Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Problem With "I Told You So"

This is for your own protection.

This post is for you if you’ve been trying to tell people about the problem of ubiquitous government surveillance for years and you have been roundly ignored or laughed at.  You’ve been telling people about the NSA and government and wiretapping and spying and the PATRIOT act and the NDAA for years.  You were called a conspiracy theorist by all your Republican friends throughout the Bush era and you’ve been called one by your Democratic friends since 2008.  You have posted news items relating to government surveillance and received zero feedback; no one seems to believe you or care to find out if you’re correct.  You’ve felt like the only sane person in a world full of apathetic crazy people for years and years, and you are goddamn tired of it.

And then suddenly, today, the Guardian reported on a leaked top secret government document authorizing the collection of “meta-data” from every single domestic Verizon Wireless customer.  Later on, more documents were dropped: turns out the government isn’t just monitoring Verizon users, but users of 9 major internet services, including Apple, Google and Facebook.


And the internet exploded.

Suddenly, everyone you know is upset about the exact thing you’ve been trying to warn them about for years.  And you’re tearing your hair out, because now they care?  Now, 12 years after the PATRIOT act?  The Atlantic describes these reports as “Bombshells”, Politico describes it as “Insane”.  You’ve been describing it to everyone for years, and the only thing people have been describing as insane is you.

Right now, you have a burning and completely understandable desire to explode right back on the exploding internet with the most justified “I fucking TOLD YOU SO” of your entire life.

I hear you.  I don’t blame you.

I am here to ask you not to do that.

What the internet hears when you say “I told you so”, when you remind people that this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, is that this isn’t really news.  That it’s been going on for years, and that it’s normal.  The natural conclusion to draw from these kinds of assertions is that this isn’t that big of a deal.  It’s safe to stop being angry.  We always lived in this kind of world, this world is normal, and everything is OK.

But everything is not OK.

I have little hope of anything changing as a result of these public revelations.  But if they do change, it will be because people are surprised and furious and outraged as only a scandal can make them.  When you tell them that this is not a scandal but old news then you are diffusing that precious, righteous rage, and you are acting contrarily to your original aim in attempting to educate them on the dangers of government surveillance in the first place.

Instead of reacting to this sudden outpouring of rage with justified irritation, consider taking advantage of it.  Point people to additional sources of information.  My wise and incredibly tolerant fiancĂ© has been referring people to James Bamford’s fantastic trilogy on the history of the NSA, which outlines the organization’s long history of pushing the envelope of the fourth amendment and steadily moving our concept of what constitutes unconstitutional surveillance farther and farther away from our constitutional starting point.  Urge your friends to take action and express their outrage in letters to their congressmen.  There are probably more ways to take advantage of this moment, and these ways will be the things that matter.

Those of us who are concerned about the extreme dangers poised by ubiquitous government surveillance need to feed the flame of popular outrage. 

If that means swallowing our pride, so be it.

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