Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Road to Hell & Dual-edged Swords

In the aftermath of any major catastrophic event, whether natural disaster or mass shooting or terrorist attack, conspiracy theories sprout like dandelions after a summer shower and there are demands that "something has to be done" to prevent such from ever happening again.

We saw this in the wake of the original 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, when we were attacked on home soil for the first time in the country's history since the War of Independence.  The result was the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Patriot Act, and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the requirement that in order to board an airplane we allow ourselves to be subjected to invasive body scans and physical pat downs.  After the "shoe bomber" the requirement that we take off our shoes was added to the list.  From the fringes of both sides there were shouts of "Conspiracy!" with claims ranging from "the government planted explosive charges in the towers and brought them down on purpose (1) so "W" would have an excuse to wage war, or (2) to perpetuate the persecution of the followers of Islam and provide an excuse for "The Great Satan" to wage war on the "Religion of Peace", to claims that the government was using the situation as justification for broadening it's power and intrusion into the lives of law-abiding citizens in violation of their Constitutional rights.

Conspiracy theories abound even after natural disasters.  In the aftermath of "Irene", "Sandy", "Hugo" and "Katrina", et al., there were  demands that government "help" be both quicker to arrive and broader in scope.  Where we used to have the Red Cross, now we've got FEMA.  The aid used to be immediate and locally based, now it's slowed and made largely wasteful and inefficient by distance and unnecessary levels of bureaucracy.  At every step, you have to submit to government inspection of your need and approval of aid, meaning that you cannot act to help yourself (or your neighbor) without risking the disapproval of any such aid.  Even if you don't want or need aid, you are told to not touch anything until government inspectors have been by to "evaluate the situation".  You see, if you act to help yourself it lessens the extent of damage seen by the inspectors, potentially impacting the amount of federal aid dollars the state can expect to receive; and everyone knows (conspiracy theory) that's all the state is really interested in.  After Katrina, conspiracies ranged from accusations of government acting directly against a group of people "George Bush blew up the levees to kill black people in New Orleans!" to claims of the government acting indirectly to withhold aid " FEMA's too slow!"  "Where's the money the government promised?" "We aren't getting help because George Bush hates black people!" "If this was a white city we'd have all the help we needed."  After "Irene" and "Sandy" there were claims in a similar vein concerning President Obama, saying that his administration didn't do enough to help victims in the northeast because they were already "blue" and that he didn't need to worry about their support and that since he had become President he had "lost touch with regular folks" and had become too detached and "aloof".

You know where this is going.  After the shootings in Columbine, CO we had the imposition of a so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" and cries that "government has the responsibility to take action to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again".  So along with the ban we got demands that government move to restrict all gun ownership by private individuals "in the name of public safety and the protection of our children", and insistence on a nationwide database of gun owners so we could "keep track of all these dangerous weapons and prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals".  Groups on the right raised the claim that the government and "anti-gun activists" were using the tragedy as a pretense to erase the 2nd Amendment right to "Keep and Bear Arms", often adding the eventual imposition of a "police state" once the civilian population had been "disarmed", while groups on the left claimed that opposition to such was an indication that the NRA and the "gun lobby" was complicit in the murders and that they "only care about their profit, not the countless number of murder victims they are responsible for" with some going so far as to claim that the pro gun side was actually happy to see victims of violent crime reported because it gave them a platform for proclaiming the need for people to bear arms to protect themselves.  Some on the fringe right claimed that President Clinton was "comfortable with a certain level of violence in society" because it helped him drive public sentiment in the direction he wanted, furthering government control of private individuals.  Now that we've had the tragedies of Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT these twin conspiracies have again found full flower in society.

What, if anything, can we do about the above?  Not much.  Whenever there is a tragic event or disaster of any kind our first response has become to demand that someone(else) "do something".  It really appears that the American archetype, the "rugged individualist", is no more.  Despite the wealth of evidence that government really can't be all things to all people and provide everything for everyone every time, it seems that a majority of the population has accepted the notion that (1) they can't (and shouldn't have to) do for themselves and (2) everything will be fine if we only agree to give over more of our tax dollars (and freedoms) to government in exchange for being relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves.  Believe me, ALL politicians are only too happy to oblige.

In the case of national defense and reaction to terrorist attacks such as Oklahoma City, 9/11, and the most recent Boston Marathon bombing it's slightly more complex.  Government is mandated by our Constitution to provide protection and security for the nation against enemies "foreign and domestic".  It HAS to act.  HOW it acts is largely a matter of overreaction and public pressure.  The former is usually caused by the latter demanding that "something be done" immediately.  The problem arises from no one taking the time to contemplate potential "unforeseen consequences".  In spite of all the cries from liberals, the ACLU, and Constitutionalists that the Patriot Act violated citizens' rights, no such claims have either been made or proven.  That doesn't mean that others can't (or won't) eventually take advantage of the framework put into place to do just that.  There's no question that increased surveillance and monitoring helps law enforcement and national security agencies do a better and more effective job protecting us from potential attack, but the same systems that serve to defend can easily be used to suppress and control a population.

What may grow out of a sincere desire and need to protect people and safeguard their freedoms can, and unless vigilantly supervised eventually will, be turned to the control of those same people "for their own good".  If people can be successfully indoctrinated into the belief that they aren't capable of providing for themselves, that in fact it's impossible for anyone to stand on his own without the government's protection, it's a simple matter to get them to agree to give up the tools and skills they need to do so.  Enter the Totalitarian State.  Everything we rely on for protection is a dual-edged sword.  Police?  They can either "Serve & Protect" the public or suppress the public in service of the rich and politically connected.  The military can do great service in defending the country's borders from invasion and foreign attack under the direction of government, or it can be turned to the subjugation of the population at the direction of the same government.  In each case, the tools used are the same, just put to different uses by different people with different agendas.

If we are to limit the number of such "dual-edged swords" we need a wholesale reclamation of the previously mentioned American archetype of independence and self-reliance.  In giving over responsibility for ourselves to the government, we have unwittingly planted the seeds of our possible future enslavement.  Good intentions and all.

1 comment:

  1. I need to add a couple of things: First, a correction. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was not enacted as a response to Columbine. The 1994 ban was enacted as a response to a mass killing at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, CA in 1984 in which an Uzi-wielding gunman killed 21. The school shooting in Columbine occurred during the span of time the assault weapons ban was in place, bringing into question the efficacy of such a ban in preventing gun crime from happening.

    The second is the release this week of 2 reports, one from the Pew Research Center and the Federal Justice Department that showed that the rates of gun crime--and violent crime in general--has been in sharp decline in recent years. While the left and gun control advocates continue to press for further restrictions on gun ownership and claim these new studies' results to be "irrelevant" to the discussion, they do bring into question the need for additional limitations on the 2nd Amendment. Particularly in light of the recently revealed lack of federal enforcement of gun laws already on the books.