If you live in the United States it may finally be dawning on you that you have something of a problem in the government to which you are now a Subject. In fact, the details of the [NSA Snooping|Verizon Metadata|IRS Political Targeting|Bankruptcy Preference|Fast and Furious|State Department Coverup|Libyan Ambassador|George Takei Facebook Ghostwriting] scandal are meaningless. You are already far too late. It will get worse before it gets better, it may never get better again, and, frankly, finem respice has not a shred of sympathy for your plight or that of your countrymen/women. In fact, given the manner you have quashed the opportunity- almost unique in the history of the species- created by an impossibly rare coexistence of liberty, private property, free markets, the rise of scientific method, and freedom of expression (to name just a few) there is more than a passing argument to be made that your society has squandered one of the greatest intellectual and individualistic fortunes in history.
You see, for generations now you have collectively built and nurtured a massive, living, metabolizing creature. From the inanimate, intellectual detritus of "progressivism" and your unending and increasingly all-consuming narcissism you have kneaded it into a shapeless husk, pouring in rank mud like "Save the Planet," "Global Warming," "The American Dream of Home Ownership," "The War on Drugs", "Mothers Against Drunk Driving", "The War On Terror", "Speculators", "Too Big To Fail", "The 1%", and of course the essence and spark of its life, "…if it saves just one child." In conjunction with (but far more so than the other buckets of intellectual mud) "…if it saves just one child" has created the Golem of Government.
It was useful once, certainly, but it has since grown larger and more unwieldy as you slumbered. It is more potent than you now, and now it wields its own momentum with a self-directed animus of its own design, winding to and fro, unpredictable and twister-like, a destructive force that, despite what you thought, is not magically contained by the frontiers of the United States. Its power is extraterritorial and carves a wide swath across and through international law, international relations, international taxation, "force projection," and grips a stranglehold on the global financial system, which it greedily claims as its own and uses as hostage to bend the laws of other states to its will.
With almost Tolkienesque malice it seeks to see all, hear all, and know all- and owing to complacency that runs the gamut from your blithe acquiescence to your active participation, increasingly looks close to meeting its total information omniscience goal. Yet, the Golem is possessed of no craft, no subtlety, no art. Its sensory organs inform crude appendages that know how to do nothing but squeeze, smash, stomp, kidnap, and explode the targets of its interest without apology or feeling. Moreover, the Golem has no sense of proportion, happily imposing costs of $10 billion on the developed world to collect less than one tenth of that in revenue for itself, raining fire from the sky upon any collection of persons it feels might maybe contain a couple troublemakers. It thinks nothing of shutting down the 20th largest city within its borders (at a cost of many billions of dollars) to hunt down a single sleep-deprived, starving, wounded, and suicidal criminal. Likewise, it laughs to spend hundreds of thousands in time and expenses to ransack those of its Subjects' entities with operating budgets of $20,000, $15,000, or even less, or to ruin a mid-sized enterprise with a displeasing political orientation over vague foreign regulations on the exportation of wood.
Like its namesake, the bureaucratic Golem you have formed may at one time have grudgingly served the better angels of The State's nature (if such can even be said to exist), but it has long since grown past your control. Try to rein it in and it fights back mercilessly, turning to bite and scratch and often inflicting mortal political (or corporal) wounds without thought. Try to starve it and it merely helps itself to lucre by encumbering the royal mint with its debts and thus accelerates the process of impoverishing you and yours with its ceaseless appetite for blood and treasure, growing even more potent and desperate in the meantime until every challenge to its ever-growing hunger occasions a political crisis, a violent and deadly storm that none dare to brave for more than the briefest of interludes, and never twice in a row.
It seems you once believed that the proper demigod might tame the Golem, direct its purpose to your own pet causes, or at least blunt its influence and attenuate the heat of its hate and ceaseless anger. You believed those heroes from the lands to the West had the steel to domesticate it, or those philosopher kings from the Northeast the intellect to reason with it. Those from the political right, you argued, or those from the left, you insisted, would best shrink its influence, or channel its immense power for good. How foolish it must feel (if you even bother to take the time to reflect) to learn, finally, that none of the last ten of your modern heroes have ought but grown the Golem's power and influence. None have felt its power and resisted the urge to attempt to pollute that power for their own ends. In fact, of late those who scorned it most vocally seem to have coupled with it most passionately, spurting forth from their sinful and false loins the seed that spawned ever more Golem offspring. For how many more cycles will you perpetuate the insane hope that the "right leader" will tame it? When will you finally recoil in horror to watch the Golem consume these offspring, growing by absorbing these massive juggernauts in their own right with names like "DHS", "CFTC", or the nearly 150 nameless progeny spawned off in one massive birthing in March of 2010?
Of course, it cannot be tamed and there will shortly be (or already is) nowhere on the globe to escape it. You must cripple it. To do this you must understand from whence its power flows. Alas, you will never, ever do this. You will never do this because its power flows from you… and in the end you are simply self-absorbed cowards.
To quote a friend of finem respice, your "discount rate for pain is infinite." You will never act "now" while you believe you have another hour, and you always believe you have another hour. Be it the left, or the right, or the center of American politics from whence you hail, your unending and interminable narcissism has convinced you that you can enjoy the redistributive graces of the Golem and that it will never turn on you. It is the urge that causes you to answer "very concerned" on survey questions about the corrupting impact of special interests, and yet time and time again vote in as much personal largess as the ballot box permits you. It is the conceit that permits you to believe that demand curves slope up (just in this one case), that healthcare can be made "free," that you are entitled by right to 8% returns in perpetuity, that entitlement Ponzi schemes will last (or last just long enough for you to get paid), that the Golem will target your enemies while your party is in "control" of it, that you will not be targeted when your party is thrown from the saddle, that flattering the Golem will wash you of your sins, and that the Golem will remember your flattery fondly when its malevolent gaze suddenly falls upon you.
And despite all evidence to the contrary you continue to recite the worshipping incantations of the day. You intone "…if it saves just one child…" with no concept of what that litany actually means. You keep yourself blissfully ignorant of the nature of the line of argument it is almost universally used to further (there is only one Lord of the Capitol, and he does not share power). You turn a blind eye when someone illuminates the many disguises this argument wears, and (at best) you ignore the sophistry involved or (at worst) you nod along to the many perverse metaphors that spring from it into the rhetoric of the era. For instance:
No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe. But if there’s even one thing we can do, if there’s just one life we can save, we’ve got an obligation to try.1
As I said from the start, no single piece of legislation can stop every act of violence and evil. We learned that tragically just two days ago. But if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand -- if it could have prevented those people from losing their lives to gun violence in the future while preserving our Second Amendment rights, we had an obligation to try.2
If it can save one life, then it’s done its job.3
It is impossible to know with certainty whether the Patriot Act saved Alicia's life.
Her mother thinks so.
"There's at least one American citizen who's going to grow up and go to the prom and have a life because of the Patriot Act," she said.4
If we can prevent just one more, then it's worth it.5
If Todd’s story helps just one child then his death will not have been in vain.6
If we can prevent just one more person becoming a victim then why are we even arguing about this?7
But then you thought you were exempt, immune, special, did you not? "What," after all "may not be expected in a country of eternal light?" This time it was different. It could never happen here. These small accretions of power were acceptable, weren't they? Even desirable? But it should seem obvious now that your blind eye missed more than just a bit of sophistry now didn't it?
True, perhaps you squirm a little bit sending page after page of itemized detail on your spending habits, your political giving, your charitable concerns to the faceless "P.O. Box 802501," but that's all confidential, right? And, plus, you like your mortgage deduction. So what if the Golem collects years of data on your household spending, and peeks at credit card and bank records now and then if you get to keep $9,000 more of your hard-earned money every year? No?
And, really, what do you have to hide? Most of your life is out in the open already, right? Ok, now and again maybe you trip over an unwise photo of yourself on Facebook, or find yourself rushing to delete an errant Tweet or two- but you were just a little bit over-served and who can blame you for that now and again? Your employer? Let them try. You'll appeal to the Golem, of course. You'll sue, as is your right. In fact, should anything damaging emerge in the ether you are certain you'll have recourse. And why not? Otherwise your pride, your reputation, your feelings would mortally wounded, wouldn't they? And by a thoughtless, malicious third party to boot. Isn't that precisely what the Golem is there to prevent? Aren't these grievous insults exactly what this power is designed to quash? How, in truth, can you be expected to avail yourself of your right to the pursuit of online happiness when cruelty runs rampant? How can you lay your Tumblr soul bare, your Wordpress diary public (until your boyfriend is accused of treason, that is.. that's TOO public!), your Pinterest paintings for all to see? In short, how can you nourish your unbridled narcissism if you cannot publish your every whim on any occasion that presents itself to you if there are not rules governing the use of this trove of data? You must be afforded the freedom of publishing every scrap of data you wish without fear of hurtful critique, not so? Really, who cares what data is collected, as long as you can trust that its use will be restricted to the sort of things of which you approve? And to enforce that you need a powerful ally, do you not?
In short, you prefer confidentiality to secrecy, at least a self-serving version of confidentiality. A wide ranging scheme of confidentiality permits you to continue to indulge in your taste for narcissistic self-expression. Secrecy does not. When it displeases you, the illusory veil of confidentiality permits you to unmask your critics and compel third parties to break their oaths when you convince the Golem to reveal them to you. And when it doesn't? Why, you join the chorus of critics who insist that "anonymous speech" is cowardly, illegal, unethical, and incredible. But you forgot something rather important, didn't you?
That power cuts both ways and confidentiality requires confidants.
So you have spent your energy enabling the punishment of errant confidants, that is those who hold data on your spending, your personal and professional associations, your interests, your recreational activities, and (soon) your medical history, rather than protecting this data in the first place. You have shamelessly indulged your desire to disclose (either because it paid you back some of your own money or because it fed your self-involved super-ego). You haven't worried thus far about those who wanted to collect fingerprints and (now) DNA samples for "identification purposes," even though both reveal much more than your identity. In fact, they leave traces of your activities, physical state, ancestral line, genetic predispositions, health status, and presence wherever and whenever you go. But that data is safe, isn't it?
Thus far you relied on the Golem to enforce your whim on your many confidants, and to protect you from them. Except you forgot one. The Golem itself.
And so now it comes to pass that your confidants have been usurped by the Golem, that they have, in fact, formed an unholy alliance with it. And, to make matters much, much worse, the Golem is a liar. Its newfound acolytes are liars. They have no intention of enforcing the confidentiality rules they themselves created to lull you into a sense of security and obtain your data. They have no intention of resisting the ravenous hunger of the Golem. In fact, they bask in it and the attention and power they think it yields them. Through it they believe can exert the influence they so crave and indulge their collective fantasy that they will somehow be afforded the opportunity to shape the world in the image they favor using its power. You are eminently and imminently expendable, both to them and the Golem.
Meanwhile, while you depend on confidentiality, the Golem and its acolytes use secrecy. They hide in the shadows and threaten (quite credibly) any who would expose their collusion with dire consequences. They obfuscate to avoid scrutiny. They ask you to trust them, but they certainly do not trust you.
And for these meaningless platitudes ("...if it saves just one child.", "The war against online piracy.", "Stop online bullying.") you have, my dear Subjects, well and truly f--ked yourselves.
Good night, and good luck.
- 1. In support of gun control measures in 2013.
- 2. Still in support of gun control measures in 2013.
- 3. In support of expanded anti-drunk-driving measures in 2008.
- 4. Justifying the expanded use of the Patriot Act to investigate a teen sex-abuse case in 2002.
- 5. Justifying the mandatory addition of rear view cameras to all vehicles in the United States in 2012.
- 6. Arguing for mandatory CT scans for newborns in 2011.
- 7. Justifying Boston lockdown post marathon bombing in 2013.
By finem respice. Hat tips: American Digest and Bohemia Apartments (Golem image).