Why we need Big Brother Watch

Something posted by Big Brother Watch on DNA prompted me to glance back at Albert Speer’s Inside The Third Reich. In the conclusions to this book, the war criminal wrote, referring to his final remarks at Nuremburg:

The criminal events of those years were not only an outgrowth of Hitler’s personality. The extent of the crimes was also due to the fact that Hitler was the first to be able to employ the implements of technology to multiply crime.

I thought of the consequences that unrestricted rule together with the power of technology–making use of it but also driven by it–might have in the future. […]

“The nightmare shared by many people,” I said, “that some day the nations of the world may be dominated by technology-that nightmare was very nearly made a reality under Hitler’s authoritarian system. Every country in the world today faces the danger of being terrorized by technology; but in a modern dictatorship this seems to me to be unavoidable. Therefore, the more technological the world becomes, the more essential will be the demand for individual freedom and the self-awareness of the individual human being as the counterpoise to technology… […]”

“The catastrophe of this war,” I wrote in my cell in 1947, “has proved the sensitivity of the system of modern civilisation evolved in the course of centuries. Now we know that we do not live in a earthquake-proof structure. The build-up of negative impulses, each reinforcing the other, can inexorably shake to pieces the complicated apparatus of the modern world. There is no halting of this process by will alone. The danger is that the automatism of progress will depersonalize man further and withdraw more and more of his self-responsibility.”

Dazzled by the possibilities of technology, I devoted crucial years of my life to serving it. But in the end my feelings about it are highly skeptical.

In the book’s afterword, Speer explains that he wrote the book not only to describe the past, but to issue warnings for the future. Though from time to time Big Brother Watch gets on my nerves through its tone, I feel it fills an essential niche: we shall always need someone to remind us how dangerous technology can be.

The Economist described Speer’s book as “A classic”. I recommend it for a perspective on why we shall always need Big Brother Watch.

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Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. martin brown says:

    Steven, nice post. I know the book and occasionally think about what Spier said about German efficiency, militarism and communications. He said that the Nazis could not have dome what they did without the telephone. It was the single most important piece of technology both in the office and in the field for command and control. I don’t doubt it.
    However, thankfully we live in different times with very different communications technology.