(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)
L: Doug, that article you emailed about – the one on California cops being able to apply advanced facial recognition technology to everyone in public – is pretty scary. They’re planning the same in Iowa. Shades of Orwell’s 1984. But you’ve said you’re a techno-optimist – are you still?
Doug: Well, I’m an optimist on the future of technology. But the way a lot of it is going to be applied by people in government is a different question. The current developments are quite disturbing, especially the emerging capability of police to use cameras and computers to scan millions and millions of people and identify individuals in seconds. They say it’s to track sex offenders or catch terrorists, but what’s clearly at stake here is the universal monitoring of everyone all the time – just like in 1984. The bad news is that it’s here now, and spreading around the world.
L: Is there good news?
Doug: The good news is that simply using dark glasses, wearing a hat, growing a beard – or cutting one off – may throw the software running these systems off. At least for now, the countermeasures look cheaper than the dangerous technology.
But it could easily get worse. For decades now, they’ve been implanting RFID chips in animals to help their owners track them. There are people who have volunteered to have such chips implanted in themselves or their children, ostensibly to help in case of a kidnapping or similar life-threatening issue. I think it’s just a matter of time, however, before governments get the idea that every citizen should have such a chip implanted – and has to use it for almost everything.
L: It would just be to fight crime, of course. “Honest people should have nothing to hide.” I’m sure there are people in Washington now who would say it’s everyone’s patriotic duty to submit to the government’s brand, like cattle in a rancher’s herd.
Doug: Yes, our patriotic duty. Patriotism is one of the lowest forms of groupthink, and the first refuge of a scoundrel. If someone says it’s for patriotism, then no one dares argue, for fear of being branded a traitor.
Privacy no longer exists – certainly not in North America or Europe. Mobile phones track location. Every time you fly, you show up on government radars. There are cameras everywhere in all major cities. In places like London, there are many thousands of them, watching and recording everything – if a car goes in one side of the city and out the other side faster than it should have been able to, there can be consequences. And that’s not to mention the swarms of drones governments plan to release to watch us from above…
L: Or kill – the military has armed drones, too. It’s as though those in power were actually trying to assemble the component pieces of Skynet – maybe Terminator robots are next.
Doug: That’s true. There’s not much question that, applying Moore’s Law, we’ll have something approaching the Terminator in another 10 years. Unfortunately. Just for instance, look at the BigDog and the Cheetah. These things are going to advance much faster than did aircraft.
But you know I like to look at the bright side of things, and fortunately, the world seems to be headed for a major financial collapse. This may limit the ability – even while it may compound the desire – of bankrupt governments to deploy expensive, high-tech systems, and may well lead to social upheaval of the sort that could overturn states that go the totalitarian route. Maybe a “V” will arise and sabotage and subvert the systems of Orwellian people control.
L: You are an optimist!
Doug: I am, but not in the near term; as I’ve said many times, I see no way our civilization can avoid going through the wringer it’s already caught in. The current trend downhill is not just in motion – it’s rapidly accelerating. These things take on lives of their own and get completely out of control.
The Internet is the best thing that’s happened to communication since Gutenberg. But there’s a complete lack of privacy on the Internet – I’ve heard that every Skype conversation is recorded…
L: I thought Skype encrypted everything?
Doug: I understand that it does, but it’s not military-grade encryption, and if the busybodies record everything, they can concentrate on cracking your privacy later, if they decide you are of interest. They are planning to record everything, and save it permanently – every email, every Facebook post, every tweet. I understand that the giant facility the government is building in Utah is intended to collect all data available on all people everywhere, decipher it, organize and catalog it, and store it permanently for perpetual use by state snoops.
It really is becoming an Orwellian nightmare. There’s no financial privacy, no personal privacy, no privacy of any kind, really.
L: Some authors have argued that the end of privacy is a good thing. Only criminals need darkness in which to hide while they formulate and implement their plans. If we all lived in glass houses, no one would throw stones. If all our quirks and kinks were open to public scrutiny, everyone would be more tolerant of other people’s oddities, because we all have oddities. It’s a sort of “mutually assured destruction” policy vision applied to all individuals in society.
Doug: An interesting possibility. If that happens, the hi-tech future would closely resemble life in a Neolithic tribe, where everyone knew absolutely everything about everyone else. Perhaps it will encourage people to live in enclaves with trusted, like-minded people, so that they can avoid electronic communications to a degree. Perhaps it will provide traction for the Radical Honesty movement put forward by my friend Brad Blanton. After all, if everybody knows everything about you, perhaps you might as well be radically honest. The social implications of total surveillance are huge.
I’ll even agree that the technology would be useful for its stated purposes: more purse-snatchers, murderers, and burglars would probably get caught.
But it’s naïve in the extreme to imagine that the people running things would allow the same standards of transparency to apply to themselves. The Soviet Union was supposed to end the power of the tyrants and free the masses, but it just tossed out the tsars and enthroned a new class of overlords who gave Marxist egalitarian excuses for their depredations. Those in power would use universal surveillance to control the masses, and the masses would be utterly powerless to oppose them. I think Orwell’s vision is more accurate than David Brin’s on this question.
But the average Joe doesn’t seem to know or care about the disappearance of privacy. He thinks that because he casts a meaningless vote, he controls the government.
L: Maybe we’re just being paranoid?
Doug: [Chuckles] Well, just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t prove they aren’t after you. We hear these rumors, like the one about the US Department of Homeland Security having a stockpile of more than two billion rounds of ammunition – that’s about six bullets for every man, woman, and child in the country. Very disturbing, to say the least. And I speak as someone who is a big fan of firearms.
Other than hoping V arrives and turns the tables on the tyrants, I’m not sure that there’s anything that can be done to stop – let alone reverse – this tide in the developed world. Even if V appears, I’m not too optimistic that the average guy or gal will have enough spine to follow him. This is one of the main reasons why I like living in beautiful, peaceful, backward parts of the world, where they don’t have the ability to implement such police-state technology, nor the money to pay for it. I can access the technology I want, but the state is too poor and too disorganized to use it to my disadvantage.
I’m partial to Argentina, as you know, and I’m building a world-class resort and community of freedom-minded people there. In fact, I’m throwing a party there in March, and I invite everyone down to come check it out. The new spa is absolutely five-star.
But it doesn’t have to be Argentina; pick wherever you enjoy living that offers you the most freedom to live as you wish.
L: I love Cafayate too, Doug, but if the strategy is to seek technologically backward countries, will not those countries themselves be unable to resist the will of the richer countries that embrace the power of the latest technologies – and are unafraid to use it aggressively? History shows that when a more technologically advanced civilization meets a less technologically advanced one, it’s very bad news for the more backward one.
Doug: That’s true. Joe Lewis was right when he said, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” On the other hand, staying in the ghetto as ordered until it’s time to get on the cattle cars is an even worse idea. And you’d best not confront them directly. You don’t stand a chance as an individual, if you try to meet government violence with violence of your own.
It’s simply not true that atrocities can’t happen in the US, which is no longer America. The fact that you’re an American living in the US is no advantage, either. Remember that men in uniform are primarily loyal to each other, then to their employers, and scarcely at all to the people they are supposed to serve and protect. They will follow their orders, no matter how despicable those might become. Men who join the military and police often have issues to start with, often including an extra Y chromosome. They’re not your friends or allies, notwithstanding the presence of some stand-up individuals in their ranks.
However, if I’m right about the global crisis coming, the techno-tyrannies of the world will have their hands full at home. Even if they eventually do turn toward subjugation of other countries – in the name of fighting terrorism, or drugs, or some other politically correct excuse, of course – that will take time. At the very least, international living gives people some insulation from the coming turmoil in the developed world and a buffer of time before any spreading waves of violence reach them – time they can use to formulate new strategies.
L: Why don’t more people see this threat? I mean, how much more obvious can it be that there is reason for serious concern?
Doug: I think it’s the high standard of living most still enjoy in the West. I tell people we’re living in an incipient police state and they look at me funny. Where are the military parades with masses of soldiers goose-stepping? Where are the dawn raids by storm troopers? Where are the cattle cars taking the usual suspects off to camps?
We don’t have the massed parades yet, but there are thousands of SWAT raids by both federal agencies and local police every year. No longer does a cop politely knock on your door if there’s a perceived problem. The US has something like 2.3 million people in prisons and jails, and many millions more “in the system.” But the average guy is propagandized into believing whatever the authorities and the media tell him. It reminds me of the movie The Running Man.
As long as people can still go to the mall and get their super-sized fast food, as long as there are lots of stores selling lots of consumer goods on credit, as long as there are sports and sitcoms to watch, life seems good. Far from a police state, people believe they’re protected by all these aggressive and heavily armed minions of the state. Everything seems normal and fine – just as it did to the average German, Russian, and Chinese in recent years.
Plus, there’s the Martin Niemöller thing – “First they came for the communists…”
L: On the other hand, any technology can be hacked. Teenagers around the world have cracked security codes and changed the music industry forever. It’s hard to imagine government bureaucrats keeping up with millions of teenage hackers around the globe. Maybe the more those in power think they know everything about everyone, the easier it will be to fool them into leaving you alone, with data camouflage.
Doug: There’s some hope in that. I suspect – or at least fantasize – that all these giant government computer systems around the world have secret back doors, cheat codes, and maybe even self-destruct routines built into them. Computer programmers, on average, tend to be the most libertarian-leaning of all professionals. It defies belief that among all the thousands of programmers governments have hired, they didn’t let in any who didn’t do what I would have. Sadly for impatient people like me, there’s no evidence of this yet.
But I am an optimist, and hope such folks are just laying low and waiting for the right time to come. Because, as soon as anything like WikiLeaks – which we’ve talked about – or any group that fights state power shows up, the stage brings all of its power to bear on crushing it. They devoted huge force toward activists like Anonymous and whistleblowers like Bradley Manning. Better to be long gone before taking any action. We’re dealing with a huge dinosaur in its early death throes; it’s extremely dangerous as it thrashes around. It’s best not to confront it. Instead, hide in the undergrowth until it collapses and its corpse rots.
Until then, or in case it doesn’t happen, it’s best to internationalize, keep your head down, and do whatever you can to avoid the gaze of the eye of Mordor – until the coming financial collapse shuts it down. That’s one of the good things about the collapse; perhaps it will make it economically impractical for the state to keep adding to its surveillance and enforcement abilities. But although that’s possible – and a fond hope – I’m afraid it’s most unlikely. Instead, the state will redouble its expenditures in that area. The prime directive of any organism, including governments, is to survive. With that at stake, we can count on the US government to redouble its focus on surveillance, enforcement, and the like.
L: Grim. Okay… Investment implications?
Doug: As part of this dark tech war against privacy, governments are starting to move toward eliminating cash. I think the natural backlash will be for people to quietly start transacting everyday business in gold and silver coins. All the more reason to buy precious metals, as we’ve advocated many times – but again, that’s for prudence. To speculate on this trend, you can’t beat the explosive upside in the right mining stocks.
L: Until governments make gold bullion illegal to own again and seize it, as FDR did in the 1930s.
Doug: Yes, but given how many US coins from that era and before are still in circulation as collector’s items, I’d have to guess that many Americans of the day had the spine to ignore FDR’s executive order. Today, this possibility makes it imperative that people buying gold internationalize their holdings and secure a meaningful amount of physical gold with cash and no paper trail – this is still perfectly legal today.
L: Very well – words to the wise. Thanks, Doug.
Doug: My pleasure.