Cyber Siphons: Identity Theft and Black Weekend

On Saturday morning I received a letter in the post which asked me to confirm if I had agreed to act as a guarantor for somebody to take out a lone for a considerable amount of money. Well, I hadn’t agreed, and this simply opened a can of worms with a big fat label on the front reading IDENTITY THEFT.

A month ago I was also the victim of fraud when a series of mysterious credit card transactions appeared on my statement. I have since been on the lookout for other odd goings on, and now there is an investigation under way to see what’s gone wrong.

How appropriate, or perhaps ironic, that this should all have come to a head on Black Weekend, which spans Black Friday to Cyber Monday. Of course, much of the shopping that happens over this weekend happens online anyway, so when we go out to the city centres and see all the bargains ranged before our eyes, we’re only skimming the surface. What we see is simply the outline of something which is more interior, more hidden behind the screen of the internet.

And, of course, it is on the internet that a lot of identity theft occurs. In an article for the Observer (November 27, 2016), the author John Naughton explores the way in which the internet has become a black underworld for extraordinary feats of crime as well as the multitude of incidents which are objectively small-scale because they happen to people like me and you, but subjectively of course, they are huge. We feel them on the pulse like a knife incision.

And why does crime occur on the internet? I can’t pretend to know the answer to this (does anyone?), but when it concerns identity theft and fraud, the end-goal is money, which translates as stuff.

So we find ourselves back at Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You don’t need to be a Christian to accuse humanity of being increasingly enslaved to stuff, to becoming consumers in chains. Marx had a deal to say about this, as did Adorno in the twentieth century. And yet, what the Christian mythology of life offers is a rationale for why such slavery is blatant; it is at once hard-hitting as well as extraordinarily sympathetic to the person, to the broken image of God in the human.

As a Christian personalist, I am baffled by the inversion of values, where objects become more important than people, which is the essence of capitalist consumerism. On the one hand, consumers tragically scrimp and save and take out reams of credit because they believe that purchasing this or that will make them happy, will make them whole. On the other hand, people are drafted into a casualised workforce and become pawns in the market monster, in a monstrous phantasm.

A wise philosopher once said that all idolatry involves human sacrifice. What this means is that when something is set up as a supreme good – something which is not a person – people are likely to be sacrificed to it. The impersonality of the supremely attractive object compounds the sense of sacrifice. There is something remarkably levelling about focusing on people; directing our attentions to actual people is wonderfully diffusive: our emotions refract like astigmatism in the eye and land on multiple points rather than being focused on just one.

The internet simply accentuates and exaggerates the phantasmagorical nature of being enslaved to money (read: objects). The web is able to elevate the importance of impersonal objects; it’s able to increase objectification. It’s also able to atrophy the growth of personality in human beings by making it that bit harder to engage with the person on an immediate level. When we buy online, we rarely encounter the people behind the companies whose impressive web pages we browse. And we rarely encounter the other consumers.

I am not denouncing the internet or the need to buy things. With cyber crime on the rise, however, and with people falling into more and more debt caused by credit purchasing, something is amiss, a little dark, a bit black. I am concerned that my identity has been stolen in order for others to get a quick buck. Of course I am glad an investigation is launched. But I also realise that an investigation won’t solve the underlying issue. The only way to approach that is to dig deeper and intuit what’s happening spiritually in cyberspace and with the surge of credit spending at times like Black Weekend. In the fog of cyber siphons, can we make out the outline of personalities?

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