Comment on Slashdot

Regarding this article about America’s journey towards a police state and a populace herded by fear a friend of mine brought to me this response on Slashdot. Its actually a very well written response. Having visited a Soviet Bloc country a few times before the fall of Communism I must say that this brought back some intense memories and recollections of stories I had heard through my youth. Of course, the article itself doesn’t really surprise us. Its the collection of all the different stories.

No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.
— Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

Of course we must also be weary of any self proclaimed patriots who are willing to spit on individual freedoms and other preservations of dignity in the name of America or any institution for that matter. Anyway, here it goes:

Two Words: Chilling Effect

(Score:5, Insightful) by Moraelin (679338) on Friday June 09, @11:57AM (#15502829)
(Last Journal: Monday June 21, @05:25PM)

I’ll tell you a different kind of a “in soviet russia” story, and it’s not a joke. I’ll tell you what kept those people in line under most totalitarian regimes. Yes, the short story is “the secret police”, but that’s only a very superficial view of the problem.

The communist block’s secret police didn’t always have the indiscriminate brutality of Stalin’s black cars and summary executions. It eventually evolved into something more “subtle”: the widespread idea that somewhere they have a dossier of what you’ve said and who you’ve associated with. That even if you don’t land in the Gulag (but then again, you might land there anyway) for going drinking again with comrade Piotr who speaks against the government, there’ll be a page in your dossier for ever flagging you as sharing Piotr’s subversive views. And it someday might bite you in the ass. E.g., maybe some day you won’t get a promotion, or the party’s approval to go abroad (on business or holyday), or whatever, just because somewhere there’s a page in your dossier saying you’re a subversive element and associate with traitors.

Now they didn’t have the computers or manpower to actually do that on anywhere near the scale NSA is doing it, so the probability was really low, but the chilling effect was thorough anyway. People didn’t want to take risks, so they tended to shut up.

But the effect was more perverse than that. Anyone who openly spoke against the government was seen as a potential agent provocateur, trying to bait you into saying something that’ll come back to haunt you later. It’s the most perverse thing you can do to prevent organized resistance: make sure that people don’t trust each other. The guy shouting against the government might be paid by the government, or may be someone who has a petty grudge against you and tries to get you to say something you might regret.

Basically, the most effective threats don’t have to be explicit, but vague and implicit. People don’t have to know that the government will swiftly come and send them to Guantanamo for speaking against it. The most effective threat is to just have everyone know that you know everything they did and everyone they associated with, that it’s for ever attached to their file somewhere, and they don’t know how or when you’ll use it. Maybe you’ll go for direct retaliation, or maybe their son won’t be able to get a government scholarship/job/whatever because of what they said, or whatever. That unknown can pretty chilling while costing very little to maintain. (A lot less than trying to execute everyone who disagrees, and creates less martyrs.)

And all this mining phone calls and social sites (a lot do have personal information, e.g., dating sites) has the potential to create a chilling effect of epic proportions. Is John speaking out against the new fascist government? Well, then better make sure you’re not on his friends list or calling him every week. You don’t want to have _that_ on your file, now do you? If you’re an employer, better get rid of him on your own, because otherwise, you know, that relationship goes on your file too. Plus, you know they’ll make a connection every time he calls you to take a sick day, or you call him to ask why the server isn’t up. Better not risk losing a fat government contract just because you’re associating with and employing undesirables.

Does that have to be accurate and filtered clean of character assassination bullshit? No, it’s probably better if it isn’t. Might get some people thinking they already have plenty of bogus or inaccurate stuff on their file anyway, so all the more reason not to add real stuff to it too. Better keep low and try not to trip their radar, than have to explain which stuff is bogus and which isn’t.

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