Fighting for Civilization

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In war, it
is widely understood that dehumanizing the enemy makes it much easier
to kill, brutalize and torture them. What happens when a government
begins to dehumanize the citizens that live under it? What should
those citizens expect in the future from such a government?

We are currently
confronted with a government that is deliberately dehumanizing us,
for whatever purposes its agents have in mind, and a population
that largely goes along with this, believing its master’s claims
that it is “for our own good.” That passengers are finally
beginning to resist this is good news. That some TSA employees are
beginning to feel shamed by comments from these passengers is also
good. They should be ashamed of what they are doing.

But just as
the capacity for evil is present in every one of us, so is the capacity
for good, and I have to believe that among the ranks of those “mindless
jackbooted thugs” are at least a few decent people who just
needed a job and took what they could get; who weren’t raised
to question authority but who might if pressed; and who in some
part of their minds want to think of themselves as the kind of people
who would do the right thing.

As activists
for liberty, we would do well to remember this. For the problems
that we face run very deep – deeper than the institution of government
itself. If we were to eliminate the state entirely, or indeed as
many predict, if the state collapses of its own dead weight, we
will be no better off as long as the vast majority of the people
around us still believe in the ethic of might making right; of coercive
violence as a legitimate tool for accomplishing one’s will
and for organizing society.

schools, and even many non-government schools, have done a wonderful
job of inculcating these values in most of the people who make up
our society. To believe that violence is never justified except
in response to violence is widely perceived as wacky and “impractical.”
This is what we are up against. Not a monolithic state, but a monolithic
belief system that will remain in place even beneath the rubble
that once was the state, ready to rebuild.

personally will not take my children on another flight in this country
until things have changed drastically. This is partly out of fear
for their safety – and it’s not the terrorists I’m
worried about here – but even more because I do not want them
to grow up thinking that this kind of behavior, this way of interacting
with other human beings, is “normal” or in any way acceptable.
I want my children to grow up to have the skills and the sensibilities
that will allow them to live in a civilized society, to treat others
with respect and to expect to be treated with respect.

In this spirit,
I am glad that this week's Opt-Out Day was uneventful. In a rare
show of anticipatory analysis it seems the TSA toned down its security
theater in an effort to avoid confrontation and render the protest
a non-event. (Would that the TSA should employ its heretofore latent
strategizing skills towards its actual mandate of securing the safety
of air travelers.) There were numerous reports from around the country
of the full-body scanners simply having been shut off on one of
the busiest travel days of the year – a de facto admission that
these machines are not in fact a necessary or even important part
of preventing terrorist attacks.

It is important
that any future demonstrations against the abuses of the TSA and
other arms of the government remain peaceful. If it has not been
clear in the past that those of us who oppose government intrusiveness
and abuse held the moral high ground, it is abundantly so now. It
would be a shame to lose even a little of that ground and it is
crucial that — in stark contrast to the system we oppose — we remain
civil and civilized. Yes, the TSA agents are responsible for their
own actions and should be held accountable for them. Yes, most of
them seem willing to follow orders even when those orders involve
the systematic humiliation of people who have harmed no-one. But
it is critical that we not make the same mistake they make in dehumanizing
the u201Cenemy.u201D The real enemies are the people who have put this system
in place, and the bad ideas that give it popular support, not the
foot soldiers. I believe that fighting for freedom and fighting
for civilization — for civilized relationships between individuals
— are very nearly the same thing. With that in mind, those of us
who care about civilization must not become what we seek to oppose.
We must not dismiss their humanity as they have been dismissing

26, 2010

Bretigne Shaffer
her mail
] is a writer and filmmaker, and the author of Why
Mommy Loves the State.
her website.

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