Not Enough of a Chump

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Having watched some (usually reasonable) talking heads go on about the Verizon monstrosity, and then the PRISM thing — Grendel’s mother — I am struck once again with how so many modern conservatives miss the point. They do not understand the central principle of limited government. They do not understand what it means to be governed by men who understand what the rule of law is supposed to mean. They do not get it — and these are the conservatives.

The point (at this juncture) is not what the government does or does not do. If our current foolishness keeps up much longer, that will become the point soon enough, but it is not quite the point yet. The point is not what the government has done or will do. Free men care about what the government is allowed to be in a position to do.

Free men don’t want a government that doesn’t get into your email. Free men want a government that isn’t in any position to get into your email.

A despot might, by the luck of the draw, be something of a reasonable man. His dictatorship might be benevolent. That has happened from time to time – look, a comet! This does not mean that the power he refrains from using is a power that he ought to have.

The fact that Bush used the surveillance state to protect us from terrorists, while Obama uses it on his domestic adversaries, is beside the point. I don’t really want to know how Bush used that apparatus. I want to know who he handed it over to, and what’s been done with it since. Assume Bush protected us from terrorists after 9-11. That is not the same thing as protecting our freedoms.

Terrorists hate us because of our freedoms? They hate it that we have to go to the airport an hour early in order to be patted down by the TSA? They hate it that the government rummages through our emails, like they were pieces of luggage at the airport? They hate it that the government monitors our phone calls? They hate how the IRS guns for the political opponents of the president? They hate how journalism has been criminalized? I hate all those things too, but I am not enough of a chump to call them my freedoms.

Bush slathered us in a mosquito repellant that has had the side effect of attracting raging bulls. I don’t want to talk about the mosquitoes, the existence of which I readily grant. But for some reason I am more interested in the bulls.

I have no objection to a war on terror – in its place. There are terrorists in the world, and we should go after them, lawfully and constitutionally. But if we are fighting this war for the sake of our freedoms, we need to have some sense of proportionality. What is the greatest threat to our freedoms? If we must fight for our freedoms, and we must, we obviously need a much bigger “war” on the federal government – on the NSA, the IRS, the DOJ, the BATF, all those alphabet johnnies.

By the way, I put the word “war” in quotation marks because I suspect that they may be something my attorney would like to have in my trial for sedition, insufficient docility, treason, rebellious thoughts writing about our federal masters using all that metaphor code.

Speaking of which, as I stood upon the sand of the sea, I saw a beast rise up out of the Potomac, having seven heads, and headphones on all of them, and behold, he was listening intently. And he had ten horns, with a crown upon each, and on his forehead was inscribed Panopticon, the name of his blasphemy.

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10 years ago

Other than the given assumption that Bush and Obama have used the abuses of the “Patriot Act” in significantly different ways, I agree a lot with this post.

Aaron Snell
Aaron Snell
10 years ago

Conor Friedersdorf is saying something similar over at The Atlantic
here. The issue for free men is not do, but could.

Tim Bushong
10 years ago

I admit it freely- I looked up “Panopticon.”

10 years ago

As usual, Conor is spot-on.

Tim Prussic
10 years ago

Pr. Wilson, I seem to remember you writing some prophecy or other about this type of thing back when the Patriot Acts was being sold to us by the gubment and its subsidiaries. Looks like an infelicitous told you so.

10 years ago

Scary. How can it be allowed that in a ‘civilized’ country there can be such violation of individuals privacy. Agreed, there need to be mechanisms for investigation of suspect individuals, but it seems control/access has got way, way too lax. It’s not right. 1984 is here.