Trust me on this one. Learning things is no fun. Once you learn, for example, that Chilean sea bass is not actually Chilean sea bass but is instead rebranded Antarctic toothfish that is being fished from the Ross Sea, which was pretty much the last pristine marine ecosystem on the planet, and where it was a top-level predator that was the linchpin to maintaining the delicate balance of that ecosystem, and whose disappearance is pretty much destroying our ability to research and understand how an intact, healthy, flourishing ecosystem actually operates… It makes it kind of hard to eat Chilean sea bass anymore.
To be fair, I had a vague idea that there were some issues in the fishing industry. But it wasn’t until I watched my friend Peter Young’s movie ”The Last Ocean” that it really hit home -- and suddenly I could no more eat sea bass than I could puppies.
In fact, the more I learn about the food supply in general, the less I feel comfortable eating. I’m pretty much down to weeds (probably toxic) that I pull from the sidewalk in front of my house, and rain (probably acid) that falls onto my tongue.
Today I am teetering on the edge of learning about another topic: Internet privacy. I’m about two-thirds through Glenn Greenwald’s ”No Place To Hide,” detailing his work to publish NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Now, as with fishing, I’ve known there are issues regarding Internet privacy for a long time -- you'd have to live under a rock on Mars to not know that, and if that were the case it wouldn’t matter to you. So I’ve always assumed that everything I publish online could be accessed by someone with sufficient clearance or sufficient hacker capabilities.
But there is something supremely creepy about the detail and depth of the surveillance revealed by Snowden and Greenwald. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to me to contemplate in any detail what it might actually mean for everything to be monitored -- and now that I’m doing so, it doesn’t feel particularly nice. (Forgive me if you are already fully educated on this front.)
Here is one example, a document detailing the physical hacking of hardware. “Not all SIGINT [signals intelligence] tradecraft involves accessing signals and networks from thousands of miles away… In fact, sometimes it is very hands-on (literally!). Here’s how it works: shipments of computer network devices (servers, routers, etc.) being delivered to our targets throughout the world are intercepted. Next, they are redirected to a secret location where Tailored Access Operations/ Access Operations (AO -- S236) employees, with the support of the Remote Operations Center (S321), enable the installation of beacon implants directly into our targets’ electronic devices. These devices are then re-packaged and placed back into transit to the original destination.” [Emphasis in the original.]
I say that I’m teetering on the edge of learning about this topic, because, although I’m stunned by the egregiousness of the behavior, its implications haven’t yet hit me with any practical effect. I am still on Facebook, still on Twitter, still on Gmail. But I have a sense that, if I were to become truly informed, I would reconsider those platforms.
I don’t know what it would take, what I could learn that would strike enough of a chord to cause me to change my online behavior. But I do know that if I don’t want to change, the solution is obvious. It is simply to remain ignorant.
I might just set this book aside for a while.