Thursday, May 7, 2009

Abusive Power and the Culture of Obedience (Bretigne Shaffer)

Bretigne Shaffer on the worsening police state and what to do about it:

"But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." - Thomas Jefferson, 1819

Ask anyone who has lived under a repressive regime and they can tell you how it changes people. There are the obvious things like the fear of the knock at the door in the middle of the night, the loss of control over even the most mundane aspects of one's own life and people using the apparatus of the state to settle personal grudges. But beneath all of these are deeper changes to the the way people behave and the way they treat each other. There is the unwillingness to smile or speak to strangers, or even to open up too much to friends for fear of information getting into the wrong hands. There is the widespread breakdown of trust between people, and then there is just the petty meanness that becomes more and more the norm.

Americans may not be living in a gulag state yet, but each day it becomes harder and harder to argue that we do not have significant elements of a police state. Along with this increased authoritarianism come the deeper cultural changes that have every bit as real an impact on the quality of our lives. For the costs brought by the loss of freedom cannot be fully accounted for simply by pointing to incidents of abuse or tallying up the economic damage. The deterioration in the quality of our relationships to each other is also a cost.

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