The most surprising thing lately, in a month of surprises, is the climate. Not the actual climate mind you, which is of course still warming at an alarming rate (DON’T LOOK AT THE DATA!) No, I mean the civil climate, the pulse of our communities, is shocking. More shocking, I posit, than the intrusion by the IRS, NSA, DHS, etc. into the sanctity of our private lives. On some level, we know that we’re constantly under surveillance. We laugh and joke about it, attempting to denigrate the competence of Big Brother’s bureaucracy, but an awareness of surveillance is a nerve which runs through the brain-stem of the American psyche.
Look no further than the success of films like The Matrix, Enemy of the State, The Hunger Games, and The Conversation to catch a glimpse of this tacit acknowledgment. We get a thrill from the thought of being singled out by a malevolent and omnipotent government. Of course, we breathe a sigh of relief when we leave the theater, thankful that it wasn’t us in the cross-hairs, but we never really doubt that these plot-lines are at least plausible. Okay, the thought of Keanu Reeves being a software programmer is absurd, but the rest…
So I don’t think that anyone was truly surprised about the past month’s revelations. If you’re a conservative, you have known for years that the government has a bone to pick with you and your small-government ideals, and these new revelations were just confirmation of long-held beliefs. If you’re a liberal, you have divorced yourself from reality at least five years ago and these “allegations” about the IRS and NSA are just attempts by a racist minority to subvert the agenda of a truly visionary, progressive leader (man, it hurts to even type that).
But the truly surprising thing about the whole situation is the climate in America today. The complete lack of outrage from the American people is disconcerting. Yes, the usual stalwarts are outraged and (rightfully) calling for heads to roll. Beck, Limbaugh, Levin, Palin, you, and I have likely never felt more vindicated than we have during the past month.
But the average American seems to be taking the news in stride. I have yet to read about any widespread protests against the Obama Administration’s egregious intrusion in the lives of law-abiding Americans. There has been no civil disobedience planned (or community organizing, for that matter). No massive, spontaneous, organic, outraged unrest over the fact that our government has “forced” our service providers to divulge our private correspondence and communication.
In fact a WaPo-Pew poll released this week indicates that 56% of Americans believe it is “acceptable” for the spy agency to collect phone records of Americans and 45% believe that the government should be able to go further to monitor all online activity, if it would prevent future terrorist attacks. So the tepid response to the myriad scandals has a simple answer: fear. A large portion of Americans are willing to trade their liberty for an empty promise of safety from an overbearing and intrusive bureaucracy. Is this a good trade? Is this a responsible reaction to very real possibilities which exist in the world today?
Our intelligence agencies have recently abandoned traditional schools and techniques of spy-craft to focus on “big data”, which is the aggregation of as much data as possible in the hopes of gleaning nuggets of useful information from the large haul. It is essentially the difference between mining and gold-panning. Sure, you can find an occasional gold nugget, sifting through the silt and river sediment, but not as much gold as when you send a trained crew of miners where you know gold can be found.