Big Brother Rearing His Ugly Head
'1984' Author George Orwell
It seems Americans are bound and determined to solve the problems of the 21st Century by giving up the hard-earned rights won for them by their forefathers of the past three centuries.
It's an extremely shortsighted way to try to resolve existing troubles but, obviously, many prefer that approach -- the easy way out -- to a more thoughtful one.
Unfortunately, our society often opts for short-term convenience at the expense of long-term goals.
In the 1930s, when President Roosevelt created the Social Security program, conservatives warned that the 9-digit Social Security number issued to every citizen would eventually be universally applied for identification purposes, and that the government would keep tabs on all of us taxpayers from the cradle to the grave.
Big Brother's Watching Us
It was too early for conservatives to point to George Orwell's "1984" or to the Nazi branding of Jews during the Holocaust of World War II, but their point was clear: Big Brother would be watching us. Now, as we see the 20th Century coming to a close, it appears that circumstances have proven them to be right.
Throughout the last six decades, Americans have freely waived one right after another while chasing solutions to society's problems (bringing to mind Don Quixote stubbornly tilting against windmills):
* * * We don't seem to care much anymore about being protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. We seem to approve of ceding power to the police to stop cars willy-nilly in the hope of finding someone doing something unlawful.
Are Our Homes Still Our Castles?
* * * Remember when we considered our homes to be our castles? Do we really want to give up on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit to happiness?
* * * Why not allow insurance companies, banks, supermarkets and others to take our thumbprints (ostensibly to prevent us from cashing bad checks or otherwise defrauding them) and to maintain extensive files on our personal health, finances, credit and consumption habits?
* * * If it were put to a vote, would we really cast away our right to privacy?
* * * As the age of the computer advances at astronomical rates it would seem wise of us to think very carefully about allowing government and others to create data bases on virtually every segment of society. Sure, it sounds reasonable to keep such data on convicted sex offenders or to take DNA samples from convicted violent criminals, but we are compelled to wonder, who's next?
Will computers eventually be used to categorize us by ethnicity or religion? Will they have data banks on bald people, left-handers and the handicapped? Will there be another list of people detailing their sexual preferences? Or, maybe, we'll create a data base on the good looking ones in our society -- and another data base exclusively for the ugly.
And when we've given up most of our rights, if not all, how then do we go about solving problems without the convenience of having an easy way out?
How easy will it be then for government, big business and others to trample on us?
And where will we find the spirit then to fight for what we know is right?
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on April 25, 1998.