I read Cory Doctorow's recent story on the new tor.com site, "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away." and it left a funny taste in my mouth.
The story is well told, and I read a lot of Cory's stories and listen to his podcast and so forth, and as a result I'm pretty familiar with the kinds of issues that he's writing about, because I've heard him talk about a lot. Which is fine, just back drop. Anyway, this is a story about a future police state where dissidents go missing all the time, where everyone's spying on everyone else, and where habeas corpus and due process are suspended/withdrawn.
You may choose to call this the logical extreme of the "post 9/11"/war on terror policy that's given us the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security. I think that's pretty clearly the intention of the story.
You may also choose to think of this story as depicting fascism. Which it does, basically. I think this is a pretty dangerous, move and though I was initially struck by a few other jarring aspects of the story, when I thought about it more, I realized that the combination of "the logical extreme of post-9/11 fear" and "fascism," was pretty troubling.
I should interject and this is a bit of a spoiler that the story has a dark ending where, the character is given the choice to either go back to his old life as a double agent or get sent back to the gulag. And he's going to go back as a double agent, but he doesn't and before he can tell anyone what's up he gets taken back by the police and it ends.
Here's the thing, fascism has never appeared without the assistance of some sort of violent extra-legal action. Hitler had the SS and he bombed the parliament. Franco overthrew the government in a war. Mussolini had a personal police force with which to wreak havoc. We could think of other examples, but really I don't think that this is a terribly original process. I think it's fairly safe to say that fascism isn't the result of slowly eroding the liberty of a fearful population until people wake up one morning and realize that they're slaves, but rather a process of creating fear and then grabbing power for a falsely relieved population.
I know that this is a cautionary tale and that this story takes a current phenomena to a logical extreme to inspire us to get upset about the little erosion of civil liberties. The thing is that false consciousness (and fascism as an extension) isn't something that you have to slowly lull people into, it's something that's always already active in the political sensibilities of a people. Better, I think to get mad about surveillance and an erosion of privacy not out of grief for a lost freedom, but because oppression and societal norms needn't be fascist to impinge upon the quality of our lives or do harm. And always be vigilant in the crusade against false consciousness and fascism, but don't become confused into thinking that the vestiges of fascism are it's cause or sole offense.
Onward and Upward!