Put that in your pipe

This morning I read a post by Chris Blattman called “You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little things get worse and worse.” One of the comments precisely captured my reaction: “Quite easily the most powerful thing I have read in some time.”

Blattman says his post came from a “miscellaneous comment in a reddit thread on government eavesdropping”. The writer doesn’t tell us exactly where he lives, but says, “I live in a country generally assumed to be a dictatorship. One of the Arab spring countries.” The full article is long as these things go, but please do read it. This excerpt should whet your appetite:

You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little things get worse and worse. But this thing that is happening now is big. This is the key ingredient. This allows them to know everything they need to know to accomplish the above. The fact that they are doing it is proof that they are the sort of people who might use it in the way I described. In the country I live in, they also claimed it was for the safety of the people. Same in Soviet Russia. Same in East Germany. In fact, that is always the excuse that is used to surveil everyone. But it has never ONCE proven to be the reality.

Maybe Obama won’t do it. Maybe the next guy won’t, or the one after him. Maybe this story isn’t about you. Maybe it happens 10 or 20 years from now, when a big war is happening, or after another big attack. Maybe it’s about your daughter or your son. We just don’t know yet. But what we do know is that right now, in this moment we have a choice. Are we okay with this, or not? Do we want this power to exist, or not?

While we’re on the subject, let me commend two other articles to your attention, both opinion pieces from the New York Times. The first was written by Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Party’s executive committee who’s running for the Bundestag in the upcoming national election. He calls his essay “Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don’t Trust Him.” and in it says this:

Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored.

Although these two dictatorships, Nazi and Communist, are gone and we now live in a unified and stable democracy, we have not forgotten what happens when secret police or intelligence agencies disregard privacy. It is an integral part of our history and gives young and old alike a critical perspective on state surveillance systems.

Meanwhile, we have a piece yesterday on Diane Feinstein from Jeremy W. Peters called “Feinstein’s Support for N.S.A. Defies Liberal Critics and Repute”. Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and, as Peters says, “To her critics, she is just another victim of Stockholm syndrome on the Congressional Intelligence Committees: an enabler of government overreach who has been intoxicated by the privilege of knowing the deepest-held state secrets.” An apt description, it seems to me, driven home by this statement:

I feel I have an obligation to do everything I can to keep this country safe. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Little by little by little.