by JC Craig, Arlington
Amazon is searching each of us every day the way the police searched the clientele of Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn in June, 1969 – triggering the Stonewall riots
To any of us who pause to reflect, it is shockingly clear that the invasion of our digital devices by Amazon, Google, and the other tech giants – and these companies’ systematic seizure of our personal information – could lead to the torture and execution of both human-rights leaders around the world and the people these leaders struggle to protect.
The logic is simple:
- The tech giants systematically seize the personal information of hundreds of millions worldwide.
- They sell massive quantities of this information to the highest-bidders in the international digital-information markets.
- These high-bidders can be extremist governments and other death-dealing authoritarian entities.
- These extremists can then search the data; use Orwellian new data-mining algorithms to identify local human-rights leaders and those they serve; and pinpoint the location of each.
- The authoritarians can then easily jail, torture or execute any of these targeted individuals.
The prospect of such violence is even more shocking to anyone who has looked into the brilliant new book by former Harvard Business School professor Shosana Zuboff: The Era of Surveillance Capitalism – The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
One of Zuboff’s high-impact assertions is: “You’re not searching Google – Google is searching you.”
Clearly she also believes: “You’re not searching Amazon – Amazon is searching you.”
The politicians and people of Virginia have just approved and are now celebrating the coming of Amazon’s HQ2 – not only to Arlington, but to Washington DC – the capital of the nation and in many ways the capital of the world.
At this critical moment, we must carefully examine the danger that Amazon’s surveillance activities will thrust human-rights leaders around the world into, more and more, as this massive company supercharges its surveillance techniques in the coming months and years, as Zuboff claims it will be doing.
We must scrutinize Amazon’s activities now, so that we fully understand the nightmare scenarios this company is currently creating for international justice-seeking advocates.
The coming 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots
Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City – the founding moment of the modern same-sex-rights movement – it is useful to focus on the events that triggered those riots.
Those events clearly reveal the dangers that vulnerable minorities are often thrust into. They thus clearly reveal the dangers that Amazon will plunge vast numbers of defenseless people into all over the globe.
For those not familiar with the Stonewall riots – known also as the Stonewall uprising or Stonewall rebellion – they were a series of violent demonstrations over a number of days that erupted in June 1969, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, after a late-night police raid of the Stonewall Inn.
The inn was a tavern, dance hall, and gathering-place for same-sex-attracted men and women at a time when such bars were illegal.
A close examination of the Stonewall events is important today not only because the Stonewall celebration is almost upon us, but for two additional reasons:
First, because Arlington acknowledged and celebrated same-sex rights in extraordinary ways long before most communities in this country.
Second, because a close examination of the Stonewall events reveals startling parallels between:
- the search-and-seizure techniques that the police inflicted that night upon the clientele of the Stonewall Inn, and
- the search-and-seizure techniques that the tech giants inflict around-the-clock upon almost anyone using a digital device.
Here are a few examples of these parallels:
Since mid-November of last year, when Amazon announced its desire to locate half its HQ2 project in Arlington, I have attended almost all of the Amazon town halls, listening sessions and related major events.
For example, I was on mic at the Dec. 6 2018 Kojo Nnamdi Amazon Town Hall, speaking with Kojo and the panel.
I have also hosted – from the free-speech facilities of Arlington Independent Media, where I was once on the board of directors – a number of Internet radio programs on these issues.
Reflections on the same-sex rights movement since Stonewall
In addition, I have been deeply involved in the same-sex rights movement for decades. In the late ‘70s – while for personal and professional reasons I was researching Alfred Kinsey and his Kinsey scale – I was living by chance in the same building Harvey Milk was then living in, at 577 Castro St, San Francisco. A few months later, Milk became the first openly same-sex-attracted elected official in California history – a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors – but was murdered, along with Mayor George Moscone, a year later.
In the 1980s I helped create the newsletter of one of the first AIDS organizations in Atlanta. Later, beginning in the 1990s, major media like CNN, the Washington Post, and Oprah Winfrey began covering my professional counseling groups on issues related to same-sex-rights.
A few years ago, while at the first-ever LGBT reunion at Yale, I sat beside Bruce Cohen, the producer of the Oscar-award-winning film Milk, in the Jewish center at Yale – the Hillel Center – during a deeply moving memorial service for those who had died of AIDS. (Bruce grew up in Falls Church.)
Because of all these experiences, I have thought deeply about human-rights issues in the world today.
The dark predictions of The Era of Surveillance Capitalism
Early in her book, Shoshana Zuboff speaks about “the darkening of the digital dream and its rapid mutation into a voracious commercial project that I call ‘surveillance capitalism.’”
Her language throughout the book is shocking – and frightening, especially coming from a world-class scholar:
- Surveillance capitalism “is parasitic” – a “vampire that feeds … on every aspect of every human’s experience.”
- Surveillance capitalism is now turning “ordinary life into the daily renewal of a twenty-first-century Faustian compact” which “will destroy life as we have known it.”
- Our “voices, personalities and emotions,” will become the “raw material” in an “increasingly inescapable raw-material-extraction operation” which the tech giants are already conducting on a mass scale.
- The impact of this assault is “a psychic numbing” that can lead us to denial of what is happening and leave us “singing in our chains.”
- This new kind of capitalistic surveillance is “a rouge force” that seeks to “nullify the elemental rights essential to … a democratic society.”
- This new profit-driven surveillance “will threaten to cost us our humanity.”
Arlington: A dark future with Amazon?
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar at one point addresses the soothsayer who had told him, “Beware the Ides of March.” When Caesar says to him, “The Ides of March are come,” the soothsayer famously replies, “Ay, Caesar; but not yet gone.”
In the same way, we in Arlington now know that HQ2 is in. But the verdict is not in on what the outcome will be.
If Zuboff is correct in her shocking new book, we in Arlington must help defend ourselves, the nation, and the world from this predatory “Faustian” corporation.
We must take upon ourselves the task of somehow, in a reversal of roles, surveilling the activities of Amazon itself, as it sets up and operates its new headquarters here – if, of course, shedding light on the interior workings of a company with the monstrous power of Amazon is in any way possible at all.