Sunday, January 03, 2010

Afraid to Leave Home

On Fox News yesterday, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (ret.) announced that he wants to strip search all Muslim males between the ages of 18-28, and explains that "political correctness" -- the only possible reason one might have to object to such a proposal -- is going to result in our mass slaughter at the hands of jihadists.


The Constitution is grounded in the premise that there are other values and priorities more important than mere Safety. Even though they knew that doing so would help murderers and other dangerous and vile criminals evade capture, the Framers banned the Government from searching homes without probable cause, prohibited compelled self-incrimination, double jeopardy and convictions based on hearsay, and outlawed cruel and unusual punishment. That's because certain values -- privacy, due process, limiting the potential for abuse of government power -- were more important than mere survival and safety. A central calculation of the Constitution was that we insist upon privacy, liberty and restraints on government power even when doing so means we live with less safety and a heightened risk of danger and death. And, of course, the Revolutionary War against the then-greatest empire on earth was waged by people who risked their lives and their fortunes in pursuit of liberty, precisely because there are other values that outweigh mere survival and safety.


What matters most about this blinding fear of Terrorism is not the specific policies that are implemented as a result. Policies can always be changed. What matters most is the radical transformation of the national character of the United States. Reducing the citizenry to a frightened puddle of passivity, hysteria and a child-like expectation of Absolute Safety is irrevocable and far more consequential than any specific new laws. Fear is always the enabling force of authoritarianism: the desire to vest unlimited power in political authority in exchange for promises of protection.

  Glenn Greenwald

It was only when I spent 9 months living in Mexico that it became clear to me just how risk averse – how totally cowardly – we in this country have become. We do everything we can to ensure that we don’t have an “accident”, that we don’t get hurt, to the point that we lose a great portion of our feeling and our experiences. And some of those experiences would actually protect us in the long run. Part of the reason we have such a monster in health care is that we try so hard to protect ourselves from everything, that we actually ensure greater harm by forcing “superbugs” and the like. We protect our eyes and our skin from solar radiation and thereby deprive ourselves of important vitamins. We can’t learn how to be careful because we don’t allow ourselves to be exposed to situations that require care. We legislate around common sense. We hold manufacturers responsible for our carelessness and thereby drive up costs. We have completely lost sight of anything resembling sensible precaution.

When I climbed up the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, a young girl fell and went rocketing head over heels to a platform below. (I couldn’t believe that she sat up at the end of her long fall.) Rescuers brought ropes and slings to take her the rest of the way. The comments from the native people? She wasn’t careful. There are no protective railings marring these ancient pyramids – though if they were in the U.S., there would be. Or else you simply would not be allowed the experience of climbing them. Too risky.

Life has risks. Nature itself can be a raging force. Living is not safe. We can’t make it be. We can only enrich and empower people who take advantage of our wish that it might be. And strip ourselves of enlightening, if sometimes frightening, experiences. And make us pre-emptively strip ourselves and others of real freedom.

We refuse to become responsible adults. We have our God to tell us what’s right and wrong (although we’ll even bend that to our benefit when we can get away with it), and our government to assure that we always get the first pick of the world’s resources and offerings. But we are perpetual petulant teenagers who want our parents (government) to protect us and give us things, but stay out of our rooms. Unless, of course, there’s a boogeyman in the closet.

As a nation, we are George W. Bush.

....but hey, do what you will anyway.


The WaPo news section reports today that since the Underpants Bomber, Michael Chertoff has been repeatedly telling the media and anyone who will listen that we need to buy lots of full-body scanners for airports, without mentioning his own financial interest – one of the Chertoff Group’s clients is Rapiscan Systems.


Yes. A maker of scanners is a Chertoff client. What a surprise.

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