Playing Musical Chairs With Our Morals

English: Playing musical chairs at the Our Com...

English: Playing musical chairs at the Our Community Place Lawn Jam in Harrisonburg, Virginia on June 28, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Score another one for the American voter’s cheer leader mentality about politics. This latest brouhaha over the NSA reading our e-mails, Facebook posts, and other online activities has highlighted that phenomena quite nicely. Since the news came out you have seen the usual suspects either defending or demonizing the President based on their party. There are, of course, those who question this invasion into our privacy based on actual moral conviction. Some folks are not so tied up in love of their party to condone or condemn based on the President’s affiliation. Sadly, if my interactions on social media are any cue, that is not the case by and large.

Too many Democrats want to let the administration off the hook on this one. They say it is no big deal. They trot out that tired line that it is necessary for the “war on terror.” Some of their critique of the reporting is spot on: no, the NSA does not have direct access with a few keystrokes to our information. They do, however, have easy access, through the companies providing us these online services. I am willing to believe that the companies make sure they cannot be sued by this, that they double-check their legal obligation to protect that data or provide it, but they only look at the legal, and not the ethical. Not that it is Facebook’s fault for giving in to the NSA, we should demand that the state not go snooping into our backgrounds with out just cause or due process.

On the flip side we have the outrage machine on the right. Suddenly Republicans are defenders of our privacy. They now claim to stand as bulwarks against a government encroaching on our civil liberties. I find this funny because it was not too long ago, when their boy was in the White House, that they were telling us if we have nothing to hide we should not worry about government snooping. I suppose it was all OK when it wasn’t a brown man leading the snoops, or when it was only brown people being snooped upon.

The very worst part though is each side recognizes this hypocrisy in the other, but not in themselves. Republicans rightfully point out the fact that suddenly Democrats are OK with policies they found horrible five years ago, ignoring their own switch in the process. For their part Democrats are pulling a tu quo que, claiming the fact that the other guys did it as proof that it is OK that they do. Holding up those you find ethically lacking as your role model for ethical behavior is sadly ironic, and a little dangerous.

Let me lay it out for you simply: our government sifting through our personal information, without just cause or due process, is wrong. Actually, anyone with power, including our employers, doing so is wrong. When they can start looking into our private communications with little to no barriers in doing so, we find ourselves in a position of guarding our thoughts. We do not speak out, even in private conversations, about the injustices we see for fear of the state (and in the absence of oversight management is “the state”) punishing us for it. Dissent becomes impossible when we cannot speak freely.

In a democracy we should be free to our own conscience, our thoughts our own and no one else’s business besides those we choose to share them with. We should get to choose our secrets. Conversely, in a democracy, the state should have as few secrets as possible. We are the sovereign and should have a say in which information they are allowed to withhold from us. Somehow this has been turned on its head and that needs to change. This is true regardless of whether “your guy” is in the White House or not, and pretending otherwise undermines our freedom and our ability to behave as responsible members of a democratic society.


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