Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Clowns Left, Jokers Right

Time for some disorganized thoughts on the whole thing with the NSA tracking every cellular phone call (whom you called, when you called, and where you were when you called), email, and credit card transaction made by a U.S. citizen in the last 10+ years.

First, who the fuck is surprised that a domestic spy agency is engaged in domestic spying? Are you all fucking blind? Was half your DNA swapped out for ostrich genes while you were distracted by 9/11? Have you been "flashy-thinged" by the Men in Black so many times that you are actually, genuinely unaware of the NSA's function?

Even if all of the above and more are true, you have no excuse. Everyone from Dan Brown to Kelly has elaborated on the role of the NSA in our lives. Being surprised by this "news" is like being surprised to learn that cocaine is an extremely safe substance demonized by the government for primarily racist and puritanical reasons. Wait, you didn't know *that* either? Jesus Junkie Christ on a pogo-stick, I just can't talk to you people.

For the sake of my sanity, then, let's pretend you're not surprised. Don't worry: there are plenty of more ways in which you are wrong about this issue. In fact, let's narrow the field further to consider only Objectivists. I've found that this debate has beautifully highlighted what I've known for some time: there are no Objectivists. Oh, most of you are close enough, I'm sure, and I'm not about to exclude myself from the category I like to call "Objectivish," but when it comes down to brass tacks like the "meta-data" question, it becomes very clear that the "ish" part is actually quite specific.

People who adhere to, live by, or attempt to promote the ideas of Ayn Rand fall into two neat little categories (at least within the United States) when it comes to politics, and which category you belong to very much depends upon what ideology you aligned yourself with prior to Objectivism. Republicans become Conservative-Objectivists while Libertarians become Libertarian-Objectivists. We don't need a third category for Democrats, because let's not kid ourselves: liberals don't become Objectivist. It just doesn't happen.

Conservative-Objectivists are, like Conservatives are (in theory, anyway), "strong on defense." They want to nuke Iran (or Saudi Arabia or Russia or whatever). They want to go after Islamists with everything they've got. They want total war. And along with that total war, they want to empower the government with whatever it needs to succeed in that war. In the case of the NSA, this means being a-okay with continuous, indiscriminate surveillance of everyone in the world. Besides the fact that they "have nothing to hide" and consequently do not fear Big Brother's watchful eye, they are willing to pay any price to avoid future terrorist attacks, even at the cost of putting an entire city on lock-down to catch one kid.

Libertarian-Objectivists are characterized by a knee-jerk fear of the government. Any proposal that allots further power to the government is immediately treated with extreme suspicion and ultimately is almost universally rejected. Of course they know enough to reject Libertarianism and to claim they are not anarchists, yet they seek to systematically deny the government the tools it needs to do its job. Their beliefs are particularly bizarre since they more-or-less willingly surrender to the government the use of retaliatory force (read: police) and national defense (read: military). They'll give up the state the biggest power of all, firepower, but begrudge it the power to employ metal detectors at airports. For them, it's not a balancing act between saving lives and respecting privacy. Even during wartime, they would declare it immoral to stop Japanese citizens living in the States from communicating with home during WWII, let alone accept internment. Cops can't even morally lie to suspects, according to some of them.

As usual, I think both are camps wrong. While I agree with the C-O'ists that extraordinary powers are proper for a government responding to an immediate threat, I nonetheless believe in critiquing such powers through a lens of extreme skepticism. At the same time, I disagree with the L-O'ists who place such tight limitations on emergency powers that they would be impossible to implement in an actual emergency. It's insane to worry more about the freedom of others to bow to a myth named Allah than your physical survival. Like values, freedoms are useless if you're dead.

If we didn't have these two sub-species of O'ists, we'd be debating the particulars: are we in fact under immediate threat? is spying helping? is it helping enough to be worth the privacy concerns and specter of future (or current) tyranny? is it helping more than alternative actions that might cost us less? But we don't, and consequently neither side has bothered to ask the real question: is there a right to privacy?

I realize the entire internet shuddered just now, but I'm completely serious: who out there is 100% confident that he can provide and justify a fully consistent definition of the right to privacy? I certainly couldn't claim that. Before you can even define such a right, you need to determine to whom the private information belongs. Are your phone calls your information? Are they Verizon's? What about the recipients of the calls? The answer isn't remotely clear, which is why this debate is just a bunch of flailing of pre-O'ism ideologies. There's little to be gained from such gyrations.

Don't let it be said that S. can't take a side, however: I am solidly against the NSA in this (and almost every) case. While I don't know where to draw the privacy line exactly, I know where it generally lies, and that is way, way, way back behind where the NSA/Bush/Obama like to operate. So I guess that's a half-win for the L-O'ists this time. Congratulations, your certificate is in the mail.

Disagreeably yours,

S. Misanthrope

P.S. Hi NSA! Obama sucks.

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