an image of the cover of the novel "1984" over the American flag, with the text "Do we really want this as our instruction manual?"

Is The Great Experiment Ending?

E pluribus unum
Annuit cœptis
Novus ordo seclorum

Those words — out of many, one; our undertakings have been approved; a new order of the ages — connoted an unprecedented national optimism, and foretold what has unquestionably turned out to be a new order of the ages.

Fifteen years of literal blood, sweat, and tears — from when Jefferson summarized the two hundred years of philosophy that was the Enlightenment by penning the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and 56 brave men signed it; to when Washington led the Continental Army to the first successful war of independence against the European colonial empires; to the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791 — led to two centuries of mankind’s betterment.

The Great Experiment, enacting what were previously mere theoretical levels of individual liberty — both personal and economic — not only created the world’s wealthiest nation, but the world’s wealthiest individuals (not just the rich, but the average). Emigrants from around the world flocked to America’s shores for their chance to succeed in a world which was genuinely free. And around the world, citizens fought for and achieved those same freedoms in their own countries.

Today, for most citizens of the developed world, the United States is not the shining beacon of hope that it once was. Mostly, this is cause for celebration. The U.S. is no longer the Polaris by which these people and countries navigate precisely because these people and countries are on par with (or, indeed, ahead of) the U.S. in terms of personal and economic liberty. The Great Experiment has been a great success.

But if individual and economic liberty — and the requisite concomitancy of hard work and personal responsibility — are the height of governmental endeavor, then I fear greatly the direction in which the U.S. is heading. And I’m not just talking about tag (the game) being disallowed on school playgrounds, the “every child gets a trophy” attitude, or school suspensions for the crime of pointing one’s finger and saying, “bang!” (though certainly those are all harbingers).

It was easy and expedient in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks to ignore Franklin’s admonition, that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” and to pass the Patriot Act. What is inexcusable is the continual assault on the freedoms of Americans since then: the multiple renewals of the Patriot Act and FISA, the attempts to pass CISPA and SOPA, and passing of the truly abhorrent NDAA of 2012 which effectively nullified the Great Writ.

It matters not that portions of these bills have been challenged and either have been or are in the process of being changed. What does matter is that American citizens continue to elect politicians who either actively oppose those tenets which make the country great, or who are at best so naïve that they actually believe the incremental surrender of personal freedom can lead to a better, safer society.

The most recent affront on liberty is reported by Wired magazine:

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.
This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.
“It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things,” said Chris Calabrese, a congressional lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”

To say that this smacks of Big Brother is understatement to the point of absurdity. And though I never met the man, I feel confident in asserting that Orwell did not intend Nineteen Eighty-Four as an instruction manual. Please stop voting for representatives who believe he did, before you destroy all of the good work that the Great Experiment has created. America is still a representative democracy. We still have the power to fix this. If we don’t, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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Chris Richardson has strong opinions on just about everything. Just ask.