Almost everyone has heard about President Eisenhower’s famous 1960 farewell address in which he expressed his concerns to the nation about what he called the expanding “military-industrial complex.”
Without question, the warning has received lots of attention over the proceeding 58 years.
Yet, another similar observation from the same speech has received almost none. Odd, since the other warning seems to be much more relevant to our current crisis threatening free speech, the free press, freedom of religion and, according to some experts, the future of free and fair elections in America.
What was Ike’s other forgotten prophetic nightmare?
It was his fear of the “scientific-technological elite” – another complex involving federal funds, national security and individual liberties.
Recall the words Eisenhower applies to his familiar concerns about “the military-industrial complex”:
A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
What were Ike’s concerns? “That security and liberty may prosper together.”
Now let’s take a look at his shockingly similar warnings about science and technology:
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Today, Americans are becoming acutely aware of the many ways their security, liberty and privacy are existentially endangered by the threat Eisenhower foresaw. We are not just seeing the threat from the “military-industrial complex,” which has had many whistleblowers and watchdogs on its trail over the last 58 years. The dangers are here and now from the “scientific-technological complex” – with governments subsidizing the expansion of a burgeoning retail monopoly in Amazon, with Google being allowed to gather more data on Americans than the National Security Agency while getting the privilege of monetizing it, and with the massive tech companies among the largest lobbyists on the planet.
But of most concern to me is how the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and the rest threaten the bulwark of America’s First Amendment-protected freedoms as well as the future of a free and fair press.
With the imposition of speech codes, rules against so-called “hate speech” and algorithmic bias applied against conservative and independent voices, these monopolies are sanitizing the internet’s public square of debate, dissent and heterodoxy.
Meanwhile, as Harvard psychologist Robert Epstein has warned, Big Tech could rig a future presidential election far more easily than Russian bots with Facebook buys – and without anyone having a clue.
It’s way past time to explore Eisenhower’s other prophetic nightmare – the Brave New World of the “scientific-technological complex.”
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