Jim Cohn: Earth inf Slaves

Spring '14 TOC

for Norman Ball


American Indians believed the camera
            a spirit thief.
Photography stole a person’s soul,
disrespected the spiritual world.

In 1890, built on diverse analogies in the laws of
                        literary property,
                                    & eavesdropping,
Louis Brandeis defined the right to privacy
            as the “right to be let alone.”

Back then, it was an intolerable...
                        an overwhelming assault––
the leveling intrusion
of newspapers hitting the curb.
Brandeis envisioned the right to privacy
as protection of thehuman spirit
            against eavesdropping.

The intention of the Privacy Act of 1974 was to protect individuals from federal government intrusion. As early as 1977, it was pronounced DOA. The Privacy Act incorporated 5 “fair information principles”: 1) There should be no records whose very existence is private; 2) an individual must be able to discover what information is contained in his or her record and how it is used; 3) an individual must be able to prevent information collected for one purpose from being used for another purpose without consent; 4) an individual must be able to correct or amend erroneous information; and 5) any organization creating, maintaining, using or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for its intended purpose and must take precautions to prevent misuse.

In 2013, Emma Uprichard, a British social scientist,
made the observation that metadata collection is
                        “methodological genocide.”
She said, “We need to think about
what it means to measure the social world
and how our models of causality are constructed.”

In a masterful essay, “Transparency Society,”
Byung-Chul Han writes of the human necessity for privacy––
“Only machines are transparent. [...]
            Human beings are not even transparent to themselves.”

Prestige, in the Cyber Forces, is based upon
the production and documentation of habit.

The essential obscurity of the entire situation does not escape you.

Spymasters study the homogeneity
they have manufactured.

                        I cannot divest myself of my singularity.

In the letters of Philip K. Dick,
one is a discussion of William S. Burroughs’
theory of language as a virus from outer space.
            Dick saw what he called “living information.”
He wrote, “This being replicates itself through––as––information.”

Philip K. Dick did not accept Burroughs’
alien/information virus view.
             “...On the other hand,” he wrote,
                        “I cannot readily dismiss
                                    this bizarre theory as mere paranoia
                        on his part.”

Meanwhile, I published my conversions of
the complete Shakespeare into metadata––
                        entered every location, transaction,
            tracked the networks, the sex, the rings,
tapped the GPS of disgruntled lovers, sheriffs, kings & clowns,
                        courts & hospitals, palaces & madhouses,
            entered census data on color, gender, movements, dialects,
word count, street camera views––all in real time.

Back to Burroughs, who writes––
“Would you offer violence to a well intentioned
virus on its slow road to symbiosis?” [...]
I suggest that the word is just such a virus.”

See-thru citizen, invisible government––
I never volunteered you archive the properties of my life,
nor am I the sum, nor difference
that binds call & record,
                        nor am I the shadow or the copy of Emerson’s
            “transparent eyeball”
first described in “Nature.”

To enter & search a person’s house,
survey private medical records, financial records,
work history, arrests, convictions,
felonies, driving violations,
aliases, maiden names,
marriage records, sex offender checks,
neighbors, relatives, associates, social networks,
social media, library records,
education records...

To store all phone calls,
e-mail, internet histories...
To delete the standards of “probable cause”...
To release the executive branch
from judicial supervision,
the CIA from its obligation to submit
intelligence reports to Congress...

When I speak of privacy, it is you
who individually controls
the degree to which and the people to whom
your inner world is revealed.

Elaine Scarry described
first reading the Patriot Act as
“being forced to spend the night
            on the steps outside the public library
                        trying to infer the sentences in the books inside
                        by listening to hundreds of mice
            chewing away on the pages.”

Feelings bring truth
reason is incapable of understanding.
This is why Plato shrugs off Ion
for his rhapsodes (raps).

“HOW CAME THE KING BY A POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO TRUST, AND ALWAYS OBLIGED TO CHECK? Such a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, WHICH NEEDS CHECKING, be from God; yet the provision, which the constitution makes, supposes such a power to exist.”
            ––from “Common Sense” (Tom Paine, 1776)

            “Twenties and thirties it was the role of government. Fifties
            and sixties it was civil rights. The next two decades are gonna
            be privacy. I'm talking about the internet. I'm talking about
            cell phones..."
[Excerpt from “The Short List,” West Wing,
            Season 1, Episode 9, 36”, 11/24/1999, the character of
            Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Deputy White House
            Communications Director in the fictional Josiah Bartlet

                                                Daniel Ellsberg,
By leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971,
            revealed the United States had secretly
enlarged the scale of the Vietnam War.
called Edward Snowden’s release
of 1.7 million classified documents
“the most significant leak in U.S. history.”

The PEN American
                        Center reported
            “government spying
                        causes American
                                    writers to self-censor. “

Self-censorship is the act of classifying one’s own work.

The flashbacks started again
a handful of decades later.
They could happen when houselights go dim
or the crowd quiets down.
                                                I’d be feeling like
our parting in these hills is over & suddenly
                        I’m inexplicably thinking about 
the meaninglessness of before & after.

A hundred years from now,
            who among our offspring
will have heard about

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:
            “I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total
            in America, and we must see to it that this agency and
            all agencies that possess this technology operate within
            the law and under proper supervision, so that we never
            cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there
            is no return.”

As Wang Wei wrote, centuries ago,
in “Light lines on a flat rock”––
            If you say that the spring wind
                                    has no understanding
            Why should it come blowing me
                                    these falling flowers?


Jim Cohn
20 December 2013


Not Enough Night
Not Enough Night
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