The Stifling Effect Of Living In A Surveillance State Like The USA
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Writing in 1928, John Shedd wasn’t really talking about ships. He was talking about life. And in American life, we no longer feel safe even in the harbor.
Years ago, my girlfriend and I went to see a movie. What we saw, I’ve no idea, but I do know we had a terrible time, and it had nothing to do with what was on the screen and everything to do with what was going on in the theater. People were yelling at the screen, talking to each other, and smoking. My girlfriend mentioned the smoking, and I said that if that was the only problem we encountered, we’d be lucky, as I’d recently witnessed a bloody knife fight between two girls over a baby-daddy in a nearby theater.
I mention this because when you think your life may be in jeopardy, it’s hard to enjoy entertainment, and enjoyment is the whole point of movies. Movies require your buy-in for success, you must turn off reality and connect with the characters.
If you can’t do that, you can’t enjoy the movie. If you’re worried that someone’s going to pull a gun or set the place on fire, you’re going to be too busy scanning for danger to become engaged with what’s on the screen. You’d end up doing little more than wasting your time and money.
Just as movies require your buy-in and focus for success, so too does life. And that’s a problem with 21st-century America and the always-on-everywhere swamp. The danger is not so much that Big Brother is watching and trying to control our every move. He/it doesn’t have to. Our knowing that the state could be watching or listening is enough. It’s called the “Chilling Effect—basically, the government doing something that chills citizens’ willingness to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of reprisals.
Think about it this way: If you think it’s tough to enjoy a movie when you’re worried about what’s going on in the theater, imagine how difficult it would be to write a compelling, engaging movie with a critic holding a club while looking over your shoulder the entire time. Well, that’s you trying to live your life.
How different would the script of your life be if you knew your every word might end up as part of some government dossier? How much could you embrace freedom and focus on having fun, sowing your wild oats, finding your passion, or risking failure to pursue some crazy dream if you were constantly wondering what some government bureaucrat with the power to throw you in prison or destroy your business or take away your kids might think? And that’s true even if you didn’t do anything illegal.
And that’s the problem. Since 2013’s Snowden revelations, we’ve known the government is actively collecting reams of data on virtually all of us. Back then, even the NY Times called it a “Threat to Democracy.” The government, against virtually the entire Bill of Rights, was and currently is looking at everything Americans do. (Want to see how much data they collect? Click here.)
Knowing our government is actively looking at emails, phone calls (or “just” our metadata, as we were assured), as well as our online surfing and purchasing habits, sends a chill down your spine. With 350 million people in the country, they’re probably not looking at you…but they might be.
And it’s not just the government. While, yes, it is the FBI, NSA, IRS, and other agencies in the alphabet soup of the state, it’s also Facebook, Google, Apple, and AT&T. It’s also the banks. Maybe the most relevant example of the banks is JP Morgan Chase—a company that recently paid $290 million to victims of Jeffry Epstein for empowering the pedophile—recently closing down the accounts of a prominent vaccine skeptic after closing the account of a religious freedom nonprofit last year. This follows a since-derailed plan by MasterCard and Visa to track gun and ammunition purchases.
“But they’re private companies!” That’s technically true but also false. They may be private, but they’re often coerced by the government to do its bidding. What’s more, there’s often a revolving door with government officials that makes explicit coercion unnecessary and government service quite lucrative for potential regulators.
And so back to the life you’re living…
How comfortable are you going to be doing or saying anything that might cause the federal government (or state or local) to put you on some watchlist? You ask yourself, “Should I wear this MAGA hat to that school board meeting, or should I wait until my building permit is approved?” “Should I write that blog critical of my senator, or should I wait until my nonprofit application is approved?” “Should I post pictures of my kids at the range, or should I wait until my bank approves my mortgage application?”
The reality is that citizens silencing themselves is a far bigger problem than the government censoring them. (Just think how unfunny “comedy” is today with the censorious woke scrutinizing every joke.) How many journalists or bloggers have avoided writing something or “toned it down” because they were worried that they’d pay some price for offending the wrong bureaucrat?
It’s not just the words not spoken or the stands not taken that are the problem. It’s the fact that energy must be spent considering them in the first place.
Living a successful life is challenging in the best of circumstances, whether getting everything from an education to a job, starting a company, or finding the perfect spouse and raising good kids. All take a lot of effort to do successfully, but the question is, how much harder would they be if you had to divert X% of your focus to constantly wondering what the consequences on them be if you exercised your First or Second Amendment rights?
Sure, you could simply keep your head down and not bother, but as we know from Fahrenheit 451, that actually harms society. And, even if you tried to keep your head down and go about your way, there’s no guarantee you aren’t going to end up on the wrong side of a government vaccine policy or tripped up by a school board’s constantly evolving “pronoun” policy.
At the end of the day, living a good life takes work and can be challenging, that’s particularly so in a free society. But it’s the freedom of ideas that advances society, whether advocating for a legislative check on a monarch’s power, proffering a sun-centered system, or filibustering for a Bill of Rights. There’s a reason the US and the West have led the world in the growth of prosperity and advances in science and mathematics, and that reason is the freedom to exchange ideas, good and bad and otherwise.
Getting the most out of life, like enjoying a movie, depends on the ability to focus on the task at hand without fear for your safety as you do so. As the surveillance and control leviathan of the swamp grows, doing so becomes ever more difficult. Now might be a good time to start supporting candidates who vow to dismantle it before it dismantles what’s left of our freedoms.
You can follow Vince on Twitter at ImperfectUSA