The surveillance society: Political and corporate leaders exercise ever-proliferating tools to control us

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I clearly remember that when I was growing up in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh in the early 1960s my family would leave the front door wide open all night so the summer breeze would blow in through the unlocked screen door and cool the house. I doubt this would be a wise choice today.

At 8 years old I would also walk to the corner store alone to get a loaf of bread and even a pack of cigarettes for my grandfather, and no one blinked an eye. Were those more innocent times or just memories softened by age?

Things have changed. Recently in our most livable city, Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed that a gunshot detection system be installed in the East End with a goal to eventually install surveillance cameras throughout the city. Red-light cameras are already in the works. This is not just a local phenomenon.

London is considered to be the most camera-monitored city in the world. The Christian Science Monitor stated that the average Londoner is captured on camera around 300 times a day, which may be even more times than Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber combined. Yet this is only a fraction of what is occurring with surveillance today. The question is why is this happening and where is it leading?

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley must be beaming from their graves at the prescient accuracy of their respective novels, "1984" and "Brave New World," 60 years and more after publication. Although their ideas of Dystopia differed, we are now experiencing many eerie similarities to both their visions.

Active means of surveillance and information-gathering and other systems just coming online include body scans; retinal scans; DNA databases; facial recognition systems; GPS tracking devices in smart phones, tablets and vehicles; surveillance cameras everywhere; video cameras in every cell phone; RFID chips; barcodes; biometrics and automated license plate readers in police vehicles. Every text and email you send is stored in a data bank. Every Google search is archived in perpetuity. Every purchase you've made with a credit card can be recalled. Even Pittsburgh's new parking meters record where, when and for how long you were at a specific location. Of course you're told this information won't be kept or shared ... of course it won't.

Most amazing is the completely voluntary surrender of so much personal information and data on Facebook and other social media sites. Experience and common sense dictate that no website can guarantee security and that some personal information just shouldn't be shared. Obviously, sound practical judgment can be overcome by the desperate desire for a moment in the spotlight, however superficial, and some new digital friends ... LOL!

In his classic novel "1984," Orwell portrays a state of perpetual war. We've been at it pretty consistently for at least the past 70 years. Once the Cold War and Red Scare ended, the military-industrial complex needed to invent new boogie men to keep the war machine churning and the profits flowing, so they've exaggerated the threat from China and, even more so, the War on Terror and radical Islamists. Obviously we paid little mind to President Dwight Eisenhower's urgent pleading in his farewell address.

Orwell's state of perpetual war is run by the Ministry of Peace so it couldn't be more appropriate that our current drone-loving commander in chief was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and most likely accepted it as prisoners were being tortured 90 miles off shore of Key West, Fla. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Public mind control dominates the Orwellian state and there has been no greater manipulative mind-control device invented than television. Watched an astonishing average of 34 hours a week, according to a new Nielsen report, this corporate-controlled illusion blares and glares inanities and propaganda at us from birth until death. No one stated it better when addressing the destructive power of television than Neil Postman in "Amusing Ourselves to Death": "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility."

That culture-death is now occurring. Nero fiddled; we just click the remote control.

Huxley's "Brave New World" describes a state where a population could be controlled by drugs and subliminal suggestion. No nation on Earth consumes more drugs, legal and illegal, than the United States. Our insatiable appetite for dope has helped turn Mexico into an ultra-violent narco-state where grisly beheadings are not uncommon.

The power and influence of the pharmaceutical industry goes unquestioned. In the latest issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, 297 mental disorders are listed, and it is soon to be updated with even more. I'm sure this list identifies just about everyone in the country with at least one or more mental problem and no doubt there is a prescription drug to address whatever particular disorder you have ... or think you have. Just try to ignore the side effects.

Subliminal suggestion helps drive the juggernaut of our consumer culture. Advertisements convince you that you need a certain product, that you want it, that you've got to have it. An economy based on growth and debt must convince you of no less. This insidious form of mind control has improved so vastly over the decades that it has brought us to the point where we sit stupefied, passively watching our nation decline and our debt grow. The term Mad Men truly fits those who perpetuate this pernicious propaganda.

The corporate state has pulled a black leather glove over the invisible hand of Adam Smith's free-market economy. Corporations are now considered persons. Some make exorbitant amounts in profit yet pay no taxes (see General Electric). Bankers and Wall Street loot the public coffers with impunity. Lobbyists, special-interest groups and PACs exert extreme influence over Congress. A mere five entities control practically all major media sources. We have taken a cue from Stalin and collectivized farms into giant agri-businesses to control food production, even attempting to control patents on seed varieties used for crops (see Monsanto).

To complete the process of total control, it's necessary for our constitutional protections to be removed, surreptitiously taking away our rights and liberties. Doublespeak makes it appear that this is all for our own benefit and protection: the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, the National Defense Authorization Act, enhanced interrogation. Executive orders are used to bypass checks and balances. Habeas corpus and due process are suspended and wiretaps go unauthorized. The end of our era as a constitutional republic draws near.

There is no doubt that Big Brother is here, but he's not here to help and protect his little siblings. It's all about control.

Never has so much wealth and power been concentrated in the hands of so few people. According to Forbes, the top 1 percent of the population controls 43 percent of the nation's wealth -- the disparity is obscene. Lord Acton's much quoted phrase, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," has never been more applicable. Power is control and just a few elites have almost total control of this nation. It reeks of spiritual wickedness in high places.

History is replete with leaders seeking total control, but not until the age of information technology are the key pieces available to complete the master plan.

Things have changed. It's good that an 8-year-old no longer can buy cigarettes at the corner store, and it's sensible for me to lock my doors, but do I really feel safer, happier and better off living in an Orwellian state? I think I need some soma before I answer that.


Steven Crichley is a writer who works in law enforcement and lives in the South Side Slopes (


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