Voluntary Spies


by Alva Long

I read 1984 when I was nineteen years old. At the time, Bill Clinton was in office and there had been no September 11 yet, and therefore no Patriot Act or any of the watershed implications. 1984 Scared the Hot Mess out of me. It was too eerily possible to not be relevant to aspects of our own society. The telescreens watching you, the thought police engaging in elaborate rituals to implicate thought criminals, the memory holes wherein history was manipulated and erased continually in tiny incremental ways. All of these were too valid to dismiss.

Fifteen years later Edward Snowden ostentatiously barreled up to our screens and declared that all of my paranoia was legit. In fact, I had not even been paranoid on a level equivalent to the espionage being performed by my government, particularly given the homes of whistleblowers being raided once said whistle was blown. The breadth and scope the intelligence agencies employed against all citizens (including Congress, to their chagrin) was not one that any of us could imagine. We all pulled ourselves up strong to shout questions about how wrong it is, how wrong it was. Why is our government spying on us? Am I my people’s enemy?

The question we should be asking ourselves is how complicit we are in this new surveillance state. “Surprise! You’re on Candid Camera,” on televisions a generation ago liked to point to the humiliation du jour. “What happens when people stop being polite and start being real,” MTV broadcast in the tone of a warning.

Jane Austen said once, “Every man is a neighborhood of voluntary spies.” We — our generation, our culture — we have long since given our permission to have our ideas dissected and used against us. The NSA has merely taken us at our word.

– You can find info about Alva on our contributors page, and read more of her work at Alva’s Almanac.

image: The Droid Lawyer

22 thoughts on “Voluntary Spies

  1. Interesting post. I wish that Ms. Long would have taken the article a step further and given examples into how we are voluntary spies, specifically. The sad thing is the way that she is choosing to publicize her message, on the internet, is one of the most “government monitored activities.”
    Interesting read…


    • Thanks for your comment! I agree this would benefit from further examples, and we may delve deeper into it at some point. The idea grew out of a conversation we had about the role of reality television and other sort of voyeuristic programming in normalizing surveillance. I personally am not sure just how significant that sort of thing is, but it makes for an interesting discussion, and surveillance is one of the things we discuss offline a lot.


    • I’m pretty sure I’m on at least seven lists already. Neighborhood Watch is a major example I can point to as a voluntary spy-camp. I will begin researching further the issue itself and how it ties in with governmental surveillance. Thank you for your kind words!


  2. Absolutely agree. Most people (not me) supported the Patriot Act, but I think most were ignorant as to what it actually meant. The culture of everything being documented for public viewing is disturbing to me. My hope is that this, like a lot of things, will eventually come back around to people tiring of the hyper-voyeuristic society we’ve created. “The NSA has merely taken us at our word”…. very powerful way to sum it all up!


  3. I have stated before, the creation of the NSA and other organizations like it are nothing but the product of the complicit nature of citizens and the opportunistic minds of those who create it. A reckoning will eventually come, the outcome is not certain but what is certain is the the people outnumber both the government and the military. In the case of the United States, which is a special case, many of the citizens are armed. A benefit that no other country has.


  4. Reblogged this on The Leather Library and commented:
    A relevant topic that is seeing more and more publicity. It is because of people like this that the word will eventually find its way into the hearts and minds of all those who are affected by the intrusive hands of states. Sourcerer has done a great job of relating a classic old text that warns us of the consequences of a totalitarian state and the current situation in the United States.


  5. Pingback: Voluntary Spies | The Leather Library

  6. The scariest story I read as a young adult was “The Pedestrian,” a short story by Ray Bradbury about a man who decides that he won’t watch the government mandated TV program for the evening and will instead take a walk outside. I believe in the end he is taken to a hospital for the insane by a robotic police car. Scary stuff! -t


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