Annals of Literature: The Palantir Mistake

The technology company Palantir Technologies may or may not have been part of the NSA’s currently publicized surveillance program “PRISM.” Right now it looks like a confusion among names. But considering their established relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, the “Intelligence Community” (love the phrase), and their long-known relationship with the CIA, it wouldn’t be surprising. Leaving aside their PRISM possibilities, let’s look for a moment at the company.

Their current homepage splashes a story about combating human trafficking. Rich liberals hate human trafficking right now, a lot. What’s to like? They also sent “Philanthropy Engineers” (I did not make this up) to Oklahoma to fix things with computers in some way. Take a moment now to look through their website. They’re Google-smart and clearly successful, and it looks like a great place to work. Plus, strong ethics. Just look at the mission page. Not only are they committed to saving lives and fixing diseases, they have an explicit mission to preserve civil liberties. Very explicit.

If the CIA is a big customer and investor, you’re the darling of the Department of Defense, you advertise your usefulness in the fight against terrorism, and you’re making a pantsload of money off this, how can you possibly have any “commitment” to civil liberties? What do you do for the CIA, tell them what the mountains are like in Afghanistan? Or how likely it is that Suicide Bomber #53 will show up at Bagram next week? Who do you think you’re fooling, other than yourselves?

Also, “Palantir” is a funny word. Why would you name your company that?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Lord of the Rings is a nerd Bible, the original sword & sorcery fantasy. After Peter Jackson’s films, everyone knows it. In the novel, the Palantir is a crystal ball. “Kingly” people with appropriate credentials can stare into the Palantir and see all over the world. There are my enemy’s armies! Looks like the harvest is going well! Oh heck, is that a pirate ship? Send the cavalry!

Unfortunately, the major antagonist and bad guy has got hold of one of these things and because he’s kingly and a demigod too, he exerts influence. The bad guy can mess with another Palantir customer’s  visions and distort them, showing only bad news, twisting images, creating paranoia, and wrecking morale. A key plot point involves a good guy king spending too much time looking into the Palantir like bad daytime TV and getting so depressed about his war with evil that he commits suicide, nearly killing his son as well, and dies in flames clutching the thing. It is literally an epic fail. Another powerful character slides into 100% nasty evil partly because he gets trolled by a hijacked Palantir. He gets his town wrecked by angry anthropomorphic trees and later is stabbed by his assistant. One sees a pattern.

Another smarter kingly type picks one up to mess with the antagonist a little and scare him, and then doesn’t use it any more, because the thing is dangerous. Why pick it up, even during a war, if you don’t have to? It’s unreliable now and will lead you to make bad mistakes and give up the fight. It’s not useful any more. That’s the end of that!

I understand that nerds use words that are “cool,” or even entire ideologies that seem “cool,” without thinking about the meaning of, well, anything at all. Happy Star Wars geeks get together and march in parades as the civilian-murdering, robotic, and incompetent adversaries from the movie, for example. What the hell? Oh, right. It just refers to something. Meaning is not important.

In this case, though, it’s just too damn good. The generous, progressive, socially involved, and brilliant philanthropy engineers at Palantir are one and the same with the surveillance state. Whether or not their Prism is the current PRISM, they’re both key vendors and and investment for the U.S “Intelligence Community.” These are the people who tell the President who should be drone-murdered, which civilians are threats to national security, who’s going to try to blow us up, and who is being troublesome. There has been the occasional misstep here, which is mentioned even in the news.

Our government has in its hand a Palantir, some of which is provided by the eponymous company. Look into it and you’ll see enemies without and within, plots, revolutionaries, malice concealed as dissent, and an unending future of unstoppable terrorism and necessary war. The one thing you won’t see is the sign that says “STOP! This is stupid and evil. Get a grip willya?”

So far the national Palantir has been bad for everyone. Be smart, kingly types, and throw the thing away, and throw away the war on terror as well.

And by the way: that company should change its name once it has the guts to dump its most important customers. If they read more, they’d make fewer branding mistakes and kill fewer people.

4 thoughts on “Annals of Literature: The Palantir Mistake

  1. The best thing about the movie /Being There/ is that the main character has, to use William Gibson’s term, “zero history”– and what does the Intelligince Community make of this? That he’s some super-spy? No, the novel/movie has most plausible thing happen: the FBI and the CIA accuse eachother of having destroyed the file on the man (and all traces of it).

    Sometimes it’s Tuttle, sometimes it’s Buttle– and sometimes there’s an Interpol mauve alert for ZUTTLE, no_photo.jpg, DOB ____-__-__, nationality Pick_One, and the default “X” for all the checkboxes:
    armed at all times
    immediate danger
    disguises
    drugs (all, everything)
    poisons
    immuntity to poisons
    violent fugue states
    martial arts
    …with focus on maiming and mutilation
    improvised weapons
    pursuit with parkour
    pursuit with carjacking
    Romani
    computer viruses
    psychopath
    Anonymous
    dead aim
    occult
    organ trafficking
    cannibal

  2. I wonder about my own status in there now, after the information that I was literally not in the database when we were getting a mortgage. Cool, but please I can fix my ducts myself.

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