Interaction and Movement, two of the five themes of geography, have wide applications. Some non-geographers who utilize these themes in their own work belong to state security institutions. Their goal is to fully monitor the movement and interaction of citizens. They want to know what people are doing, where they are doing something, why are they doing it there, and why should the state care about it. In this context, the name Erich Mielke often surfaces in literature and other media as an historical example of an obsessive instrument in state’s population control.
During his 32-year tenure as the German Democratic Republic’s Minister for State Security, better known as the Head of Stasi, Mielke became notorious for trying to suppress East German citizenry into complete submission toward state authority. A complex web of surveillance strategies—added with methods of mental and physical torture—monitored every aspect of people’s interaction and movement. Under this design much of the surveillance was done by ordinary people themselves. They spied on their colleagues, friends, and relatives and reported findings to the Stasi officers who would pedantically forward them to a data repository for immediate or future use.
The scale of surveillance was enormous. Collected data would be used to establish a pattern of-life framework against a potential target and evaluate the monitored subject’s subversive behavior. In pre-computer era archives Stasi’s depository of files on East Germans’ social and spatial behavior was gigantic.
By monitoring movement and interaction, Stasi was successful in inciting fear into the population to the point of creating widespread paranoia over the lack of privacy. What people learned once the Stasi archives became available to public in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall’s fall, was that their concerns were well founded. Friends and colleagues at work, family members at home, and relatives elsewhere were spying on each other and providing data to the state’s database. Living in an oppressive environment can become unbearable and create serious emotional problems that never go away.
[The least fortunate were sent to prisons specifically designed to further break down an individual. For more see my Spatial Masterpiece of a Political Prison’s Cell.]
After East Germany’s demise, despite all his previously accumulated power Erich Mielke was tried, convicted, and imprisoned. He served little time and died of old age. Interestingly, however, his conviction was based on participation in the murder of two Berlin policemen in 1931, rather than his role as the head of Stasi.
Erich Mielke is a symbol of the communist oppression against its own population. Many who analyze his methods, however, focus more on “communist oppression” than “oppression against own population.” This is a mistake although not a surprising one; people in the West, in particular, tend to assume that surveillance and oppression can only occur in totalitarian societies. By logical progression, they also assume the existence of unrestrained freedom of movement and interaction in their own countries and neglect one crucial aspect of why governments spy on their own citizens—control over people is a universal cultural trait we practice regardless of the political system in place.
Humans overwhelmingly share an inherited desire to control the lives of others, particularly their movement and interaction. From our birth, for example, we are conditioned—by someone in a role of warranted or unwarranted authority—to do what they say.
As children grow up into functioning adults conditioning only grows stronger. In school, at work, throughout society, all they hear is what one is not allowed to do. Unsurprisingly, most restrictions are related to personal movement and interaction. When their purpose is questioned, the state authorities’ have a prepared response: restrictions are there for the betterment of society, national security, or any other aspect of protection of the collective, i.e., the state, against an individual.
But state is a concept, an invention of our mind, not something that exists in nature. State does not exist unless humans choose to believe it exists.
How do you then protect a concept? By telling an individual that the concept other individuals have created protects him, too. That is, by articulating that the purpose of the state is to increase an individual’s personal security against the internal and external enemies. And, all that an individual needs to do in return is to cede a bit of his/her own personal freedom of movement and interaction, which allows the state apparatus to function better in protection of us all. This is exactly how the populace conforms to a surveillance state designed, of course, for the betterment of everyone and not just some.
Psychopaths like Erich Mielke exist all the time and everywhere. They actually choose professions where they can control lives of a large number of people, considering it a joyful experience. Many of us have come across them, often unknowingly, only to see the effects of their actions. In turbulent times, when social, economic, and political conditions are out of balance, the Erich Mielkes of the world tend to surface in large numbers. They form a network based on common goals and begin to influence existing political and social order. To accept that such a scenario occurs only in totalitarian states outside Western political institutions, military, intelligence, and law enforcement organizations is an unwise conclusion.
For more on psychopaths in leading positions see the Corbett Report’s analysis:
If we consider for a moment that oppression indeed is rapidly increasing in the world, then we should be able to identify a pattern of behavior in the West reminiscent of the former East Germany. This includes the following interconnected aspects:
- Level of domestic surveillance that exceeds legal limitations
- Continuously expanding database of information on practically every citizen to be used against them in the future deemed appropriate by those in power
- Extra judiciary detentions for unlimited time and assassinations of own citizens
- Controlled media and increased propaganda against foreign entities and perceived domestic dissidents
- An atmosphere of fear among the populace for their own safety and of their loved ones if they stray from official narrative
- Control over people’s movement and their interaction with others
Let us analyze the West with evaluation of its leader the United States’ affairs.
- Edward Snowden has revealed existence of a large—illegal—domestic surveillance network that the American citizens were unaware existed
- William Binney, former NSA Technical Director, has warned that the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center, built in Utah, serves the very purpose of collecting and storing as much personal information of American citizens as possible without their knowledge
- By creating terms like “domestic terrorists” for the American citizens, instead of “criminals,” their indefinite detention, trials in secret, and assassination has been approved
- Control over mainstream media and attempts to silence alternative media have drastically increased in the last several years, aligning perfectly with Russiagate hysteria. Renowned experts on Russian affairs, from Professor Stephen Cohen to Ray McGovern (CIA, ret.), are now looked upon as dissidents and Russian stooges, as are all others who disagree with the media’s official narrative and propaganda.
- Dissent of any kind, not only about political views, is increasingly being portrayed as unpatriotic at the least and treasonous at most. Views expressed in public or even in private conversation can lead to serious repercussions, as well as loss of employment and other existential needs. Any kind of presence in social media may represent an existential kiss of death to anyone.
- Reactive law enforcement has evolved into proactive control over people’s movement. No-fly and other watch lists, tracking of economic and social activity, reporting on financial activity, and all other aspects of the American citizens’ interaction, are currently in place. The government can also prevent people from international travel or returning into the United States. U.S. Border patrol checkpoints, searches, and arrests can extend as far as a hundred miles (note the population distribution and how many Americans reside within that zone) from the actual border.
If Erich Mielke returned to Earth this morning, it is highly likely that from his professional viewpoint he would be satisfied with the current state of affairs in the West, United States in particular. All the methods that Stasi employees utilized under his leadership are being introduced and used here.
Yet despite all the methods and efforts Erich Mielke and similar characters have used throughout history at the end they never decisively won. It turns out that the inherited human desire to control others has another side to the coin—an eventual reaction and pushback from some of the “others” unwilling to submit to oppression. When people are oppressed too much and too long, their dissent begins to emerge, because desire for freedom and unrestrained movement and interaction is also an inherited human trait. It is a fact that cannot be erased by any of the heartwarming-sounding legislation like The Patriot Act or The National Defense Authorization Act, designed to resurrect Erich Mielke.
Addendum: Cultural Systems Change (Or Fake it ‘till You Make It)
In my previous essay, Culture Systems and Conflicts, I elaborated on cultural systems’ change and their contribution to (geography of) conflict. Cultural systems’ purpose is to grow in strength and power, to exercise its dominance over other systems. That commentary holds merit in this essay, too, particularly when reviewed together with scholarship referenced in the above video about psychopaths in government, the corporate world, and society overall.
If, for example, political or corporate leadership is made of individuals exhibiting psychopathic behavior, those who are at the lower hierarchical level will be affected by it and begin to exercise sociopathic behavior. Eventually, the traits of such behavior will spread to a wider population ultimately transforming existing moral values to fit the world as wanted by psychopaths. In plain words, previously unimaginable behavior becomes a new standard in cultural interaction and normal of social behavior.
If some of the main characteristics of psychopathic behavior are lack of empathy and compassion for the lives of others, lying, predatory and antagonistic behavior, seeking chaos over stability, short-term satisfaction of personal urges rather than long-term strategic planning, and unlimited desire for power and control of people’s movement and interaction, how far are we from it being a new normal today? Perhaps we already live in such an environment of acceptance of psychopathic and sociopathic behavior as virtues for success. If so—considering who we elect to represent us in government and make policies that we support, who manages corporations, and how we treat each other in social and professional spheres—then the resurrection of Erich Mielke has already been completed via contributions from all of us. It ensured that nothing good will come out of it in the foreseeable future, unless we reject such behavior and embrace again the traditional moral values. Unfortunately, we will only be able to reverse the current trend of self-destructive behavior as the aftermath of a major catastrophic event of global proportions, because that is where we are allowing the psychopaths-in-charge to take us.