Saturday, September 17, 2005

Security and why to reject it.

We are often told that various government actions, laws, policies etc. are neccesary for security. Whenever this justification is heard it's a signal that the proposed action is morally wrong and probably counterproductive. This essay explains why.
When a policy is justified on the grounds that it will deliver a tangible benefit, e.g. better phone service for the bush, greater economic egalitarianism, better education, reduced budget deficiets, the outcome can be judged. It's not always easy to do so but it's always potentially possible. "Security" however consists of things not happening that might not happen anyway. The difference between an excellent security system that is never challenged and a horrible one that is never challenged is almost impossible to detect. A consequence of this is that changes that increase security and decrease it are almost indistinguishable. Therefore each change in policy for "security" must simulate visible significantly increased security. This means that the changes must be dramatic and even radical even when the actual solution is inconspicuous and incremental. In addition because of the difficulty of identifying changes that increase security a lot of changes bad for security have been passed. To avoid these changes being seen as bad for security any further changes must be in the same direction, even if that is the wrong direction.
But security laws always seem to decrease freeedom. This is not explained by the above rationales. If new laws to increase security have to be dramatic and highly visible, why can't they be dramatically and visibly pro-freedom? The reason is simple, every security law needs not just a justification of it's existance but a justification of it's timing. Why wasn't the law passed before the horrible thing that made it apparently neccesary? Due to the fundamental nature of security in justifying the State the usual excuses (cost, difficulty of implementation, the previous government etc.) won't wash. Security is supposedly the primary reason why we have a State. It's not like prosperity or "freedom" an alleged side benefit, it's the main game. So to justify not previously bringing in these neccesary changes the government must find an artificial barrier, something that stopped them before but that they are gamely now trying to overcome. The most obvious scapegoats are "civil libertarians" by which they mean everyone who thinks that something less than absolute slavery is desireable. By opposing previous and proposed increases in government power they allow the government to point to them and say "We wanted to do the neccesary thing but were constrained by these namby-pamby weak on terrorist types.". They may even make the conflict seem internal; "I would have pushed through these neccesary laws but was contrained by civil liberty concerns", concerns that they now abandon when convenient.
Since every "security" law must be justified by a process like this every security" law is a blow against liberty. And a blow against liberty is in the end a
blow against security. Because only the free can have the information, the arms and the adaptability of action to ensure their own security. Only they will have the strength of character to protect themselves.

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