Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Send In the Pre-Cogs

The ongoing dust-up over the state of the nation's intelligence services should bring home that we are forever condemned to make the best of a world in which nobody does or ever can know the future other than in very narrow categories, which we call "hard science," and then only in limited respects and under serious assumptions. Most people never forgot that, of course, but it is such an uncomfortable fact that most people care not to dwell on it either. The consequences of September 11 require quite a bit more such dwelling than most people are used to or comfortable with.

All the wrangling over how much evidence should constitute "probable cause" for a search warrant and similar intelligence issues are at bottom different aspects of the same question: How much can and should the government know before it can take action against an individual?

And this single question is forever troubled by two questions with only the most approximate answers: How is the government supposed to acquire the initial batch of evidence? What rules are supposed to be invoked to extrapolate from the evidence and patterns perceived in the past to guess at likely future events?

A movie which posits an intelligence service which employs in-house psychics (called "pre-cogs" in the movie, perhaps to distract the viewer from associations with Miss Cleo) who are never wrong about the future is therefore irrelevant to everything raised by September 11 and the aftermath, right?

Not to Steven Spielberg. The publicity for his new movie "Minority Report" aims to prove that it was with September 11 that psychics (excuse me, "pre-cogs") really came into their own:

"Tom Cruise plays John Anderton, top man in the Justice Department's Pre-Crime unit. His job is interpreting the visions of crimes yet to be committed that are fished out of the extra-sensory perceptions of a trio of so-called Pre-Cogs, psychics nurtured in a flotation tank, whose soothsaying has never been proved wrong. Pulling together their fleeting premonitions like a conductor taking an orchestra through the score, Cruise and the cops zero in on the criminal - like the crime passionel in the film's "overture," foiled with seconds to spare before a jealous husband can knife his wife and her lover."

See, the Bush Administration is moving to emphasize prevention of terrorist attacks - and Spielberg's movie is about police who emphasize prevention of crime by using psychics (I mean, "pre-cogs"). So, according to the studio execs and the buzz they're stirring up (especially through Matt Drudge, it seems) IT'S ALL PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THING! I guess it's just supposed to be a detail that the Administration wants to prevent future attacks by holding people accountable for things they have already done (like conspiring to effect those attacks) where the movie is said by its publicists to be about holding people accountable for things they have not yet done or even thought about doing.

Can't blame a boy for trying.

The movie police even “bug” buildings with little robot spiders that look into the occupants’ eyes while they’re having sex! Hey, practical nanotechnology! Glenn, take a look!

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