Architecture is an expression of values. Norman Foster

Maintaining order

Governments ask conformity in exchange for safety. It is a transaction we cannot accept.

Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the United States Declaration of Independence read:

“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

Jefferson certainly was one for tall orders, and he clearly had high expectations for this Brave New World he was designing. The world he imagined had citizens instead of subjects, individuals instead of masses, and they all lived happy and free.

“Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith.” 

I know of another character that once dreamt up a similar vision. His name was Old Major, and he was a boar on an animal farm. In his dream all the animals lived together in harmony, free from human oppression. When he died, three little pigs turned his dream into a philosophy that sparked a revolution: the animals chased Farmer Jones away and created “Animal Farm.” Of the seven principles of ‘“Animalism”, the most important read: “All animals are equal.”

Those readers who have read George Orwell’s famous novel know how this story ends. Those readers who know anything about modern and contemporary politics can guess. The tyrant is gone, the revolution is over, and now it is time to work. Principles need to be agreed on, structures set up, roles assigned. And so, after the credits go up and the soundtrack dies down, real life begins.

The pigs form a committee; they will run the farm. The rest of the animals will work hard; if they do as they are told, there will be plenty of food for everyone. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The pigs know better anyway.

The safest road to Hell is the gradual one

And suddenly it is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Life has given way to survival, liberty to stability, and happiness to content. The population lives comfortably: it clocks in and out of pristine white offices, maneuvers through traffic and stops for groceries on the way home, is kept well informed of the laudable achievements of the government it has elected through screens that promptly follow newscasts up with vapid shows, and eagerly awaits the next meal, football game, weekend or holiday, secure in the knowledge that putting its faith and tax dollars in the system will keep it safe.

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” writes the Devil in a letter to his nephew.

On the 5th of June, 2013, journalist Glenn Greenwald – then of The Guardian – published the first of a series of articles uncovering some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret surveillance programs. The programs, like PRISM for example, indiscriminately and illegally gathered massive amounts of information in real time; intercepting the phone calls, emails, text messages, and credit card transactions of both foreigners and America’s own citizens without their knowledge. On the 9th of June, Greenwald’s source was revealed: twenty-nine year old NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

“The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.”
- Edward Snowden

Sex and power

It has been two years since his identity was revealed, and Snowden is still on the run. The United States government has charged him with theft, and under the obscure 1917 Espionage Act has also thrown in “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”. He has been called a traitor, isolated from his friends and family, and forced to seek temporary asylum in Russia.

Why? Because we are at war against terror, and we must maintain order. Because strength comes through unity, and unity through faith. Because if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to lose. Because freedom is a small price to pay for stability. Because if you give us your privacy we will give you your safety. And why is it Nineteen Eighty-Four all over again?

It has been said that espionage is the second oldest profession in the world, preceded only by prostitution. This is indicative of man’s two most basic survival needs: sex and power. If knowledge is power, and power is survival, then espionage becomes a necessary evil most people will accept.

Conformity is comfortable, but what if I do not want comfort?

We were not designed for comfort. We are not animals on a farm. The Declaration of Independence mentions three inalienable rights, and one of those is liberty. Liberty may not be necessary to survival, but it is necessary to life.

Liberty is dangerous, and today dissent is perceived as defection. That may be a reason why there are so few Edward Snowdens out there. But this is not the first time we have been faced with a threat. Before 9/11 it was the Soviets, and before that the Nazis, the Japanese, the colonizers, the aliens, the Indians, the plague. To quote my good friend Cooke, “that is why the normal cycle in the life and death of great nations has been first a powerful tyranny broken by revolt, the enjoyment of liberty, the abuse of liberty – and back to tyranny again”.

On the last page of “Animal Farm”, after all the commandments of Animalism have been stripped away and all liberty sacrificed in the name of security, the final sentence reads:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

This post was originally published here on the author’s blog, Aristotle at Afternoon Tea.

Read Newest From Column Yara Zgheib: On Tinted Glasses


comments powered by Disqus

Related Content: Nsa, Edward-snowden, Dictatorship


History lessons from two dictatorships


“Generation German Unity”

It’s up to the post-reunification generation to debate which lessons from the Nazi and GDR experiences should be passed down. read more

by Manfred Wilke
Most Read