Friday, January 06, 2006

The alternative to an American police state: The transparent society

Yesterday I wrote of the case for an American police state. I imagined that Cheney, reading a post 9/11 secret report on the falling cost of havoc, could have logically resolved that he was obligated to create a de facto police state in America.

I wrote that I was sympathetic to the dilemma faced by my imaginary VP, but that there were better paths that Cheney's secrecy had foreclosed. Maybe my virtual Cheney felt he had no choice -- that Americans weren't ready to think about the problems the anthrax attack and 9/11 exposed.

At the same time I wrote, David Brin, author of The Transparent Society (suddenly sold out on Amazon!), explored one of the alternatives (emphases mine):
Contrary Brin: Preventing Tyranny...part one

Unlike nearly every other opponent of the Bush Administration, I am far less incensed over their efforts -- through vehicles like the PATRIOT Act and the NSA -- to empower our paid protector caste (e.g. the FBI etc) with better access to wiretaps and other powers of surveillance. Their increased ability to see is inevitable, and not intrinsically worrisome. Indeed, in this new century, we will simply have to get used to the fact that elites will see very, very well. Get used to it.

But this need not be the end of freedom. What I hammer relentlessly is the point about reciprocal accountability -- that average citizens must fight, like demons, to retain our ability to look back! To ensure that the protector caste can never get away with spying or meddling or doing anything else unsupervised and unscrutinized by a citizenry who are both knowing and fiercely determined to the bosses of this civilization. To stay free.

Rather than focusing on a few rogue wiretaps, it is the Bushite frenzy for secrecy, dismantling every tool of accountability and oversight, that we should find far more terrifying.

The utter insanity of our situation cannot be over-emphasized. Ask ANY of your conservative friends what their reaction would have been, had Bill Clinton done 1/10 of any of these things. Take ANY ONE category. From busting the budget to relentless secrecy, demolition of our military readiness, torture, domestic spying, ruination of all our alliances, support for monopolies, the taking of bribes in exchange for pork contracts, interpreting every law as optional under the “Commander in Chief” clause, and utter destruction of international goodwill...
The comparison to Clinton is a distraction, but Brin's key point is that we cannot prevent ubiquitious surveilance. It's too late now, the technology to do this came far too fast for the bulk of mankind to understand it.

I am very troubled by this reality, by I have conceded that the falling cost of havoc alone probably requires us to live in a fishbowl. The challenge is -- can we both watched and free? Can we choose a 'transparent society' rather than a police state?

We can't return to the transient age of anonymity (at least in the physical world) -- that short period of urban and roaming life when people could be alone. The easy alternative, the alternative chosen by inaction, is Cheney/Bush's police state. The hard alternative is the Transparent Society. Unless you can think of something better ...

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