In my first installment, I focused pretty much on the aftermath, albeit indirect, of one set of events — the 9/11 attacks — and how they affected our lives. Just as important as what happened that day in September is how it changed our point of view long term. The phrase, "9/11 changed everything" is pretty well accepted among folks in the U.S. I'm not sure I agree; and I am sure I'm not alone in that sentiment. But frankly that's probably a side point.
Whether 9/11 changed everything or nothing, a vital plank in the fence that protects our freedom would have to be the quality of the government under which we live. More important is how we view those who ostensibly lead us and how willing we are to allow them to lead us in a direction that might not be quite what we had in mind. Throughout history many approaches to government have come and gone. Almost to the person, Americans express pride in our form of government, even to the point that we would support traveling to distant lands to teach others how our form of government works. (All too often this "teaching" involves shooting people and dropping bombs, but hey, some "lessons" are just harder to get across than others I reckon!)
In any event, one could argue that the crown jewel of our form of government is The Constitution of the United States of America. And if one looks closely at how the U.S. Government actually operates he will get a crash course in that majesty, will he not?
The State Doesn't Give a Rat's Anal Opening About the Constitution
Listen, at some point we just have to wake up and smell the coffee. The number of times the Constitution — the ostensible "highest law in the land" — has been violated this week is enough that the sons of liberty would have long since taken up arms. And yet, for most Americans, it's pretty much business as usual. (Heck, as a matter of fact, I just realized I'm missing a football game! Maybe this essay can wait.) From the most basic standpoint, it seems pretty clear that President Bush doesn't have a close personal relationship with the Constitution, but this view is shared by more than a few outside the Whitehouse. A quick review of the happenings in just the last year or so reveals:
- The U.S. Government routinely tortures prisoners of war, or anyone they think might be such, at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
- If do-it-yourself torture seems inconvenient, an "enemy combatant" can always be sent to another country to be tortured — this is called rendition — and that's been done more than once or twice.
- Conducting warrantless wire taps and intercepting Internet messages are ready tools in waging the war on terror.
- The current U.S. president, George W. Bush, openly states that he doesn't have to follow the laws of Congress.
- The fact that habeas corpus is one of the oldest principles in English and American law is of little interest to the Whitehouse, particularly with regard to anyone detained at Guantanamo Bay.
- As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, national security is more important than the First Amendment.
Is it really surprising then, to find that most Americans view Congress as less trustworthy than a gang of pirates? (Yes, I know Andy Borowitz is a humorist, and I get the joke. But isn't the best joke the one that rings a little — or a lot — true?) Next thing you know, somebody will accuse these fine people of, I don't know, worrying more about getting re-elected than actually doing stuff, like, maybe actually reading any of the bills they sign.
Okay, so maybe, just maybe, there have been a few infringements of the "spirit" of the Constitution from time to time. Certainly, those rare occurrences reflected the necessities of the moment and not a general pattern. No one thinks that the government is composed of, or actually attracts people who are power-hungry and evil, right?
The State Will Do Almost Anything in Pursuit of Its Goals
Think I'm overstating? Go to Google and search for "Operation Northwoods." Certainly, one could argue that the plan was never implemented, but they certainly went to a lot of trouble didn't they? But wait, there's more.
Go to Google and search for "Tuskegee Experiment." If the government would conduct a 40-year experiment on black men with syphilis, is there really anything left outside the boundaries of ethics and decency? I think not, but hold on though, there's still more.
Go to Google and search for "white phosphorous." Can we seriously say that we are putting "democracy on the march" when we employ a weapon like this one so routinely? Can we really be surprised when people eventually say, "no thanks" to our help in obtaining the freedom that only they themselves can acquire anyway?
In the history of the planet, only one country has deployed atomic weapons against anyone in wartime — the United States of America. What is apparently not widely known is that the terms of the Japanese surrender proposed before the first bomb were the same as those proposed before the second bomb were the same as those signed after the second bomb. As such, I would assert that the bombs were dropped for almost no reason. The Japanese were looking for a reason to surrender and Truman wouldn't take yes for an answer. Examined in that context, one might understand a little anti-U.S. sentiment in pockets around the globe, even if it is not based in Japan. The real question is the same one I asked at the end of my essay about the strange circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman's death. "Exactly how much longer are we going to let these people treat us as they please?"
And while I'm talking about WWII let me blow the smoke away from another well-worn myth. Even if Japan really did perform an unprovoked sneak attack on the U.S. there was never any real danger of the U.S. being invaded and overrun. Regardless of one's opinion about retaliation or how justified retaliation may have been in that scenario, one thing must be made clear. There will never be an armed take-over the United States of America, unless the army comes from another planet. How can I be so sure? The U.S. armed forces, ostensibly the best in the world, can't even "take over" Iraq. Case closed.
Okay, so maybe we're a little confused about subtle concepts like how to best spread the wonderful salve of democracy all over the Earth without also dragging the decaying carcass of a coercive state right along with it, but when it comes to the big stuff like selecting who gets to wield the awesome power of government, we have our eyes on the prize. Is that not why voting is so important? Let me put it to you this way.
Voting Makes No Difference, and Everybody Should Know That by Now
I've cited this essay in other places so certainly I'm fully on-board with those who "just say no" to voting. But the U.S. population at large seems to be sleepwalking through history. Reading some of the negative comments launched at Professor Shaffer's piece over at DIGG.com nearly took me over the edge. (As you may have noticed, that's not really a long trip — but enough about me.) Even if one ignores the documented cases of voter disenfranchisement and the likelihood that electronic voting will actually result in more cheating versus less, voting still doesn't make much sense. Even if one readily imbibes all the civic duty reasoning, the real shame is the comments that accuse us non-voters of apathy. Apathy?
Apathy is when you decide to not do something that you should do and as a result, miss out on the positive effects thereof. I can absolutely and categorically state that not voting deprives me of no such benefits. Ergo, I am not apathetic. I am abstaining! One respondent to Professor Shaffer's essay said something along the lines of, "Not voting allows the government to decide for me." (I didn't know how to break it to that respondent, so let's just keep this next part between us, okay folks?)
The "government" — that is, the guys we "elect" — decide for us anyway, and they do it all the time. In fact, a close examination of the form of government we have shows that this is exactly what is supposed to happen in a constitutional republic — the people elected decide on behalf of those who elected them. (Of course, with the whole secret ballot thing, one could ask how our elected officials are supposed to know who those people are, unless they show up, with money! But frankly, Lysander Spooner already covered that one pretty well.)
The other funny thing about our situation is that few regular Americans can actually claim to be a part of the "helped them get elected" category. For one thing, the major donors and lobbyists have much more to do with any candidate getting elected than any regular citizen. For another, the average American is too busy enjoying "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" to put a lot of quality time into understanding much about the details of some obscure bill anyway. (I can't say I blame him. My personal favorites are "NUMB3RS" and "Criminal Minds".)
Even if you did care about a particular bill, Congress will still do whatever it likes anyway. And whether or not you support a bill, you will be paying for its implementation, with tax dollars extracted at the barrel of a gun. In other words, you have no choice, and you never did.
So where does all this leave us? Let me be very clear. I have no intention of sounding the warning bell. From my standpoint, all of this stuff is part of the rancid, oily residue of a coercive state gone terribly off track. But the people who control our government were way off the reservation before I starting writing essays!
As such, please consider this information just another fine example of "fun facts to know and tell" and nothing more. And please stay tuned for another full-filled episode of "hidden in plain sight" not coming to any theatre near you any time soon.
Who knew a particularly fruitful bit of (hopefully) intellectual catharsis could be so therapeutic?
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.