Consume, Conform, Obey: What Homeland Security's Targeting Of Anti-Consumerist Activities Says About The Government's Desires

from the cited:-Piper,-'Rowdy'-R.,-1988 dept

At some point in time, the DHS and members of its Joint Terrorism Task Force must have viewed Joe Dante’s John Carpenter’s cult classic “They Live” and saw in it a blueprint for future actions. If you’re not familiar with the premise, an average guy construction worker is given a pair of sunglasses that reveal the world for what it actually is — controlled by aliens who pacify the populace by subliminally pushing them to obey, conform and consume.

Remember a few weeks back when we discussed the DHS Fusion Centers’ use of powerful investigative tools like Twitter searches and The Google to investigate such harmful Occupy Wall Street-related activities like not participating in Black Friday sales or cutting up people’s credit cards (at their request). Anti-consumerist is anti-government, apparently. It makes for a great conspiracy theory — one that implies the government is actually run by corporations.

It doesn’t seem to be much of a “theory,” though. Given the number of active revolving doors that accomodate lobbyists, representatives and board members every time someone shouts “Change places!” there’s little evidence out there to dispel this perception. The business of government is apparently business. The FBI worked with banks and Wall Street itself to ferret out certain Occupy protesters, going so far as to keep an assassination plot against Occupy leaders under wraps. The Fusion Centers’ ability to treat nearly every submission with complete credulity has only added to the mismanaged mess, which resulted in the agency’s underlings breathlessly exchanging Facebook links to planned disruptions like protests of irresponsible lending processes and the singing of Christmas carols at a “high-profile, undisclosed location.”

But back to the conspiracy theory and “They Live.” Does the government want you to obey and consume? Remember, George Bush said one of the best ways we could show the terrorists that the 9/11 attacks didn’t destroy our spirit was to get out there and spend money. The government and businesses go hand-in-hand, and not simply in order to maintain mutually-beneficial relationships.

Frank Pasquale argues at Balkinization that one reason the government views anti-consumerist behavior as a threat is because it also hurts the government’s bottom line.

You may think: “wait–how is the ‘Church of Stop Shopping’ a national security threat?” There’s an economic answer: namely, that any defense advantage the US has over other countries is epiphenomenal of taxation of a vast and growing national economy. Anti-consumerism undermines economic growth and, indirectly, military might.

There’s a huge security state — one that often operates in concert with the military-industrial complex — that desires constant (and constantly increasing) funding. There has been nearly no effort made in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks to scale back the reach of the DHS. The FBI’s move towards counterterrorism (and away from law enforcement) has given it new revenue streams, one it’s likely unwilling to give up. So, the government wants you to shop, because taxes fund operations that target people who tell citizens not to shop.

The connection isn’t entirely sound. Federal taxes, not state sales taxes, fund the military. But the DHS and other government agencies need a steady stream of “threats” to justify budget increases and their continued existence.

Saying this sort of thing out loud is bound to make many people question your sanity. While there’s no doubt the government views nearly any sort of protest with suspicion, it’s tough to believe it actively promotes consumerist behavior with an eye on the bottom line of its favored agencies. Tin foil hats all around, or so it would appear, until you realize that a 30-page report tracking the Occupy Movement, which was passed along by DHS Fusion Centers as a warning about upcoming Black Friday protests, was authored by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Who’s answering to whom? The ICSC says, “Jump.” The DHS says “how high?” and recommends everyone down the line do likewise.

Consume. Conform. OBEY.

The last part also fits into increasingly pervasive surveillance. Having “nothing to hide” simply isn’t good enough any more. Any deviations from the expected can seem suspicious, especially when well-funded government entities are fishing around in their data streams for any signs of potential wrongdoing. Pasquale quotes a Kate Crawford essay on big data.

If we take [the] twinned anxieties — those of the surveillers and the surveilled — and push them to their natural extension, we reach an epistemological end point: on one hand, the fear that there can never be enough data, and on the other, the fear that one is standing out in the data. These fears reinforce each other in a feedback loop, becoming stronger with each turn of the ratchet. As people seek more ways to blend in — be it through normcore dressing or hardcore encryption — more intrusive data collection techniques are developed.

“Collect it all” meets “nothing to hide.”

When people express their concerns with massive, unchecked surveillance, it isn’t always about whether or not they’ve got “something to hide.” Sometimes the real worry is that those caught in the web of untargeted surveillance have no idea what the fuck these agencies view as “suspicious.” Efforts made to avoid “standing out” may just make someone look like they’re trying too hard to “fit in.” The standing assumption is that everyone has something to hide, even those who loudly state they don’t and welcome the growth of the surveillance state. “Hiding” something may be an active effort. Or it may simply be a sin of omission. It all depends on the entity/person parsing the data.

Stray too far from the binary of Democratic & Republican politics, and you risk the watchlist. Protest shopping on Black Friday, and you risk the watchlist. Take a different route to work on a given day, and maybe that’ll flag you (“what is she trying to avoid?”). Read the wrong blogs or tweets, and an algorithm like Squeaky Dolphin is keeping a record.

There probably isn’t an overarching conspiracy guiding the government towards this end. More likely, it’s the just the natural progression of the consolidation of two powers into a central location. Corporations and government entities are nearly inseparable. Both seem to have the same ends in mind, even if one relies on advertising and the other on control. Both dip into massive amounts of data and both watch carefully for patterns and anomalies. It’s a natural synergy that feels eerily like constant pressure to conform, obey, consume. Both sides benefit heavily from orderly consumption and activities that neither rock the boat nor trouble the waves below it.

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Comments on “Consume, Conform, Obey: What Homeland Security's Targeting Of Anti-Consumerist Activities Says About The Government's Desires”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Well then...

Everyone should be doing this anyway, regardless of surveillance. Why? Because it’s good for your brain. Seriously, it’s an ancient piece of advice that helps to keep your brain well-greased and helps it to stay out of the mental ruts.

Take a different route to work every day. Don’t eat the same thing for lunch every day. Mix it up. Keep your habit mechanisms on their toes.

It’s seriously good for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Well then...

I’m curious about this. It’s pretty much exactly the opposite advice of people like Steve Jobs, who tried to spend as little time as possible thinking about non-essential things, such as what to wear. (and presumably, which route to take to work?)

Not sure what I believe, personally. I find it hard not to be thinking about something, and I’m not sure I’d get particularly different returns if it were which turn to take next or which is my favourite power of two…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Well then... [yes, I know it’s an Elsevier link unfortuantely]

See also, the excellent books Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson and The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. I’ve read a lot of hard science stuff about willpower because I struggle with this issue a lot.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Well then...


We can ignore everything published in the popular media (NYT, Psychology Today, etc.) because they get everything wrong about 90% of the time.

However, the wiki article has references to what appear to be legitimate papers. I’ll be absorbing those over the next few days.

I do want to note, however, that what I’m talking about is different from the concept of “willpower”.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Well then...

The idea is to prevent the mind from doing what it wants to do: fall into a rut. Humans tend to distill their lives into a series of scripts of their own devising, then follow the scripts blindly instead of living consciously, often to their detriment. Mixing things up helps to make the scripting conscious.

Do note that what I’m talking about isn’t actually “decision-making” of the sort that the papers are talking about. It’s true that making conscious decisions is fatiguing and can have undesirable effects (I believe Devo wrote a whole song about that, “Freedom of Choice”).

What I’m talking about isn’t weighing factors to come to a conclusion. I’m talking about simply making the simple decision to “do something different”, then doing it. The “something different” isn’t considered — you just pick something arbitrary.

sorrykb (profile) says:


So, the government wants you to shop, because taxes fund operations that target people who tell citizens not to shop.

I’d argue that it’s not about the taxes. The government wants us to shop, because corporate money from shoppers funds the re-election campaigns of the representatives who vote for the money to flow to the corporations who build the systems used in the operations that target the people who tell the citizens not to shop.

(I’m still paranoid, but differently so.)

Joanna says:

pass the tinfoil, please

Thanks for pointing this out. It seems that every year, the distinctions between our corporate overlords, and our government overlords, become ever more noticeably nominal. What with our system of open bribery, oops I mean lobbying, and other kickbacks, with regulatory capture taken to an art form, with government agencies providing anti-competition services for favored businesses, and our revolving door standard… it seems as if we have one group of players who simply switch hats from time to time.

I find these two studies highlight the problem. The “US is an oligarchy” study:

And the “147 corporations rule the world” study:–the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world.html

It’s even more fun if you start digging into who was behind the creation of organizations like the CIA, the CFR, and the FDA. Or the history of the British East India Company (which essentially morphed into our current empire). (If you want a real hoot — read about their programs for increasing opium addiction, which was their primary source of revenue….) We have a long and impressive history of government serving the interests of the wealthiest; the truly strange thing is that so many people could ever have been convinced to think otherwise. I suppose we can thank the small number of companies controlling most of our news, and the various CIA programs and personnel dedicated to controlling our news and information, for that remarkable circumstance.

Anyhow, if tinfoil is going to help protect against any of this, count me in.

Joanna says:

Re: Re: pass the tinfoil, please

“Think about that for a second. The truly smart and devious among the corporate world would have foreseen this and bought stock in tinfoil companies beforehand.”

I know. It is a bitter pill to swallow. Even worse, they will have outlawed the competition and inflated the price. Heck, they’re probably behind the rumors of efficacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

“There probably isn’t an overarching conspiracy guiding the government towards this end. More likely, it’s the just the natural progression of the consolidation of two powers into a central location.”

A former congressional analyst named Mike Lofgren calls this the “Deep State”. It’s a very interesting perspective from a knowlegable and reliable source. Check it out, it’s good stuff.

Bill Moyers Interview: The Deep State Hiding in Plain Sight

Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State

Anonymous Coward says:

If the US Gov is so concerned about their tax revenue stream. Why do they allow corporations and millionaire CEOs to hide all their taxable revenue in offshore bank accounts?

I’m watching the outcome of these tax avoidance schemes with great interest. Eventually, the US Gov is going to have to face it’s 16+ trillion dollar debt problem.

There’s no way the US Gov is going to get enough tax revenue from all the low wage, part-time workers. Which is the majority of taxable income thanks to globalization.

I believe addressing the out-of-control nation debt will go something like this.

– First will come cuts to social security. This is known as “austerity and “sequester”. This will cause much social unrest, causing jails to become way more over crowded than they already are.

– Then finally comes a crackdown on tax avoidance by millionaires and corporations, because the unruly population suffering under austerity will demand it. Plus it’s the only high capital revenue stream left for the US Government to tax.

After these two things happen, America’s going to be in pretty bad shape. Inflation will start kicking in. Fuel prices will shoot through the roof.

Some people will try to organize against the government, but the President will enforce the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and order the military arrest these people and hold them indefinitely without trial, in FEMA camps.

That’s the future I envision, because infinite economic growth is not possible. National resources, oil, wood, and fresh water are becoming scarce due to unsustainable population growth. Plus we’re nowhere near having enough renewable resources, such as solar and wind, ready and at an affordable price to fend off the upcoming global warming catastrophe and food shortages.

We just have to accept that the human race couldn’t evolve fast enough to overcome it’s primal nature of money and power. We held money and power above all else, including knowledge and enlightenment. This reflects true throughout every corner of the world.

John (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Anonymous Coward you nailed it!

However, when the crash comes from whatever reason (dollar collapse, war, epidemic etc) it will be a golden opportunity for a clean sweep of the present corrupt systems and institutions.
What do we replace it with? I have ideas and written them into a short, free ebook called The Organic Economy which is available as a pdf download at

It is time for an evolution of thought, of belief, to shake of the invisible chains holding us as mental prisoners in this paradigm.
We need to think outside the box, pierce the veil and see that there is another way forward that works for the people instead of just a privileged few.

Hope it resonates and if so please share far and wide!

Anonymous Coward says:

Does the U.S. Government, Congress, The White House, even stop to realize that they are fermenting the seeds of rebellion in this great country?

While we should have an intelligence community, I think it’s more out of a fear that the people will rise up and they want to be able to stop it before it even happens. They don’t want to risk a repeat of what happened from 1775 to 1783 and that they are attempting to stop that from happening.

However, I don’t our government has stopped to realize that “WE”, and I’m referring to the American People, outnumber law enforcement by such an overwhelming number that Americans could overthrow city government, state government and the federal government. If you go by the sheer numbers of Americans to police officers, there are only 245 cops to every 10,000 citizens in this country.

IN 2012, there were a reported 780,000 police officers when compared to the more than 300 million Americans living in this country. Additionally, when it comes right down to it, police officers, federal agents not to mention the military, would abandon their post rather than face a nationwide revolt in this country.

If our country were to revolt on a national level (and it’s coming down to that), this country would be thrown into complete chaos.

Mark Noo (profile) says:

This is a Ponzi scheme. If Americans stop buying it won’t work.

I think that consumer spening is about 50% or our economy. What happens if we start buying shoes that will last for 3 or 4 years instead of just getting new shoes with the change of each season. What happen if nobody buys a house? The people who built the house don’t get paid by the prospective homeowner and the people who built it cannot pay the bank.

I thought everyone understood(at least in this county) that not spending is threatens our national security. If there is no spending where will our government get the money to pay the interest on our 17 trillion dollar debt.
Right now the average American, if they would unite, could destroy this government by simply not going to the store.

Anonymous Coward says:

and people still cant see what is happening in the USA? blindness is a bad thing to have, willful blindness is even worse!! wake up people, before it’s past the point of no return and the planet has become a police state in it’s entirety, with no one other than the rich and powerful having everything, whilst taking everything possible away from us!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course they know

They not only know that their policies are leading towards revolt, they depend on it. DHS has purchased more ammo over the past 4 years then the US army…. They have no possible use for that many small caliber bullets, they just need to make sure that it isn’t available for the populace to use against them. Signs declaring martial law have already been printed and shipped around the country for when it is needed. If people don’t start revolting on their own soon, they will be forced to create false flag revolts to try to instigate it.

DannyB (profile) says:

Google Glass

I’m a Google Glass fan, but I’ll just say this.

I can imagine Glass or a similar technology being exactly the opposite kind of glasses from the glasses in the movie They Live.

You put the glasses on to receive a constant stream of messages to Obey, Consume, Conform, etc. Billboards and signs can now be superimposed to say whatever message big brother wants you to see.

Police can appear to be friendly. Donuts hidden from view.

Seeing or overhearing anything copyrighted can automatically debit your account for the correct licensing fee.

I can imagine a great future for this technology.

Jay Rahall says:

Gullible Americans

We Americans are a gullible bunch. Just say the magic words and we will chase a boogeyman like a cat chases a laser dot. The Communist was our first real boogeyman and we eagerly worked to spill rivers of innocent blood supposedly fighting The Communists around the world. Today we are spilling rivers of innocent blood fighting The Terrorist. Uncle Sam learned from the best: Edward Bernays.

Anonymous Coward says:

Watch the series, the Men Who Built America

There is a series on the History channel I believe, about the men who built America. It is a great piece on the early 1900’s. One thing that struck me was that big business and powerful men ran this country at the time. Then the government woke up and said hey, we can get in on this action. Well, the series didn’t really say it like that, but it sure seemed that government leaders decided to get in on the game and now have seemed to totally take control.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Watch the series, the Men Who Built America

You been doing a Sleeping Beauty Act??

The Business Guys are now taking it all back and the Government Guys are just accepting the massive pay-offs and churning out whatever legislation the lobbyists for the Business Guys demand.

Its a cycle you see.
They take turns.
Both gangs of Rich Guys love this game.

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