A Brief Memo to a Nation of Cattle

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Notes from a backwater planet

A Brief Memo to a Nation of Cattle

[28 April 2002]

In his philosophical polemics, the oft-misunderstood Nietzsche often warned of the dangers of a ‘herd mentality’ in a technologically advanced society. It seems America has yet to heed the warning.

Since 11-Sept., pollsters around the nation have documented a dramatic shift in public opinion regarding big brother and individual privacy. For example, in a national survey (28 March 2002), J. Zogby found some 55% of those polled actually favored legislation which would allow police to search purses, handbags, backpacks, etc. at random, anywhere; 48% said they would allow their cars to be searched without probable cause, 36% favored having their mail arbitrarily searched, while 26% said they wouldn’t mind having their telephone conversations monitored by authorities. (source: Newhouse News Service, retrieved from http://www.newhouse.com/archive/story1a041002.html)

For those who responded in favor of eviscerating civil liberties in this country, I would direct them to the words of Milton Mayer:

What no one seemed to notice... was the ever widening gap ... between the government and the people... And it became always wider... the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway ... Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about ...and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated ... by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us... Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'... must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. ...Each act... is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, alone... you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' ...But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. ...You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father... could never have imagined."
Source: They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

What I think most people don’t realize - even those people who oppose czarist policies of search and seizure in the name of protecting ‘national security’ - is the very real trend of privacy-invasion occurring regardless of the current ‘war against terrorism’. For example, the relatively new computer science field of data mining could take the thousands of tiny scraps of information left behind by you in the digital world and compile a very disturbing picture. (see http://www.ipc.on.ca/english/pubpres/papers/datamine.htm#Final for more on data mining)

Consider the data compiler who could get your weekly grocery list through the local shopping store’s card, then turn around and sell that information back to big business - say, your employer or health insurance provider, who then raises your insurance rates or drops your policy all-together because you eat too many fatty foods like hamburgers and Hagen Daaz.

EZ Passes for highway and bridge tolls, along with a long trail of credit, debit, or checking card transactions, can already paint a good picture of where you go and what you do - to say nothing of extensive phone and internet records.

For those who have to subject themselves to piss-tests by their employeers, you might want to realize that handing over your urine is like signing over your personal medical history. And we’ve already seen hundreds of discrimination cases nationwide crop up over the past decade where companies misused the genetic information of their employees in an attempt to minimize their health coverage costs. (Imagine loosing your job because of a possible genetic predisposition to cancer, or any other number of ailments or afflictions that you might develop in the future!) Is anybody else getting this?

Some years ago, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas also provided us with a keen warning, which I think a nation of cattle should heed: “As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."


-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), July 04, 2002

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