I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. – James Madison
Madison was, of course, exactly correct. Those sick enough to seek power over others are never satisfied with the amount they have; they are driven to constantly seek more, to gradually push the boundaries of what they are allowed to do like the camel in the proverb. The United States was founded on libertarian (at the time they were called “liberal”) principles, but in the process of getting the country started far too many exceptions and loopholes were allowed in those principles; the most egregious of these was chattel slavery, an evil whose legacy is still contributing to the decay of liberty a century and a half after it was abolished. In the name of “safety”, “public order”, the “greater good” and other such vague nonentities, the rights of individuals have been eroded gradually and silently since the latter half of the nineteenth century, until there are precious few left (and those are cracked and pitted almost beyond recognition). Even the principle of self-ownership, the one upon which all the others (and the very principle of democracy) depend, still exists in name only; armed thugs have been granted the power to inflict violence upon virtually anyone for virtually any reason (or even for no reason), to break into the private homes of peaceful citizens without warning, and to sexually and/or medically violate anyone’s bodily integrity on pretexts that even the Inquisition might have found flimsy. Throughout all of it the American people, mesmerized by propaganda of imaginary hobgoblins, have allowed encroachment after encroachment, abrogation upon abrogation, while licking the boots of the overlords and thanking them for the privilege.
But those overlords forgot one thing: though Americans have degenerated into a race of spineless weaklings, they are as prudish as they ever were (if not more so). While they are as willing as ever to celebrate the mistreatment of people they can rationalize as being not like them (racial or sexual minorities, drug users, etc), they don’t like the idea of being seen naked or having their sexual secrets exposed. So while the news of each new excess of the police state for the past several decades has been greeted by the majority with yawns or even cheers, Edward Snowden’s revelations exposed an aspect of it that offended Americans’ Puritanical sensibilities. Costumed goons murdering, abducting, destroying and pillaging was of no consequence, but now that they’ve been caught peeking through a hole into the girls’ locker room the peasants are ready to form a lynch mob. To be sure, the most broken and lost of the mob have aimed their anger at Snowden; they blame him for making it impossible for them to continue on in blissful ignorance. But a greater number are at last directing that anger where it belongs: at the police state. Today there’s a protest against mass surveillance going on, and this column is a part of it. I fear it’s far too little decades too late, and that the majority will go obediently back to sleep as soon as the President assures them that he’s “doing something” about it; however, I will continue to fight for freedom and justice as long as there is breath in my body, and while the masses are aroused I think we need to keep shouting at them in the forlorn hope that they may have finally reached the limit of their tolerance for oppression.