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Think what you will of Edward Snowden, but before you make up your mind, watch the entire interview that he did with The Guardian while on the run in Hong Kong. As far as I'm concerned, he's a goddamn hero. This man sacrificed everything- a very lucrative career, a home in paradise, an absolute stunner of a girlfriend, and very probably his life and future physical safety- to tell his people what their government is doing to them. Nothing and no one is safe from the prying eyes of the government. There is no possible expectation of privacy anymore.
Reading through various articles and posts on this situation, I find myself amazed that Americans are still stupid and delusional enough to believe that they live in a republic, where their basic rights are protected. The dream of the American republic, of a land of liberty and light, is dead and gone. It was destroyed the moment Americans decided to swap freedom for safety. The fulsome praise of otherwise sensible optimists notwithstanding, your country as your Founders imagined it is dead and gone. It can never be recovered again. And it is your fault that this happened. You have no one else to blame. You decided that freedom, with all of its responsibilities and burdens, was less important than blind obedience and safety.
Surely It's Not That Bad?
Most Americans probably cannot imagine living under a government that has more access to their lives, thoughts, and personal information than the KGB or the Stasi ever dreamed of having- indeed, the Nazis and Soviets would have killed (literally) for the kind of power that these clueless bastards that you people keep electing routinely arrogate to themselves. That is because most Americans have never lived in a surveillance state, where every move is recorded and every interaction can be tracked.
I have lived in such a society, and here's where I play the Devil's advocate for a bit.
Anyone who has ever visited Singapore knows what I'm talking about when I say that government there has truly astonishing presence in and power over people's lives. In Singapore, there are cameras quite literally everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without being photographed or video-taped. The government has the ability to track every single one of your daily interactions should it so choose- and I'm not being hyperbolic here. Back when I was in high school there, we lived down the road from a former High Court Judge, and my father once asked him what would happen in a court case to prove a defendant's innocence, or something along those lines. The judge simply replied, "all I have to do is ask for the video showing where you were at that particular time on that particular day". In Singapore, defendants are presumed guilty- in other words, the Constitutional protection of presumed innocence does not apply, and the burden of proof is on the defendant. It doesn't take much to figure out how quickly and completely this shifts the relationship between citizen and State.
Here's the funny thing: Singapore is actually a great place to live. It's my favourite place on Earth because it is safe, clean, and very, very efficient. I love going home to Singapore, which I do at least once a year, and not once have I ever felt threatened or unsafe. My sister can stay out at night until 1am without any problems, a taxi is always a safe mode of transport, there are no bums on the trains or buses, things get done quickly and easily, and everything runs with almost clockwork efficiency.
In theory, this sounds like a great future. Surely everything would be fine in a surveillance state like this? And surely, if you obey the law and stay out of trouble, nothing will ever happen to you, right? Surely there is no harm in turning over this kind of power to your government, the way Singapore has done?
This Is Your Future
Here's the one little problem with this line of thought: the Singaporeans wanted this future. The social compact that founded the country was very clear: the Singaporean people would give the People's Action Party almost unlimited power, provided that the PAP provided jobs, economic growth, and prosperity to the people of Singapore. By following an open-market, free-trade, capitalist model, a resource-poor backwater island pimple on the arse-end of Malaysia became Asia's richest country, and the world's third richest, on a per capita basis, in the span of fifty years. As long as that growth has endured, Singaporeans have been more than happy to give up their expectations of privacy and freedom in exchange.
You Americans never explicitly granted this power to government, for your country was founded on a vastly different premise and promise. Sure, you voted in Republicrats and Demoblicans who promised bread and circuses and safety, but you never clearly said to your Benevolent Government Overlords that you were willing to surrender every last basic expectation of privacy and freedom in exchange for illusory security. You elected a man who went farther than any of his predecessors in terms of using the power of government to kill American citizens without trial, but you did so on the understanding that this would be for "special cases only". (That you did not foresee the consequences of this galactically stupid decision says rather a lot about whether or not you deserve your country's Constitutional rights.) You elected his predecessor, who authorised a massive extrajudicial wiretapping program, on the understanding that it would be to protect you from "terrorists" in your midst, not from your neighbours and relatives.
It's gotten to the point now where in some ways Singapore and Hong Kong have stronger protections for free speech than you do. In Singapore, as long as you don't criticise the government too much and don't cause a fuss by organising protests or strikes, you can say and think pretty much whatever you want. In Hong Kong, you still have the ability to protest and speak out. In America, those freedoms are disappearing so fast that I sometimes wonder whether you people even understand what it is you are losing.
In short, your government did this without your knowledge, and without your explicit permission. Now, if this is what you want, then by all means go forth and be damned by your own choices; as far as I'm concerned, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the way Singapore operates because that is what the Singaporean people want, and more power to them. But if this is not what you want, then you have a very clear and very stark choice to make.
Either you can continue to acquiesce, to let these people have complete power over you, and hope timidly and blindly that they will never abuse it. Or you can heed the lessons of history and understand that you are sovereign over yourself and should never surrender that basic freedom to anyone, for any reason.
If you choose the former, then you have no one but yourself to blame when your government cracks down on gun possession, "deviant thinking", "aberrant behaviour", and "socially unacceptable conduct" through its all-seeing Panopticon powers.
If you choose the latter course, then remember: the only logical outcome of pushing back against this country's government is eventual open armed revolution. Understand this well, and be ready for the day it happens.
Choose carefully, and choose well.