• 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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