Letter to a Young Turk

On hearing the news that the government of the UK was proposing to track every single phone call, email and website visit for all of its citizens, someone posted the following to a forum I frequent:

This really reads like something out of fiction. I did not think I’d see the day of such a government, but here I am at 22 years old and already, a modern, 1st world country is to the point where it feels the need and justification to monitor every action of it’s populace. The precedent here is staggering, terrifying and morally bankrupt.

There are only two things new about this:

  1. The technology used to perform the surveillance; and
  2. The fact that the government is even asking Parliament for permission.

Son, if you live long enough, you’ll see ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ nations perform a lot of acts that will make you ashamed, that will make you fear for the future. In my lifetime, I’ve seen Nixon bomb Cambodia, the Reverend Martin Luther King shot down in cold blood, along with Medgar Evers, Bobbie & John Kennedy and a bunch of others; I’ve seen students shot dead merely for expressing their opinion. I’ve seen government admit to selling drugs in order to finance guerrilla operations to subvert a foreign, democratically elected government. I’ve seen governments sell anti-tank missiles to their enemies.

I’ve seen enough appalling and apparently senseless miscarriages of justice to understand that human society –that chimera we call civilisation– is a fragile, ephemeral thing.

Danger lies on both sides of a very narrow path. Oh it’s all well and good to check the safety on your handgun and make noises about getting ourselves a new government, but when it comes right down to it, mythology notwithstanding, violence almost always begets more violence. Once that cycle starts, the one most willing to keep shooting is most likely to be the last one standing.

On the other side lies complacency and a willingness to buy a stake in the game. This may be inconceivable to you now, but the people who screamed loudest for deregulation of the finance system, for off-shoring labour and for vengeance after 9/11 were the very same ones placing daisies into the muzzles of M-16s just few decades ago. People change; they learn to acquiesce. They just want to be secure. They’d rather join a party than a cause.

The only thing holding things together is common decency, and even that is failing –at least in the US. When it’s no longer possible to object in civil tones, when disagreement is more about affiliation than information, when dissent and disenchantment are met not only with disapproval but disenfranchisement… it becomes harder and harder to keep the ship of state on an even keel.

The answer? Read your Thoreau. Understand the tactics that Gandhi and King used. Their tactics were not about Peace, Love and Bobby Sherman; they were dry-eyed assessments of the most effective way to move policy when violent rebellion seemed to be the only option –and a losing option, at that.

Grow up, kid. Brace yourself. We’re living in one of the best, most prosperous times in human history, yet humanity is still the venal, nasty, selfish brute that wandered the veldt millions of years ago. Enjoy the miracle of our success, then devote some time to understanding in detail what it is that keeps us from wiping ourselves off the face of the planet.

… And welcome to the world. You’re going to love it, even if it doesn’t always love you.