Posts Tagged ‘ rant

NSA, NDAA and the Relative Risk of “Terrorism”

You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than a terrorist attack. You are 12,570 times more likely to die from cancer, 1000 times more likely to die in a car crash, 87 times more likely to drown, 12 times more likely to accidentally suffocate in bed.

Each day, we fend off death in ways both large and small, we expend our time and energy gathering resources to prevent hunger, thirst, and to protect from the elements. We invest in things to make our houses and transportation safer and more reliable. We buy healthier food and exercise to reduce the likelihood of disease. We choose to spend the “health and safety” portion of our resources on those things likely to threaten our health and safety.

We needs 3/4 million concrete bunkers because . . . TERRORISTS!

There is a vanishingly small chance that you will die from a terrorist attack. More specifically, there is virtually no chance at all that you will die in an attack that would be prevented by military expeditions, national intelligence agencies, domestic surveillance, increased policing powers etc. Almost entirely none. Barely non-zero.

It’s not a new thought and is probably best presented by master of all things security Bruce Schneier, but I find it especially striking with something like this recent NSA “scandal” pops up how much money is going to defend against a complete non-threat.

Putting aside for the moment the epic loss of life and the hyper-Orwellian annihilation of privacy and human rights, the squandering of precious, finite resources is simply staggering.

The amount of wealth that is just being “pissed away,” as my dear old dad would put it, is beyond the mind’s capacity to fathom. Trillions of dollars spent doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Just piles of money set on fire in the name of preventing something that doesn’t happen anyway.

The worst part of this epic destruction of wealth is that it comes from people who actually have real things they need to spend money on! People who have actual health and safety concerns are prevented from using their labor to improve their chances at a long and healthy life. Their money is taken from them and spent on multi-billion dollar NSA data centers and Homeland Security headquarters, which will help the citizens of the country not at all.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the country of Albania built 750,000 concrete bunkers seemingly randomly around the countryside. They were lead by a lunatic, Enver Hoxha, who had everyone convinced that foreign invasion was just around the corner so this tiny piss-poor country build these useless structures instead of anything that would be of any benefit to anyone. That makes no less sense than the absurd, do-nothing, ongoing, “defensive” boondoggle, that is defended at every turn by both political parties and the media.

Seriously. Seriously. This shit is ridiculous. People have real problems to deal with and real dangers to avoid (police are 8 times more likely to kill you than terrorists). I understand that nothing’s going to change–anybody who decides to do something useful with their money instead of funding this worthless police state will be surrounded by well paid and heavily armed men and taken one of the ample prisons that are currently being filled up.

But can we please drop the pretense that it does anything? Can we at least be honest with each other about the value of the “service” we’re involuntarily subscribed to? Listening Harvard educated millionaire (from defense contracts) government functionaries tell me about how scary the “bad guys” are and how we need money to help the “good guys” protect us is beyond insulting.

Now that I’ve matured, I understand that people have deep-seeded emotional needs for safety and protection and that the bullshit illusion of the national security state fills that need. I understand that verbal abuse isn’t helpful and that a peaceful dialog that respects their human desires is what is required to have a win-win conversation.

But between us, this is one of those things where I just want to be like, “YOU’RE FUCKING WRONG AND SHIT IS FUCKED UP BECAUSE YOU’RE SOOOOO FUCKING WRONG!” Alright, alright. I know that’s over simplifying, the inability to see the fucking painfully obvious is only one aspect of a complex and multi-faceted problem . . . deeeep breaths . . . and dialog. Baby steps. We’ll get there. Thanks for reading.

Problem Solving: Violence and Non-violence

There are two types of people in the world, those who seek non-violent solutions to a given issue and those who believe that applying violence is the best alternative to enforce their preferrences.  The difference between a couple that compromises and builds consensus versus a batterer and his/her victim is clear enough to most of us.  Likewise, a parent who explains and negotiates situations with a child stands in sharp contrast to one who threatens the child with beatings for questions or disobedience.

We in the non-violent camp understand the advantages of our position.  Negotiated solutions receive “buy-in” from all parties.  Violence breeds resentment, discord and, inevitably, more and increased violence.  Consensus respects the humanity and individuality of each human being.  Coercion creates two classes of humans, the rulers and the ruled–both degraded and incapable of the full expression of their humanity.  When examining the long-term viability of human societies, a voluntary society that works towards consent-based solutions is far more likely to reach stable and sustainable institutions.  This stability and sustainability is the bedrock for peace in human relations.  Peace provides the context for rapid improvement in the quality of life of each individual human being.  In contrast, systems based on the oppression of one class of humans over another cannot be stable.  Injustices breed resentment and a desire for vengeance.  Constantly changing power dynamics ensure that the oppressed will eventually have the physical force required to seize the engines of violence.  In this uncertain environment, long-term investment in well-being is undertaken more rarely and the store of human progress is depleted in short-term consumption.

The paradigm that many of us subscribe to maps the non-violent and the coercive to the two leading political parties.  Republicans, like a violent parent, do not wish to negotiate solutions to differences of preference.  In their opinion, broadly speaking1, “drugs are bad” and they use para-military units and the largest prison system in the history of the world to enforce this preference on their neighbors.  Likewise, they are of the opinion that, “homosexuality is bad,” and use violence to institutionally prevent a voluntary agreement from being declared between gay partners.  Internationally, the republican preference for violent solutions is legendary–this is also the arena in which the negative effects of unilateral solutions are least controversial.

According to this same paradigm, the democrats in our country prefer negotiated, consensus based solutions to problems.  The briefest leap into the position of an objective observer, however, reveals the illusory nature of this position.  We will leave aside, for this post anyway, the huge swaths of policies that the two parties share: the wars on drugs and terrorism, the handing of trillions of dollars to ueber-wealthy corporate allies, the carte blanche granted to the military and police, the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of non-violent “offenders,” and so forth.  Let’s focus on the first issue that I can think of about which right-wing solutions are less likely to get violent than than left: gun control.

We all have an opinion about who should be armed and how well.  The “moderate” position of allowing registered weapons for hunting purposes stands toward the center of a very long spectrum.  On the one end are those who would prefer that no-one own or carry anything more weapon-like than a pocket-knife.  On the other extreme are the proponents of personal, unregistered nuclear devices–which, admittedly, might come in handy in negotiations with police.  The non-violent approach is, as always, to accord the same respect for others that you wish for yourself.  Concerns for the safety of children in an armed household can be raised and responded to in a reasonable manner.  The non-violent social disapproval that keeps most of us out of our pajamas when we visit downtown can be directed at those who make poor choices (in your opinion) about keeping and bearing arms.  Damage done due to gun negligence could be treated in the same manner as damage done due to negligence in a car.  In any case, everyone should be free to keep whatever weapons they want out of their house as well.  The quantity of solutions and services that freely cooperating individuals can generate to ease their and others’ anxiety is limitless.

In the case of gun control, progressives find themselves adopting the typically conservative stance.  This issue cannot be solved, they claim, by the organic societies of family, friends, neighbors and community.  It requires that the preference of one group be imposed on the rest by, extra-ironically in this case, very heavily armed state officials.
This is not meant to express a position on gun control, or any other issue for that matter.  I am less interested in presenting and defending my opinion about a particular topic and more interested in examining how we as a society make these decisions.  Or, to remove the collectivist lense, how we as individuals don’t make these decisions, but rather do as we’re told by individuals who claim the legitimacy to imprison or kill us.

I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about how to dress, what to eat, what music to listen to, appropriate sexual partnerships (no invertibrates!), transportation, religion, standards of cleanliness, and what constitutes a good education.  Humanity will take a leap forward once we commit, individually, to expressing our opinions in a context of respectful negotiation.   It will make an incomprehensibly huger leap forward when we find the courage and the camaraderie to denounce as reprehensible the aggressive use of violence against non-violent people in order to enforce personal preferences and opinions.

[1] I will be speaking broadly about democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives throughout this post. Apologies ahead of time to well armed democrats and pacifist republicans.