It happens slowly, irreparably, slyly. What was the title of that song? Killing me softly. That’s how freedoms are killed – for the most.
I am not talking about the big, bad, repressive regimes that everyone is so prompt to condemn. It’s not about water-hosing protesters or tear-gassing demonstrations or pellet-gunning stone pelters at eye-height. The public has strong reactions against these things – except for the latter, actually: in that case, if you excuse me a bad pun, people easily turn a blind eye because it is not really OK to mess with the world’s largest democracy (and a huge exploitable financial market). I am not even talking about brave women facing anti-riots cops or couples kissing passionately in front of burning barricades as if expecting the Apocalypse. These make good photos. They are also too much in our face and the media and public opinion are quick to respond. People call these instances brutal and unacceptable, they require specific hashtags and swift online mobilisations and collective changing of Facebook profile pictures in solidarity.
Anyways, I am not here to talk about these big, visible things. What I am trying to address is what we don’t grasp right away, what happens under the radar. What is so subtle that may not, even though it should, catch our attention at all. We may not openly see it, but it happens. Daily. Unnoticeably. This is really not an easy issue to tackle. When you try to discuss such matters, people shy away or get defensive or think of you as a damn fool.
It’s conspiracy theory.
You always see evil in the State.
You are a communist.
You are an anarchist.
Have you really nothing better to think about? Get a life!
I just bought a new car. I am planning a holiday and all I need is a good map of Sicily to see which nice beach will not be disturbed by these boats ditching immigrants from Africa or wherever on our shores. I have a CCTV camera at my gate. A security guard outside my office. I can move. I can travel. I can shop. I have a maroon passport that protects my freedom.
Liberticide? Is that even a word? What are you talking about?
Once on a stroll in Oakland, a friend pointed at a plastic box tightened on a lamp post.
A Real-time Gunshot Detection & Alert System.
It was one of the many hyper-powerful sound recorders and amplifiers spread across the city on random street corners and connected to nearby police stations. These audio devices transmit ongoing environmental noises to the police so that they could respond to the emergency as soon as the sound of a gunshot would reached them.
Like this, us the police could get to the location of the incident almost immediately. Even before anyone called 911. Even if no-one called 911. In Real-time. Amazing service. Everyone benefits from it. Excellent for the safety of the collectivity. Indeed we may eat a little into individual privacy, we may catch bits and pieces of personal discussions, but it is a small sacrifice to ask in comparison to the great advantages that the local communities will enjoy.
As a reaction, my voice dropped. I started whispering. Instinctively. My voice, without my consent, had suddenly become part of the white noise filling the rooms of some police station in a corner of California.
Without my consent.
The verbalisation of my thoughts.
As we walked, I kept looking behind my back incapable of shaking off the feeling of being chased. Our chat, inevitably, came to a halt.
Through our electronic passports, the entirety of our travel history is recorded. Our movements, the reasons of our trips, the contact persons of the country to visit. It’s like being under a gigantic magnifying glass. The microchip in my passport does not work and for a while I thought it could be a nice thing. Maybe I would be subjected to a little less tracking, I would have one less interaction with a machine, one more opportunity to face a an actual person who may have a human side despite being employed in the reprehensible business of controlling borders. However, more often than not, immigration officials give me dirty looks as soon as they open my passport and pass it through their machines. They look at their computer screen and then at me, at their screen and at me, three or four time in disbelief, sometimes they even shake their heads. I always force myself to smile and ask if there is any problem. “There is no problem” is the standard answer, but nobody makes eye contact after that. Twenty minutes of this theatre come and go before I can hear the relieving sound of the stamp that means it is over. I always fear what will happen the day the stamp will not come and I will be denied entry, but this is another story. After the stamp, the immigration officer would drop the passport on the counter, disparagingly, without even lifting his eyes thus making me feel guilty as if I had committed an unspeakable sin.
See, these border control people are so nice and they really do have a difficult job. Knowing you, you may not have spared some snarky comments for sure or maybe you have been rude to them, that’s why. Also, understand, they are there to protect our borders, to avoid unwanted intruders, it’s good if they are extra careful. And with all those strange places where you have been. It makes me feel safer if the controls are extra tight for people like you.
In some airports, they allow you access to the country only after checking your fingerprints. There I am turned into a biodata set. Israel and the US body-scan you. In the US – at least until a couple of years ago – you could still bail out of the X-Ray machine and demand alternative controls just for the sick pleasure of making the border police uncomfortable and of slowing down the line behind you. In Israel not even this small bit of subversion is allowed and probably their body-scanners have also a C14 system for the filling in your teeth so as to be sure that you would not carry any forbidden material in you.
How can you be so selfish? Our society is at risk, we are constantly under threat – migrations, terrorism and everything else. Can’t you see that all this is done to guarantee your safety? Yes indeed your own safety as well. These little bits of extra controls are much necessary for the stability of our system, for our economy to keep going, for our daughters to walk safely on the street. And all you seem to be bothered about is the destiny of your fingerprints? Really?
All these data are collected, stored, retrieved, used – or misused. They contribute to the construction of statistics, they become evidence to push agendas or achieve marketing goals. I feel disembodied. I am turned into a numerical sequence, reduced to a matrix. My biometrical profile may become part of an argument or a political discourse I most likely will not agree with.
You are funny that way. Who do you think you are? With all those billion people in the world, are you seriously thinking that they can be actually bothered about you? You of all people? Come on! Let them do their job, they’re working hard and on many fronts to protect us. Give us all a break, this is really not about you and your freedoms.
Is it not?
The curbing of freedoms is like the erosion of glaciers. You can’t really see it, but hardly anyone – except maybe for President Trump – would dare denying the fact that they are slowly but steadily melting. On the news the other day they said they are disappearing at a pace of five centimetres a day.
That’s also how liberticide works. It takes the shape of unspoken daily requests, of small compromises, of bitter bites we are asked to swallow if we want to contribute to the safety and wellbeing of our children and loved ones.
If we contest this basic truth, we reject common sense and don’t care for others. When not directly abused, we are looked down upon as lost idealists with no sense of reality. There is no benefit of the doubt, the loud volume of propaganda keeps us entertained and distracted. Two thousand years of panem et circenses well spent.
Those of us who question are asked to understand. To be sensible. To stay quiet. The notion of collectivity is used against requests of explanations. It helps diverting the attention from what may turn out to be uncomfortable truths.
Those who disagree are individualistic troublemakers and cast as the enemy in the epic battle undertaken by those who work for the greater good. For each one of us. Me included.
Dissent is depicted as ungratefulness when control wears the mask of protection.