Is Accepting Terrorism Necessary to Preserve Democracy?

The expansion of the security state has been justified by the fear of Islamic terrorism. We’re now learning that the government has built relationships with major tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple in order to mine data on their users. When, and where does this end? David Foster Wallace asked back in 2007:

In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

 

 

 

  • Schneibster

    I’ll argue your proposal, “In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?”

    I’m not sure we can’t. I think a great deal of crime could be prevented if there were appropriate psychological care for the emotionally injured.

    Do we have to survey private conversations’ contents, to prevent, as you put it, “the sort of ghastly terrorist attack,” or can we do it without violating most peoples’ privacy, by homing in on the terrorists’ communications, and then eliminating false positives?

    If you want to argue about something important, how about we discuss the government’s procedures for avoiding false positives. That’s where the rubber meets the road: where the people who haven’t actually done anything get eliminated from the data set.

  • Steven Skelton

    We have a lot of decisions to make about all of our rights. The sensibilities of protected classes and groups are infringing on our first amendment rights. The masses desire for security is fueling a movement to peel back our second amendment rights. Technology is infringing on our fourth amendment rights.

    At least no one is quartering soldiers in our home. I guess we can all hang our hats on that precious 3rd amendment right.

  • trgahan

    I counter with a Kurt Vonnegut quote (sorry if it is not 100% accurate) when he described the plaque Man will leave behind after the Earth is a used up ball of waste:

    “Welcome to Earth! Sorry for the mess, but we were too lazy and greedy to do anything about it.”

    Foster Wallace’s opinion is very pragmatic, but I think democracy takes a bit of idealism to work. We consistently refuse to implement solutions that could lessen the need for terrorism and we are too easily distracted by our fears, agendas, and prejudices when we do create “solutions.” Those resulting “solutions” are largely the equivalent of using band aids to close open heart surgery.

  • Lazarus Durden

    Does our notion of privacy need to be redefined? Because of the growth of technology and the ease of which terrorists can use things that modern society has come to rely on should the government have access to information they might not have needed fifty or even twenty years ago?

    I find it curious that the same people who are screaming at the top of their lungs about the government having data of what numbers you called and their duration are also the very same who demand background checks for the purchase of firearms, and the outright banning of assault rifles. The same argument applies in both cases. They want the government to delve into a person’s background when a shotgun, or handgun is purchased but monitoring phone calls, not wiretapping and listening into conversations, but phone records is akin to tyranny.

    So which is it? Does the government preserve individual liberty and to hell with the consequences for society as a whole, or does it have an obligation to protect the majority of citizenry after a redefinition of what personal liberty means?

    People seem to have absolutely no problem handing over all sorts of information to private companies but then suddenly the government wants to use it and it’s “Gasp! Oh My God! You’re invading my privacy!”

    - Frederic Poag

    • Christopher Foxx

      People seem to have absolutely no problem handing over all sorts of information to private companies but then suddenly the government wants to use it and it’s “Gasp! Oh My God! You’re invading my privacy!”

      Key word is “handing”. Yes, we may give too much to private companies. But we choose to give it to them. They have published privacy policies which we agree to when we use their services. And we can choose not to if we find their policy to objectionable.

      We don’t have those choices when the gov’t takes our info.

      • http://www.jamesonstarship.wordpress.com/ Jameson

        That info that the government takes IS the info that you chose to give over to private companies. So you’ve already decided that Mark Zuckerberg can have and use your information, why not extend that to the government as well if it means detecting and preventing threats?

        • Christopher Foxx

          why not extend that to the government as well if it means detecting and preventing threats?

          First, because my sharing some info with one person/entity doesn’t mean I agree to sharing it with everyone. Would you have a problem with something you’ve told to your friends getting spread all around the internet? After all, you’ve already told it to someone you know, why not extend that to everyone you’v ever met?

          Second, because I disagree with the assumption that it will detect and prevent threats.