Friday, August 2, 2013

The Narrowing Gap Between the Forbidden and the Compulsory

I was recently talking with a friend of mine about the inexorable encroachment of the power of the state into every area of our lives and he made a very insightful comment. There have always been things that are forbidden by the government - traditional crimes against person and property such as murder and theft; and there have always been things that are compulsory as well - taking care of your own children, for example. For most of the last few hundred years, in Western nations at least, the gap between these two areas of state proscription has been large and the State did not consider it to be its business to interfere in areas as broad as where and how you work, whether you save for your retirement, whether you make provision for personal medical care, how you are educated, what you eat and drink, and what you sell to your neighbour. We regarded countries that did try to interfere in all these areas of its citizens lives to be feudal and dictatorial.

The West, led by Britain and the United States of America, valued individual liberty and rights as important foundations of their ways of life. Of course, individual liberty and rights were not absolutes and there were significant exceptions to the rule, such as slavery in the United States before Emancipation, but the general principle was that the state left people alone unless there was good reason not to.  It is this principle that has been abandoned in much of the western world today where governments consider it not only their right but their responsibility to interfere in every area of every citizen's life. The gap my friend talked about is now almost non-existent. Sure, there are a few areas of increased personal freedom such as around the removal of state sanctions against homosexual relations, but the generally the trend has been far in the other direction.

Today we face new challenges to the narrowing gap that remains. Governments across the Western world are trying to ensure we do not say or do anything that is contrary to the narrow view of acceptable behaviour as defined by the small, often unelected, elite in the executive branches of our governments.  These people claim the right (often disregarding legal and constitutional restraints on their power) to watch our every move, listen to everything we say and read everything we write. As always, they claim this is for our own good, to protect us against poorly defined threats and enemies. They often claim these powers are temporary but of course they never give them up.

In the past the mainstream media would have carried the flame of the protests against this encroachment of the state but now most in the media are apologists for it. There are a few who are prepared to stand up and act against this existential threat to free, democratic society from within. Edward Snowden is one of the few. He has exposed illegal an unconstitutional activity by the US Government against its own citizens. Americans should stand up for Edward Snowden before it is too late.

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