On democracy’s dangerous ability to vanish entirely from the scene of the crime

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Paul has just posted a terrifyingly measured piece over at his blog.  It describes the dangers of creating a surveillance state with the supposed justification – perhaps the essential requirement – of wanting to protect us all from terrorist attack.  A couple of salient quotes from a piece you should really read in its entirety.  First this:

[…]  In yesterday’s election in Greece, the far right Golden Dawn party gained a disturbing 7% in the elections, and held rallies that had distinct echoes of Nazi Germany.

“No one should fear me if they are a good Greek citizen. If they are traitors – I don’t know,” their leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos told the media. The words, the images – and indeed the election results – have sent shivers down a lot of spines, not just in Greece but around the world.

Then this:

[…]  It should remind us of the origins of a lot of the human rights conventions, declarations and so forth in the second half of the 20th Century: as a reaction to the atrocities of Second World War. We recognised the needs of people for protection from their own governments – because governments can’t be trusted to protect people at all times.

And finally to his conclusion:

As Bruce Schneier put it, in one of my favourite quotes:

“It’s bad civic hygiene to build technologies that could someday be used to facilitate a police state”

He’s right. We shouldn’t. Those election results from Greece should remind at that most forcefully. Wake up. Smell the coffee.

We in Britain are, of course, no strangers to these dynamics.  In its desire to achieve the parliamentary power the Party had so long been excluded from, Tony Blair’s New Labour sustained and implemented more fully so many right-wing policies from Thatcher’s time that it seems impossible to contemplate that what this current Coalition government has carried out could’ve been done without the ten years of spadework which that intervening and supposedly socialist triangulation may in part represent.

In reality, the mixing up of public and private interest started off in Blairite times as a tactic to ensure the private sector and its sponsors in the media would continue to support some form of public interest.  But whilst Tony Blair & Co could probably be trusted – at least to some degree – with the NHS, our education system and the Welfare State in general, the tools they built and configured in a slew of legislative acts for one set of purposes simply made it easier for utterly untrustworthy examples such as Cameron and Osborne to turn them to the purposes of their own – as well as our – destruction.

Our Welfare State, principally the NHS and Legal Aid, has been torn asunder by the mindsets Blair used, arguably in a cowardly way, to cement in his time its medium-term future.

And so to the CCTV, online surveillance and information sharing policies we now face today: in the hands of the good guys, a whisker away from the fascist state (more here) we should always fear; in the hands of the bad guys, however, a better set of ready-made procedures and processes could not be fashioned if one wanted to.

The lesson for the future?  Don’t rely on your love of a charismatic authority or political figure to sway you from your basic principles: whether we’re talking about private involvement in the public sphere or we’re talking about surveillance strategies against terrorist threats, you cannot predict what economic crisis will do to the way people decide to vote.

After all, democracy has shown throughout history its ability to swallow its own tail and vanish entirely from the scene of the crime.

For democracy is not a steady-state theory.

Rather it is quite often a Big Bang of extreme destructiveness.

A policed state which slyly and incongruously slips into a police state simply makes it easier for the bad guys to go ahead and do their badnesses.

And it’d be mightily ironic if – after a decade of warring against terrorism – our own home-grown internal disaffected individuals, our extreme nationalists and their hangers-on, the Breiviks and EDLs and BNPs of this world, were somehow to take control of our democracies with the very tools we had insisted we acquire in order that, as democracies, we could protect ourselves from external attack.

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