Sunday, March 19, 2006

Seeing V

I saw V for Vendetta last night and it was a really awesome movie. I highly recommend it. Its full of potent symbolism, literary allusions, rife with anarchic and libertarian content and... well its just a really good movie. The hero of the movie, "V" is a combination of heroic genius and insane terrorist.

If you've seen the trailer you know that it takes place in a future UK where the government has become super powerful and oppressive. Interrestingly enough though it is being haled as a "uncompromising vision of the future" there was very little gadgetry in it. There were no flying cars and the highest tech devices seemed to be the plasma screen televisions everyone had, and the sweeping listening devices. To put it simply it wasn't so much a possible future as it was a possible now. Though they did place it twenty to 30 years into the future.

In any case it was a great movie, and it makes you think. It was nice to see the wachowski brothers back to focusing on strong plots instead of super special effects. Not that it didn't have any.

Anyhow it got me to thinking, without telling you too much of what happened in the story I will say that it takes place within the context of a society in utter fear of their government. That government got its power by playing on people's fears after a major war followed by a bad terrorist attack.

This parrallels some of the things that happened in wake of 9/11 in the U.S. Mainly people's willingness to give up liberties in return for greater security. AKA the PATRIOT act. What I'm wondering is how far we are from stumbling down a similar path?

My whole life I've heard people talking about how everything is going to hell in a handbasket. First there were the protestants grandparents and their peers who believed every major tornado and/or disaster to be a sign of the "end of days" and of God's wrath upon the sinful.

When I got to elementary school there were the assemblies, plays, and speakers all telling us about how greenhouse gasses were destroying the world. There were cartoons that depicted a world underwater by the year 2000 if we failed to "reduce, reuse, and recycle."

And in the last 7 years since I was originally introduced to libertarianism and objectivism I've heard all manner of end of the world tales. Sometimes they are of government and the economy collapsing in on themselves, and sometimes they are of an extreme rise in government power that causes civil society to collapse.

Since the reelection of the Bush Administration its the left thats been crying fascism, and talking about oppression and the evils of a big powerful government. Many of them envision a future in which we have no freedom of religion, speech, or of person, and that the Bush Administration is going to take us there.

Now that I've said all that I would like to point out that things are getting better and have gotten significantly better in my lifetime. College campuses have admittedly gotten worse, becoming bastions of censorship instead of free speech, but culturally we are more accepting of diversity, we can afford more, technology has gotten better, healthcare has even gotten better. Imagine getting knee replacement surgery in 1980 and being out of the hospital on the same day, being able to put weight on it within 24 hours.

Access and dissemination of information is better and quicker than its ever been. More people are surving illness that were considered terminal just a decade ago.

Compare now with McCarthyism and the red decade. Compare now with how people lived during the nixon administration, and its hard to see a hell-in-a-handbasket scenario(That is unless you are one of those people who thinks the world is going to implode upon itself the moment we "run out of oil.")

Now back to the PATRIOT Act, and the current Bush Administration. Here we have an administration that has decided its okay to spy on Americans in America. They have been caught listening in on us, and apparently that's only a small fraction of the illegal intelligence-related activities they have been up to.

It is now okay for the government to search homes without warrants, detain individuals declared as "enemy combatants," they may demand and acquire personal records about you (including financial, library, and religious records) without a warrant or without telling you - oh yeah and you cannot contest them doing so, they can listen in on your phone conversations by getting a warrang from a secret court without proof that you are connected to terrorist activites... and well it goes on. President Bush just made 14 of the provisions of the Patriot Act permanent, 2 more were extended.

So maybe the Bush Administration isn't after absolute power, maybe they just want to secure their political position by making it easier to catch the bad guys. You catch a big bad terrorist on American soil, and it looks good. It looks like you are doing your job. So lets pretend for the sake of argument that no one in the massive enterprise that is the bush administration, nor any of their collegues or cronies are power-hungry madmen. Let's suppose their purpose is more benign, and perhaps more short-sighted. Maybe they believe this will make america safer, maybe they just want to leave a strong legacy for the next republican contender for the white house.

My question is what doors might this administration be leaving open for others to walk through? Maybe the Bush administration has no desire or intention to curb dissent, or persecute religious and sexual minorities, but what if someone else does?

Could a future attack or disaster give an ambitious individual the perfect opportunity to do just that? If the doors are open, and the tools are there, how far are we really from an oppressive dictatorship?

The fact is I don't know the answer. I'd like to think that it couldn't happen. That there are enough groups out there like the ACLU, and the Institute for Justice who would see it coming. I'd like to think that information is open enough now, and that we are tolerant enough, brave enough, diverse enough, and smart enough that it could never happen. But I really don't know.

I think that it would take more to achieve that sort of end than it ever has before, but that is far from saying it is impossible. I think it would take more than a charismatic politician, but perhaps far less than another 9/11.