Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Put Your Cash Away!

In his introduction to Jim Dodge's Stone Junction, Thomas Pynchon wrote:
Equally difficult for those who might wish to proceed through life anonymously and without trace has been the continuing assault against the once-reliable refuge of the cash or non-plastic economy. There was a time not so long ago you could stroll down any major American avenue, collecting anonymous bank checks, get on some post office line, and send amounts in the range "hefty to whopping" anywhere, even overseas, no problem. Now it's down to $750 a pop, and shrinking. All to catch those Drug Dealers of course, nothing to do with the grim, simplex desire for more information, more control, lying at the heart of most exertions of power, whether  governmental or corporate (if that's a distinction you believe in).
This thought, written in 1997, proved prophetic. Take, for example, a recent edict by SLATT. I wasn't aware of this either, but the FBI runs a "Communities Against Terror" program that is "part of a program run by the Dept. of Justice called the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training program (SLATT)." SLATT warns citizens to be vigilent for behaviors that might mark terrorists, and ruins its credibility by interdispersing among its useful advice the most commonplace of activities, like:
Using Google Maps to find your way around a strange city, to view photos of sports stadium or the cities themselves or installing software on your PC designed to protect your privacy online are all solid indications not that you're a terrorist, rather than a web-savvy traveler.
The latest revelation from the FBI files? Paying in cash for coffee.
Using cash for small purchases like a cup of coffee, gum and other items is a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal without leaving the kind of paper trail created using a debit or credit card for small purchases. The most recent update asks coffee shop owners, baristas and other customer-service specialists to be on the lookout for the enemy who walks among us.
In my more generous moments, I think that absurd information like this is a result of well-meaning governmental employees who, quite simply, need to do something with all of the time and money they have on their hands, and so spend their days over thinking things. In my more cynical moments, I wonder - like Pynchon - if advice like this is designed to drive people away from cash so more information is gathered and/or credit card companies can collect more from businesses in absurdly overpriced "processing" fees. But the reality is more along the lines that once a populace is controlled by fear, they start searching for evidence to justify that fear. Put more colloquially, if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. It's sad that we've come to this, since the reality is that at the end of the day, no person should be suspected for anything by the simple act of using cash.

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