Sunday, 9 June 2013

Through A Prism Darkly

I was finishing reading John Le Carre's latest literary spy thriller, A Delicate Truth, when the news broke about the US government's secret Prism project, whereby almost all our online activities are received, recorded and analysed, at least potentially, by national security snoops.  The last pages of the novel, which I feel is a masterpiece, and worthy of comparison to Greene's The Ministry of Fear and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, find Emily and Toby confronting a very compromised world, where digital activity automatically triggers massive response.  I recommend the book highly - and am astonished by some of the lukewarm reviews.  Its style, hard to relate to at first, grows on one, with its arch, italicised speech, and the passive-aggressive behaviour of its Establishment characters; after half the book was complete, I recognised it as a satire as well as a thriller, and perhaps the most moving and eloquent indictment of the privatisation of intelligence and warfare written by an Englishman.

Meanwhile, what are we do to with this world of megacompanies, who not only don't pay taxes it seems, but use our use of them and their waterlike ubiquity to turn us all into snitches, on ourselves.  I am tempted to leave the online world behind, and leave no trace, but then, must ask a few difficult questions - what do I have to hide, and am I not glad the US/UK is trying to stop the detonation of a nuclear weapon in London or Manhattan?  For, despite my love of freedom, I have a fear of extremists as well, and know that, though it pains my little ego to say so, the powers that be aren't after poets and editors (yet), but terrorists.  True, they can also use their information to blackmail, and control anyone who they might see as a threat, and we have seen how the police in this country have tried to break activist groups that were not major public threats - but it seems a wider more shocking truth is available: we are all enmeshed and compromised by a sordid series of compromises with Western "democracy" and capitalism, and the way out of the digital moral maze is very hard to locate, even with the latest technology.
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