Comments on 'Liberty in the Tenticular State'
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
I was just reading “Liberty in the Tenticular State” by Charles Cooke and had a few comments about how confusing issues get, to people with a rights-based (not to mention Constitutionalist) view of reality. There is a better way.
First interesting item in the article was this: “So complete has been the destruction of liberty’s cradle that, a few years back, the ruling Labour party felt comfortable suggesting that all British automobiles be mandated to carry state-owned GPS equipment that would track each car’s movements and automatically calculate one’s road taxes.”
One needn’t go to England to find this. Even (so-called) libertarians in the U.S. have been promoting essentially the same thing: “The Portland region should implement congestion pricing on all regional highways, and make those facilitieis [sic] totally self-supported by tolls.” There are of course detail differences, but tracking of drivers’ movements does not seem to concern them much. This pseudo-free market (that is, fascist) solution has been a staple of “Policy Institutes” for a long time.
Getting to the meat of my comments however, take a look at this statement from the article: “On his cable-news show, which is conveniently protected by the First Amendment, Bill Maher took this to its logical conclusion last week, arguing that the Founding Fathers could never have imagined these threats, and asking pugnaciously whether the Fourth Amendment was now as obsolete as he considers the Second to be. Suffice it to say that to take this position is to accept that the American ideal of a limited government that exercises its powers judiciously and only with explicit permission is no longer viable . . . . I will not stand for that.”
Uh, yes, Charles, you will stand for it. Unless you consider voting for an alternative scoundrel an example of not standing for that. <yawn>
I always think it is a good idea to have reality firmly in mind when one puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) . . . .
He writes, “If I ceased to be a “sensible, law-abiding Englishman” and elected to commit a crime — or, for that matter, if the authorities had reasonable cause to suspect that I had done so — I would be happy to concede that my privacy, after the relevant permissions were sought, would be abrogated.”
Big of him. Also entirely irrelevant, as if the ruling class and its minions give a damn what he thinks. But it is somewhat revealing that he is perfectly OK with the trashing of his liberty as long as the proper forms are followed! This kinda tempers his righteous outrage, doesn’t it?
“At what point did it become assumed in free countries that relationships between free citizens and free businesses were not sacrosanct?
At what point were they ever sacrosanct? This is clearly a clue (“sacrosanct") we are talking about a religious notion. The fun thing about religion is that it doesn’t need to show any connection with reality.
“That Constitution, I might remind naysayers, is still in force . . . .”
News to me . . . .
“The Fourth Amendment exists now for precisely the same reason that it existed in 1791: to ensure that, in the absence of extremely compelling situations, Americans are not subject to casual government scrutiny.”
But . . . they are subject to casual government scrutiny. If you want to claim otherwise, you have to show some mechanism that reliably, time after time, prevents it. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, nothing prevents it. That’s reality.
“It is precisely this confluence that Americans must resist.”
Ah, now we get down to the nitty gritty. Unfortunately, Cooke leaves out the details of what constitutes resistance. I suspect his recipe is voting for someone with an R behind his name. <sigh>
A while back I wrote an article examining another way of looking at “private property". I suspect this business about privacy is much the same.
First, there is no such thing as a right to privacy, because there is no such thing as rights at all. Rights are just memes floating around in our heads, interpreted differently according to the individual (I’ll bet an NSA employee has an interesting take on privacy). Further, privacy is relatively recent; the human race got along without it for eons. Nice to have, but hardly crucial. If there was some way for individuals to actually enforce it (and there is in some spheres, such as encryption), it would actually be helpful in the relation between the individual and the state. But we needn’t throw up our hands--and keep in mind that the ruling class is itself living in a fishbowl, along with the rest of us.
Second, just as your property is that stuff you can prevent others from taking, privacy is that information you can keep others from learning--and nothing more than that. For that reason it is well worth getting up on encryption technology and tools like bitmessage. It’s not that life will end if they can record and scan your emails or something; it’s that it’s good and proper to poke the snoops in the eye by finding information you can prevent them learning. The more mundane that stuff is, the better. Let’s face it, most things people do, that they reflexively want to keep private, are not all that important or remarkable.
Third, privacy can be a crutch. Are gays better off now, or before they came out of the closet? Anyway sometimes the urge to privacy is a hint it is about something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Banging the neighbor’s wife sure wants to be kept private, but if you are worried some government goon is going to blackmail you with that information, you’d probably be better off not banging her any more.
Finally, I have a suggestion for an alternative view of all this surveillance. Let’s imagine all the lurid details about that Utah disk farm and vacuuming up emails are true. Why would the government bother--especially since life is generally so unremarkable? Why track a housewife to the supermarket? I’d like to propose that the information-gathering is not actually very useful to the ruling class, and that it’s not really what they are after. Instead, all the fear mongering such as that stirred up by Cooke’s article, is what they are really aiming at. It takes self-enforcement to keep a huge population in line, and fear is the premier tool that enables that to happen. They don’t want our privacy trashed or our information compromised; they want us scared shitless.
If you are getting depressed about stuff you can’t control, such as government snooping, the proper response is to do something you can control. Encrypt your hard drive just for fun. Buy a case of ammo and get some “recoil therapy” at the range. Pull your kid out of the government indoctrination center. Carry a handgun. Find something that the ruling class hates, and do that.
They want you scared. Don’t do that.