Read This

I’ll write something later, after I get some sleep. But it will be probably be light, fluffy, and just this side of meaningless. It definitely won’t be as good as this:

I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties,” Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) remarked at yesterday’s Hayden confirmation hearings, “but you have no civil liberties if you are dead.” This comes via Dave Weigel and nicely encapsulates at least three different pieces of horribly misguided rightingery.

First off is the sheer cowardice of it. Sure, liberal democracy is nice, but not if someone might get hurt. One might think that strong supporters of civil liberties would be willing to countenance the idea that it might be worth bearing some level of risk in order to preserve them.

Second is just this dogmatic post-9/11 insistence on acting as if human history began suddenly in 1997 or something. The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can’t even surface publicly abroad for fear they’ll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.

Last, there’s the unargued assumption that civil rights and the rule of law are some kind of near-intolerable impediment to national security. But if you look around the world over the past hundred years or so, I think you’ll see that the record of democracy is pretty strong. You don’t see authoritarian regimes using their superior ability to operate in secret and conduct surveillance to run roughshod over more fastidious countries. You see liberalism prospering — both in the sense that the core liberal countries have grown richer-and-richer and in the sense that liberal democracy has consistently spread out from its original homeland since people like it better. You see governments that can operate in total secrecy falling prey to crippling corruption. You see powers of surveillance used not to defend countries from external threats, but to defend rulers from domestic political opponents.

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don’t have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what’s the point in defending it?

2 Responses to “Read This”

  1. The Educated Mr. Pech Says:

    I remember back in grade school being taught various things about a group of guys in the late 1700s that got a little unruly. I may have forgotten many of the finer points, but one thing I’ll always remember was something a guy by the name of Patrick Henry said, and how it captured a VERY IMPORTANT point. What he said was “give me liberty or give me death”. Of course some might say that speech was actually a call to war, and that I’m misusing it. I don’t think so, because the larger point remains, something that unruly group in the 1700s knew. They knew that life without liberty wasn’t worth living, and it’s as true today as it was then. To state it even more bluntly, it does no good to give up your liberty to save your life, because you will ultimately wish you were dead. It’s worth noting Ben Franklin agreed.

    I was also taught about some events nearly 200 years later, this county was again facing a horrible enemy, an enemy that was extremely powerful, and perhaps capable of eventually conquering the world. This time the newly elected President Roosevelt gave a speech where he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” It certainly sounds good, the sort of thing you don’t really even have to think about and you want to applaud, but what does it really mean? It should be clear now what it means, that when people are fearful they are much more likely to do things, and make decisions that will turn out to be catastrophic mistakes. Obviously, this ties in with what Mr. Henry, and Mr. Franklin thought, that you can’t let fear guide your decisions.

    These are things I LEARNED in grade school, and I know that the vast majority of students in this country are TOLD these facts, but I’m afraid far too many fail to REALLY LEARN them, REALLY UNDERSTAND them, clearly many of our elected* politicians(they don’t qualify as leaders) don’t understand these things.

    It’s also worth noting what one of the Nazi leaders had to say about getting a large group of people to accept horrible things they don’t really want. Here is that quote

    “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

    — Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

    Frankly it becomes brutally obvious why some of our politicians are so against education, they know that if people were just a little smarter they’d understand what kind of mistakes they’re making.

  2. jsp Says:

    Exactly. It goes beyond learning and understanding — it’s about putting the principles into action. Far too many people simply record these things, and think of them as facts or data to be regurgitated by rote for a test or sound bite, when in reality they should live them.

    Also, excellent quote. I’ve long said I think we need to introduce media literacy classes (along with financial planning) at the middle school level, now you’ve got me thinking that some deconstruction of propaganda would also be time well spent. There’s plenty of source material provided by our own “leaders.”

    But any way we do it, we need to get a lot more people to start applying some critical thinking skills so when they hear bullshit like “nothing has changed” and “we value the Constitution,” they’ll recognize it for the naked power grab that it is — and punish the fuckers for trying.

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