Monday, June 4, 2012

An Irritated Rant

Today, the Blog is dedicated to Things Aaron Hates.

I'm tired of hearing people complain that we live in a police state where your free speech is censored to serve the interests of the "wealthy" and "powerful," when what's really happening is that they're miffed that they weren't given a loud enough bullhorn that people have to pay attention to them. It's even more annoying when they press into my hands a list of terms that they want me to Google as proof that free speech is dead.

"No one is silenced because a single outlet declines to publish him; silencing occurs when that outlet (or any other) is forbidden by the state to publish him on pain of legal action; and that is also what censorship is."
Stanley Fish ("The Free-Speech Follies" The Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 June, 2003)
But this is not to say that we live in some sort of paradise, where there is no conceivable threat that someone in a position of authority will use their power against you wrongly. After all, a certain level of unaccountability it baked into the very definition of power. If you can't abuse it, it's not really power.
"The origin of a police state in this country, I believe, is this: We gradually exchange a rights-based system, in which governmental power is limited by law, for a paternalistic one, in which we may all be arrested for one thing or another, but authorities forebear from doing so, or intruding in our lives, until they subjectively brand us 'bad guys.'"
Ben Rosenfeld ("In order to feel secure, are we throwing away our freedom?" San Fransisco Chronicle, 14 November, 2005)
But in the end, the responsibility always lies with us. Where else can it lie? It is our constant quest for security that drives us to allow for greater and greater powers of government to punish those who threaten us. The War on Terror, for all of its high-minded rhetoric and talk of bringing democracy and freedom to places on the other side of the world, was really about the quest to destroy two frightening bogeymen, and lobotomize the nations in which they resided into becoming faithful enough friends of the United States that they would police their own people for signs of the sort of angry nationalism that we used to call people heroes for displaying. The sad truth of a downward slide into totalitarianism is that governments rarely need to march troops on dead of night to steal freedoms. The populace can almost be entrusted to sell them out from underneath their neighbors for a modicum of security. Or, worse yet, the illusion of security.
"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who Is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are."
H. L. Mencken
It doesn't matter what the prevailing government of the day is. It's genially broken at best, and at worst it's the single biggest enemy to nearly each and every person who lives under it but is not a party to it. But no matter where you look, you will not find a hatchery, where the politicians, soldiers and bureaucrats are spawned. And despite the ease of looking to our neighbors for the culprits, for many of us, the guilty party stares back us every time we look into a mirror. I don't care how how draconian and totalitarian a state is - on some level it exists because its people want it to exist. People tolerate bad when they fear worse.

The world is ephemeral. If you could wait long enough, it would cease to be, along with everything that we understand to be mighty and important. If everything must end someday, only our fear of someday being tomorrow is what stands between us, and the world we claim to want.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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