The thread by which good governance hangs is this equality before the law, for the only fear of the man who turns the gears is that he may find himself upon them.
At some point you recognize that you can’t just move a few letters around on a page and hope for the best. You can’t simply report this problem to your supervisor, as I tried to do, because inevitably supervisors get nervous. They think about the structural risk to their career. They’re concerned about rocking the boat and “getting a reputation.” The incentives aren’t there to produce meaningful reform. Fundamentally, in an open society, change has to flow from the bottom to the top.
By preying on the modern necessity to stay connected, governments can reduce our dignity to something like that of tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they’re in our pockets. It sounds like fantasist paranoia, but on the technical level it’s so trivial to implement that I cannot imagine a future in which it won’t be attempted. It will be limited to the war zones at first, in accordance with our customs, but surveillance technology has a tendency to follow us home.
Here we see the double edge of our uniquely American brand of nationalism. We are raised to be exceptionalists, to think we are the better nation with the manifest destiny to rule. The danger is that some people will actually believe this claim, and some of those will expect the manifestation of our national identity, that is, our government, to comport itself accordingly.
Unrestrained power may be many things, but it’s not American. It is in this sense that the act of whistleblowing increasingly has become an act of political resistance. The whistleblower raises the alarm and lifts the lamp, inheriting the legacy of a line of Americans that begins with Paul Revere.
The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.
And there are more of us than there are of them.
And don’t ever forget it, kiddos. All of that technology, all of those resources, all of those men with titles and an endless parade of acronyms, it all means nothing against the sheer number of people they lord it over.
Everything we know, everything they claim to protect, is fragile, and only persists because of our acquiescence. When we no longer comply, it will crumble and give something else an opportunity to rise.
I do not believe in the supernatural, but I have come to understand the power of belief, and the main driver I see that maintains the status quo is the idea that the system we have is good enough, that there are no better alternatives, and a lack of faith in the solidarity of humankind. These are all points that benefit the .01 percent that thrive off of our suffering and are within our ability to amend.
Before we can change the world, we need to change ourselves.