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Glenn Greenwald: How America's Surveillance State Breeds Conformity and Fear

Once the government is able to monitor everything we do and say, we will be unable to fight back.

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That was definitely part of the effect of this infiltration and police abuse had, it created this kind of fear in the way that people knew.

I spend a lot of time with American Muslims and American Muslim communities doing the work that I do and where I go and speak, and one of the things that emboldens me and keeps me very energized and engaged about these issues is if you go and speak to communities of American Muslims is you find an incredibly pervasive climate of fear.

And the reason is that they know that they are always being watched. They know that they have FBI informants who are attempting to infiltrate their communities, they know that there are people next to them, their neighbors, fellow mosque-goers, who have been manipulated by the FBI to be informants. They know that they are being eavesdropped on when they speak on the telephone, they know that they are having their e-mails read when they speak or communicate to anybody. What they will say all the time is that it’s created this extreme suspicion within their own communities, within their own mosques to a point where they’re even afraid to talk to any new people about anything significant because they fear, quite rightly, that this is all being done as part of  a government effort to watch them.

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s true in a particular case or it isn’t true. This climate of fear creates limits around the behavior in which they’re willing to engage in very damaging ways.

But I think what this Surveillance State really does more than making people consciously aware of the limits in those two examples I just described: people not wanting to go to Occupy movements and people in Muslim communities being very guarded is, it makes people believe that they’re free even though they’ve been subtly convinced that there are things that they shouldn’t do that they might want to do.

I always use dog examples. I have 11 dogs. It’s one of the thing, examples that I use. I know you probably think I’m crazy, it’s all rescue dogs, it’s one of the things we do, so I draw a lot of lessons from dogs. One of the most amazing things about dog behavior is, if you don’t want dogs to go into a certain place because it’s dangerous for them, one of the things you can do is put a fence around the area that you want to confine them.

But eventually, you can remove the fence and you don’t need the fence anymore because they will have been trained that the entirety of the world is within the boundaries that you first set for them. So even once you remove the fence, they won’t venture beyond it. They’ve been trained that that’s the only world that they want or are interested in, or known.

There are studies in what was formerly East Germany, which was probably one of the most notorious surveillance states in the last 50 years, where even once their boundaries were removed, once the Stazi no longer existed, once the wall fell... the psychological effects on East German people endure until today. The way in which they have been trained for decades to understand that there are limits to their life, even once you remove the limits, they’ve been trained that those are not things they need to transgress.

And that’s one of the things that constantly surveilling people and constantly communicating to them that they’re powerless against this omnipotent government corporate institution does to people, it convinces people that the tiny little box in which they live is really the only box in which they want to live so they don’t even realize being in prison.