The Behemoth Prism program, under which the Federal NSA snoops on essentially all the phone calls and web activity of all Americans, is operated for the ostensible purpose of protecting us from Moslem terrorist plots developing on American soil. We do indeed need to counter the threat of terrorism within our borders. But there would be no such terrorism in the first place – or, at least, very little – if there were no Moslems in North America. What it amounts to, then, is that our governors are keeping track of everything Americans say electronically *so that* they can keep welcoming Moslems to this country with open arms – and keep alive the threat of Moslem terrorism. The program is needed so that the program can be kept needful.
Would the Prism program exist if there were no Moslems in North America, or therefore any Moslem terrorism? Of course. It’s just that in that case our overseers would be forced to trot out some other rationale for its existence; war with EastAsia, perhaps, rather than with NearEastAsia.
Philosopher James Chastek is one of the most economical writers you are ever likely to read. Often, his posts demand considerable deliberation, first to get what they are saying, second to get to the bottom of what they are saying, and third to contemplate the sequelae for one’s own understanding of what they are saying. Not infrequently, there is a fourth step: theoria, a state of pure contemplation.
In a post on the maximum practical size of a true polis – i.e., a human organization that can function as the medium of a truly political life – he sets forth in just a few paragraphs the basic problem of the political organization of modern industrial society:
One can’t scale up the polis forever and keep it as a common good, since when it becomes too big … The number of well-intentioned regulations reaches a point where a reasonable man is no longer a standard for what should be done, at which point he is replaced by consultants and court scribes. In response to all problems and difficulties involving human relations, we no longer think “what would a reasonable person do?” but “We ought to check with our lawyers to see whether this is okay”. But as soon as political life ceases to cultivate the standard of the reasonable man, it ceases to be an expression of genuine human flourishing.
Though there is no bright yellow line marking where it happens, at some point the size of the government hits a tipping point where it no longer is the action of us but an of an It; and we can no longer look to it as an institution within which we exercise political life but only as a Leviathan that we must appease with tax-offerings and paperwork and exploit for whatever resources it might offer us.
Read the whole thing. Then, if you have lots and lots of time to devote to the project, check out a few of his other posts. But be ready: a comfortable chair, a serene room, strong coffee, and some baroque chamber music in the background are recommended. Chastek is like mind candy that is as nourishing as beef.