Can I confess that some aspects of this NSA-spying-on-American-citizens story are beginning to bore me? Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is very important. Knowing for sure that the government is watching us, and some of the systems they use to do it, should be disturbing to any American citizen. We need to hold our government accountable for this breach of trust.
But I am bored by the mainstream media’s missing of the point. I am bored by the relentless attempts to smear Greenwald and Snowden (because whatever the truth might be about either of these men, the facts about the governments’ actions remain). And most of all I am unbearably, achingly bored of the partisan bickering.
Because you know what? Overreach of power is not a uniquely Republican or Democratic action. The drift toward fascism or a totalitarian state is not limited to one party. Every politician promises to limit government, and every politician instead expands government at an ever-increasing pace. And here’s why: government, hierarchical power, by its very nature, is violative of individual freedom. Government of necessity dabbles in tyranny. Power, by definition, drifts toward totality of knowledge and control.
When George Orwell penned 1984, he was thinking of communism as the totalitarian threat. So why does 1984 feel like it applies to our lives today? Because it turns out that governmental totalitarianism isn’t limited to one form or philosophy of government. My theory is that European powers like Germany and the Soviet Union succumbed to totalitarianism more quickly than the United States will because they were so close to it already. Monarchies were crumbling but the systems whereby they had perpetuated themselves for centuries were still in place (and I mean social systems, not inbreeding). Once the revolution occurred (in Russia), or in the devastating aftermath of World War I (in Germany), a return to stability meant a return to the habits of monarchy, only more severe. The power once divided between monarchy and the church was united in the State (whether loyalty to the State was masked in rhetoric about the good of the People did not matter, it all came out to the same thing). Although the rulers purportedly were working under a new philosophy, a new way of thinking and ruling, they were still clinging to the old methods of power and hierarchy. So whether it was nationalist and fascist or whether it was communist, the essential point was, it was a totalitarian, hierarchical power structure. In America, we have certain freedoms from government codified in our nations’ law. Although the government has of late seen fit to ignore those freedoms, we have habits and structures and ideas we’ve been practicing for centuries which do tend to slow the descent into tyranny.
But the day will come when we have to face that the essential nature of the state is tyranny. And here is how I know the nature of power tends to the absolute: look at religion. God is supposed to be all-powerful and all-knowing. Therefore his control and knowledge of his followers’ lives must be total, and it is for their own good. Christians spend a great deal of time surrendering to god, giving up personal power and autonomy to do what he (or his ministers at least) say is best for them (no matter how little sense it makes). God is perfect, and perfectly powerful, so his intrusion into one’s life must be total. Religion demands that its followers build their entire lives around it, and all for their own good.
We know that our government thinks that they, if not omniscient, at least know more than we, the people, do. We know that our government believes (or wants us to believe that they believe) they do everything for our good. We know that more knowledge equals more power (for the good of the citizens, of course!) Therefore, why should not our powerful, knowledgeable, and good government take advantage of their powerful systems to make their knowledge more complete? Our government only has our best interests (national security!) at heart, and the more totally they can know us, the more totally they can keep us safe. Power insists on obedience, and power insists on knowing fully those whom it dominates (but only to protect them from one another and themselves! They say, but it’s to protect the state from the people more than anything). It does not matter if that power is said to be derived from the people. The state does what is good for itself. The American Constitution was set up in such a way that, if adhered to, it would keep the government perpetually weakened, moderated, subject to the criticisms and needs of the governed. Therefore if the state is to remain strong (and of course increase in strength, as it has been doing), it must circumvent the Constitution.
The concerns of a benevolent, powerful being (whether god or the state) have dominated civilization for too long. It is time that we, the people, decide what we want. It is time to realize that all power structures aim for the total domination of our lives. It is time we prove wrong those who claim we need to be protected by the state from one another and from ourselves. Let this one more story of violation and illegality on the part of the United States government be our call to action.