Monday, November 29, 2010

With Both Hands

It can be a shocking thing to learn that the world view constructed for children by family, school, church and media outlets is an illusion. Some people never go through that shock. Others react by burrowing their heads deeper into their childhood myths, or by maintaining a willful ignorance. Some people, however, react by wanting to know more about what is really going on.

One of my favorite literary passages is chapter 13 of Count Zero
by William Gibson. Bobby, a teenager from the bottom-of-the-pit New Jersey suburbs, is sitting talking with his new adult friend, Beauvoir. For reasons of his own, Beauvoir is gently enlightening Bobby about certain apsects of how the real world of cybercrime works.

After a brief discussion of how the Voodoo religion compares to Scientology, Beauvoir explains how Bobby was being used as a sacrificial pawn in a larger game. Bobby had been encouraged to try to steal valuable data, and had twice narrowly escaped being killed in the past 24 hours because this had pissed off powerful people. Bobby wanted out of the suburbs badly, he wanted adventure, and suddenly his life had become a pretty unpleasant action thriller.

Beauvoir explains how cybercrime syndicates work, in very general terms. The basic idea that the vast majority of the risk is dumped on grunts, with layers of middlemen acting to minimize risk for the money guys at the top. Just like the U.S. Marines, just like urban gangs that specialize in selling recreation drugs.

After describing how an expendable is recruited — by telling them they have what it takes to be part of something bigger, something important — Beauvoir asks Bobby, "Sound like anybody you know?"

Even as Bobby puts the picture together, he is seeing just one tiny facet of reality. My own introduction to big league predators was more gentle. I studied my way out of a Marine Corps family into a slot at an Ivy League University. At seventeen I thought nothing could stop me (that was in 1972). I had figured out that the Catholic Church was a pack of liars, that the U.S. was an aggressor nation, and that science, which I loved, was being used for bad ends (mass murder of Vietnamese and other non-Americans) by the U.S. government, which seemed to be owned by capitalists. I volunteered in the McGovern for President campaign in the fall of 1972, then veered off sharply to the left, with occasional forays into psychedelic spaces. The economic advantages a Brown University education usually bestows on working class comers like myself were lost on me. After graduation, I just wandered in the wilderness for years, observing people and thinking about how things could be set to right. Some how I survived.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud has not been so lucky. Teenage boys get angry a lot, and when you add that to their ignorance and their need to prove that they are men, you can get some sad outcomes. Doubtless Mr. Mohamud was a pretty smart teenager, as he studied engineering at Oregon State University. For some reason he did not come to reject Islam (a lot of science/engineering kids reject religions as stupid. Because they are). He must have read up on the history of U.S. attacks on Islamic states. He must have had a hothead side to him.

Instead of hooking up with a kindly Mr. Beauvoir, or with a kindly non-violence activist, Mohamed Mohamud was treated kindly by the FBI. They needed a Wilson, a loser to be part of their big plot to keep the Homeland Security and Pentagon budgets high. FBI agents pretended to be Islamic extremists, and they double dared Mohamed to become a terrorist. They encouraged him, they showed him real explosives, and they stroked his ego.

I don't know how many people the Obama Administration has going in these games at any one time; hopefully some of them have the sense to refuse to actively participate in violence against civilians.

I know that with the right mentor Mohamed Osman Mohamud could have become a constructive member of global society. Perhaps he could have figured out how to make Israel respect the private property rights of Palestinians. Perhaps he could have just been a good engineer, or family man. We will never know.

Because the organization that was originally founded to be the American Gestapo (the FBI was created to disorganize labor unions, particularly the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), got a hold of Mohamed Osman Mohamud. And they burned him but good. One wonders what kind of child-rearing these guys are up to when they aren't taking taxpayer money to create problems designed to take more taxpayer money.

I have no problem with the FBI fighting genuine organized crime. Someone has to do it. I might even applaud if they took down Goldman Sachs, or arrested war criminals like George W. Bush. But if we want to live in a safe and secure world, in a safe and secure America, we don't need the FBI creating phony terrorism scares. We need to do what is right in the greater world, and mainly that means doing nothing where for centuries we have done wrong. A just nation has no need to station its troops on foreign soil. A just nation has no need to install its puppets to rule over other nations like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Great Britain.

We know George W. Bush was mentored by his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and his CIA, oil, and Pentagon cadre of big fellows. We might ask, who mentored Barack Obama, and why did his policies on homeland security and international aggression turn out to be identical to Bush's? I know why. They taught me in my Political Science classes at Brown University. The short answer is that we live in an oligarchy, which has done a fine job of social engineering. What looks like democracy is really just a tuned set of safety valves that sings like a real organ but lets off just enough steam to keep the oligarchy in power. The organist has to keep on his toes. Because complacent oligarchies crumble. They would not want that.

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