L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 299, November 28, 2004
"Just minding your own business"
In God We Trust...
Special to TLE
...but apparently in almost nobody else. In fact, pervasive distrust has become just about universal. Consider:
Families worried in an age of excited TV and Internet reports on child molestation and other sex crimes are more and more inclined to look into the past history of that new neighbor or the guy down the block who waves to their kids whenever he passes the playground. Despite cries of invasion of privacy from various civil liberties groups, myriad online resources exist for the concerned parent not least of which is the centralized Sex Offender Registry Information Center.
Of all people, we should each of us trust our doctors. But when a doctor tells us something we don't want to hear, rather than proceeding with some course of treatment many of us get a second opinion, thank you very much. And when it comes to our confidential medical information, those of us concerned with the privacy of our most personal information may conceal or even overtly lie so that it won't show up in medical records that aren't kept truly secure (if you think HIPAA offers any significant protection, you might want to think again).
In turn, and with some justification, many of our doctors no longer trust us to be honest about our medical conditions or history. But to turn the tables right back on the doctors, the government doesn't trust them not to overprescribe medications that you and I might be inclined to abuse; which, on the flip side means, doctors aren't so sure they trust us when we tell them we're in pain.
When we buy a service from a vendor, we check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure they're reliable and competent; when we purchase goods, we want guarantees of our money back or replacement products. We insist on such recourse because we don't trust manufacturers or vendors to necessarily provide us with the product or service as advertised. Meanwhile, the vendor wants payment in advance, an ID before he'll take a check, or credit checks prior to offering payment plans.
Some years ago when I relocated and had to find a new bank, I walked into a local branch of a bank I'd previously used elsewhere and asked about depositing several thousand dollars into an account there. Despite the fact I was going to give them money rather than asking that they give me some in the form of a loan, employees there insisted on doing a credit check on me claiming that poor credit risks were often poor customers (for the record, I ripped up the paperwork and took my deposit elsewhere).
At one time, you applied for a job with an application and a résumé. If you were the most qualified applicant, you'd get the job; if you weren't, you wouldn't. Obviously, there have always been select professions that warranted background checks. People wanting to be FBI agents, for example, or engineers looking for a job with a defense contractor that required security clearance. But now a significant number of employers conduct background or credit checks as a matter of course, and in some instances, a bad credit check can cost you the job regardless of your qualifications. Worse, the frequency of background checks is increasing, and such checks are becoming more and more comprehensive.
In our personal lives, when we meet new people, we more often than not take what they say with a grain of salt until they prove themselves. In the dating world, "googling" our opposite numberhas become popular as a way of conducting a sort of low-end and informal background check of our own. Should those dates result in marriage, we show our ongoing distrust with matters ranging from pre-nuptual agreements to private detective agencies formed solely to check up on spousal activities to bizarre products that let us confirm whether or not one of us is cheating.
But here's the sad part: Most of our distrust is warranted.
We wouldn't feel the need to check on our neighbors if it weren't for the facts that sex offenders are likely to reoffend, and that our current judicial system often releases them to new areas (ostensibly so that, in new surroundings, they won't face the same temptations that put them behind bars in the first place, but likely also because their old stomping grounds won't have them back).
Our medical information is now so widely disseminated that there are statutes on the books to prevent employers from discriminating against those with ailments or disabilities of various kinds when, in fact, most of those ailments are undetectable by laymen; we worry about the further spread of such information to places like banks (who are ostensibly at least potentially able to get the data because of holes in HIPAA) who might use it to discriminate in the offering of various services. As for doctors committing malpractice or overprescribing, or patients overindulging in medications, well, an occasional read of your local newspaper ought to be adequate to show you that the distrust of both sides is legitimate.
Speaking of banks, since the advent of the USA PATRIOT Act, it's become even more invasive for those needing to conduct business at some financial institution or another. Every single one of us is now presumed a potential terrorist and is eyeballed accordingly. (It would, of course, make more sense to watch those who've given some cause to be watched, but apparently it's easier to watch everyone than it is to make some kind of rational determination as to who might have committed some action or another that might actually warrant some monitoring.)
Employers aren't really out to invade our privacy. Their actions are the result of being burned one too many times by prospective hires who've lied on applications or résumés, and by employees who have lied, cheated, or pilfered on the job.
As for checking out our dates or prospective mates, well, I don't imagine there's a one of us who's managed to reach adulthood without seeing enough to pierce our own veil of trust. Don't we all have at least one or two personally known examples of lying, cheating, and worse between husbands and wives? And who isn't aware of a break-up gone frighteningly awry with one or both parties seeking to wreak vengeance on the other?
So we're not trusted, and we don't trust in return. But the notable exception to all this may be the single most frightening of all due to its all-encompassing repercussions. That exception is the government. For example:
Local law enforcement doesn't trust us to protect ourselves with our own firearms and we're told we should dial 911 instead. But repeated cases and the subsequent court rulings have shown that the police aren't liable if they fail to protect us, whether that failure be due to a lackadaisical response or an inability to mount an adequate response in time. What do we do? Despite a mountiain of evidence that should see us conclude the opposite, we (oh, not me, and certainly none of you who favor liberty, but far too many!) clamor for more gun control even as we look to the police as heroes in blue who'll arrive just in time to save the day.
Politicians repeatedly make promises that sound good to us and so we vote in their favor. But once elected, they conveniently forget or renege on their promises. And what do we do? Come the next election, we vote for the vast majority of them again.
The Bill of Rights promises us freedom of religion, and our federal government in turn exists to protect and enforce those freedoms. Yet a federal agency under the orders of a federal official put a fringe religious group under siege and eventually murdered almost all of those who were members. What do we do? We vilify those who died rather than accuse those who lied.
The Constitution provides that an army exists to protect our national interests, yet in the case of Iraqwhether through failed intelligence or failed policiesthe only real danger has been to our soldiers fighting to take the last unconquered bits of ground there. And what do we do? Well, as our representatives, Congress increases the intelligence budget for agencies that should have been restructured, and the duly elected (by us) administration forms a new bureaucratic behemoth to make the chain of command even longer and more prone to kinks.
In a nutshell, sex offenders have earned our distrust by doing something unthinkable and by their potential to do that unthinkable thing again. Doctors have committed malpractice, and patients have proved addicts. Manufacturers have shown themselves to be both fallible and uncaring for those who purchase faulty or flawed products, while employees have demonstrated themselves incapable, incompetent, or untrustworthy. As a direct result, none of us entirely trusts any of them, and none of them place complete trust in us.
So why is it that, when we've been cheated on, robbed, and betrayed in virtually every sense of the words, so many of us still have some kind of blind trust in the government? Isn't it time to open our eyes and take a good, hard look at the evidence, however painful it might prove? And once we do, shouldn't our distrust extend past our neighbors, doctors, employees, and retailers and to those who've most consistently betrayed us and the Constitution? Or is it that too many of us consider the government to be of less import to our lives than our cars or our carpenters?
Just as ignorance or apathy in the case of the child molester next door may lead to tragedy, our refusal to see the ugly truth of too many individuals and agencies in government will eventually (probably sooner rather than later) lead to the loss of that which makes all other things in America possible, that being freedom. While we still have a little of it left, it's time for us to use it to refuse to accept the lies any longer; to demand accountability and recompense for unconstitutional actions; and to work to change or retire those parts and pieces of government that have proved so completely that they simply cannot be trusted.
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