Sunday, July 29, 2012

In the past few days, I’ve received several emails that explain the shootings in Aurora, Colo., from various perspectives, including by way of the literal truth of the Bible (which also, apparently, informs us that global warming is a left-wing myth) or as a false-flag operation mounted by shadowy forces aimed at discrediting gun ownership and seizing Americans’ firearms.

We live in a country, after all, where significant pluralities of the population refuse to accept the worldwide scientific consensus on climate change and continue to believe in the superiority of a private-sector health care system despite ample evidence that Americans spend more for medical care, and have poorer outcomes, than people in any other major Western nation. The cultural and geographic isolation of the United States has a lot to do with this, as do the failures of our education system, but those explanations aren’t quite sufficient. One aspect of the paranoid worldview is a sense of immense self-importance: The CIA has chosen you for secret experiments, or you and your Internet friends are the only people who can see that the Obama birth certificate seen and touched by independent experts is an obvious fraud. In the United States, we cling to this sense of specialness on a manic, nationwide, tautological scale; the way we do things in America is clearly superior because we know we live in the greatest country in the world.

This week brings us a new Hollywood comedy currently called “The Watch.” It’s a mildly amusing study in American paranoia...what I most appreciate about this rather silly movie is that it accidentally makes the claim that Americans are paranoid about the wrong things, which is precisely true. Stiller’s character says that the purpose of the neighborhood watch is to monitor “any and all suspicious activity and generally get to the bottom of things,” and his suspicions extend to the crazy old coot with a shotgun (noted Obama-hater R. Lee Ermey), the possibly gay guy across the street who keeps checking him out, and the town’s mustachioed, incompetent cops.

Like the characters in “The Watch,” most of us don’t notice, most of the time, what’s really going on.

I am saying, rather, that successive Democratic and Republican administrations, with the help of Supreme Court justices, have eagerly collaborated in gutting the Constitution and creating a technology-driven national security state with super-secret executive powers, which isn’t something that anybody on the left or right ever consciously voted for. Almost all of us carry devices that allow us to be tracked by the government or unknown private interests wherever we go. Of all the social changes the Internet age has wrought, perhaps the biggest is the complete abandonment of any expectation of privacy, which was considered an unassailable personal right even 20 years ago. I could suggest that this situation threatens to make democracy untenable, or even irrelevant — but that might sound paranoid.

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