If you have nothing to hide [from the police] than[sic] why not just talk openly?
Does that sound familiar? Let’s just cast that line of thought in a slightly different light, and see if it becomes more familiar to you:
If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
This is, bar none, one of the most dangerously ignorant statements I’ve ever encountered. Despite this, a significant number of US citizens feel this way on some level. They trust in the widespread conspiracy in the highest levels of government to do things solely for the good of each and every one of us. They believe that nothing bad will ever happen to them, because they’re innocent.
They simply cannot believe in the potential for the events described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to occur in their own lives:
The majority sit quietly and dare to hope. Since you aren’t guilty, then how can they arrest you? It’s a mistake! They are already dragging you along by the collar, and you still keep on exclaiming to yourself: “It’s a mistake! They’ll set things straight and let me out!” Others are being arrested en masse, and that’s a bothersome fact, but in those other cases there is always some dark area: “Maybe he was guilty . . . ?” But as for you, you are obviously innocent! You still believe that the Organs are humanly logical institutions: they will set things straight and let you out.
Why, then, should you run away? And how can you resist right then? After all, you’ll only make your situation worse; you’ll make it more difficult for them to sort out the mistake. And it isn’t just that you don’t put up any resistance; you even walk down the stairs on tiptoe, as you were ordered to do, so your neighbors won’t hear.note
At what exact point, then, should one resist? When one’s belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When one crosses the threshold of one’s home? An arrest consists of a series of incidental irrelevancies, of a multitude of things that do not matter, and there seems to be no point in arguing about any one of them individually — especially at a time when the thoughts of the person arrested are wrapped tightly about the big question: “What for?” — and yet all these incidental irrelevancies taken together implacably constitute the arrest.
The “legal” basis for these events has already occurred here, however. People are already being disappeared. Maybe the people who never make it back out again are all guilty of something, so far — but maybe not. Even if they are, it’s only a matter of time before that changes.
What happens when a “temporary” law is passed? The evidence lies in the growth of the Internal Revenue Service, the ultimate form taken by the initial intent to temporarily generate revenue that would be used to fund a war.
What happens when a bureaucracy is formed? It becomes a mechanism for maintaining its own longevity, first and foremost, its original purpose a distant third place in importance. This is as true in the United States as anywhere described by Solzhenitsyn:
It is well known that any organ withers away if it is not used. Therefore, if we know that the Soviet Security organs, or Organs (and they christened themselves with this vile word), praised and exalted above all living things, have not died off even to the extent of one single tentacle, but, instead, have grown new ones and strengthened their muscles — it is easy to deduce that they have had constant exercise.
The same is true of any bureaucracy: it becomes an institutionalized instinct for self-preservation at any cost. To do this, a bureaucracy must demonstrate its necessity — in the case of something like the Department of Homeland Security, by jumping at every shadow. How else can it justify maintaining its current budget, and even increasing its powers and budgetary resources every year? Remember, these bureaucracies primarily serve their own continued existence (and, secondarily, the ambitions of their titular heads and upwardly-mobile functionaries).
Ultimately, if you have read this far and are not overcome with despair for the state of this nation, you must qualify as one of the following:
not subject to the laws of the United States
in possession of an excellent escape plan
The Soviet Union was the single most efficient social machine for the annihilation of human lives in the history of the world. Policies designed and set in motion by Lenin and Stalin churned away inexorably, chewing up millions upon millions of lives, pouring them through the serpentine length of the Soviet prison system’s digestive tract — what Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn called The Gulag Archipelago. I knew all this before I started reading Solzhenitsyn’s record of the gulags, but I never really believed this kind of thing could happen in the United States that I know. Yes, things are trending badly in this country, politically, but we have the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and we have a culture that simply does not allow for the worst transgressions of the Soviet dictatorship to occur.
How naïve I was. . . .
As I read The Gulag Archipelago, I am struck by two progressive realizations:
My previous understanding of how bad, how wrong, how outright evil the Soviet system was — it was inaccurate, to say the least. I know of the great evil of the holocaust under the Nazis, and have been subjected to details of the wrongs perpetrated as part of the Nazi system for much of my life, including reading Eli Wiesel’s Night when I was still quite young, and for most of my adult life I knew that, no matter how deplorable the acts of Nazi Germany’s government, statistically speaking the Soviet Union has done far worse. Such academic understanding was a mere shadow of the true horrors of the Soviet system. The single most horrifying, monstrous thing about it all is the impersonal manner in which it all operated, the automation of the process of consuming lives over the course of decades, of scouring out souls and eliminating any recognizable hint of real humanity — and the manner in which it made individual lives themselves irrelevant. Guilt, innocence, right, wrong, all of it; it was all made irrelevant in the face of the insatiable hunger of that serpent. I’m sure that, in the moment when one faces death with full certainty of its inevitability and unjustness, it doesn’t matter to one whether such is the result of hate or not, but as one who learns of the system that leads to such deaths I am far more frightened by the prospect of its indifference than its passion. No matter how much I think I have grasped all this, however, every time I read a few more pages of The Gulag Archipelago, the point is expanded upon, reaches new depths of depravity, is impressed upon me yet more fully, and my horror at what the collective will of a nation’s government can do reaches an as-yet unimagined depth. It seems there is always worse to be found, no matter how far beyond one’s previous limits of belief one has already reached. We need no devil, for I have been convinced that humans with political power are capable of more evil in their indifference to the simplest human rights than anyone can possibly imagine.
The parallels between the operations of the early Soviet security services and the direction of US federal policy are numerous and inescapable to eyes that have been opened to the excesses of the early Soviet Union.
Presently, my impotent rage is directed not at the usual whipping-boy of the day, George W. Bush, but at we the American people. We allow this to happen. Hell, we make it happen, every time we vote for a mainstream Democrat or Republican as a vote for the “lesser evil”, every time we respond to a story of corruption by condemning dalliances with prostitutes more loudly than 98% of the legislation that comes out of the House of Representatives, and every time we spend more concern over whether Battlestar Galactica (or American Idol) got recorded than that, as noted in USA Today, “The president signed the McCain-Feingold bill though he admitted that he thought it was unconstitutional. But as a ‘uniter not a divider,’ Bush felt it wasn’t his place to veto an unconstitutional law — his oath of office notwithstanding — that was very popular, particularly with independents, centrist Democrats and the New York Times crowd.”
Nobody seems to care that McCain has violated his own unconstitutional law several times, either. Better to vote for (the “lesser”) evil than to “throw away” one’s vote, I suppose — as if voting for someone (like Clinton, Obama, or McCain) you know will do harm to the liberties of US citizens, someone who is already receiving millions of votes, really needs your vote to help fend off all those other evils at all.
Every one of you fuckers who votes for “real change” based on the count of X chromosomes or melanin in the White House, every one of you who votes “against” a socialist by voting for a petty tyrant like McCain or Huckabee, and every one of you refusing to adjust your life to encourage the growth of liberty and discourage the growth of oppressive governmental policy — all of you are as much to blame for what’s happening to us, to our country, to our rights and liberties, as anyone. I’m to blame, too, for not doing as much as I should. We’re all in this together, and there’s nowhere else to run — and it’s our fault, goddammit.
Catholics and Jews have nothing on a libertarian with his eyes open, when it comes to guilt.
I’m going to do more. I’m going to try to help someone other than that spiritual sister of Jabba the Hutt, Marilyn Musgrave, get my Congressional District’s Republican nomination this year. I’m going to go shooting more often, to keep in practice, even as I hope such skills never need to be employed. I’m going to try to bend my career more in a direction that creates a wall between government excesses and personal liberties.
I’m going to do all of this and more, but not because I think there’s much hope of turning this freight train headed into Hell itself around when the tracks only point one way. I’m utterly convinced that the only way we can really fix this problem in my lifetime is by way of a bona fide miracle, by achieving the impossible — that we’ve thoroughly and irrevocably doomed ourselves beyond any reasonable hope of recovery, because there’s no damned way to convince enough people of the necessities of the situation to do any real good. I’ve been asked before how to know when “it’s time” — time to spit on our hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats, to paraphrase Mencken — and I haven’t had a very good answer. Now I know that the truth is the time will never come when that’s the right option, because the entire idea that there’s a “right time” is predicated upon the notion that it can possibly do any good. We’re well and truly fucked, folks, in part because I can count on one hand the number of people who have expressed to me such a sentiment as the belief that there ever will be such a time. If such people I’ve met don’t actually outnumber the rest of the people I’ve met, we’re far too damned late. Yeah, I’ll be working toward fixing the problem, but more because some battles have to be fought in part because they’re unwinnable than because I think they can be won.
I’m going to do it because, in the final analysis, I have to live with myself and my decisions right up to the point where the system we’ve lovingly built grinds me into dust under its heel.
There’s nothing left to hope for but my own personal salvation and that of those closest to me, on some spiritual level — for some partial redemption for the crime of having been part of the problem. I know that, barring dying early of some disease or accident, I will be destroyed by what we’ve set in motion, but I won’t go quietly!