“Well, you’re on your own, you always wereIn a land of wolves and thieves
Don’t put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes…
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself.”
- Bob Dylan – “Trust Yourself” (1985)
In any civil society trust should be the coin of the realm. Without interpersonal trust our families and communities can easily wither and decay. Without institutional trust, particularly at the government level, society breaks apart at its seams, piece by piece. When trust is in short supply, so is justice. And, as it goes with justice, so it goes with truth. As the prophet said, “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets.” Objective standards become obsolete. They’re replaced by government decrees, executive orders, or outbursts of civil rage and popular demands for retribution. It’s not far from that point till it all becomes every man for himself.
This is the course our leaders have chosen.
I’ve been trying my best to speak out about the dangers of the surveillance state for months. In some circles that marks me as the village idiot. That’s alright. I’ll keep plugging away.
I thought a month or so ago I’d seen it all, but I was wrong, as evidenced by the Obama administration’s latest attempt to plug leaks and “keep us safe and secure.” On July 9th, McClatchy News Service revealed that the executive branch rolled out a program called the “Insider Threat Program.” The long and short of the President’s order is for federal employees to spy on their fellow employees¸ looking for potential security threats. Some civil libertarians have dubbed the executive order “Barack Obama’s national neighborhood watch program.”
This program, along with the massive data gathering operations, prosecutions of whistle blowers, I.R.S. targeting operations that now appear to reach to the highest levels, and executive branch programs that profile American citizens who have hosted international students or have travelled internationally, has made being an American citizen an increasingly risky proposition.
I don’t consider myself to be a political libertarian, but as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser) I’ve become increasingly libertarian. How did this happen to someone who invariably tears up when he hears “God Bless America?” It all boils down to the word trust.
A few years ago I became acquainted with the work of economist Robert Higgs. I read his “Crisis and Leviathan” and found it fascinating. I don’t always agree with him, but I have always found him to be thought provoking. An extended excerpt from a recent essay he did on the surveillance state follows. I’m including it because I believe what Professor Higgs says is really important:
“How many individuals cannot be blackmailed by someone who knows everything about their personal affairs, much less by someone who also controls enormous surveillance agencies, police forces, and the courts? With the information now in their hands, state authorities will be well-nigh certain to augment their powers by using this information to deter or cripple political opponents, to coerce unwilling cooperation (including false testimony) by others, and to silence anyone who might be tempted to criticize or expose their misfeasance and malfeasance. To suppose that American state officials will not act in these ways is naïve in the extreme. These politicians are not angels; on the contrary. And their newly acquired treasure trove of information places a resource of heretofore unimagined power in their hands. To trust that they will not massively abuse their control over this resource flies in the face of everything we know about the kind of people they are.”
I have to admit that I was one of those naïve people. I just didn’t think when I first started digging into this sordid mess that our government could do the sorts of things they’re doing to us now. But, the more I dug, the more angry and libertarian I became.
Misplaced trust in any human institution can be foolhardy. As Bildad told Job, “What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way. They cling to it¸ but it does not hold.”
As I see it, there are only two ways out of this mess. First, we need to scream bloody murder. We need more village idiots! For folks in these parts it means that Jerry Moran and Tim Huelskamp are only a phone call or an angry e-mail away. It means we need to flood the President’s in box or his voicemail with our expressions of outrage. Second, we need to heed the poet’s words. We need to trust ourselves Trusting in our government is misplaced. It’s become everything it shouldn’t be. It has become a fool’s errand.