Do you have any idea how awful it is when WordPress goes down just as you have extremely bloggish thoughts? Argh. At last we are back in business and I can clear my brain again.
Voter IDs. Airport scanners. Filing gun permits. Drug tests for government benefits.
What do these things have in common?
These are all parts of the security we take in the Ritual Of Right Thinking. They are all actions that law-abiding citizens derive comfort from. For, surely, as we go through the motions of showing our papers to get on a plane, elect a person to an office or buy a weapon we are protected against the wrongdoing that would wreck our world.
We like these things not because they keep us safe but because they give the appearance of our living in a safe and ordered world. It is a neat and precise world where everyone belongs and has a piece of plastic which underscores that belonging. These things are an attempt to paper over the bumps and cracks of reality and enforce a comforting sense of Same.
In Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist the protagonist is a travel writer who specialises in books for business travelers that allow them to find the most homogenous experience possible. Where is the nearest McDonalds to my London hotel? Where in Hong Kong is the closest English-speaking drugstore? In the same way, lawmakers are hoping that by government offering this veneer of orderliness they can convince a panicked and terrorised populace that things are indeed orderly and normal.
There is that very worn out quote from someone in the dim and distant past about “not trading liberty for security.” The unfortunate truth has become that not only are we eager to trade liberty for security we are lining up to trade the essence of liberty–the ability to move freely without reporting to Government–for the illusion of security.
People who want to break the rules anyway do not care about breaking an extra rule. If I want to vote fradulently it isn’t going to bother me that I am now breaking 6 rules instead of 5. If I want to get a gun illegally I really doubt that I’m the kind of person to trouble myself overmuch about whether or not I have an extra piece of paper.
Have you heard many stories on the news about terrorist plots being foiled by airport scanners? Neither have I. Yet I have seen countless man-in-the-terminal interviews about how people are willing to be herded like cattle through scanners that show their blurry nakedness because it makes them feel safer.
As very small children we would pray Now I Lay Me before bed. Once we were saved that ritual prayer was preceeded by an earnest prayer to God. But Now I Lay Me in and of itself is a sing-song ritual rhyme designed to reassure children that God would take care of them in their sleep–or at the very least ransom their souls should death come before morning. These Voter IDs and gun permits are like that. They are a chant without real significance beyond allowing us to relax as we close our eyes.