False Trade-Off between Security and Freedom

by CT on June 12, 2013

It is extremely concerning to see political figures and even business leaders admonishing the general population of the Western countries stating that privacy and freedom need to be traded for “security.”  Democratic and civic principles are abandoned by those who should defend them and instead recommend their destruction for political ends.

State bureaucrats improve even on far-reaching fiction as we see in Orwellian declarations like J. Clapper responding to NBC News: “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least untruthful, manner.”  See:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/james-clapper-nsa-surveillance_n_3424620.html

In all of this, people incredibly “forget” that there may be secret directives for example related to military operations in acts of war, but there cannot be secret surveillance of the population by the state and much less secret surveillance of the entire globe. Consequently –still within a Western democratic framework, the idea of secret courts approving secret mass surveillance is indefensible because the public sphere by definition has to be consensual and open to challenge by the Citizens and Subjects if not also by the individuals that are affected by such actions.  Secret laws negate themselves by definition.

While it is at least alarming to see political agents promoting the corruption of the political state, we need to understand that these advances have preconditions.  The belief –on the side of political and corporate actors—that there should or could be a trade-off between “security” and privacy or “security” and freedom would not exist without a counterpart in the general population, that is, in the general belief system and political education of the Citizens/Subjects.

We can see the false choice at every level of a society, and in every Western country or countries with Western-style political systems of “representative democracy.”

In those countries where the formation of the civil society is incomplete or incipient, perhaps it could be possible to explain via “historical factors” how people may accept a loss of freedom as Citizens, but in long-standing “democracies,” this negative trend has more complex roots. It is a pathological consequence of the structural and long-evolving separation between the private and the public sphere. It is a consequence that negates the premise of Western politics when taken to its extreme consequences in a consumption-focused, capitalist society.

While representative democracy requires a distance and separation between the public and the private (one aspect of this being the separation of Church and State), this separation can be seen to degenerate into forms where the private sphere is largely destroyed and the Citizen/Subject experiences loss of privacy and autonomy. The same process that generates the differentiation of private and public spheres seems to arrive at a point where we have a loss of freedom.

A first view of this degeneration of the public sphere would immediately recognise the opposition and conflict of the Citizen to the state, and claim that the origin of these problems lies on the side of state actors and political, economic or bureaucratic forces.  If people remain mentally within this primary opposition, they will be in general “opposed to the State,” in a variety of progressive, conservative or libertarian positions. All of these are more or less able to recognise the need for privacy and individual freedoms, and all of these are actually part of the possible political articulations within a modern capitalist society. These views –in varying degrees of intensity— will demand the protection of privacy, but in the context of the degeneration of the public sphere, these calls tend to focus on “personal” freedoms, instead of the public sphere itself.

While this defensive position is certainly of some value, it is important to understand that political rights and norms are neither “personal” nor strictly “private.” Political rights are consensual, symbolic and shared, and consist of relationships between individuals and collectives of individuals.

A degeneration of these rights begins by the perception that modern, capitalist societies are based on “personal” freedoms only, that are attached to the Person as a biological entity, for example freedom of choice when purchasing goods in the market, while the entire history of Capitalism actually shows that Personal rights (i.e. natural human freedoms) can only be crystallised as public, political rights.

Based on this confusion, large parts of the citizenry in current Western societies seem to be ready to abandon the public sphere and their political rights. This immediately means that the political sphere is occupied and “managed” by private and public organisations (and combinations of these), a situation which can be readily called “corporatism.” It is then that we see political and corporate leaders suggesting a trade-off between “security” and freedom.

The paradox behind this “evolution” of Western democracy, which is actually a regression, is that with exaltation of the individual (i.e. the Person) we reach a degeneration of the Subject (i.e. the Citizen). The correlate of the loss of democratic public values is the weakening and impoverishment of the Person which is transformed into a passive and atomised consumer. On the other side of the equation, devoid of the energies of the Person, the consensual, public Subject becomes a ghost of itself, a residue which has only formal political rights but is completely managed, protected and controlled by state, economic and political organisations.

The individual human person persists and tolerates this situation, under the perception that his or her most immediate “needs” and “interests” are being served, and that there still is “freedom of choice” in the market and in the most basic daily activities. Under these circumstances, political life in the West becomes a theatre, a fantasy where the fragmented and homogenized population only enters the public sphere as an external irritating force, and only when the basic living conditions are severely affected by mismanagement, fraud, war, crime or other disruptions caused by the previous lack of actual democracy and oversight.

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