Consume, Conform, Obey: What Homeland Security's Targeting Of Anti-Consumerist Activities Says About The Government's Desires

24/06/2014 19:35

At some point in time, the DHS and members of its Joint Terrorism Task Force must have viewed Joe Dante's cult classic "They Live" and saw in it a blueprint for future actions. If you're not familiar with the premise, an average guy construction worker is given a pair of sunglasses that reveal the world for what it actually is -- controlled by aliens who pacify the populace by subliminally pushing them to obey, conform and consume.

Remember a few weeks back when we discussed the DHS Fusion Centers' use of powerful investigative tools like Twitter searches and The Google to investigate such harmful Occupy Wall Street-related activities like not participating in Black Friday sales or cutting up people's credit cards (at their request). Anti-consumerist is anti-government, apparently. It makes for a great conspiracy theory -- one that implies the government is actually run by corporations.

It doesn't seem to be much of a "theory," though. Given the number of
active revolving doors that accomodate lobbyists, representatives and board members every time someone shouts "Change places!" there's little evidence out there to dispel this perception. The business of government is apparently business. The FBI worked with banks and Wall Street itself to ferret out certain Occupy protesters, going so far as to keep an assassination plot against Occupy leaders under wraps. The Fusion Centers' ability to treat nearly every submission with complete credulity has only added to the mismanaged mess, which resulted in the agency's underlings breathlessly exchanging Facebook links to planned disruptions like protests of irresponsible lending processes and the singing of Christmas carols at a "high-profile, undisclosed location."

But back to the conspiracy theory and "They Live." Does the government want you to obey and consume? Remember, George Bush said one of the best ways we could show the terrorists that the 9/11 attacks didn't destroy our spirit was to
get out there and spend money. The government and businesses go hand-in-hand, and not simply in order to maintain mutually-beneficial relationships.

Frank Pasquale argues at Balkinization that
one reason the government views anti-consumerist behavior as a threat is because it also hurts the government'sbottom line.

You may think: "wait--how is the 'Church of Stop Shopping' a national security threat?" There's an economic answer: namely, that any defense advantage the US has over other countries is epiphenomenal of taxation of a vast and growing national economy. Anti-consumerism undermines economic growth and, indirectly, military might.

There's a huge security state -- one that often operates in concert with the military-industrial complex -- that desires constant (and constantly increasing) funding. There has been nearly no effort made in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks to scale back the reach of the DHS. The FBI's move towards counterterrorism (and away from law enforcement) has given it new revenue streams, one it's likely unwilling to give up. So, the government wants you to shop, because taxes fund operations that target people who tell citizens not to shop.

The connection isn't entirely sound. Federal taxes, not state sales taxes, fund the military. But the DHS and other government agencies need a steady stream of "threats" to justify budget increases and their continued existence.

Saying this sort of thing out loud is bound to make many people question your sanity. While there's no doubt the government views nearly any sort of protest with suspicion, it's tough to believe it actively promotes consumerist behavior with an eye on the bottom line of its favored agencies. Tin foil hats all around, or so it would appear,
until you realize that a 30-page report tracking the Occupy Movement, which was passed along by DHS Fusion Centers as a warning about upcoming Black Friday protests, was authored by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Who's answering to whom? The ICSC says, "Jump." The DHS says "how high?" and recommends everyone down the line do likewise.

Consume. Conform. OBEY.

The last part also fits into increasingly pervasive surveillance. Having "nothing to hide" simply isn't good enough any more. Any deviations from the expected can seem suspicious, especially when well-funded government entities are fishing around in their data streams for any signs of potential wrongdoing. Pasquale quotes
a Kate Crawford essay on big data.

If we take [the] twinned anxieties — those of the surveillers and the surveilled — and push them to their natural extension, we reach an epistemological end point: on one hand, the fear that there can never be enough data, and on the other, the fear that one is standing out in the data. These fears reinforce each other in a feedback loop, becoming stronger with each turn of the ratchet. As people seek more ways to blend in — be it through normcore dressing or hardcore encryption — more intrusive data collection techniques are developed.

"Collect it all" meets "nothing to hide."

When people express their concerns with massive, unchecked surveillance, it isn't always about whether or not they've got "something to hide." Sometimes the real worry is that those caught in the web of untargeted surveillance have no idea what the fuck these agencies view as "suspicious." Efforts made to avoid "standing out" may just make someone look like they're trying too hard to "fit in." The standing assumption is that everyone has something to hide, even those who loudly state they don't and welcome the growth of the surveillance state. "Hiding" something may be an active effort. Or it may simply be a sin of omission. It all depends on the entity/person parsing the data.

Stray too far from the binary of Democratic & Republican politics, and you risk the watchlist. Protest shopping on Black Friday, and you risk the watchlist. Take a different route to work on a given day, and maybe that'll flag you ("what is she trying to avoid?"). Read the wrong blogs or tweets, and an algorithm like Squeaky Dolphin is keeping a record.

There probably isn't an overarching conspiracy guiding the government towards this end. More likely, it's the just the natural progression of the consolidation of two powers into a central location. Corporations and government entities are nearly inseparable. Both seem to have the same ends in mind, even if one relies on advertising and the other on control. Both dip into massive amounts of data and both watch carefully for patterns and anomalies. It's a natural synergy that feels eerily like constant pressure to conform, obey, consume. Both sides benefit heavily from orderly consumption and activities that neither rock the boat nor trouble the waves below it.

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