Savior or Soma?

Robert Higgs

Recently by Robert Higgs: State
Power and How It Might Be Undermined

In recent years,
I have noticed that many – seemingly a great majority – of
my libertarian friends express an optimistic outlook that sooner
or later freedom will triumph against tyranny, even in the United
States of America, because of technological developments, especially
the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web, along with
all the hardware and software that facilitate these means of communication
and expand their reach. The idea seems to be, at bottom, that technology
in general and these technologies in particular are intrinsically
anti-state and pro-freedom. Some people regard them as decisive
factors in the struggle for liberty. I have never been persuaded.

The Internet
and the Web are obviously employed to some extent for anti-state
and pro-freedom purposes. Probably their most important effect is
to loosen the state’s hold on information about its leaders,
their motives, and their actions, and thereby to speed the spread
of truth to greater numbers of people who might otherwise have been
taken in by the rulers’ habitual resort to distortions, evasions,
cover-ups, and outright lies. Such fabrications have always proved
most useful to the U.S. state in its foreign relations and imperial
actions, where the matters at issue are out of sight of the great
mass of Americans. Because the new technologies of communication
are not only powerful – allowing the instant transmission of
photos, audio recordings, and video recordings, as well as written
texts – but also available worldwide, they have the power to
prick the state’s balloons of misrepresentation about events
abroad in short order.

Despite these
anti-state effects, one must recognize that the state itself has
hardly remained mired in ancient technologies while the public embraced
the new ones. Drive from Dulles International Airport to Washington,
D.C., and peer out at the huge office buildings inhabited in many
cases by information technology companies that have put themselves
– for a handsome reward, of course – at the disposal of
the U.S. government. The rulers have in the past decade added to
their longstanding military-industrial-congressional
(MICC) a comparably vast security-industrial-congressional
(SICC). Perhaps the individual and small-scale tech
wizards working their magic in the non-state backwoods will always
remain a step or two ahead of the CSCs, Microsofts, and Oracles;
I don’t know enough about technology to speculate on this “IT
arms race” in an informed way. I do know, however, that the
state is not standing helplessly in place while the pro-freedom
people innovate so as to render it toothless.

Much more important,
however, is that whereas the new information technologies can spread
information in the raw, as it were, they cannot so readily alter
the mental filters – essentially the ideological screening and
focusing – that the public uses to interpret and evaluate the
information it receives. Consider, for example, the public’s
reaction to the recent disclosures about the state’s all-encompassing
spying on the American people’s electronic communications,
whether by ordinary telephone calls, e-mails, or other means. At
this point, the situation appears to be that the rulers have unashamedly
excused their unconstitutional conduct and painted the bearer of
the bad news, Edward Snowden, as a traitor for exposing their secret
snooping on one and all without warrant or any plausible reason,
aside from technological overkill in the alleged search for terrorists;
and the public appears to be more approving than condemning. Revealing
the state’s crimes serves no purpose in preserving or reestablishing
liberty if the public receives such revelations with a yawn or,
worse, with enthusiastic approval.

the rest of the article

13, 2013

Higgs [send him mail] is
senior fellow in political economy at the Independent
and editor of
Independent Review
. He
is also a columnist for
most recent book is
Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government
He is also the author of
War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy
, Resurgence
of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11
and Against
Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society

© 2013 Robert

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