“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.”
It’s curious how quick we are to draw lines and take sides. People are either Alpha or Beta; victims or perpetrators; weak or bullies. This compartmentalization does more harm than good, because we are a little bit of everything, depending on the demand of the circumstances.
But stances we take, so perhaps it was a bit jarring for many this week when it came to light that the DOJ had subpoenaed two months worth of phone records of the Associated Press in an effort to determine the source of a leak. These subpoenas, obtained without judicial oversight [an effort thankfully rejected here in Connecticut], has caused a maelstrom of criticism for the Obama administration.
But, as Glenn Greenwald writes convincingly, this isn’t exactly Earth-shattering news to anyone who’d been paying attention; the problem is, of course, that very few people had. Because we all have staked out positions: we are either Democrats or Liberals or Republicans or Victims or Tough on Crime or Criminals or Those People. We are no longer people with opinions but rather opinions given corporeal form.
Yet there are more people troubled today than there were yesterday. This can only be a good thing. Would it trouble you more to know that what the DOJ did is likely legal? Are you comfortable with the government having that much unregulated authority over you?
Perhaps now, your outrage can be focused on other worthy things. Like the fact that the same DOJ also purports to have unfettered, warrantless access to your e-mails. Or that cops are making up the rules on phone surveillance of regular citizens like you and me.
You’re not a criminal yet, but are you starting to feel like one? Has your perspective changed?
And what sort of perspective do you need to want to rush to executions? Florida, which I wrote about last week, is poised to pass legislation speeding up executions. You have the victim’s perspective, now here’s the exoneree’s:
“If the bill would have been in effect at the time of me being sentenced, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today,” said Penalver, who five months ago was acquitted on charges related to a triple murder. New evidence was uncovered years after he exhausted his original appeals, winning Penalver his freedom after 18 years behind bars.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. You’re going to put innocent men to death,” warned Lindsey, who was exonerated after three years on death row.
You complain about endless appeals. Maybe you’ve heard it on TV, maybe your neighbor said it, maybe you are in the system and you actually believe it. Have you ever stopped to think about why there are appeals? Do you think that factual guilt is all that matters? If that’s the case, then why are you up in arms about the DOJ?
I mean, if the AP is guilty, well then, who cares how the evidence was obtained. I mean, if the AP hasn’t done anything, then they should have nothing to hide, right? Can I look through your e-mails now? I’m not even from the police.
We appeal because the law is on trial just as much as the facts are. The facts, however, are specific to one case. The law applies to us all. Do you want some criminal’s case deciding your rights?
Maybe, we thought, it would change after Aaron Swartz. Maybe we were wrong. Will it happen now, after AP-gate? Will there be just the slightest shift? Will you realize that when they come for your pet project, it’s already too late? Quoth Greenwald:
Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when – as inevitably occurs – they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.
Someone once said “we see world not as it is, but as we are”. If we see the world as the DOJ and Florida legislators see it, as the anonymous prosecutors who submit these “reactions” see it, what does it say about us?
When the law is mistreated and disrespected and ignored, we are all victims. The question that remains is: what will it take to get you to see it that way?