The chapter on complicity in James Bridal’s book New Dark Age starts with a description of the role of surveillance and secrecy in reinforcing and preserving power dynamics that benefit the few on the top while clouding civil life with misinformation and uncertainties. He describes this new dark age we are venturing on is characterized by both a legacy of secrecy and an increasing cavity between the citizens and its institutions. The tradition of secrecy amplified during the Cold War was inherited from our ancient and colonial ancestors, which practices the hoarding and hiding of information as a way to maintain power. Mass surveillance and obscuring of facts increases the difficulty for institutions and their people to reckon with its history and identity. We have become complicit by delegating our security needs to institutions that are not held accountable by any agencies, our complicity lies in being silent, or the inability to articulate real problems and reach consensus on issues facing the world today.
As misinformation dilutes the quality of our civil liberties, the sense of mental fatigue is becoming ever more prevalent. An overload of information confused with incomplete, partial truths through social media and political polarization, has been making rational decision making difficult. In a world where computerized technologies are continually entering public life, its underlying logic of absolute certainty is also altering the fabric of our society. Where decision making is increasingly reliant on certainty, the mounting issues the world is facing are neither predictable nor certain. The author writes: “insistence upon some ever-insufficient confirmation creates the deepest strangeness of the present moment: everybody knows yet can’t do anything.” This accurately describes our current position, caught in-between affirmation and renunciation, confused between truth and falsehood; a state where we can neither confirm nor deny our own inability. The paradox between certainty driven decision making and the difficulties of being completely certain creates a vacuum that prevents us from making sound decisions and taking constructive steps. This vacuum also enables those who are more acquired with information to structure the facts to support their own narrative while expanding their sphere of interest and control.
From the nilometers in ancient Egypt that successfully transformed exclusive information to theocratic rule to the supercomputers of the NSA that allows it to perform mass surveillance; from the ‘disappearance’ of British colonial secret files to U.S. drone operations in the Middle East to achieve its objectives with ‘limited liability’; and from the assassination of JFK to the exposure of mass surveillance conducted by the NSA on its own citizens. (I would also like to include Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the 2016 election, and to the apparent suicide of Jeffery Epstein. ) These examples allow us to see an array of political techniques which enabled secretive regimes to maintain power, bringing us to the forefront of the paranoid world James Bridal describes as the new dark age. By obscuring facts, a new kind of truth is synthesized through reiterating discourses based on fabricated realities.
In a world where the discourse between secrecy and transparency are struggling to arrive at any useful conclusion that could generate consensus. The situation is exacerbated by the shadow cast by the secretive regime that poisons the relationship between civil-institutional discourse. While the establishment is actively misleading the public to satisfy certain agendas, the role of the citizen can vary greatly depending on how information flows. This dialogue should go beyond the current discourse and try to triangulate where consensus could be made, or at least contemplate the possibility of informational unity. It is thus crucial to understand the role of the citizen in this ‘dark age’ and to ask questions that could help us define our identity in this digital environment. How do we know we know the correct information? How much do we need to know to make sound decisions? Where are the boundaries that define sound government and manipulative regimes?
To tackle these questions, our author suggests that the problems lie in the public discourse that is phenomena oriented and cause insensitive, it is passively responsive rather than actively engaging. By focusing on the results of obstructions, we neglect and forget how to address the actual underlying issues, which renders our society vulnerable to manipulation and incapable of constructing an effective dialogue between citizens and its government.