Say we phrase the next stupid poll question thusly: Given how this administration has handled vital information pertaining to, and organized effective responses to, every major national crisis that has occurred in the U.S. over the past five years, do you seriously think that it's a good idea to let them spy upon and track an untold portions of Americans' private and personal transactions, with no oversight and no accountability whatsoever?
Now, of course we're not naive. Of course we know that even with such a question (which may be loaded, yet is not fundamentally dishonest in scope) there will still be a subset of people who will gladly hand over any and all rights, theirs and ours. Me, I figure it's better to die on our feet than live on our knees, and I don't recall ever ceding my inalienable rights to the whims and fears of some nervous nellie in Topeka who isn't on anyone's radar. (Of course, that's not necessarily true; it is entirely possible that a future terrorist attack might occur in a comparatively sparsely populated area just to send a message. Still, statistically rather improbable. They've already got us whipped into a state of frenzied paranoia; chances are that they find more glory in the numbers of a body count. So I reasonably speculate that I, in California, am in significantly more potential danger than someone in Kansas or Wyoming.)
But I digress. The real issue here is how so many of us got so willing to just hand over what, for all practical purposes, is really an unknown amount and degree of heretofore inalienable rights. It is more likely than not that what we know about the NSA's little data-mining operation is just the tip of it; we won't know about the full scope of the total ass-spelunking expedition until all the systems are already in place. And yet hundreds of people, presumably cognizant and possessed of sufficient short-term memory to see how these people do pretty much everything, just looked into the phone and said, "Yup, s'okay by me."
How did we get to such a point, where our backs are instinctively and constantly up over issues like religion and abortion and guns and gays, yet an authoritarian regime can torture with impunity, lie about the unnecessary war they started, throw yet more money at the one-percenters in a time of record deficits, decide which laws they feel like obeying, and eviscerate the Bill of Rights -- and there's nary a peep from the usual corners?
Exactly right. Hell, even applying for a job -- even a shitty one -- requires going through the rather undignified ritual of pissing in a cup and handing it to an indifferent lab technician. People are inured to the notion of faceless authoritarian intrusion pretty early on in the employment cycle. There is always a tradeoff for this or that promotion or perk, as one advances past the initial cup-filling position. The point is that we have already been indoctrinated into the notion that privacy is a luxury, that even what a person does away from the job still is somehow the employer's business. Forget drugs; how many people have lost their jobs because they were blogging about their workplaces and co-workers, even anonymously?
So there is collective precedent for the blasé acceptance of official intrusion into one's private life. We can tell ourselves and each other that it's in the name of safer workplaces, or The Children, or whatever. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, etc., etc. You know the song by heart.
But consider the nature of the people running this thing. Consider what you know about what they've done, and just try to imagine what they're capable of. True, their reckless cronyism has made them largely incompetent, but the whole point of mechanization and computerization is to take away human inefficiencies. This is the largest database that has ever been assembled. We know that they have not been terribly shy using the personal lives of political opponents to leverage public policy matter. And we also now know that they are tracking reporters' calls in order to track confidential sources. Where does it stop? Where they say it needs to stop -- or rather, where they tell you it needs to stop; given this administration's loose relationship with facts and honesty, why would anyone take their word on something like this?
It's very simple -- a person who, thinking themselves principled and consistent, would support such a scheme regardless of which party controlled the levers of government, is just a fool, giving away their own rights and that of their neighbors for a false sense fo security. And a person who, on the off chance Diebold fails to do their job and Democrats return to power, decides that maybe all this spying is wrong after all, well, they're nothing but a goddamned hypocrite.
Rights are rights, not political currency to be bartered away by think-tank assholes and smug basement warriors lowjacked into talk-radio lunatics. Nor are they up for popular approval, the collective finger to the political wind. And technology has given the would-be authoritarian corporatists the upper hand here; most of what resistance we might eventually put up is likely to be retroactive. The TIA network really got under way the day after they swore that they were scrapping it. So perhaps we had best start getting serious about whether or not we wish to continue down this road, or if we should perhaps get up on our hind legs and be men.