotions, like fear and remorse; the e-man and uploading the human brain; smart dust; Domestic Control Hover Drones: silent, remote controlled drones capable of chasing people at fifty miles per hour, equipped with video cameras, thermal imaging sensors, microphones which can pick up a conversation at more than a quarter mile, voice transmitters ("Stop, this is the police!") and a stun-gun.
Frightened yet? No worries. "So long as you do what they tell us, we have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear." Right? Along with the authors, I am not so sure about that. The oppressive technologies Jensen and Draffan discuss in this book are downright terrifying. Yet it is really terrifying to know that our government is developing much scarier things behind closed doors. Those technologies we know about are the ones that are supposed to wow us over. However, for me personally, there is nothing awe-inspiring about the prospect of having my thoughts read, hearing Big Brother's voice in my ear, being chased by hover drones, or digitally chipped with an RFID tag. There is nothing inspiring about living inside Bentham's Panopticon. No, so long as we do what they tell us, we have everything to fear.
Yet long before we allow ourselves to be ruled by outward machines, we must submit to the fundamentalist machine religions of Christianity, Science, Capitalism, Bureaucracy and Progress. These institutions obliterate diversity by coercing us into distrusting our own direct experience and defer to experts. The mantras of futility should sound familiar: outside science there is no knowledge; outside technology there is no comfort; outside capitalism there are no economic transactions; outside industrial civilization there is no humanity, and outside the Panopticon there is no security. Outside the system, nothing is imaginable.
Running concomitant with the progress of science and technology is the disempowerment of people, our increasing separation from nature and the exponential growth of social chaos. As history advances, we are increasingly individualized, stripped naked under the gaze of a cold, abstract power. As bureaucracy and its rules of efficiency, quantification and redundancy expand, we experience the death of creativity, spontaneity and hope. Progress becomes a sort of downward spiral, in which every emotion "except pain, rage, triumph, and self-abasement" are eradicated, to borrow from Orwell. "Everything else we will destroy - everything."
Aside from the great pyramids of technology and power, there really isn't much left to destroy in the natural world. We have already laid waste to the earth: We have initiated the greatest extinction in 65 million years, the primeval forests have been largely leveled, the climate has been irrevocably altered, and all of the air, food and water we need to live as organic beings has been laced with deadly pollutants. Really, what's left? What is worth saving in this system of destruction?
What the panoptic guards do not want you to know is that there is another way to live. Indeed, there are many other ways. Thousands of tribal cultures succeeded (and the ones that are left are still succeeding, insofar we let them) in living harmoniously in the natural world. As the authors note, these cultures were based on gift giving and the maintenance of close, face-to-face relationships that encourage egalitarianism. Our culture, on the other hand, the culture of the machine, is based upon economic relationships characterized by buying and selling. Lawyers and shopkeepers are the primary mediators.
How do we leave the panopticon? What's the exit strategy? "All it will take for this whole rotten system to collapse is for enough of us to learn to say NO. And to say NO again. And again. And again." Say no to your destructive job, and do something positive. Say no to the global economy, and start living locally. Say no to politics, and stage a revolution. Say no to your car, and walk for a change. Say no to oppression, and exit the machine.