Over at Evolving Thoughts, John Wilkins has a highly meritorious post about the creeping totalitarianism in Australia and other Western democracies. This tendency succeeds, and has the support of major political parties in both government and opposition, because, we, as populations and electorates, acquiescence in it, or even seem to want it. We are driven by fear and an irrational aversion to any risk. Unfortunately, no government, however much it puts us under surveillance and attempts to micro-manage our lives, can ever guarantee an environment free of risk (or some kind of centrally planned utopia). The tools available to governments are clumsy, and can never bring about a risk-free, ultimate zipless society.
We might as well face that fact, unpalatable or not, and fight to get our freedoms back.
Worse, democratic governments reach for populist solutions that create an illusion of decisive action, and thereby make our lives less and less free, but are pretty much guaranteed to be ineffective, Imperfect though it is, our law-makers would do better to rely on ordinary policing of genuinely harmful crimes. Yeah, okay - meanwhile, in the real world, we end up with such outcomes as ridiculous and unpleasant aviation "security", censorship of the internet, and ever-increasing surveillance of our actions and speech. Wilkins says:
we have adopted useless ineffective and costly measures that only look good, so we can deal with out fears. We can feel comfortable knowing that the national intelligence services are listening to those terrorists, while pretending not to know that they are going instead to listen in on you if you have any kind of view the authorities do not like. Warrantless wiretaps by the FBI and other agencies after 9/11 went rogue immediately, and that’s only what we do know. In Australia, moves to make the internet self-censor under law according to an undisclosed, unsupervised, list drawn up by public servants at the behest of the government of the day stands to make Australian access to information something that happens at the whim of the politicians. Now where has that worked well in the past, I wonder?
What can we do about it? Well, I sometimes feel as if it's futile to try anything, since we are confronted by the sensationalist media and a naive, scared public, not just by power-hungry or officious politicians. But we certainly won't be able to push this whole thing back if we simply give up and live in coccoons.
What to do? Well there is only one way to prevent this – stand up for freedoms against the unrelenting desire of the bureaucracy and politicians to take control. Allow rights to those you do not like so that you may have rights too. And when something, like child pornography or terror, threatens the civil order, use legal and effective policing methods to halt it and reverse it. And realise that you cannot have a risk-free world.
That's right. But it won't work unless a lot of us follow this advice, and it's all too tempting not to step forward and risk being isolated. In my case, I'm a bit less vulnerable than most, being old enough, now, and financially secure enough (by a run of moderately good financial luck plus a certain amount of self-sacrifice over the last 25 years or so). Nothing terribly harmful can be done to me, not easily. Not if we're talking about careers or livelihoods being destroyed - though obviously my reputation can be smeared, and I'm as vulnerable to physical attacks as anyone else. But I do speak up in this blog and elsewhere, partly because I can. I'd do it even more if I had better media access. If you can deliver it to me, take the hint.
Not everyone is as well-fortified against human-made ill fortune as I am. Still, I implore you to do whatever you can against the drift that Wilkins identifies.
It's an understatement to say that John Wilkins and I don't always agree on stuff, but he's a stalwart on this kind of issue, where our vaunted Western freedoms are being eroded. On this occasion I want to applaud him with all my might and power (pity I don't have more of it to applaud with).
You rock, mate. More strength to your arm.