Yeah, that sounds pretty silly, like somebody sitting there with a placid smile while having their head cut off (there are better ways to go out, if it comes to that).
The idea is to not let things get to that point.
What can you and I do about that? Isn’t it something for government and the military to handle? Not really. We also have the responsibility individually not to let things come to that, for ourselves or others.
Where’s a good starting point for all of us civilians, from which each of us can work according to our circumstances?
Let’s begin by looking at the problem.
Not a Zero Sum
I happened to do two things this past Monday that got me thinking along these lines. First, I watched Joss Whedon’s The Avengers for the umpteenth time. There’s some 9/11 imagery in that, of course (the firefighters directing civilians as smoke swirls around wreckage downtown Manhattan). It was also there in The Dark Knight and even in Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie.
We definitely know what the problem is.
Government stepped in after 9/11 and the War on Terror began, as did political controversy about it. I can say unequivocally that some mighty good arguments can be made on all sides, too.
The thing is, controversy is part of freedom, but unity is good when fighting a war. We’re right to argue, since it’s a free country, but how can we expect to win a war when we’re at each others’ throats?
We’ve been able to kind of push that out of the way of our daily lives until recently when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency is pretty much out to get all the information about everybody, or so it sounds.
And that brings me to the second thing I did Monday. I read this article at the Guardian: “Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the internet is.”
It contains some information that I hadn’t heard before, and the points raised are very serious ones:
- “The days of the Internet as a truly global network are numbered.”
- “Given what we now know about how the US and its satraps [well, this is the Guardian, after all … Barb] have been abusing their privileged position in the global infrastructure, the idea that the western powers can be allowed to continue to control it has become untenable.”
- “The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system. Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their “cloud” services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA. That means that if you’re thinking of outsourcing your troublesome IT operations to, say, Google or Microsoft, then think again.”
That’s serious stuff, and reality proves it’s a serious problem.
The writer gives his own example for those who might “think that that sounds like the paranoid fantasising of a newspaper columnist.”
Here is possibly another, although I can’t say for sure. According to an article about a report released yesterday, NASA needs to work on security problems in its move to public cloud computing.
ZDNet has a story on it today, too.
Now, no one – including me – is saying there is a connection between NASA’s problem and the NSA revelations. However, would anyone in a prominent position say it and risk getting sued and/or otherwise clobbered by the government or one of the tech giants whose cloud computing plans have just been thrown into very public question?
This is one of those major, major issues that nobody is going to recognize in real time and yet will make very interesting reading in the history books 20-30 years hence.
But in the meantime, I must ask this: Why is it presented as zero sum – either freedom or security? Why can’t we have both?
I disagree with the Guardian writer in this – it will take some struggle, but the US is going to earn its continued privileged position by finding a fair, workable balance between freedom and security.
But individual Americans have to do it, not the government or the military. That’s because the sovereignty of the US is not in Washington – it lies with us, and most of the time that’s fun. Every now and then, though, a hard job comes up for us to handle. Now, I think, is one of those times.
Why do I think that?
Well, I’m 60 years old. I don’t remember much of the 1950s, but went through the educational system in the 1960s. We were taught, early on, how to think critically, how to achieve all we were capable of both individually and as a team, and so forth. But then things got contentious; somehow it had become all about who could shout louder. Society was changing all around us, too.
There was discord everywhere. Lots of people were standing up for the way things were, and lots of people were trying to tear it down to make way for something better…
Well, it’s going on half a century ago now, and frankly I’m glad that’s all past.
However, a few things have stood out over the years. When I went back to college in 1980, my young roommate told me that thinking gets you in trouble. She wasn’t alone in that view, I suspect.
What a strange mindset that was for the America I thought I lived in!
There was also that feeling in 1991 that the whole American stage had changed when I learned that President Bush had addressed antiabortion activists in Washington, and Operation Rescue staged its “Summer of Mercy” demonstrations in Kansas. Up until then, I had just kind of thought the Sixties revolution had changed America for the good and we would all live in a nice, progressive country ever after.
Up until that point I had no idea people disagreed with things as they were. It was quite a wake-up call.
And then came 9/11/2001, and a whole bunch of stuff after that.
What I’m trying to say here, as briefly as possible, is that I’ve seen a whole lot of changes in this country, some good, some bad, – and in me, as well – but perhaps the primary lesson I’ve learned is that people and times change and that’s a good thing, though sometimes painful. As Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman put it in their Cold War, uh, spoof, for lack of a better word (you could call it a negative/positive movie review, too, I suppose), Good Omens,
I don’t see why it matters what is written. Not when it’s about people. It can always be crossed out.
I’ve always thought that summed up the American Revolution (ongoing for 237 years and counting) quite nicely.
Positive Versus Negative
Here’s what I think we civilians can do to stay free and yet basically secure.
Whenever possible, let’s cross out the negative and fill in with something positive. That was a nice thing about a lot of the people in the Sixties who were fighting hard to keep the status quo – not their fighting, but that most of them had lived through two world wars plus Korea and Vietnam, as well as the Great Depression, and they were very happy people. They usually had something positive to stay about life in general, and a joke if they were down. They had learned that was how to survive dreadful things. We can do that, too.
Sometimes it isn’t possible to be positive, but we can always be constructive. That was a nice thing about a lot of the people who were fighting to change society in the Sixties – when met with clenched jaws and fists, they made headway by becoming the change they wanted to see. When faced with racists and violence, they became loving and nonviolent. When confronted by jingoism and stubbornness, they reasoned and compromised.
We can become the change we want to see. We can be free, because this is America and these freedoms are guaranteed.
The reverse is true, too. When we are negative, we bring about negative change. We lose those freedoms.
Freedom is Self-Government
It’s hard not to be negative.
When you get right down to it, this is a horrible world, and all the positive thoughts your brain could possibly hold can’t really help you face it.
However, human beings have been facing this nasty fact for millennia and have found an effective answer in religion.
Don’t throw up your hands and gasp “Religion?!!!” as if it’s a dirty word without first asking yourself this – do you honestly feel that way or is it because other people have told you to do that.
If you’re okay with being a tool, you can stop here. If you are your own keeper, or want to be better at that, read on.
As G. K. Chesterton (who is described in Good Omens as “the only poet in the twentieth century to even come close to the Truth”) once said,
Of course the real truth is that science has introduced no new principle into the matter at all. A man can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things; it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism if you like. That is Atheism if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we know the names of all the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover. My chief objection to these semi-scientific revolutionists is that they are not at all revolutionary. They are the party of platitude. They do not shake religion: rather religion seems to shake them. They can only answer the great paradox by repeating the truism.
He is talking about true belief, not delusions:
That’s from Nebraska, a very good album.
What’s the difference between delusion (or illusion, if you’re Bruce S.) and belief?
Practice and growth. That dog isn’t ever going to get up again – delusion gets you nowhere other than the same old rut. Belief gets you somewhere, if not always where you thought you wanted to be – it gets you where you need to be to move on, out of that rut forever. Free, in other words.
Chesterton was a Catholic (though not at the time he wrote the above, I think).
Springsteen is an irreligionist.
I’m a Theravadan Buddhist, which means there are five things I have to do all the time – the precepts.
Paraphrased, these are:
- I undertake the precept to refrain from killing any living thing.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from harmful speech.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from taking what is not given.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants.
You try to do it. Doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. But if you keep at it, it changes your whole life for the good.
There’s one thing the Sixties got wrong. Real change is seldom a huge, world-shaking event. The biggest changes in the Sixties usually were effected by people who understood that they themselves were small but who believed in something grand with every particle of their being.
The great changes always come from very, very small things. It is raindrops, after all, that turn mountains into plains.
Nobody wants to relive the Sixties, but as mentioned above, there is a problem before us that must be dealt with. The time has once again come for us Americans to earn our position in the world.
We have always turned to faith in troubled times, and that is the one route I now see where we can find both freedom and security today.
Religion, Freedom and Security
Here’s the thing. If a butterfly can flap its wings in China and cause a hurricane in the Atlantic, how much more I must be changing everything for the better by just struggling along trying to keep to my five precepts.
It’s that simple. I don’t have to know about it for it to happen, any more than I have to actually see an atom before I’ll believe that they exist as fundamental pieces of matter.
The word “virtuous” used to be a good thing in our society. There were hypocrites, of course, but most people wanted to feel good about themselves and have a good reputation, so they at least tried to be virtuous sometimes.
People still want those thing today; the need comes from something deep within us rather than the fashion of the day. However, the word itself has fallen out of repute.
And here we are, now facing that alleged zero-sum problem: freedom or security.
It’s a good time to bring up something Ben Franklin wrote to the Abbés Chalut and Arnaud in 1787:
Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
There are always those who would be our masters, even in America. They are always ready for a fight, too, because it’s all they know and they’re very good at it.
But there is nothing they can do except fail and, eventually, join us when we decide to become less corrupt and less vicious and act on that decision, 24/7/365 (or as much of the time as we possibly can).
And in this harsh world, the only way was can possibly do that is religion.
It’s not so bad, actually. All religions have that bit in there about not killing people; some even mention love, as well as the importance of speaking truthfully and respectfully.
The more people affected by such good things, the fewer there are to become terrorists and the more there are who can recognize the lies and hatred all terrorists breathe for what they are and who will have the courage to call it like they see it.
That’s not something you’re ever going to see on TV or read in your favorite opinionator’s column of the day. But it’s true, nonetheless.
You can change the world for good, if you have the guts to be the change you want to see. It ain’t easy, but many people have done it before, and many are doing it all around you right now. That is the only way, I think, to keep our freedom and to fight terrorism.
If any country in the world can do this, America can.
Hope you notice that I haven’t given you any guidelines to live your life or anything like that. You’ll have to find those for yourself.
Welcome to the sometimes exhilarating, often frustrating and frightening, but totally worthwhile world of freedom, my friend.
This lot probably caused the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.
Categories: Random thoughts