We live in a totalitarian police state. We live under the heavily armed and watchful eye of pervasive and invasive systems of control that penetrate all facets of our lives and demand our complete acquiescence. Like prisoners in the exercise yard, our movements are carefully monitored. Like cattle driven to the slaughterhouse, our daily activity is channeled and directed by “authorities” who are sanctioned and equipped to confront any expression of individual autonomy with overwhelming and lethal force.
We live in a totalitarian police state that is becoming global in its scope and universal in its reach. The state’s systems of control do not stop at the walls of our own homes; they sit at our kitchen table, guard our bathroom medicine cabinet, hide in our bedroom closet, breathe at our back during our most intimate moments, and penetrate into our very body, into our bloodstream, into our reproductive organs, into our DNA. The state tells us how we are to live, the people with whom we can associate, the materials that we are to ingest, the words we are allowed to speak, the games we can play, the knowledge we are allowed access to, the ways we can express our sexuality.
We live in a totalitarian police state that is supported by violence leveled against our physical persons. Violence is the source of the state’s control. Violence and threat and fear and anxiety fuel the machines of power. But the technology of control is becoming increasingly subtle and increasingly directed at our psychology. The whips and maces of our oppressors have become increasingly invisible, increasingly internalized, increasingly of our own construction. We live daily under constant surveillance, our actions subject to continual scrutiny. Even our most private thoughts, should we slip and give them external form, are cached for future reference. “Anything you say can and will be used against you,” but the converse of that is not true: anything you say to the arresting officer in your own defense is hearsay and not admissible as evidence to support your innocence. The power of the state travels in only one direction.
We live in a totalitarian police state that has stripped us of our autonomy. We are not free to decide for ourselves. We are not free to choose. We are not free to make personal decisions based on conscience. We are “free” to participate in a limited range of corporate-sponsored activities. We are “free” to select from an ever-expanding array of entertainment options and from an unending parade of consumer products, but even here, beyond trivial options (which flavor, which color, which brand), we simply have no choice. We are worse than slaves—even slaves retain a residual humanity. We are mute mechanical sheep, powerless even to bleat our discontent.
We live in a totalitarian police state that is gaining power daily. Contrary to the popular myth that the freedoms enjoyed today are far greater than those of past eras with their barbarism, bloody violence, and overt slavery, freedom today is far more circumscribed, and far more rarified than in past times. The technology of control is becoming increasingly sophisticated, increasingly irresistible. The mere thought of resistance is becoming increasingly unthinkable. The bald-faced lie that it is for our own good has been crafted into an unassailable truth through Newspeak reformulations of words like “security” and “safety” and “progress.” Every program designed to increase security further constrains our freedom, and leaves us less secure. Every policy designed to enhance safety further erodes our autonomy and leaves us less protected. Every step in the direction of technological progress further distances us from our past humanity and drives us more deeply into the heart of the machine.
We live in a totalitarian police state. That is not overstatement or hyperbole. That we live in a totalitarian police state is a simple, demonstrable, and transparent fact. We live in a state that exercises its nonnegotiable demand for our total acquiescence through potent and sophisticated technologies of authority and control. What is not so simple and transparent is why most of us appear to be OK with this. Why is it that most of us appear quite willing daily to relinquish our basic human freedom and dignity? This question becomes even more pressing when asked in the following form:
Why is it that we acquiesce to totalitarian systems of authority and control when these systems of authority and control derive all of their power, ultimately, from the bare fact that we continue to acquiesce?
But there is a second, more important, much more immediate question. This second question sits just below the surface of the question of our continued acquiescence like an ancient and festering wound that will not heal. It is this second question we need to answer if we are to reclaim our humanity. It is this second question we need to answer if our species—perhaps the planet itself—is to have any hope for a future:
“How do we set ourselves free?”