Sunday, February 11, 2007

Totalitarianism begins at home

There's an astonishingly eye-opening (to me) article in the March 2007 issue of Liberty magazine, and I'm a bit frustrated by Liberty's ongoing decision not to put all of its articles online so I can link you to it. But "Twenty Observations on Liberty and Society" by Jayant Bhandari is worth seeking out the magazine and plunking down your $4 on it.

Who thought that getting rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, would put those societies on the path towards peace and prosperity?

Who thinks that when Bin Laden is finally captured or killed, the world will be a safer place?

Who thinks that without Mugabe, Zimbabwe will choose the right path? That tinkering with the state in Palestine and Saudi Arabia will set those peoples free? That Nepal will swiftly progress, now that "democracy" has subdued "monarchy"?

Those who did or do live in a fools' paradise.

Bhandari uses a series of illustrations, largely from his own experience growing up in India and emigrating to the west, to make the point that an oppressive state is a symptom of an oppressive culture, not the other way around. Replace the head of the state or even the structure of the state itself, and the culture will continue to enable the oppression.

It goes deeper than a theme I've dropped here before: Those who thought replacing Clinton with Bush would make the United States more free were bitterly disappointed, and those who think replacing Bush will solve the crisis will be equally disappointed. Herrs Bush and Clinton are only symptoms of the problem.

Realize this: If your actions are caught by a surveillance camera, it probably belongs to the gas station or retail store where you were shopping. If you're forced to give up your bodily fluids or if your e-mail or Web surfing is monitored, your employer was probably the culprit. If someone has a database of what you read, it's probably your bookstore or book club; if someone is tracking your purchases, it's probably your grocery store or credit card company. If a book is banned from your local school or library, it's probably because decent law-abiding citizens asked the state to do so, not because some busybody in a government office took offense. The road to totalitarianism is being built as much, or more, with private dollars as with confiscation from taxpayers.

Unhappy with the Orwellian world you step into every morning? Fight it, and start with the everyday intrusions that don't come from the government. Easy one: When the cashier asks you for your phone number, ZIP code or photo ID, ask why and/or refuse. If you're not in the mood for confrontation, give a phony number or ZIP code. What are they going to do, refuse to sell you the groceries?

Why are friendly government thugs probing your body and rifling through your belongings before you get on a plane? Because our society enabled the invasion of our bodies and property. Bhandari's article points to the fact that the job is bigger than just toppling the giant leeches in Washington and our state capitals. The public sector can only do what the private sector, which pays the bills, allows it to.


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