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There's Talk of Overhauling the NSA, but Only We the People Can Bring about Real Change

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/87434398@N00/113500867/: Howard Zinn .When people stop obeying, they have no power.
Howard Zinn - 'When people stop obeying, they have no power'.
(image by redjar)

It seems pressure is growing on President Obama for an overhaul of the NSA. Maybe the authorities have recognised it's time to hand down a tactical sop to the hoi polloi. Those inclined to snoop on others, by their very nature, will no doubt have the sense to know when it's time to feign retreat, albeit merely tactical. Now there's a judge in the USA saying that the NSA has been behaving like the East German Stasi. 

Wonder why the sudden change of heart? Two things on the alternative news recently might give us a clue. There was the police officer in the US who was arrested, and then acquitted, for wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. And there were the Italian riot-police who removed their helmets to join the ranks of protesters the authorities had intended them to crush. 

Obviously, these events weren't widely purveyed on the mainstream media.  Yet, aren't they the sort of thing that puts the wind up the authorities? They're indicative of what Howard Zinn had in mind when he said that, "When people stop obeying, they [the authorities] have no power." Perhaps that would account for the signs of back-pedalling we now see in the corridors of indifference to democracy. There's no point stacking up all these hollow-point bullets--two for each of us, allegedly--if there's no one (but you) to pull the trigger. You might have to answer for your own behavior one day and the bullets might fly in the wrong direction. Things don't always go as planned. 

Of course, they can program drones to be less fickle than humans tend to be--and, from that, we can understand the enthusiasm for such devices. It's not new; it's akin to outsourcing. Drones are just a more modern way to hamstring the workforce. Why pay living wages to workers and service personnel when you can self-aggrandise on the backs of outsourced slaves or, preferably, machines? There's a megalomaniacal gene in humans, more prominent in some than in others, that makes us want to eliminate, by whatever means, anything that impedes our desires. Any parent who's gone through the 'terrible twos' stage with children can testify that humans can be willful. 

Even humans most sanguine about their place in the hierarchy might take umbrage as it slowly dawns on them that all the changes they've seen in recent decades have less to do with a sense of societal duty and diligent leadership than they do with undermining that thorn in the side of corporate privilege we call democracy. A few diehards might manage to be even less empathetic than the dreaded drones. Perhaps others hope for a place among the five-hundred-million survivors of the allegedly planned eugenics we hear of in the more worrisome corners of the web. Yet, given the nature of such machinations, few should be so naive.   

What do drones care about democracy? One might even wonder what the silent majority cares about it. It often seems that most ordinary folks care less about democracy than they do about their favorite soap operas or their daily diet of TV reality family bust-ups complete with pontificating hosts armed with the latest compendium of conventional wisdom and political correctness. For most folks, concerns about mortgage payments, jobs, or bank imbalances of debt-based-fractional-reserve-fiat-currency are ever-present to compound with other daily diversions from scrutiny of what Her Majesty once referred to as "forces beyond our knowledge."


Of course, it pleases the elite to have the hoi polloi spend their waking hours like mad dogs chasing their own tails and backbiting. Too much time spent in critical thinking might encourage the asking of too many awkward questions.  Few want to be on the wrong side of the throng. But if we want change, to quote Mahatma Gandhi, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." It isn't good enough to wait around expecting better leadership to appear for our edification, like the latest pop idol. That generally leads to the wrong sort of leadership, such as the one that headed the German Third Reich. 

Even though instruments of power such as the police and the judiciary start to question what's going on, the establishment has many devices to muddy the water. Consumerism is no substitute for egalitarianism. It might seem more gratifying, but it has us corralled into a self-obsessed individualistic sort of society. Fragmented and easily diverted from what's important, we are beggared by policies of privatization that, in not the least of their effects, have stripped us of our means of production. That's what outsourcing does for you. Our elected officials can't tell a privatized UK from a pig in a democratic poke when it's staring them in the face with an apple in its mouth. On the other hand, maybe some of them can't see the wood for the brown envelopes they're slipping into their back pockets. It might reasonably seem that we traded, en masse, democracy for private ownership. 

With democracy weakened, in a disintegrated society of myriad minorities, the more powerful can easily pick off and dispossess the majority by attrition. A sixty-hour work week might buy us our council house and all the trimmings; yet we might find we have to sell it to pay for our care in old age. What's the point of saving for a pension, if, when you go to pick it up, by some strange quirk of legislative coincidence, it is at the bottom of the bail-in pecking order. Privatization in all its guises means that although some few are "too big to fail," we the people are not--until we rally once more behind a functioning democracy. 

A favorite saying of the ruling class from somewhere around the beginning of the last century puts the sentiment succinctly: "Debt incumbent home owners don't go on strike." How many of us were aware, or would admit even yet, that that's what private ownership is all about? How many will clock it when their fiat-backed pound morphs into tangible assets held in the tax-havens, and when the last vestige of democracy evaporates in a red mist as we tear ourselves apart blaming one another for the shenanigans of a privileged few aligned only to their own social stratum? Was it ever any different? Even the Battle of Agincourt saw bow-makers selling arms to both sides. 

Recently, when we turned on our TVs here in the UK, we got wall-to-wall coverage of Nelson Mandela's funeral. It seemed there was no other news.  Yet, while heads of state were doing selfies, some MPs were refusing to get Britain embroiled in yet another war of false pretences. Italian police were doffing their helmets to their compatriots. And in the US, an off-duty police officer was making a gesture in support of many of his fellow citizens. When we consider all that, along with the courageous whistle-blowing we've seen in recent times, should we now be audacious enough to hope for a more suitable sort of leadership in the future? 

We might first have to acknowledge that We the People have always been the vanguard of change. Without popular support, leadership, however willing or able, is unlikely to change anything. Ultimately, when we decide to pull together, things will change--mindless flunkies and emotionless drones notwithstanding. That situation is neither recent nor essentially democratic.  King John learned that at Runnymede in Surrey, England, when in 1215 he was compelled to sign the Magna Carta, although it was intended at that time to benefit the nobility alone. 

Generally, the majority are willing to defer to reasonable authority. That's not new, and ousting elites can be precarious for various reasons, not the least of which is that it seldom gets the desired results. The recent "Arab Spring' is a case in point. Old wounds keep bursting open and there's always someone ready to capitalize. It mightn't be so much that common assent follows inspired leadership, but more that inspired leadership draws on common assent. 

When police, judges, security experts and other instruments of authoritarian power start to side with their fellow citizens, perhaps we might be at last audaciously hopeful, for nothing pulls people together better than external threat. Elites use that tactic when it suits their purpose, though they need to be careful not to seem to pose the threat. But, when the mask slips and the fabric of their web starts to unwind, when police and judges start to break ranks, then they know it's time to change tactics. Even so, a change of tactics isn't necessarily a change of direction. That can only be achieved when we the people, together, decide that we've swallowed enough BS. 

 

David McBain (amillar) wants people to read his articles and blogs. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1948, one month before the start of the National Health Service (NHS UK) and fears now that he will outlive its usefulness to future (more...)
 
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