I’ve been meaning to write about the NSA surveillance program for some time now. Finally, prompted by the October 26 demonstration in Washington, D.C., I’m getting around to it. Who has been following the continuing controversy? I have the impression that many Americans are apathetic, cynical and resigned to the idea that government surveillance is here to stay and there’s nothing that can be done about it. In my opinion that’s an insidious and dangerous viewpoint.
For those who have not been paying attention, the upshot of whistle blower Edward Snowden’s revelations is that the NSA has been secretly monitoring truly massive amounts of phone and Internet data. Who you contact, when and where, in some cases what you say — all that information is being tracked and stored. You can get caught up on the details here. Also important, and not mentioned in that link, is the issue of “parallel construction.”
There are lots of reasons why this is important. I’ll mention one aspect of the context in which this is going on that I think is particularly significant.
As a nation and as a planet we are confronting some very serious issues. Climate change, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, overpopulation, water scarcity, poverty, and so on. These problems are the natural result of the systems which have created them. I say that without expressing any moral judgment about the systems themselves. Those systems have also created some benefits. But we are at a tipping point where the problems caused by existing systems are leading to some very nasty consequences.
Since those pressing problems are so deeply embedded in our existing systems they are difficult to eradicate. You can’t just change the problem, you must change the system which has given rise to it. In particular, we must change our political system, that is, the system by which power is allocated and exercised.
“America does not have a functioning democracy at this point in time.”
— former US president, Jimmy Carter quoted in Der Spiegel
Unfortunately, political change is extremely problematic. Our democracy has been compromised. Corporate lobbyists write the laws, inserting language that exempts them from legal liability and from application of existing laws. Heard of the “Monsanto Protection Act” or the “Halliburton Loophole”? We’re not even talking about the meetings behind closed doors. This kind of stuff is right out in the open!
Our electoral process has also been destroyed though gerrymandering, voter id laws, and Supreme Court decisions like Citizen’s United which ensure the continuing, corrupting influence of money.
“Congress maintains a 90% incumbency rate despite only having a 10% approval rating.”
— Daily Show correspondent John Oliver
The idea that we are living in a democracy is dangerously naïve. It’s foolish to think a system will engineer its own demise. If you are waiting for the US government to take meaningful action on Climate Change, you can stop holding your breath. It’s not going to happen. Meaningful action entails more than just driving a Prius. It means huge collective changes in the way we live — and in the profits of Exxon.
If we are going to change the systems that are killing our planet and creating so much suffering, we need to “alter or abolish” the existing political system. Yes, we have the legal right to do that, and I would argue, the moral obligation. And in order to create that kind of popular, sweeping change we need to organize.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The reason NSA surveillance is so troubling is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of the government-corporate complex. It will be used to reinforce the power of those already in power, to fortify the economic and political systems which must be demolished if we are to create a livable future. It will be used to prevent us from organizing and creating peaceful political change. And the alternative to peaceful political change is some horrifying combination of “no change” and “not peaceful.”
So, I hope you will join me in making your voice heard, in speaking out against NSA surveillance, and in creating peaceful political change. Because, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”