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The American Dream: Not This Way Douthat Can't Say It, But I Can

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Next Up: The Privacy Moms

by Christopher Chantrill
August 20, 2013 at 12:00 am

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POLITICS ALWAYS seems to be about women. First it was soccer moms that swooned over midnight basketball. Then it was security moms that wanted the president to keep us safe. Then, in a less kinder, gentler era, it was the Republican war to make Sandra Fluke pay for her own contraception.

Now let’s Move On -- to the age of the “privacy mom.”

I’ve long had a cavalier attitude to privacy. My line was that the IRS already knows everything that anyone would want to know about me. So why worry about the rest of the government and the greedy corporate CEOs?

Even so, I have also appreciated that women are much more sensitive about privacy. We could speculate forever on this, but let’s just say that nesting animals usually like to hide away until the fledglings are out of the nest.

But now comes Peggy Noonan writing about the importance of privacy.

Privacy is connected to personhood. It has to do with intimate things—the innards of your head and heart, the workings of your mind—and the boundary between those things and the world outside.

A loss of the expectation of privacy in communications is a loss of something personal and intimate, and it will have broader implications.

See what I mean? Now one of my rules of life is that when Peggy Noonan writes about something, you’d better pay attention. “You” means politicians and campaign consultants. Let the word go forth that the political future belongs to those that can get the “privacy moms” into the voting booth.

But does the politics of privacy mean go all the way to curbing our nation’s intelligence agencies? In a word: Yes. Here’s why.

The law of bureaucracies and generals fighting the last war suggests to me that the whole US defense establishment is probably getting close to useless. I’m not talking about the quality of the soldiers, sailors, airman and coastguards that protect us, but about the system, unreformed since 1947. When the next war comes, as it will, we will have to throw away most of the defense establishment as worse than useless. Let’s not worry about cutting into the meat. It’s probably too tough to eat.

As for the National Security Agency, I suspect it is probably gathering huge amounts of data and doing very little useful work with it. See Mark Steyn’s “Idiot Big Brother.” But we’ve learned from the IRS scandals that bureaucrats sitting around with nothing to do can easily be conscripted into harassing and spying on the administration’s opponents, particularly if the opponents are Republicans. So let’s junk the NSA. Next time we need an NSA we’ll get the Big Data boys from Silicon Valley to mash up something overnight, just like they did for the Obama campaign.

Now let’s get back to first principles about surveillance, and that means James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State and Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish. Governments do surveillance not to protect us people that want to kill us. A ruling class wants to protect itself. It wants to know what we are doing so that they can easily tax us, conscript us, and discipline us. Who needs it?

We talk endlessly on the right about freedom and on the left about liberation, but the truth is that we moderns live in a disciplinary state as the most controlled and disciplined people in history, plantation slaves excepted.

In my view the heyday of the disciplinary state extended from the birth of social insurance in the 1880s to the last hurrah of Detroit in the 1960s. But there’s a counter-current that starts with the German Army’s turn from discipline to individual responsibility in the 1920s, to the mainstreaming of expressive creativity in the 1960s to the homeschooling movement and the startup business culture of today.

If the counter-current holds, we will look back on the Obama scandals as the bonfire of the vanities for the top-down administrative state: its intrusive surveillance, its rigidity, its control mania, its harassing of opponents, its stupidity, its bankruptcy.

And really, why would women support a system that wants to peer into their lives and their relationships and their loves?

John Berger sneers in Ways of Seeing that in western art, “[A] woman’s presence [in a painting] expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her.”

“What can and cannot be done to her:” That is what the privacy moms will be discussing with their friends for the next several years. Will they be most threatened by Google scanning their email or the IRS harassing their political activity?

It’s up to us to help them make up their minds.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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