Civil Liberties

Not Only Are We All Breaking The Law–Often We Ought to Be


In the midst of making the usual (good, and worth repeating) points about how those who shrug at near universal surveillance with the belief that they are decent law-abiding citizens with nothing to hide have no idea at all how many laws there are and whether or not they are breaking them, Moxie Marlinspike at Wired makes a more inspired point about the dangers of law enforcement that is too knowledgeable and efficient:

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes [in marijuana and gay marriage law] would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?

….living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn't able to. Any teenager can tell you that life's most meaningful experiences aren't the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire.

We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible. This is why same sex relationships, in violation of sodomy laws, were a necessary precondition for the legalization of same sex marriage. This is also why those maintaining positions of power will always encourage the freedom to talk about ideas, but never to act.

As I wrote in my 2003 article about John Gilmore's failed attempt to travel anonymously, "We are all guilty, and we don't want to live in a world where there is no room to get away with being guilty."