“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
In 1948, George Orwell published 1984, a masterful novel detailing the rise of totalitarianism and its effects on humanity. Of all the terrible realities Orwell, and writer John Fitzpatrick, depicted, the telescreen is surely the worst. These television-like devices allow the Party (the regime in power) to watch its members 24/7, listening to what they say and recording what they do. It cannot be turned off, and in the end, no one can avoid its vigilant eyes. The Party knows what everyone is doing, what everyone is saying, and what everyone is thinking. There is no escape. The government knows everything and the people know nothing.
Considering recent revelations concerning the National Security Administration’s spy program (yes, I call it a spy program), I can’t help but feel we’ve created a living version of Orwell’s nightmarish dystopia. Under the guise of security, the government listens to everything we say and tracks our movements. They know everything about us: what websites we visit, who we communicate with, where we communicate with them, what we think, and what we do. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the NSA targeting suspected terrorists. But that’s not what they do. The NSA targets everyone.
Many consider what I’m saying a product of paranoia. I consider it vigilance. There’s no doubt the NSA has over-stepped its bounds, breaking privacy rules “thousands of times” every year and knowingly collecting the phone logs of millions of innocent Americans. They claim what they’re doing is legal. If, in fact, it is, the problem becomes not what the NSA is doing, but why they’re allowed to do it.
This is my main concern. Yes, spying on millions and actively tracking global internet traffic is dangerous in and of itself. The power such information affords its holders is unfathomable. The real problem, however, is why the government is allowed to do this and why, for so many years, Americans have chosen to live lives of blissful ignorance rather than seek the truth.
Were you surprised when Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was watching us? I wasn’t. That’s the sad part. I expected my government to do this. Without documentary proof, I knew my phone calls could be recorded and I knew my emails could be catalogued.
Why is that? Why do I expect the government to violate my privacy? Since the end of World War II, we’ve been in a perpetual state of war. Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan. Need I mention lesser-known conflicts like Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua? That state of war has impressed upon us a “security first” mentality. What matters most is keeping the homeland safe. As a result of this mentality, we expect the government to do things it has no authority to do, justifying its actions as merely another form of “protection.”
This is exactly what the Party did in 1984. Plunging Oceania, one of the world’s three remaining superpowers, into never-ending wars against unseen opponents, Big Brother created an indefatigable state of oppression. Everyone feared the enemy, an enemy they’d never seen. They spent their lives building weapons, rooting out potential threats, and destroying all who opposed Big Brother.
Does that mentality sound familiar? The United States spends more than $600 billion every year on the military, building more weapons to kill more people. We set up spy agencies and intelligence commissions to weed out the enemies among us, refusing to acknowledge that we are our own worst enemy. We do all of this to protect our nation, fearing that if we don’t, America will suffer.
This mentality has made resistance almost non-existent. We agree to spend more money, we allow them to track our phone calls, and we let them steal our emails, all in the vain hope that the government will protect us. Then, when a whistleblower exposes the NSA for what it really is, we act surprised. But it’s all a facade. We know, we just don’t want to admit it.
We’ve created Orwell’s hell. We elect Congressmen who promise to protect us, yet they do just the opposite. They strip us of our civil liberties (if you don’t believe me, read about the Patriot Act), destroy our freedom, and feel justified in doing it. As a reward, we return them to their seats in droves.
“Security” isn’t worth the price we’ve paid. We can’t call a friend without wondering if the government’s listening and we can’t send an email without worrying that every word will find its way into a top-secret government database. Simply put, we can’t do anything of significance without the government knowing.
So what’s my point? I’m not ranting without a purpose. I wish to expose the real problem. The NSA is but the hand; we are the brain. We clamor for security, electing politicians who pledge to do whatever it takes to keep us safe.
We are enablers. We live in a society predicated on safety, a society we’ve created. For decades, we’ve allowed the government to suspend our liberties with little more than a whimper in protest. It must end. We cannot continue to roll over as the government and its many agencies tear up the Constitution and make their own rules. We must rise up, replace our representatives, and usher in a new era of freedom.
We’ve created a nightmare, and I refuse to go down without a fight. This isn’t America. This is Oceania; this is Big Brother.