The Anti-Coherence of American Surveillance

Farhad Manjoo’s recent NYT op-ed offered a bold vision. As he wrote:

Here is a stark truth: We in the West are building a surveillance state no less totalitarian than the one the Chinese state is rigging up.

For two big reasons, I think this framing is completely askew.

First off, Manjoo assumes linearity to these technological systems. The technical name for this is technological determinism. As I have written before,

Determinism aligns human actors and technological objects in a causal relationship. Technology acts on society as an outside force. In this view of the world, technology is separate from society and thus can advance by leaps and bounds before society and regulation can catch up. In other words, technology is made an independent variable with acts upon us all.

Yet, that doesn’t describe the world in which technological objects are created and sustained.

In other words, technological determinism embeds inevitability, which I don’t think is the case.

Second, there is an anti-coherence to “Western surveillance capitalism.” Admittedly, there are worrying examples of onerous surveillance. But, the goal isn’t coherent like China. In China, the goal is ideological fealty. What is it in the United States? I’ll wait for an answer.

Senior Research Fellow | Center for Growth and Opportunity | @WillRinehart

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