Blog Archives

Recommended Reading 10

This week’s links and reading cover apocalyptic trends and their cultural, psychological, and artistic/literary aspects; economic collapse in America and Europe, with attendant venality on the part of politicians and the wealthy elite; the rise of an über-surveillance state in America; epic protests in Canada; the decline and fall (and continued decline after falling) of America’s colleges; a poignant plea for us all not to forget the real human suffering that attends the current debate over the status of antidepressants; a list of steps to “becoming a writer”; thoughts about fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other genre fiction in literature and film; the American military’s relationship with the entertainment industry; lucid dreaming and near-death experiences; and a timely warning about the dangers of taking in too much information (from posts like this one, perhaps?).

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A real-life Skynet?

Last week  Wired magazine made waves by publishing an epic article about a vast spy center that’s currently being built by America’s National Security Agency in the Utah desert. The real bombshell was the revelation that the project is ground zero for a galactically powerful and all-encompassing surveillance program that targets literally all communications and is directed at literally everybody, including American citizens. The article includes dot-connecting information from William Binney, a former NSA official who “was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network.” His words are not comforting: “Sitting in a restaurant not far from NSA headquarters, the place where he spent nearly 40 years of his life, Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together. ‘We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,’ he says.” The article’s author, James Bamford, points out that the project represents “in some measure, the realization of the ‘total information awareness’ program created during the first term of the Bush administration — an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.” Read the rest of this entry

The NSA is building America’s biggest spy center, and “Everybody’s a target”

Recently, in response to Google’s Orwellian collapsing and combining of 60 separate privacy policies (the better to construct a Master Profile of its users for selling and surveilling), I took pains to extricate myself from the tentacular grasp of its many products. I’m now Google Free and Loving It (although I did, yes, include three YouTube videos in a post I published here yesterday; YouTube is the only Google service I’m going to maintain some — limited — contact with). I’m also presently in preparation to shut down my Facebook account, since it, too, has recently taken, and is taking, and will continue to take, giant strides toward realizing its destiny as a watcher and seller of people. (Now that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has officially filed for the company’s initial public offering, valued at sixty hundred million bazillion dollars, he and they are officially the target of every hopeful advertiser on the planet, and you and I are the product that he and they are selling.) Read the rest of this entry

Be Careful What You Daydream; Big Brother May Be Watching

Despite the fact that I’ve thought the rash of new research into daydreaming and imagination over the past several years is really cool, this newest article definitely triggers my Creep Out/Dystopian Warning meter:

Time out boosts brains
The Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2010

New research shows some types of optimistic daydreaming are productive, improve IQ and inspire resolve, writes Ainslie MacGibbon.

What’s creepy isn’t the scientifically backed findings about the value of daydreaming to mental health and well-being. I mean, who could hate things like this:

The young Albert Einstein was more likely to have been the child staring out of the window in class than the one bent over his books. Einstein, like many great scientists, thinkers and intellectuals, was also a documented daydreamer in the classroom. But what if he had gone to school today? Would he have had the chance to muse on the big scientific questions, or would he have been put on a drug such as Ritalin to aid his concentration?

Today, children’s days tend to be highly structured and daydreaming in school is seen as time wasting and indicative of poor self-control. It is a problem which needs to be labelled and ”fixed”, sometimes medically.

Although this approach is enabling many students to focus, there are fears we may also be dulling creativity — even greatness — in the process. There is mounting research that shows the idle, ‘”resting” mind is doing everything but resting, perhaps even making us smarter.

Yay, wonderful, and bravo, I say. The article goes on to discuss the findings of various psychologists and scientists who have done research into daydreaming, and have found that it’s not just idle “wasted time.”  There’s Dr. Jerome Singer, for instance, “an emeritus professor of Psychology at Yale University [who] pioneered research into daydreaming during the 1960s,” who “believes schools could benefit by allowing brief periods where children can relax into their own thoughts or draw, or write things down in a free and imaginative way. ‘Daydreaming is important because it is a critical way in which human beings move beyond their immediate environment to create vicarious virtual realities that allow them to try out alternative personalities and interests.'”

No, it’s not this great insight that bothers me, nor is the observation by the first Australian-born female Nobel laureate, molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who is a self-admitted daydreamer, and who told an audience of children last year, “I think you need time to daydream, to let your imagination take you where it can….Just do that some of the time, because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative, successful scientists who’ve really advanced things, that was a part of their life.”

What triggers my inner alarm is stuff like this, from Dr Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of The Kings School, Parramatta:

[Hawkes] recognises what he describes as “good daydreaming” and “bad daydreaming” in students. “Good daydreaming is when the mind is working on information, and for that information to lead students on journeys of imagination, unlocking creativity. Bad daydreaming is when students are thinking about an insult directed at them on Facebook. If a student was consistently daydreaming I would want to find out which type of daydreaming it is.”

Of course one understands his motivation. If we know all of this useful info about daydreaming and its value, then why not take the logical step of actually getting inside young people’s heads to help maximize their time spent doing it?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who senses the contradiction contained in this. We recognize that relaxing the mind and engaging in fantasy and imagination is good — and so we try to make sure the time spent doing so is productive? This is just the inexorable tyranny of the modern industrial-technological obsession with efficiency coming in through the back door and gutting the whole thing. It’s like recognizing that there’s too much stagnant bureaucracy in modern politics, and therefore ordering the formation of a new subcommittee to formulate solutions.

The best defense is a good offense. My innate affection for Discordianism and Merry Pranksterism is inexorably coming to the fore. To misquote Homer Simpson, “Urge to blow minds…rising.”

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Image credit: “George Orwell: 1984” used under Creative Commons from surfstyle