Today’s national debate over government surveillance has ignited our self-righteous protest over preserving our personal liberties. [God how we love to talk about our personal liberties]. We seems to be speaking with one angry voice: Surveillance is wrong, it violates my rights, it’s unconstitutional.
Gimme a break….!
It may be each of the above, but bottom line it’s less a constitutional and more a psychological concern. Damn few of us can explain the Constitution, but we sure know it has something to do with our personal liberties. Which, loosely translated, means: Don’t nobody stick your nose in my business, because I’m an American, and every Fourth of July the speakers beat the drum about my liberty. Only there’s something strikingly perverse about those drums, because you’ll notice how quickly we can change beat. At one time we desperately want the world to know all about us — to recognize who we are, what we do, what we’ve accomplished. But then when some of us get this, say like successful executives and celebrities, quite suddenly we don’t want the world to know all about us — about where we live, what we earn, who we associate with.
In effect this noble privacy/liberty battle-cry is actually something we take up only when it’s to our psychological not so much our constitutional advantage. Pay attention to me world; but not too much!
This is not to ignore the constitutional boundaries the courts have put on data-gathering, a practice which computers have now made stunningly comprehenaive. Yet at the same time, it’s hypocritical of us to parade our civil rights, while gingerly avoiding their flip-side: our civil obligations. Obligations….? What the hell are you talking about, you Fascist pig…? Well, I’m talking about our civil obligations to our society, to our community, and yes to that strange black thing out there we and Hollywood spy movies paranoiacly call “big government.”
The current battle between government surveillance rights and personal civil rights is hardly new. It started the first time the tribe gathered around the campfire to pick a chieftain, and then never stopped complaining about the way he ran things. It’s in our nature to want order, but not too much order…to want security, but not when it means crowding our action…to desire the world’s attention, but only to our great works never our embarrassing warts.
Talk about complicated. This seems too complicated for just lawyers and courts. Lets hear it from our psychologists and philosophers too!
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