Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freedom Vs. Safety

In an ideal world, no person would have to decide. Freedom and safety would be doled out freely to all who sought it. Yet, unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Many risk their lives every day just to go to a country where freedom can be granted (I was fortunate enough to be born into a country in which these freedoms were already granted to me). Dictators, both of the past and present, use(d) fear as a way to take control of a country, playing up a threat that was nonexistent or in reality much smaller than what it was made out to be(e.g. internal spies, Jews).

I just got done reading this book called After by Francine Prose. The book was about this school that got this grief and crisis counselor when a school fifty miles away had a school shooting. Things get stricter and stricter with all of these crazy rules. Anyone who breaks these rules goes to the mysterious Camp Turnaround. I won't write more about it except that it was one of the creepiest, scariest books I've read in a long time. If horror movies actually had decent, realistic plots like this one instead of stupid Hollywood  clich├ęs then maybe they'd be worth watching...

It sounds far-fetched at first but it becomes more feasible the more you think about it. On a literal basis, it was just about the high school. Figuratively... I definitely see this as being post-9/11 America or at least what it could have been/can still become. After I finished this book last night, I kept thinking about this.

Obviously 9/11 was a wake-up call for harsher security in airports. A repeat of that would have been absolutely horrible and ever more terrifying than the original. It's fair to say that we can live with an extra hour going through airport security if it can prevent even one more person from ever having to go through something like that again.

Yet on the other hand, Americans were also more willing to surrender many of their own personal freedoms and privacies. The government was given permission to search e-mails and tap phone conversations despite it being in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Torture, despite it being against international law, occurred under the Bush adminsitration (and still continues under Obama) against men who often weren't even proven guilty. It would be nice to say that arbitrary arrests and detentions haven't occurred here but I'm afraid Bradley Manning proves otherwise (and I'm sure that there are other cases that have escaped my attention). And, of course, over one million Americans are currently on the watch list.

I'm not going to go as far as to say that the government planned 9/11 or anything like that. What I am saying is that 9/11 left many Americans vulnerable and afraid. That very vulnerability and fear is what made and makes Americans so easily to manipulate and be manipulated. I was talking to my aunt about the TSA body scanners when that was still a controversy. She kept telling me that she never wants to feel that afraid again and that you can't understand that kind of terror unless you've been through it.

Of course, she's right. I was four years old when 9/11 happened and I suppose my parents must have successfully sheltered my sister and I because I have no recollection of it.

Safety is important. Yet our freedoms must be too if so many men and women died for it.

As I may or may not have stated here before, I put great importance in skepticism and rational thinking. In times of fear, it's easy to be governed by emotions. For a government, t's all too easy to play up a fear and use it to control a populace. As a citizen, it's also all too easy to listen to what the media and the government are feeding you. The easy answer is to just be like, "I'll do whatever it takes to be safe. I'll do whatever the government tells me and listen to everything they say because they must be right." The harder answer would be, "I'll stay up to speed with what's going on around me, hold government officials accountable for their actions and to challenge everything I hear."

I think that Naomi Wolf is right when it comes to this topic, at least partially so. I don't agree with everything that woman says, not by a long shot. I may not think that the government is or ever was actually trying to take the U.S. over but I do think that there are many people right now who would gladly do so. I agree with her that too many Americans are too compliant and ignorant when it comes to politics, myself included, and let themselves be led around like sheeple. Defending our rights and our freedoms isn't a responsibility that we can just hand over to other people, our politicians included. It's a responsibility that all of us hold as Americans.

So here's a very important question. If someone was trying to take over the United States and turn it into a dictatorship, what would most Americans do? It's not usually something that happens overnight but that happens over a long period of time. It usually happens gradually until the day you realize that all of your freedoms are gone and by then it's too late. In the book After, many parents were brainwashed by the flood of e-mails they continuously received from the school. Even as their children were being taken by the school for breaking minor rules and  as those rules became increasingly harsher, these parents stuck by the belief that the school was only doing what was necessary and that everything was and would be alright. This can easily symbolize the average American and the influence of the media.

If someone were to try to take over the United States, I would like to think my fellow Americans would put up a fight instead of handing everything over. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, this issue and those like it do not become any less important but only more relevant.

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