I’m up in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, in a little gift shop near the great locks that pass ships between the high waters of Lake Superior and the lower Lake Huron, bypassing the St. Mary’s River rapids (sault in French). A thousand-foot Great Lakes freighter is passing by, on her way to the locks. A much smaller boat is ahead of her, looking for all the world like a leading dolphin, and someone asks, “Is that a pilot leading the freighter to the lock?”
“No, that’s your $10 million government boat,” answers the clerk, with a knowing smirk. We’re supposed to smirk back in that knowing way we have when we don’t actually know, but suppose the speaker does.
“Homeland Security.” This with more of a smirk. We’re all in the know here; the government can’t pull the wool over our eyes!
“I’ve heard,” the clerk continues, “that they can read your credit card from a mile away.”
That does it. I’m all over it. “Who told you that?” I ask. “That’s ridiculous. They would have to be within at least ten feet, and that’s only if your card has an RFID, which most don’t.”
That earns me an icy glare, and I just give up and leave. The clerk’s ignorance of government snooping capabilities is apparently only surpassed by her smug certainty. Never mind the “$10 million dollar boat” and whether Homeland Security had any business hanging around the Canadian border.
You see this sort of thing more and more these days, this smug rumor mongering, this assumption that we can see through the transparent lies of the government, or big business, or whatever dragons we’re onto. Everyone’s a hipster these days. But the skepticism of the hip has become the cynicism of the wannabe, a much easier posture, since it doesn’t require one to actually look into anything, to research it, to know it. We’re engulfed in hipness, swept away by the deluge of the media we’re addicted to. Music, film, even books all drone away on the exposure of Big Lies, But in this anxiousness not to be duped, this obsessive non-rubeness, we are often fed only alternate lies, which, ironically, we accept without question.
By now, you may be thinking I’m in favor of government snooping. You’re wrong. I am concerned about it, and I believe we need to seriously consider laws curtailing it. More to the point, we need to stop giving up all that information to the sacred Private Enterprise that is making it available in the first place. But we need to get a grip on reality first. Do you really believe all those loyalty cards are there to make life better for consumers?
Up here in the Soo, as it’s called, people love grousing about the government, which they are convinced exists only for the purpose of taking their money for no return. Never mind that the wicked bogey-man government supplies virtually all of the employment here, what with the locks, the Air Force base, and the Lake Superior State University, just to name a few.
Well, sure, people say, but there used to be the carbide company, the coal company, shipping companies, all that glorious Private Enterprise, you know, that people worked for.
Well, those lovely businesses all left town, dear people, not because they weren’t making money, but because they weren’t making enough money. The basic fact about business is that it is all about making the most money possible. Those fabled mom-and-pop businesses that were run out of town by evil Walmart? Before that, they had virtual monopolies on your bucks, and as often as not were gouging you for them. You knew that, of course, because you switched to Walmart quicker than a three card monte dealer as soon as you got the chance. Essentially, you drove them out of business, not Walmart, which would dry up and blow away for lack of money if everybody who hated it would stop shopping there.
Same goes for big government. We’re all for cutting spending, unless it’s something that benefits us personally. A boondoggle is a project that benefits somebody else. Let’s face it, we’re not deep thinkers on that account, either.
Similarly, we’re up in arms if the NSA misses a clue, and something gets blown up by terrorists, and then complain that they’re snooping too much when it turns out they’re tapping information we’ve happily provided to businesses, whose stated sacred charge is to get as much money from us as possible.
We cannot get reasonable government until we become reasonable ourselves, and we cannot become that by automatically believing or disbelieving anything.
I hate to spring this on you so late in your life, but you are going to have to work at democracy, if it’s going to make it. Ignorance just won’t cut it.