Monday, April 30, 2007

A culture of scrutiny

Timothy Burke has an excellent and nuanced post up on what I've always thought of as the The Prisoner source of resistance to big institutions in general and thestate in particular. "I am not a number! I am a free man!" " I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered." Well, yes you will, in any modern society or polity or economy and in any functioning large bureaucratic institution, though there are more an less polite ways of doing all those things and ways that do more or less to convey the sense of being treated merely as a number. I don't think I'd like people who wholly lacked the Prisoner's reactions, but those reactions aren't especially meaningful rules for action.

The moonshine bootlegger, the Loompanics-reading crazy who keeps his life savings in gold under his bed, and the creator of e-mail encryption systems who can still get agitated at the words "Clipper Chip"-- these are libertarianish culture heroes of a very different flavor from John Galt. They're hard to describe in a register that gives them a coherent underlying theory which can be brought into dialogue with theories about why it would be useful for the state to do X. The National ID crad debate always seems to me to have this tone-- the reistance to such a card doesn't make a ton of sense, and there are various efficiencies that could be gained from having one. But I always sympathize with the opponents, and look askance at the reformist tinkerers who seem unable to hear what the opponents are saying.

(None of the above is quite what Burke's on about, and of course I don't mean to attribute my views to him; just some thoughts provoked by his post.)