Okay.... talk me down from this place that Twitter, news site comments, and FB have stranded me on.
Repeat after me enough and maybe I'll believe it:
The country has always been going to hell in a handbasket. There has never not been a time when the country has been going to hell in a handbasket. The country will always be going to hell in a handbasket, at least from someone's point of view.
There's nothing particularly special about the fact that right now, it's my point of view's turn. Right?
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Andrew Jackson refused to enforce and abide by the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court and nobody did anything about it. Local, state, and federal laws and practice, in north and south, enshrined written and unwritten policies that literally stole wealth from generations of nonwhite families well into the twentieth century. FDR thought it would be a great idea to put a few extra justices, something like ten more, in the Supreme Court. For forty years the most concrete manifestation of a "right to privacy" has been a license to commit murder. And for all of these outrages and more, there have always been a large number of American citizens who said, "Fine with me," or what's maybe worse, "It doesn't affect me, so, who cares?"
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It comes down to this: I don't think that the country has enough political will to put the brakes on the federal government's expansion of powers that arguably violate the fourth amendment.
There are too many people who espouse "If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about."
There are too many people who espouse "Anything that makes us safer is worth doing" without asking the question, "How will we know if it makes us safer?"
There are too many people who espouse "So-and-so wouldn't be in trouble if he hadn't done something wrong."
In my sleepless nights I worry that there are a large number of people who figure that there are a lot of benefits to living in a police state, so long as the people with the correct letter after their names are in charge of the police.
There are so many of these people that, I fear, the anything-for-security people will win. The political will will not be there to protect the free expression of unpopular ideas. The political will will not be there to protect religious minorities and to guard against preferential treatment in accommodations for favored groups. The political will will not be there to maintain Fourth Amendment protections. And the decisions will be made in secret, with the public's blessing, because the majority of the public will never, never accept that cops and schoolteachers and tax collectors and prison guards and regulators and presidents (with the correct letter after their names) could ever use secrecy in any way except to take good care of us and all the other good people, the ones who follow the rules and like it.
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Privilege. Privilege. Privilege. This is what the don't-have-anything-to-hide, anything-to-make-us-safer, he-must've-done-something-to-deserve-it people have in common. They are speaking from behind a cushion of privilege so soft and warm that they cannot even tell it is there. The privilege of people who have never been singled out, who don't have something they might prefer quite reasonably to hide, who are the acceptable people. Who have never had the misfortune to make an enemy with a government job, who have never been embroiled in the justice system or family court, who are content to play by rules without questioning them and have never had the rules come back to bite them, in large part because they belong to the class of people who make the rules.
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I don't have anything to hide, so why should I care about privacy?
I'm white, so why should I care about racism?
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The Bill of Rights -- and I confess that I'm here thinking mostly of the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendments -- nominally restrain the power of the federal government with respect to the individual.
It's not hard, however, to read them as a restraint on a pervasively flawed and twisted aspect of fallen human nature, one we would all do well to root out when we find it within ourselves.
And that is our tendency to convince ourselves that bad things do not happen to good people.
If you need Scriptural evidence that this is, indeed, a Big Problem for the human race that we have been well advised to work on, please refer to the entire book of Job.
"Bad things don't happen to good people" is a comforting thought for a number of reasons.
- Bad things don't happen to good people; bad things have not, so far, happened to us; therefore, all evidence suggests that we are good people.
- Bad things don't happen to good people; we are good people; therefore, bad things won't happen to us.
- Bad things have happened to those people; bad things do not happen to good people; therefore, those people are not "good people," and we have no obligation or ability to relieve their suffering.
- Bad things don't happen to good people; good people are people who follow certain rules; therefore, if we follow certain rules, bad things won't happen to us.
You see how thinking this way is a temptation to many people. It is also called "magical thinking," because it causes so many good people to believe that they, somehow, can prevent bad things from happening to them by behaving the "right" way, where the "right" way is equivalent to "what good people do."
Go find any news story about a person who has suffered a terrible accident or crime. Dive down into the comments. Someone, somewhere, is convinced that the sufferer suffers (or lost his life), fundamentally because he did something wrong. Cyclist hit by a drunk driver? You'd have to be an idiot to be riding your bicycle on the street at that time of night. Injured in a fall while rock climbing, and carried out by county SAR? We shouldn't be bailing out these thrill-seeking dummies. Killed in a building collapse caused by shoddy demolition next door? There's no way I would even have gone to work in that store, it was so obvious that the wall was going to fall down. Lost a son or daughter to a drug overdose? Maybe if she spent more time parenting and less time blogging this wouldn't have happened.
It's an impulse that may seem merely provincial, perhaps ignorant, certainly common. But it's a root of pure evil, because it convinces us we ought to do nothing to help the poor and suffering, because they probably deserve it.
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It's this tendency in fallen human nature that the writers of the Bill of Rights were writing against. They wrote it to restrain the government, because the "bad things don't happen to good people" mentality is particularly dangerous when it is held by the people who have the power to enforce the "rules for being good people."
Bad things don't happen to good people. Being accused of a crime is a bad thing. Therefore, the accused is a bad person.
(I mean... just look at him. Do you really need a jury to figure that out?)
Bad things don't happen to good people. We are good people. Therefore, there are no downsides to permitting random searches of private papers or property or what-have-you, because we are good people and it would be a bad thing if the government used something they found against us, or pretended to find something that really the government agent planted there, because maybe he had a quota to fill or something, and we cannot imagine that ever happening because, like I said, we are GOOD PEOPLE and bad things don't happen to good people and they wouldn't try that quota thing on us because, come on, aren't there some BAD PEOPLE out there, and wouldn't it'd be a lot easier to get away with planting contraband in THEIR personal effects?
And before you know it, we're okay with that sort of thing. And it all comes down to ... what?
I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
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As usual, human nature contains multitudes. There is another, opposite temptation called "bad things that happen to me are someone else's fault," and since humans are nothing if not adaptable, it is entirely possible to hold both of them at once.
This complicates the proposed solutions, to be sure, to the problem of magical thinking.