Re: the loss of our civil liberties to a high-tech big brother...

James Rogers (
Mon, 6 Dec 1999 22:22:55 -0800

On Mon, 06 Dec 1999, john grigg wrote:
> I found your post very powerful and unnerving to say the least. I had
> already read about England's surveillance cameras but had no idea on what
> scale it is to be deployed.
> The point about how "good middle-class folks" are preoccupied with just
> trying to make a living and care for their families is so important. They
> can be taken in by politicians and other government officials who in the
> name of "safety and security" will subvert our civil liberties to an extent
> never before seen if allowed. But will the public awaken in time?

In some ways, it is already too late. You are talking about fighting to preserve the facade that most Americans consider to be reality. There are a great many truths about the world that we live in that are far more disturbing (and interesting in a dark sort of way) than what most people have been lead to consider possible. Even if the "good middle-class folks" devote their attention to their maintaining their civil liberties, something I strongly support, in the bigger picture it is a "feel good" move that won't really solve looming problems with potentially far worse consequences.

> I tried explaining this to a very right-wing friend of mine who kept on
> saying, "if you have done nothing wrong and are a good citizen then you have
> nothing to fear from the government." He just would not recognize how this
> is such a slippery slope.

A problem is that most ordinary people today have had limited experiences with respect to government. Few people have experiential reasons for having a deep fear of the government. Today most people waive their right to refuse or deny the government access to their private life; many aren't even aware the right exists.

> I agree with you that most likely the most terrible totalitarian governments
> have yet to be. As an American citizen my deepest hope is that my own
> nation will not fall prey to this.

These days there is little that makes the U.S. differ from everywhere else with respect to the possibility of totalitarian government. Regardless of Constitutional issues, if the people let it, it can happen. The only potential saving grace is that there is a small but not insignificant segment of American culture that absolutely refuses to submit to all but the most non-intrusive forms of governmental authority. In my limited experience, most European societies are less likely to resist incremental government intrusion, though it is only a matter of degree. There are still a few places in the U.S. where the Federal government fears its citizens.

> Also a U.S. president could declare martial law in a time of severe crisis,
> thereby suspending the constitution and becoming a dictator over the
> military. In a time of fear and violence(repeated terrorist strikes or an
> epidemic) things could really get out of control but I would hope the checks
> and balances of the other branches of government and public opinion would
> take hold. A common scenario is shown in the film "The Siege" but I see a
> much more likely and less explosive and incremental loss of American
> liberties done for "our own good."

The checks and balances of the American system, while a good design, have proven to be less adept at keeping the system under control than originally intended. Things such as judicial activism, executive decree, and the delegation of legislative function to regulatory agencies have destroyed or weakened many of the checks and balances the system was supposed to have.

> Again, I found your post very thought-provoking and thank you for it. I find
> it ironic that the extropians might find themselves in future
> decades(especially after cryonic reanimation) in a world where governments
> feel the need to know everything(and they basically could) and you have
> "rights" as long as you behave yourself.

To be perfectly honest, I find many aspects of living in many areas of the United States to be fairly oppressive in their current state and it doesn't look like it is going to improve.

I think it is something of a race between an eventual totalitarian world government (though apparently benign to the average person) and an interesting AI/nanotech future where things progress wildly outside of the control of government. Obviously, I would much rather have the latter than the former given the choice.

-James Rogers