I hope that first word in the title of this article is not a typographical error.
You, see, I just read an article entitled Amerians Say Government Should Focus More on Security, Less on Civil Liberties. The article cites two polls that suggest that citizens are now sharply favoring an increase in security at the expense of constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms.
Amerians? In the article, the polls are described as referring to Americans, and that concerns me. In the United States of America I learned about in school, the people long ago had decided that they would rather live in freedom than live under a security state. So, I’m hoping that there’s some other nation named Ameria, that has cravenly decided to sacrifice its liberty for the sake of a little security.
But then, as I’m looking at a summary of one of these polls in that article, I’m seeing one reason that people might respond to that poll in favor of security more than in favor of freedom. The poll, by the Pew Research Center, asks respondents to choose one of two statements:
1. Government anti-terrorism efforts have not gone far enough to protect the country
2. Government anti-terrorism efforts have gone too far in restricting civil liberties
The results of this poll are all in the terms used. It pits protecting the country against civil liberties. The idea of protecting the country presupposes a threat, whereas civil liberties presupposes… what, a frivolous lawsuit?
When people think of civil liberties, they think of relatively superficial issues, like the right of people to choose organic food, or to wear their hair the way they like, or to join nudist colonies. The phrase “civil liberties” seems to suggest a lifestyle that some people like, but isn’t really necessary.
What if the poll asked people about “constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms” rather than “civil liberties”? What if the poll asked people simply to choose between “security” and “freedom”?
Furthermore, what if the poll didn’t preface the question by referring to “anti-terrorism efforts”, acquiescing to the presumption that the government’s surveillance and security programs are indeed anti-terrorism? (The Patriot Act’s sneak-and-peek spying powers have been found to be used almost exclusively in cases not at all related to terrorism.) If Americans, or Amerians, or Homelandians, or whatever it is that we have become, were asked simply, “Is the government going too far to provide security, or going too far to provide freedom?” would respondents have still agreed that the sacrifice of freedom’s all right with them?