Wednesday, December 21

Liberty, security, and holiday traffic

I was driving back from Salem yesterday with a co-worker and two sales reps from one of our vendors. It's an hour-long drive normally, but we got caught in some nasty holiday traffic and it took closer to two and a half hours. So we had plenty of time to talk. Since we were on the way to the airport and were running late, the topic of airport security and security in general came up. They all freely admitted to being conservative - one a deeply religious conservative, the other two secular fiscal conservatives, one of whom is also Canadian. All three of them made it abundantly clear that they had absolutely no problem with the Bush Junta's secret domestic surveillance in the name of "security".

I was horrified. I am horrified.

I'm not sure if this picture counts as a thousand words or not, but it represents my beliefs perfectly:

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
A scan of the title page of the first edition of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, published in London in 1759, later attributed to Benjamin Franklin

The dismantling of basic civil rights and liberties in the name of "security" and "fighting the War on Terror" are exactly the thing Franklin was describing. Yes, the world is a dangerous place, but the proper response is not to turn our nation into a totalitarian police state where everyone is "safe" but nobody is free.

When I responded to my three car-mates' statements with the quote from Mr. Franklin, I was met with a resounding silence. I have no illusions that my borrowed eloquence would sway them, but I am deeply concerned that none of them seemed even the least bit concerned or willing to accept the viewpoint as valid. In fact, they all said that the current "security measures" were not strict enough.

Has the pervasive attitude of fear so penetrated our culture that the US public is more afraid of a trumped-up terrorist threat than it is concerned about the systematic dismantling of a more than 200 year old system expressly designed to protect the liberty and freedom of its people? Has the US public fallen so far into complacency, xenophobia, and fear that it has lost sight of the original tenets upon which the Constitution was built and this nation was founded?

If so, how do we change it? How do we wake the public up and remind them that this nation used to stand for liberty and freedom and not an Orwellian dystopia where dissent equates to treason?


  1. One might suggest that people rent Enemy of the State again -- and then point out that the tech shown in the movie was ludicrously limited compared to what the NSA can actually do.

    (A member of the extended family works in military intelligence, and has an amusing story about reading someone's mail, over their shoulder, from space.)

  2. As a died-in-the-wool civil libertarian, I think part of the problem is that we don't talk enough about what are the essential liberties, and the essential safeties.

    The fact that it's a pain in the ass for me to get on planes anymore, since most airlines want to see my ID and won't let me use the automatic kiosk? Fair trade, I'm afraid.

    The idea of a government big enough to eavesdrop on my phone calls without review? Not a conservative approach to government, IMO.

    But to conflate the two is dangerous, because it erodes our credibility. (Not that I think you're conflating them here; only that this is the next logical step of the discussion.)

  3. Sam - Don't I know it! One of my co-workers here worked on the early "screamer" spy satellites in the Vietnam era. Considering what he said they could do 35 years ago, the mind boggles at what can be done today.

    Joe - Funny you should mention that. I agree with you completely. One of the things I said in the car was that I did not mind tight airport security. But there's a world of difference between not allowing weapons on aircraft and tapping my telephone without a warrant or even the pretense of judicial oversight (coughcough-FISA-coughcough-FirstAmendment).