Sunday, October 30, 2005

Between Hope and Despair.

My feelings about the great social issues of my times shift, periodically, between hope and despair. I sometimes think that, Mark Twain was right, a species as idiotic and selfish as ours deserves the shitty government that it gets. "If there were any other intelligent species in the universe," Mark Twain said, "I would join it." Those are the dark days on which to read Shopenhauer.

On other days, however, I say "no." We must not despair. I have a child. I cannot look in her eyes and admit that life is shit and always will be. So we hope and we fight on. Maybe sometimes -- very rarely -- something good happens. I have a lottery ticket somewhere. Purchasing that ticket suggests that I still have some optimism. We must hope, then, that things will be better. We can make them better.

What worries me today is not so much the familiar problems of judicial and political corruption and ineptitude. These problems have become old friends by now. What is especially worrisome today is something that the framers of the Constitution hoped to eliminate all-together: Star Chamber-like secrecy -- slithering, behind-the-back efforts by government officials to hurt critics, dissidents of all sorts, and/or those who refuse to "play ball" with the powers that be.

Yes, folks, that stuff happens in America. People get destroyed, framed for something, fired, ridiculed, trivialized in the media, and so on. These are among the defense mechanisms evolved by powerful interests in our political system for suppressing or marginalizing dissent and the ways that corrupt government officials -- who are guilty of overreaching -- cover their asses, collectively and individually. They are illegal methods, of course, and when the system is confronted with them in a manner that does not allow for denial -- in other words, when there is actual proof of government illegality -- then officials (usually) do the right thing and stop the harassment.

Proof is difficult to obtain. When it is found, it may amount to the proverbial "tip" of the iceberg. There is a whole lot of illegal stuff going all the time -- especially post-9/11 -- thanks to government agents, most of which is utterly pointless and worthless in terms of the "information yield," though it hurts people. It hurts them a lot, especially over long periods of time.

The illegality of these tactics is not a problem for governmental agents, because they are rarely discovered or "provable," as I have indicated. This includes everything from the armies of party loyalists used to generate dirty tricks against the opposition in political elections, to the various forms of skullduggery, illegal snooping, "corporate" theft of documents and data that are used to "control" competitors and/or anti-social forces in a large and heterogeneous society. Many of these efforts were directed at African-American dissidents in the past. Maybe dissidents still are targets.

Much material that has emerged with the passage of "sunshine" laws in the seventies and eighties, suggests that the FBI and other government agencies routinely keep "tabs" on politically controversial and prominent persons: phone taps are allowed secretly, photographs at a distance, Internet monitoring, acquisition of personal data, "observation" and "long-term surveillance" are terms that are sometimes used to describe this sort of thing. I am sure that the illegal computer monitoring and harassment I deal with falls into this category.

In my case, of course, no illegality (by the FBI) is required. I make it a point to post my opinions on-line, including what I think of them. I must admit that I like Scully and Moulder, but as to all others, I am skeptical. New Jersey government is a collection of criminals from organized crime "families" dedicated to stealing and ruthlessness against all critics. Nothing they do in Trenton surprises me.

Privacy and autonomy are threatened as never before, in other words, by all of this post-"Patriot Act" monitoring, which does not make you any safer from terrorism, since the people with false social security information and credit cards tend to be terrorists, whereas those of us who are on the "up-and-up" (whatever that may be) are the most convenient targets for government spooks and shrinks, not to mention terrorists with false papers. How you doing in Ridgewood, Tuchin? How's the "family," Diana? Still up to no good?

In the interests of full employment for America's spooks and snoops, I have decided to invent a conspiracy by a non-existent secret organization to be known as "The American Knights of the Order of Advarks." It is the mission of this organization to restore the monarchy in America. Not the British monarchy, mind you, but a new monarchy and religion based on the bloodline of Elvis Presley. I plan to write a book to be called, The "Elvis" Code. We even have a secret handshake and are led, fearlessly, by Woody Allen in America and by Mel Brooks globally. Eventually, there will be armies of government agents monitoring all three of us.

I can almost hear the computers in Washington, D.C. humming away as the buzz words are picked up: "conspiracy, terrorists, Elvis Presley." Meanwhile back at the ranch:

Because Democracy is noble it is always endangered. Nobility, indeed, is always in danger. Democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state than Democracy. To assume blithely that we can export Democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace attained only by those countries that have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it. [Norman Mailer]

I am asking you to ponder the risk that we may lose our freedoms and our Democracy -- if we have not done so already -- not to Islamic or other terrorists, but to the fear of terrorists and the loss of our own moral standards. ("It's all relative," people say.)

Yes, there is a risk of terrorism and we must guard against it, but we must not give up our Constitutional rights or make them something that we only pretend to believe in and respect, while secretly violating them with impunity on the grounds that we are government officials involved in the "war on terrorism."

I am demanding that government officials respect my dignity and privacy, treat me as a subject with ends of my own and not as a means to your ends, as a person and not an object. I ask anyone reading these words to refuse to participate in torture or illegal spying, for any political party or public official, no matter what rationale is offered for the practice and regardless of who may be the proposed victim. I am asking you to consider both what you are and what you may be in danger of becoming. Fight to remain free and fully human ... while you still can.

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