L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 258, February 8, 2004
Government has no requirement to protect anyone
Who's Scary Now?
Special to TLE
Every holiday season, I do the same thing that millions of Americans do: I prepare a kind of "newsletter" recapping the year, and I include a copy of it with my greeting cards. This past Christmas, I also sent a copy of an editorial I had written entitled Thanks and Giving. I thought it was appropriate since I mentioned in my newsletter that I wrote regular commentaries, and because it talked both about what I was thankful for in 2003 as well as some things I really would have liked to receive as Christmas gifts.
Just a week ago, I was chatting with a family member on the phone when I was more than a little taken aback by something she told me. She advised that a relative who had received the card and newsletter had contacted her and wondered about me. I was, said the relative, apparently involved in something "really scary."
Well, obviously, I went right back to my essay archives to see just what on earth I'd said that was so frightening. And here's what I found:
I said the PATRIOT Act, despite the government's promises it would be used only for terrorism-related investigations, had already been overtly misused. I wrote that the MATRIX database program was even worse than the now-defunct Total Information Awareness program. I lamented the thousands of eminent domain abuses that had occurred within the last five years. And then I said that these bad things were actually good things because they served as lessons that the government promises had proved meaningless, and that our privacy, property, and liberty remained in grave danger.
I wrote that there were ways that citizens could work to overturn or at least to mitigatethe anti-freedom effects of some of these things. I suggested to my readers that they educate themselves, and that they vote. I offered some ideas as to reference material they might use to learn more. I said people ought to exercise their First Amendment rights and get in touch with their political representatives to let them know what they thought about various programs or pieces of legislation. I told everyone that joining an activist group of one kind or anotherand in accordance with their own personal interestsmight also be a good idea.
None of the bad news I shared should have come as a surprise to anybody. The events I mentioned weren't taken out of context or made up out of some fabric of paranoia. Each has been widely publicized on the Internet and elsewhere, and that's one reason I chose to use those examples. None of the things I suggested that people do about the bad news were in any way questionable. They're not illegal (not yet, anyway). They're not subversive (well, unless you take an almanac with you to meetings or to your local polling place). In fact, those suggestions were all entirely run-of-the-mill for any citizen willing to undertake even the most bare bones involvement in their own government.
And yet I'm apparently involved in something "really scary."
If you distill down all that I've said, you can put it into these few words: I want everyone, even government officialshell, especially government officials!to obey the law. And I want the laws at every level to fall squarely within the parameters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights as they were originally presented to "the People" whose unalienable rights they were supposed to protect.
And now I'm given to understand that that very notion is "really scary."
Once I'd determined that everything I'd written was as I intended, and that none of it was particularly controversial (do you think I would have sent it out to a number of starchy relatives if it hadn't been fairly low key?), I started to think about something else. What kind of person would think that a return to liberty under the Constitution is a frightening proposition?
I suppose that a law enforcement agent more enamored with power than with justice would be unhappy if he lost many of the unwarranted powers he's somehow managed to assume over the course of the years, and most particularly since 9/11.
I imagine that a man or woman accustomed to a lifestyle based on government hand-outs might have some issues with taking on responsibility for him- or herself.
I can see that a given politician might worry for her job if she didn't occupy herself inventing all sorts of additional unnecessary laws or pricey and inefficient new government programs.
But my relative is none of these things, so I realized I needed to reflect further. And I think I've finally got it. My relative thinks I'm into something "really scary" because my relative is really scared. The threat of terrorism has frightened her. The idea of violencewhether in self defense or in offenseappalls her. The (often dubious) good of the many outweighs the good of the few, even at the expense of the liberty of all. She wants the government to "make it all go away" so that she doesn't have to be afraid any more. Since it's clear that I'm opposed to some of the very things she thinks will "make it all go away," my ideas are just one more thing for her to fear.
The truth is that many of the efforts the government has made over the years "for your own good" or "for your safety" have been abysmal failures. They've cost a lot of money. They've created more problems than they've solved. They've chipped away at our freedom until parts and pieces of the Bill of Rights are falling away in hefty chunks. And in the end, they're markedly inefficient. 100% security and safety simply isn't possible, not even if we sacrifice all of our freedoms in the attempt (something I still wouldn't consider worth the trade, by the way). And frankly, while my relative is worried about me, I'm scared of her and people like her.
I'm afraid they'll never truly realize that their ultimate goal is unachievable, and so they'll keep stripping freedoms from us in a futile attempt to reach it. I'm afraid that, because they want somebody else to take care of them, they'll insist on taking care of me even to the point of constant monitoring, draconian regulation, and back-breaking taxation. And I worry that, to add insult to injury, they'll say that's a good thing, and if I dare protest they'll silence me and call me ungrateful, or worse (to me, at any rate) they'll say I'm un-American.
In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell wrote of something called "doublespeak." A fictional government ministry issued reports that renamed war as peace and bad as good. Anybody who dared see through the "doublespeak" was promptly coerced and conditioned otherwise. When people who are otherwise intelligent say that a desire for liberty is something to be feared, and that limiting the law according to traditional Constitutional restraints is a bad thing, it's clear that "doublespeak" has taken hold.
You know what scares me most? If "doublespeak" is truly believed by some, as soon as it becomes believed by enough, the coercion and conditioning will follow. Let's see anybody call that proposition anything but terrifying.
Is America becoming a police state? Friends of liberty need to know.
Some say the U.S. is already a police state. Others watch the news for signs that their country is about to cross an indefinable line. Since September 11, 2001, the question has become more urgent. When do roving wiretaps, random checkpoints, mysterious "detentions," and military tribunals cross over from being emergency measures to being the tools of a government permanently and irrevocably out of control?
The State vs. the People examines these crucial issues. But first, it answers this fundamental question: "What is a police state?"
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