How to prevent violence: a guide for citizens
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Wright Sulcer
All rights reserved
Americans are growing weary of violent outbursts, sporadic but deadly and absorbing media spectacles such as the Boston Marathon bombing and school shootings, which seem to recur again and again, and this is a way to prevent the violence. This is an overall strategy which outlines a general and powerful method but which involves serious choices. It argues that violence and crime and terrorism are preventable but requires thinking through the basics as well as clearing up some troubling misconceptions.
I think we agree about the scope of the problem: violence, fear, multiple deaths, destruction, innocent people being targeted, randomness, sometimes with high power weapons, media spectacle, blood and victims. A list of such violence might include the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013, the sniper attacks in Washington DC in 2002 that lasted a few weeks, the attack at Virginia Tech, school shootings such as Columbine and Newtown Connecticut, and unfortunately there are many more examples which we can think of. Each time, the violence attracted much media attention, almost as if it was some kind of public theater or quasi-entertainment.
I think we can also agree that as citizens, as members of the body politic, that we are getting tired of this. It is no longer acceptable to us. I saw a photo of a smiling eight-year-old boy later blasted by a bomb, and I do not want to see any more such pictures. While most of us rarely are the direct victims, there is much fear created which can limit our freedom in other ways, such as having to endure long lines in airports, being frisked (although I usually like this) and having to cope with much nuisance. There is a huge mostly hidden economic cost which we may not experience directly, but which we certainly pay for, including salaries and equipment for literally hundreds of thousands of inspectors, security guards, and so forth; in addition, there is what economists call opportunity cost in the sense of foregone investment and growth opportunities. For example, when bombers struck the Boston Marathon in 2013, the city endured many hours of being locked down with people unable to shop, go to work, or travel, to the extent that the city had to endure a huge loss of revenue. Coping with violence and terrorism is expensive in indirect ways; for example, after medicine bottles were tampered with poisons, drug makers added a safety seal to almost all medicines and consumer products, usually a plastic layer between the cap and the contents, and there is an expense in adding these seals as well as a time cost for consumers to have to break through them. The fear that we might become a victim in the next attack is something that I think all of us have had enough of. Clearly, it is people like us who bear the burden of this violence, people minding their own business, working, shopping, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who through no fault of their own, became victims. This is not fair to them, to us, to police who have to catch the perpetrators, to doctors and nurses who have to stitch up those bleeding, to anybody.
Another point of agreement, I believe, is that it is not good enough merely to capture the perpetrators after their disastrous deed is done, since there may be so much death, destruction and damage afterwards that it is impossible to punish the evil deed-doers enough for it. Consider the Boston Marathon bombing: two perpetrators (one killed, one captured) killed four civilians; the perpetrators spent perhaps $10,000 on equipment and bombs and guns but they caused literally hundreds of millions in damage, including people who will have lost or damaged limbs for life. The worst we can punish the remaining culprit is with one death, but he has already caused four deaths; and it is this imbalance which makes punishment unrealistic. There are similar imbalances in other acts of terrorism; on September 11th 2001, 19 hijackers murdered 2800 civilians such that the kill ratio was 147 persons for each hijacker; one estimate was that the hijackers spent $450,000 but their damage was in the billions of dollars. My point is that it is not enough to catch the perpetrators afterwards; rather, they must be prevented from hurting in the first place, and unfortunately we can imagine even worse crimes involving more dangerous weapons which, if used, could create even bigger messes. In short, prevention is key.
Another thing we probably agree about is a general dissatisfaction with America’s prevention efforts to date. Consider that if you, dear reader, were satisfied with America’s efforts, then why are you reading this? And why am I writing this? I think you’ll agree with me that the problem continues to fester, and that you are not content with such measures as frisking people at airports, posting armed militia in train stations, disaster planning, and other such strategies but think that something more is needed. If unconvinced, consider something which happened in 2007. Boston authorities noticed mysterious objects hanging from street lamps and underpasses which worried them to the point where they shut down major highways for hours, clogging streets and tying up vast swaths of the city. But the objects were not explosives but merely TV cartoon show promotions. I am not making this up, folks; it really happened that the great city of Boston was gridlocked for hours by cartoons. Evidently there was a mis-communication, and the TV promoters paid a huge fine. Does this episode suggest to you that America has its act together in preventing terrorism? And consider that if the cartoons had been dangerous, then police found them too late, so if it had been bombs, then people could have been hurt; again, this suggests America’s terrorism prevention efforts are lackluster.
So far I think most people will agree with me about what I have said so far.
My next point that may be somewhat more controversial is that while violence and terrorism is primarily a police problem, it is vital for ordinary people like you and me to get involved and make choices. Clearly, fighting terrorism is primarily a task for police and military units and they will of course continue to play a big role in any possible solution. But, in my view, the overall responsibility for solving the problem belongs to you and me and to Americans in general not only because people like us are usually on the receiving end of the violence, but because we can make specific choices, and overall I will make a case for overall citizen involvement. I am not saying police are negligent or incompetent regarding current efforts to thwart violence but simply that the problem is too difficult for them to solve given the current arrangement. This is nobody’s fault. It is how things are. I think police themselves are frustrated with the situation.
Notice I said the word ‘citizens’. In a republic, as everybody knows, citizens ultimately control the government by electing representatives to the legislature, which makes rules, obviously, so why bring it up?
Simply, in my view, most Americans are not real citizens. We have passports, live here, work here, belong here, and enjoy legal protections and rights as citizens, and to a great extent, the concept of ‘citizenship’ has evolved over time to signify a legal marker or status. The problem is that citizenship should mean political participation; it does not, and it should. Most Americans do not participate in politics, do not know the names of their congresspersons, rarely attend any political meetings, do not follow issues, have little or not connections with other citizens as citizens, and only about half of Americans vote for president every four years. After voting, people think they have done their job as citizens, and tune out until perhaps the next election.
My point is that real citizens — people who exert real influence upon government — would not tolerate violence, threats, bombings, serial killers, and mayhem. They would not stand for it. They would act. They would think about the problem. They would tell their representatives to fix the problem, and it would be fixed, or if not, then citizens would throw those representatives out of office. Real citizens would solve the problem. But today in America, people are not real citizens as they way I understand it since they are divorced from political participation, and as such they are hollow politically, with no real oomph or sway, who go through the motions, who have passports saying they are Americans, who follow rules and hold jobs and consume consumer products on a vast scale, but who are empty politically. The sad thing is that most Americans do not realize the extent of their alienation from politics, and they have come to see the current state as somehow natural and good since it is the only world they have known. There are long chains of cause-and-effect which have caused this separation of people from politics which I will not get into now, but the basic thing to keep in mind is that the task of solving terrorism becomes much easier when people become real citizens. Turn token passport-holder citizens into real ones, and such folk will not be tread on.
So, what I am saying, as one token passport-holding non-citizen to another token passport-holding non-citizen, is that to prevent terrorism, we must become real participatory non-hollow flesh-and-blood citizens. I will explore further how this might happen, later, but for now, please assume that we have magically become real citizens.
But before we can talk about how to prevent this recurrent violent nonsense, I should bring up a rather difficult question, but before I do, it may help to understand some of the backstory of this essay. I developed this terrorism prevention strategy back in the 1980s, wrote it off and on since then, it gelled into a short book, and I tried to get it published in the 2000s, but self-published it after several hundred rejections. Consider that I felt that I had solved the problem. I sent free copies to Congress without any reaction whatsoever. I approached numerous police officers and public officials and FBI with my terrorism prevention strategy, and my strategy was met with indifference and a loud lack of interest. I told them: I have new thinking, please consider my thinking, but I was ignored. I brought it to the attention of local city leaders in a few towns in New Jersey who viewed me as a crank. I protested at venues such as Newark Airport, the Union County courthouse, Morristown, my town’s train station, and few people, if any, showed any serious interest. I phoned a Port Authority of New York manager who told me flat out that he had no interest in my strategy whatsoever. I secured permission from Boston police to protest on Boston Common, and was delegated to a tiny section near a fountain; a Boston Globe reporter spoke with me briefly but concluded there was no story because others paid no attention to me.
So, if you imagine yourself in my shoes, what explains the decided lack of interest?
It could be many things. First, it could be that my strategy is flat-out wrong, and somehow I am unable to know this; but if this was the case, then would not somebody, somewhere, have taken the time to give it a good look-over, and then explained to me where I was mistaken? This has not happened to my satisfaction; still, it is a possibility that my strategy is wrong. Second, it could be a problem with my writing, or writing style; I admit that in previous versions, the tone was somewhat alarmist, perhaps overly simple, with a Chicken-Little ‘the sky is falling’ sensibility, and the strategy has multiple parts and can not be condensed into a quickie soundbite, so this could an explanation. Third, it could be that the strategy is correct but that there are competing values which people are loathe to sacrifice such as wanting anonymity in public; accordingly, people condemn violence but value anonymity more highly than safety; still, my sense is that people have not seriously thought through these choices as I will try to show later. Fourth, it could be that people think that preventing violence is only a police and government problem, not a citizens’ problem, and as a result they are unwilling or unable to listen to an independent thinker. Fifth, it could be that my strategy is right but difficult to grasp conceptually; but I believe people are smart enough to get it once they think about it. Sixth, perhaps people are blinded by fear, but I do not think this is the case, since I see people confronting all kinds of tough situations, and coping with them.
So, why has my strategy not caught on with experts, with police, with the public? Most likely it is one or more of the reasons above, to varying extents, but there may be a seventh possibility, a difficult one that I have trouble discounting.
The seventh possibility is that on some level, somehow, while they will not admit it on the surface, people deep down like violence. Perhaps it is seen as an acceptable sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. While I agree this notion may seem absurd at face value, it is worth considering since violent episodes keep occurring, despite protestations after each one that this must never happen to anybody again. Maybe there is a psychic payoff that reinforces this behavior? Consider an individual with a self-destructive habit such as smoking or alcohol addiction; they know it is bad, but keep doing it, because the habit satisfies some need of a part of their body; could something like this be happening at the national level? Could these violent mini-dramas satisfy a lurking subconscious public craving for a thrill, a need to feel alive, a lust for a real-life reality show? Consider how absorbing these spectacles are, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, 9/11, school shootings, assassinations of presidents or attempted ones, sniper attacks, with Americans (including myself) glued to the news. A cynic might suggest that it is better than a movie which has only actors pretending to be hurt, but terrorism spectacles feature real people feeling real pain, not with fake ketchup but with real blood. Romans had spectacles with gladiators where people watched real people die before their eyes; in medieval times knights jousted in front of spectators with occasional deaths; Mayan priestesses jumped to their death while people watched; history affords other examples with public spectacles involving sacrifice and death. Is terrorism the American version of spectacle violence, with no tickets required, with heightened suspense since we could become part of the “show” rather than watching drama unfurl safely on a stage or film screen? Police may experience a psychic benefit too, temporarily free from relatively humdrum tasks such as issuing parking tickets, and having their status boosted to becoming defenders of the realm. Journalists enjoy a similar prestige boost. Terrorists themselves are bathed in the media spotlight. Ministers see heightened attendance afterwards.
So do people secretly enjoy the show? I hope this is not the case. I continue to have faith that people are sensible and can agree that there is plenty of real-life drama in our lives already, with accidents, disease, aging, and the ultimate tragedy of death.
And I think the best thing to do, first, is try to form a clearer idea of crime and violence and terrorism, or whatever we choose to call it, so here is my sense.
My first observation is that as a species, we can act independently as individuals, or become part of larger structures such as families, communities, groups, nations, that is, as humans, we can shift from an individual to a group orientation, and back again. Most species can not do this. While I am not a biologist, it is hard for me to think of a species similar to humans which can sometimes act individually, sometimes act as part of a group, during non-mating moments. Ants and bees are group animals; owls are individual animals; but humans can shift from one orientation to the other, and my sense is this is a factor helping to explain how humans have risen to dominate the Earth. We can benefit from both orientations, if handled right; we can live in civilizations but act individually, and one concept allowing these shifts is the concept of “rights”.
Most people have a sense of rights but I would like to offer a quick review to make sure we are on the same page, or to give my understanding of the concept in case others have a different understanding. Suppose we wave our hands in the air; it is a power we have. We waved our hands. Nobody stops us from waving them, that is, hand waving is something others let us do, and it is understood, beforehand, that we can do this. And that is the simple essence behind the concept of rights. A right is a power we have to act in the future which others acknowledge beforehand that we have. It means that we can do something tomorrow which others acknowledge today that we can do. It works only when everybody agrees, in advance, about what we are permitted to do. Since we live in complex communities, it is important for us to know, beforehand, what we can and can not do, and rights clarify these powers. Rights imply powers; for example, we have the power to wave our hands but lack power to hop to the moon without a spaceship, so it does not make sense to speak of a right to hop to the moon. Rights are like tickets in our pockets. It is advance permission to do something, public pre-approval, a community-wide pre-understanding that we can go to a restaurant, walk down a street, visit a friend, ride on a train, fly to Madrid, phone home, breathe, or whatever we choose to do. We can possess a right even though we do not use it, or delay using it. The process of choosing which tickets to use, and at what time, can be considered as freedom. I think most people will agree with me about this.
As we know, sooner or later our rights will conflict with the rights of others. If we imagine rights to be like a sphere of possible future action around a specific individual, then the sphere ends where the spheres of other people begin. For example, I may have a right to wave my hands, but I can not wave my arms in somebody else’s face or strike them, since then I have crossed from my rightful sphere of future action into another person’s rightful sphere of future action, and this causes problems. To prevent such conflicts, society defines boundaries between rights, and generally these are called laws or customs, which are boundaries between our sphere-of-possible-future-action rights and another’s sphere-of-possible-future-action rights. Laws say person X can do this, that person Y can do that, but neither X nor Y should interfere with the other. It is similar to the double yellow line dividing the middle of a road, saying eastbound drivers keep right, westbound ones keep left, in most countries. Neither must cross the center line else the law of “keeping to your side” will have been broken and a nasty crash could happen.
This basic understanding of rights is all we really need to know for now. This subject can become complex because society is complex, with various technologies and capabilities and relationships. For example, if I wave my hand in an auction, for example, I might buy something accidentally, or if I wave my hand on a Manhattan street, I might hail a taxi. Some rights depend on specific circumstances or times while others depend on other rights, and some rights can be bought and sold, while others can be voluntarily surrendered for specific temporary benefits. And some rights must be balanced against competing rights, such as my right to burn a log in my fireplace might conflict with another person’s right not to breathe in smoke, and balances are needed. Luckily we can leave such complexities to academics and legal theorists who can fuss about such issues.
So, what is terrorism and violence and crime or whatever we choose to cause these periodic sporadic episodes of mayhem? While there is much variation of ways to think about it, at heart I think the problem is “violence against individual rights”. This simple, lean, robust, powerful, and useful way to think about things can help us find ways to understand, fight, and prevent it. The violent mess happens when there is a crossing of borders, a transgression, a violation of someone else’s sphere of possibility, a blocking or thwarting of another’s possible future action, trespassing into their freedom, breaking a custom but more seriously a law. The crossing of boundaries include such acts as hitting, hurting, punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting, murdering, maiming, bombing, and poisoning, and includes threatening to cross into another’s legitimate sphere of activity. Accordingly, threatening to stab as well as stabbing are both examples of violence. Obviously there are degrees of damage, so kicking is not as serious as murder, but once again we do not need to draw precise lines here, which is a matter for courts and juries and lawmakers.
There are other ways to think about this subject. Consider a definition that says that “terrorism is the deliberate murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political purposes”, which I read in a book by Benjamin Netanyahu. This describes a certain kind of extreme violence but my concern is that it focuses too much on intangibles such as which acts are deliberate or political or who is innocent, and my sense is we need to draw a wider circle that includes lesser criminals such as muggers, thieves, rapists, carjackers, jewel thieves, extortionists, fraudsters, and others, and we need to draw another wider circle that encompasses evil governments who can murder, main and menace the innocent for political purposes. The best definition which encompasses these varied groups is ‘violence against individual rights’, which includes all three circles, including the media-spectacle high-profile terrorists as well as garden variety criminals and tyrannical governments. To varying extents, they all attract media attention; even a mugger or car thief can get a brief write-up in a local online media. Most criminal acts generate some element of fear, and one might see criminality on a continuum from lesser crimes such as shoplifting small items to massive destruction such as 9/11. In each case, rights were violated, whether it was the shopkeeper’s right to be paid for items, or the 2800 persons who lost their lives after hijackers commandeered jetliners and flew them into buildings.
Now I come to controversial points so please bear with me. I prefer to see the problem of periodic violence as an expanded problem, not merely politically motivated bandits seeking media attention needing better policing or military efforts, but a wider problem involving ‘violence against individual rights’ needing attention from citizens like us. Why widen the scope of the problem? For me, it is not enough to merely solve serious terrorism such as airline hijackings and bombings since it leaves smaller cases unsolved, so that I am not satisfied if airline hijackings are prevented yet elderly ladies are being mugged, or other cases in which the overall terror is less except for those people victimized. Additionally, the methods which will prevent the big crimes work against the small ones too, and it seems arbitrary and unnecessary to draw a line saying the nation will target these big crimes while neglecting smaller ones. But the bigger problem comes if we focus our efforts exclusively on trying to prevent big violent episodes, because the steps we must take can undermine our freedom in subtle and insidious ways, so that airline hijackings will be prevented but we find that government has been secretly reading our emails, and I will try to show how these dynamics can happen. Further, there are nastier types of violence which could happen, often resulting from a string or succession of lesser violent events. So, I argue that the overall problem of preventing mayhem is more complex, with three distinct parts, even though the general methods for fighting and preventing terrorism have common underpinnings. Our role as citizens changes greatly depending on which of the three types we are dealing with, so let me clarify as best I can.
Obviously, we are individuals who live in a nation with other individuals, run by a government charged with upholding law and protecting the nation, and there are other nations too, with individuals and governments. Possible rights violators are four: neighbors, our own government, foreign citizens, and foreign governments. Note that for practical purposes, foreign citizens could be thought of as “neighbors” if they are visiting inside one’s own nation, or they could be thought of as “foreign governments” if they are agents of that government such as officials or diplomats or spies; accordingly, I will not treat foreign citizens as a separate entity since they can be handled by other categories, and this reduces the number of types of violence to three:
- If a neighbor violates our rights, then the neighbor is a criminal, and the act of violating rights is a crime, and let us call this the first type of violence. The locus of defense against crime is, of course, police and the criminal justice system. Crime is determined by examining the law.
- If our own government violates our rights, then our government acts tyrannically, with abusive government officials considered as tyrants, and the violence inflicted could be called tyranny. This is the second type. The locus of defense against tyranny is fellow citizens. Tyranny is determined by examining the Constitution.
- If a powerful foreigner violates our rights, then let us call this ‘foreign terrorism’. This is the third type. The most dangerous violator is a foreign head of State, but powerful foreign individuals and groups can wreak havoc too. The locus of defense against foreign terrorism is our government including the armed forces. Foreign terrorism is determined by examining treaties and international law.
I believe it is helpful to see the problem as an expanded one with these three parts: crime, tyranny, and foreign terrorism. It is a useful construct. Our role as citizens changes dramatically depending on the type; with the first type, our job is to obey the law and not interfere with the rights of others and let police and the legal system handle violations, with a few exceptions. With the second type, the violator of rights is government itself, so it is not possible for government to protect us since it is the violator; in such situations, the role of citizens is to support each other, to keep a watchful eye on government action, and in the unlikely possibility that it becomes necessary, to protect each other from abuse by government. With the third type, the violator is a foreign government or group, and citizens serve in the nation’s military. Since, with each type, our role as citizens changes substantially, it suggests the benefit of thinking about each type differently, while of course realizing that all three are parts of the broader problem.
Distinguishing three separate types of violence helps us see how efforts to thwart one type of violence might affect the others. For example, steps we might take to prevent crime might have an unwanted side effect of heightening the chance of tyranny. This is one of my criticisms of the current American effort to prevent terrorism, that steps to thwart airline hijackings use dubious tyrannical methods such as domestic espionage and unwarranted wiretaps and detentions. Accordingly, a benefit of distinguishing the three types is that it is easier for us to see how one possible solution affects the other types of violence. In another example, suppose government believes falsely that a foreign nation is dangerous; suppose, further, that government makes war on the supposedly-dangerous but harmless nation; then, in such an instance, a government trying to fight one type of terrorism (foreign terrorism) could be seen as exacerbating a second type (tyranny) in the sense that it places the lives of its own citizens in jeopardy, to fight a purposeless war such as the decade-long undeclared war by the United States in Vietnam.
The overall idea is to prevent all three types of terrorism, not just one or two, which would not really be solving the full problem. A further point is that in many instances, one type of violence can exacerbate another type, so that it is like chopping off only one head of a three-headed monster, and being vulnerable from bites from the other two heads. For example, we can not focus solely on preventing nuclear terrorism, for example, which is probably a type of foreign terrorism, by ignoring other types of violence, such as bank robberies, which is a type of crime. Stopping a nuclear terrorist and stopping a bank robbery are not separate problems but different aspects of the same problem, since terrorists may rob banks for money to buy bomb-making materials, and bank robbers may use the threat of a nuclear blast to divert police during a robbery. It is a larger problem, but we need to think big here.
Consider, further, that one type of violence can aggravate another. Aggression by a foreign warlord, which is an example of foreign terrorism, can weaken government and make it more vulnerable to a second type of violence called crime. And a government under foreign attack may become tyrannical to its own citizens. Rampant crime can weaken government and make it vulnerable to foreign predators. And government can use a phony threat of external terrorism as an excuse to increase its own power. A criminal in one nation can fly to a second nation, becoming a matter of foreign policy for both of the governments involved.
This is why I think that the three types are related. Any strategy to fight one type should be considered by weighing its impact on the other two. For example, we can eliminate crime by becoming a police state, but in such a case, fighting one type of violence (crime) exacerbates a second type (tyranny). To a small extent, one can see this happening when methods to prevent airline hijackings (crime) by resorting to extralegal methods (tyranny) such as reading emails without warrants, detaining suspects without due process, engaging in waterboarding, and such. What is necessary is to find strategies that reduce crime while not increasing tyranny. It is a tough order. And this is why I believe that most current approaches falter because they fail to see the multifaceted nature of the problem.
Another criticism of America’s efforts to thwart violence is that resources seem to be channeled to prevent specific types of violence, while neglecting other types. For example, there is heavy security at airports, protecting air travellers, but much less protection at train stations and ferryboat docks. Clearly the effort is to prevent high-profile expensive and dramatic incidents such as airline hijackings, or worse scenarios in which hijacked planes were turned into missiles such as during 9/11. But there is a sense in which these efforts are focused on preventing the last attack, and it seems that mayhem makers will target one of the many unprotected areas.
I offer a brief thinking exercise to further explain my sense of the three-part nature of violence. I claim that any act of violence could be construed as having all three types within it. It is simply a matter of perspective. For example, consider a hijacked airplane surrounded on a runway by police:
- If we ask police surrounding the airliner to describe the hijackers inside, they will use the word criminals, because the hijackers have broken laws, stolen an airplane, kidnapped passengers.
- If we ask the passengers inside the airliner to describe the hijackers, they would of course describe them as criminals but they might also describe them as tyrants. Passengers must do exactly what the hijackers say. They can not visit a bathroom without permission. They may be shot for talking. They may be shot for not talking. The hijackers are, in a real sense, a temporary tyranny ruling by whim and fear. The framework of rights and rules is suspended by these non-elected self-chosen leaders who can issue the death penalty to any passenger without due process of law.
- If we ask government officials to describe the hijackers, they would agree they are criminals obviously but may deal with them in the same way they deal with leaders of foreign nations. Often there are often important foreign policy aspects with a hijacking. For example, hijackers may insist on flying the plane to a foreign nation, or demand that other governments free prisoners held abroad. In a real sense, national officials deal with the situation as if the hijackers were an impromptu foreign government. The space inside the airliner is like the space inside a foreign nation in the sense that national government does not control it. National law does not apply there. Officials may negotiate with hijackers as if they were foreign leaders.
It is how we choose to look at it. One can see that airline hijackers are each type of terrorist: criminal, tyrant, and foreign terrorist leader, all at once, depending on which perspective we use. In a sense, all three types are present in any act of terrorism. For example, even a mugging has each type. Consider a case in which a person is threatened, assaulted, and robbed of money. Clearly this is an example of a crime, because assault and battery and robbery are crimes, but we can see elements of tyranny and foreign terrorism by looking at it from different angles. During the attack there is a temporary space created outside the jurisdiction of legitimate national government in which national law does not apply. From the victim’s perspective, the mugger is a temporary tyrannical government, and the money stolen is like a tax to that illegitimate government, and the beating is a form of punishment without due process of law. Every mugging is a challenge to legitimate government because the victim has less money to pay real taxes. From the perspective of legitimate government, the temporary space created by the mugging is like a walled-off compound of a foreign embassy, since government does not control what happens inside.
Let us take another example, such as a serial killer. Each murder is clearly a crime. But government, by its failure to grab elusive and crafty killers, by its inaction or failure of intelligent action, allows the systematic killing of citizens. A wily murderer roams freely, picking off individuals at random, while government fails to keep people alive and uphold law. So an argument could be made that government is indirectly complicit in the killings in the sense that it has the legal responsibility and power to stop them, but fails to do so. Government allows a rival government, in the form of a serial killer, to impose ruthless non-jury verdicts on law-abiding citizens. The murdered are, in a sense, victims of both the serial killer as well as the inept government which lets the serial killer kill. Further, as the population is reduced, fewer people remain to pay taxes or serve as soldiers, so the nation is weaker and more susceptible to foreign terrorism.
My thinking about the greatest terrorist in history, so far, was Hitler. Before coming to power, Hitler was a criminal, breaking laws; in power, Hitler became a tyrant, murdering millions of Germans systematically and creating terror on a massive scale. From the perspective of neighboring governments, Hitler was a foreign terrorist leader, making secret treaties, violating agreements, trespassing borders with tanks and troops, breaking international law. Hitler was all three types of terrorist from different perspectives, and is an example of why it is important to fight and prevent all three types of violence.
I realize this is a roundabout way of looking at things, but I would like to urge people to see the larger dynamics involved.
A thread linking all three types is what could be called “old school” bullying, in which some humans take advantage of other humans, by force, fear, intimidation, and violence to compel other humans to do stuff for them. It is some humans turning other humans into tools. It is mean. Much of human history has been marked by dominance, with elites and powerful groups picking on weaker common folk; one estimate was that through much of human history, 90% of humans were serfs or slaves, serving the needs of the other 10%. It is only within the past few hundred years when most humans have become liberated through laws, marketplace freedom, legal protections such as rights in a framework of governments controlled by the people, and with the exploitation of new energy sources such as oil. Humans could get machines to do the work in the new arrangement, rather than forcing other humans to do the work, as in the old school method. So, in a sense, violence is like going back to past methods of abuse.
To further show how the three types stem from the same malevolent plant, consider similarities. All violators break rules: criminals break laws, tyrants break Constitutions, and foreign terrorist leaders break treaties. All enslave people: criminals enslave their victims temporarily during a robbery, tyrants jail political opponents without due process of law, and foreign terrorist leaders enslave neighboring nations during war. All lie: criminals lie to police officers, tyrants lie to the press, and foreign terrorist leaders lie to ambassadors. All create fear: criminals frighten victims with injury, tyrants intimidate opposition leaders with possible imprisonment, and foreign terrorist leaders scare neighboring governments with military force.
While violators of all stripes can be dangerous, overall violators will never be as strong as us. They are weak, impatient, spenders not savers, confused persons who use violence because they can not see how to get things peacefully and patiently by working and obeying laws. They are cash hungry losers who want more than they need, who speed. They are time starved with terminal illnesses, borrowers whose loans have come due, adults physically but children mentally. They experience a time deficit egging them to a quick kill, to risk the world in a dicey venture, to strike first out of desperation. Criminals do not earn money the slow and sure and legal way by holding a job but steal to get rich quickly. Tyrants fail to follow the rules of ruling and in their rush for power trample on their own citizens and undermine their own authority. Foreign terrorists are time-starved misfits prone to miscalculation and eager for war to undo their mess, compelled to strike first before their power base crumbles beneath their feet. Violators may win a battle or two but are fated to lose the war.
How to fight violence
Before I begin to describe how to prevent violence, it is good to understand how to fight it. This can be a tough section to read but it is important to know this on some level, in my view, since even though we will probably never have to use it in a real situation, it is important to understand how an episode of violence affects rights, and this is important to understand prevention efforts later on.
Chances are we will never have a bare-knuckled fistfight with someone trying to hurt us, seriously, which is just as well, since most of us are ill equipped for combat, unarmed, and unskilled in martial arts. Still, as citizens, I think it is our duty to be ready to fight, and if a situation develops where we must fight, then we must fight. This willingness to fight helps deter terrorism. It is important to grasp the formula for fighting terrorism because it is a building block for a general prevention strategy and a basis for citizenship. This is something which many passengers on hijacked airliner United Flight 97 understood, and it is what colonial Americans understood during the War of Independence.
The basic formula for fighting violence is:
Individuals form a group, fight the violator, and disband.
This is the basic formula. An individual, acting alone, is rarely strong enough to defeat a terrorist, but many individuals working together can prevail. This is common sense. The formula works for each type of violence: farmers beset by cattle thieves would form a posse, hunt down the thieves, then return to farming; citizens beset by a tyrannical government would band together, protest, unseat the government, disband; individual nations threatened by a rogue state would band together into an alliance, defeat the terrorist nation, disband.
What is difficult to grasp, however, is what happens to individual rights during an attack.
Suppose a person is walking in a train station and a second person brandishes a knife and threatens to stab people.
That very moment: the threatened person does not have any rights. Neither does anybody else in the train station.
The knife-wielder clearly does not acknowledge the power of people to act in the future, that is, does not acknowledge a person’s right to a stab-free stroll to their train. All it took was one menacing gesture and poof: everybody’s rights disappeared like magic. Witness how rights are fragile and tenuous: they can disappear in an instant. Let us acknowledge that would-be violators, such as criminals and thugs and terrorists, have the power to make our rights vanish instantly, to thrust us instantly into a jungle with no law, no government, no order, no guarantees. This is the reality, based on our conception of rights as acknowledged possible future action; for the system to work when people are together, everybody must behave in a way which respects the rights of others, and all it takes is one person to violate this understanding, and the framework of rights overall is broken, temporarily, until it is restored.
Suppose in a train station, there is a person, a knife-wielding nut threatening him or her, and others. Suppose, further, that the exits are blocked so that it is impossible for people to flee to safety, and that there are no police in sight. In such a situation, people are forced to confront the attacker. How is this done? The best way to fight the knife-wielder is to use my formula: form a group, fight, disband. If everybody banded together instantly, encircled the terrorist and attacked together in a coordinated fashion, the terrorist would be immobilized quickly by many grasping hands until police arrive, and nobody would have been hurt.
Coordinated group action is the best way to fight terrorism in theory, but in reality, of course, things are difficult. People vary; some are strong, others fledgling. It is difficult for many people to learn of the danger simultaneously. It is never clear who will lead the group or whether it needs leading. We do not want aged grandmothers closing in on an attacker. It depends on how strong the terrorist is, and whether there are any group members trained in wrestling or karate. Many variables influence a battle. Some people may run, others remain oblivious, while others may freeze with fear, since nothing is certain in such situations. A violator may have a more powerful weapon such as a gun. There have been instances in which people have confronted violence without being able to escape and without recourse to police assistance, and they have fought and subdued criminals and terrorists; for example, in 1993 on a moving Long Island train with no police officers nearby, a crazed gunman began killing people and three passengers — Kevin Blum, Mark McEntee and Mike O’Connor — tackled and subdued the gunman and prevented him from killing others. Their gutsy action saved lives.
My point is that coordinated group action can be a successful way for people in such situations to fight bandits, criminals, terrorists, thugs, dictators, or others of the violent persuasion. Or, if people were confronted with violence without police nearby and with no place to flee, then overall the results will be worse if people act individually without teaming up. For example, imagine being on the Long Island train but nobody confronted the gunman, or only tried as unarmed individuals to fight him or her, then it is likely that more lives would have been lost. Police and military people understand this principle of coordinated group action very well; they team up to act decisively, unite in force, and they know how much stronger they are as a group than as isolated sheriffs.
While things vary, overall, generally, it should be plainly evident that in such a situation people are safer with an organized group effort. In my example the group magically coalesced, united instantly, cooperated, and subdued a hypothetical attacker. In reality, it rarely happens that easily, but we can help it happen. Suppose everybody agreed, in advance, that if terrorism strikes, that if there are no police to protect them, that if there is no fleeing the violence, that people will unite and fight and protect each other as best we can given our abilities. Suppose people take an oath promising to act in some way to help thwart the attack such as phone police as well as physically confront the attacker. People generally would be safer if there was this common understanding about how to deal with such situations.
I realize these ideas are difficult, and that most people would choose not to think about such things, but please bear with me while I suggest an even more controversial idea. The first idea, above, is that rights disappear during an episode of violence; the second idea is how rights change, or should change, during such episodes, and this is important.
Simply, during violence, rights shift from individuals to a group, such that during the attack, only the group has rights, that is, it has the right to exert its power to defeat the source of the violence. The group should have a single mind, a collective will, laser-focused on its task of defeating the criminal or terrorist, and when it prevails in its struggle, then the group must disband, and rights once again revert back to their proper place as belonging to individuals. I realize that this is a highly controversial idea, but for me, it is at the heart of fighting terrorism. The shifting of rights from individuals to the group is something which should happen to enable the group to prevail more effectively and faster; if this does not happen, and if individuals fail to cooperate and act as separate uncoordinated entities, then the outcome of the violence is much more likely to be worse. The transfer of rights from individuals to the group depends on the willingness of those individuals affected to cooperate, to act with a unified purpose, such that the group becomes a cohesive fighting force powerful enough to exert its will. During violence, one can think of the group as having rights, that is, freedom to act in the future which is understood, beforehand, that it has the power to do.
Consider that a group properly entrusted with rights has great power and force and freedom to impose its will. Its rights are more than a summed total of individual rights because it has a broader range of powers than any individual because of its greater size and wider range of talents. It exists in a dangerous world where only natural law, not human law, applies, and it acts properly when it tries to restore human law. Whether the group triumphs depends on factors such as the quality of leadership, size, extent of participation, resources, training, luck, and while there is no guarantee of victory, of course, its chances of prevailing are much greater.
The task for us then, as individuals in a free society, is to know that if we are ever in a situation in which there is no easy escape from violence and when there are no police around, that our individual rights are secured by voluntarily surrendering them to a group of fellow humans. It can seem paradoxical, but it is correct, that our individual freedom, when threatened, can be preserved by temporary and voluntary bonding to a larger entity. I think that the more people think about this notion, that they will agree it is right.
It should be noted that group action is temporary, meaning its duration is limited to when terrorism threatens; it is voluntary, meaning individuals agree, beforehand, to unite if terrorism strikes; and limited, meaning an attack in one space does not apply to other spaces, such that a battle with a criminal in a train station does not curtail rights in a bus station across town. Further, the restoration of individual rights should be the group’s only legitimate purpose. The group came into existence because of some transgression of rights by a criminal or terrorist or violator, and its existence as a legitimate entity is based on its adherence to its proper mission of subduing that terrorist. A group which pursues goals other than restoring individual rights or fails to disband after terrorism is defeated or acts outside its proper zone of activity may be illegal, bad, and dangerous. Last, a group can never have total power over individuals since members can withhold support or disobey or abandon the group.
Property rights, as well, vanish during an attack. For example, suppose when a knife wielder threatens that somebody else has an umbrella. A personcan grab this umbrella to whack or poke or discourage the knife-wielder. Normally grabbing somebody else’s umbrella might be considered stealing, but in this situation, it is not stealing. The umbrella owner does not have a right to that umbrella at that moment, and another person will not be punished later for grabbing it. When hijacked passengers on United Flight 93 rammed a food cart against the locked cockpit door, they were not stealing airline property or committing vandalism, but rather they were trying to stay alive, and they were fully justified in their effort.
One can see the idea of individuals morphing into groups and back again in different forms. When two people join to start a family, it is a marriage. When a buyer and seller join for an exchange, it is a contract. When neighbors join a group for defense, it is citizenship. When nations join a group for defense, it is an alliance. In each case a bond is created with a temporary sacrifice made for the purpose of securing a much greater benefit later. The bond allows people to do things that they can not do by themselves. This is why a person alone on an island will not have as much freedom as a person with neighbors in a free society, because a person in society can bind themselves to others, temporarily and voluntarily, to secure greater freedom later. Hermits, lacking neighbors, can not do this, so they will usually have less freedom.
An idea which may be difficult for many to accept is that a group formed to fight terrorism must have power to punish members for disobedience. Lacking such authority, it can not enforce difficult commands. It is not fair for most members if a few disobey. The group’s leaders have a right to know who is in and who is out of the group. Normally this becomes an issue when there is a sustained attack over time against a powerful adversary, such as a prolonged war.
An example may illustrate this point. In a war movie, soldiers storming a beachhead were pinned by enemy fire, and a sergeant ordered a soldier to push forward a pole of dynamite to explode a path through barbed wire, a maneuver exposing him to withering fire but necessary for destroying the enemy machine gun.
The soldier hesitated halfway up the beach.
The sergeant began shooting near the soldier, missing by inches, as a warning not to hesitate.
The soldier then pushed the pole forward and exploded a path to the enemy.
My point is that a group must have total power, even the power of life and death, over individual members when fighting terrorism. Shooting a disobedient soldier is not murder but an act of extreme discipline, justifiable because the group’s survival trumps the individual’s. A disobedient soldier jeopardizes everyone’s lives. In the past, Andrew Jackson, an American general, executed a disobedient soldier during wartime and later became president; another hung deserters. Extreme discipline may happen, but rarely, because killing a fellow soldier lessens the potential fighting ability of the group, may undermine morale, and may subject the punisher to review by superiors and possible punishment later.
I realize this is a difficult idea but please understand that if everybody is prepared to fight for freedom, and will fight if necessary, then it is much less likely that we will ever have to, in fact, fight. We will be safer. Potential criminals will be scared into behaving, since they will know that any hanky panky violence will likely be met with fierce coordinated resistance. Conversely, if none of our neighbors have this attitude, then we are more likely to encounter such situations.
While the general model is one when violators are defeated, the group disbands and transfer rights back to individuals, there are some instances of organized groups when there is no real-time violence. Police remain organized as a group even when society is orderly, as well as some military or paramilitary units, which base their legitimacy for the purpose of preventing future terrorism. A benefit of remaining organized is to lessen the awkward time between the initial terrorist attack and the response to that attack. Since mobilization without immediate terrorism invites abuse, police and military are subject to special rules and their behavior is highly regulated. If they break the rules, then they must be held accountable by the same legal system they try to uphold. For example, if an officer speeds recklessly through town, siren blaring, on a personal errand without any provocation by a criminal or reason for speeding, then punishment can result.
While this simple model of individuals morphing into groups to fight terrorism and then disbanding is useful for thinking about terrorism, modern society, of course, is too complex for such a simple model to apply directly to real world situations. It is rarely a straightforward matter to determine which persons belong in a group to fight terrorism. For example, if a mugging happens on one streetcorner of a town, then residents in other areas should not be required to help identify the mugger, to contact police, or as a last resort when there is no escape and when inaction would be worse than action, to organize to help defeat the violator. It is not a fine line separating those who should be involved from those who are not involved. A more vexing problem which confounds the simple model is that some types of terrorism end when they begin, such as suicide bombings. In such instances, the attack is effectively over when it began. It is nonsensical to punish a dead person. Clearly the model of group action to fight terrorism does not apply in this situation. It is not always easy to tell when violence has begun or whether it is effectively over; for example, as has happened in some places in the past, after a sudden blast on a crowded street, it may not be clear whether danger has passed or whether there is a second bomb waiting to blast the rescuers.
While terrorism can become quite complex, the model of individual rights reverting to group rights, and back again, is a simple model from which to think about many issues including citizenship and war and how they relate to terrorism, and it will be important later for understanding strategies I have yet to propose. For now, please accept the model as a general method for fighting terrorism.
Generally, this is how we fight terrorism.
But I think everybody will agree that it is much more important to prevent terrorism.
How is this done?
How to prevent terrorism
Back in Manhattan in the early nineteen eighties, I felt as if I had grasped the nature of terrorism, but the magic of preventing terrorism eluded me. I kept reading books in bookshops and from sidewalk vendors on history, philosophy, economics, military strategy, politics, religion, science, anything I could read, talking to people, asking questions, watching television, searching for any ideas or approaches which made sense. I wondered what John Jay might have thought about nuclear terrorism, or Spinoza, or Machiavelli or Rousseau or Plato or Locke or Madison or Tzu or Tocqueville or Caesar or Aristotle, and how they might have approached the problem of car-sized bombs capable of destroying a city or snipers picking off residents of a metropolitan area, or serial killers, or bombers, or rascals with machine guns entering crowded schools, or how they might have approached the general nature of the problem or even thought about it.
But they were never confronted with such a problem, of course, so I had to guess what they might have thought, and for years I muddled around aimlessly.
Then in the middle of the decade I saw a movie called “Witness” and an amazing thing happened.
At the end there is a shootout on a farm.
The last bad guy confronted a dozen farmers and an unarmed detective and a little boy and his mother.
Only the bad guy had a gun.
The others did not.
Nevertheless, the bad guy surrendered.
Because the number of bullets in the gun was less than the pairs of eyes.
The bad guy could not possibly kill all the farmers without some surviving to witness the murders, and when the bad guy realized this, he surrendered. Terrorism was prevented.
After all my reading and thinking and question asking and wondering and frittering about, my puzzle was answered in a movie, of all places.
I was stunned by the revelation.
And as I sat through the credits while moviegoers ambled out, I realized this idea was central to the problem of preventing terrorism, and of course there were many dots left to link and thoughts left to think, but by raw luck I had bumped into a big, big idea, and I knew it, and things clicked together. And, looking back, everything seems obvious, but it did not seem obvious to me back then.
So I began thinking seriously about a weapon I shall call light.
I think the key to preventing terrorism is light.
Light in that movie was the idea in the bad guy’s mind that there were more witnesses than bullets, but there are lots of examples of how it can prevent terrorism.
Light is a picture of a license plate.
Light is a mental image of the face of a rapist.
Light is an expense report of a public official.
Light is a written treaty.
Light is a contract.
Light is eyewitness testimony.
Light is rules of courtroom procedure.
Light is a Constitution.
Light is a citizenship document.
Light can shine within the mind of a potential terrorist to persuade him or her not to be violent, like the bad guy in the movie.
Light can shine within the mind of a tyrant, and lead to resignation.
Light is ideas in your mind about what citizenship means.
Light can shine on different aspects of the transformation from individuals to a group and back again.
These are only a few senses of light but what is common to each is the benefit of exposing violence and criminality and terrorism.
Consider that light bothers the violence-prone. They hate daylight, exposure, information, and they love darkness, confusion, murkiness, and it bothers each of the three types as well. Criminals try to smother light by lying, using false identities, wearing masks when robbing grocery stores, switching license plates. Tyrants try to smother light by closing printing presses, blocking phone calls, banning open meetings, lying to the public, lying to journalists, genocide, imprisoning opposition leaders, canceling elections. Foreign terrorist leaders try to smother light by lying to other governments, making secret treaties, using embassies for espionage, spreading false stories to the worldwide media, restricting foreign journalists from entering, war.
This brings us to preventing the first type of violence, or crime.
HOW TO PREVENT CRIME
Crime, the first type of violence, is prevented using light.
Light to prevent crime is recorded information about movement of people and things and information in public places. Examples of light are a record of a license plate, a phone call, a purchase, a delivery, an airline flight, a meeting of two people, an event, a transfer of money, an email, and so on. Recorded information must itself be capable of movement from person to person and be re-transmittable, because if it gets stuck in a drawer somewhere, it is useless, that is, light must have legs. Light can travel from person to person by phone lines and radio waves, by speech and fiber optic cables, and it can move when people talk or tell a police officer what was seen.
Let us call a device which records light an information camera. Information cameras are tape recorders, photoelectric sensors, credit card readers, grocery scanners, scales, pencil and paper, computer scanners, and regular photographic cameras too. Just as a camera takes a picture, an information camera takes an information picture.
An information picture should link a subject, time, and place. A subject could be a person, a thing, an item, an amount of money, a transaction, a relationship of two or more people, an event. An information picture is the building block of a system of information that helps police see crime and violence and terrorism. When an information camera shutter opens and light passes through and snaps an information picture, three information bits are linked to form a fact that may be useful. An example of an information picture is that Mr. Doe (subject) was, at 6:01 pm (time), on 5th street (place). Single information pictures can be combined into what could be called ‘information movies’. In the same way that film editors put images together to make a movie, investigators can link information pictures together to make an ‘information movie’ which may reveal something important. For example, suppose there are two information pictures: the first is Mr. Doe at 6:01 pm on 5th street, and the second is Mr. Doe at 6:03 pm on 6th street. The information movie is both pictures together, possibly leading to an inference such as Mr. Doe moved from 5th to 6th streets during those two minutes probably by walking; if there was less time elapsed, then Mr. Doe may have been riding in a car.
Ideally, information should be unique: a picture of a face is good but a number is better because it describes only one possible subject such as Mr. Doe #123456789 from Boston. Different types of information should be recorded; for example, money can move, things can move, ideas can move. For example, a crime can occur even if a criminal remains in a fixed place, such as a person reporting a false fire alarm from a telephone. Further, the taking of information pictures should be triggered by movement: when something moves, click, an information picture is taken, and cameras should remain off when there is no movement to reduce expense. Consider that folks who do not move, who stay home, make no phone calls, write no letters, who live alone, get no packages, and have no visitors, are generally not dangerous because they can not murder or make bombs or phone in false fire alarms, so there is really no need to watch them. In contrast, travellers have more chances to cause mischief and therefore require greater monitoring.
Recapping, three main ideas are: identification, movement, uniqueness. When something moves in public, it should be identified, and identified uniquely.
A reaction people have when I suggest recording the highlights of our public activity is fear of losing freedom and privacy, and this is an understandable view given American cultural traditions with the frontier sensibility, the focus on independence, the idea of being left alone, and so forth. I will try to show how both freedom and privacy can be strengthened with a system of identified movement in public and how it can be consistent with cultural practices, and before I show this, let me make a general point.
In public, we have a right to see what is going on. We can see trees and streets and passersby. We are not required to shut our eyes when others pass; rather, we can examine their faces and clothes and appearance and watch what they do. We can take pictures of people and things in public or write things seen in a notebook. Merchants watch shoppers, sometimes using video cameras.
Police, as well, have a right to watch what happens in public. They look for speeders. They can follow a car to study what it is doing. They can monitor activity using video cameras perched around town. All this is perfectly legal and acceptable. I am making this point because I believe there is significant confusion about privacy, the general mistake being:
Some people believe mistakenly that they have a right of privacy in public. This, of course, is not the case, because it is impossible to prevent others from seeing us in public, and privacy-in-public is clearly a contradiction in terms. In public, we are in public, of course, and what we do is seen by others, and what others do is seen by us. In private, we can have privacy, like being home with window shades drawn. There are semi-private places, such as public bathrooms, where we can have a measure of privacy, but walking down a street or driving in a car, we are in public, and what we do and where we go can be watched and recorded by others. What has happened perhaps is that people have gotten used to the fact that while others, including police, can see what we do in public, what we do is rarely recorded, and we have a measure of anonymity because people forget what we do, and over time we have gotten used to having such privacy in public because of this anonymity, which we have persuaded ourselves we have a right to, but we really do not have such a right at all. In my view, anonymous movement in public, that is, when people and things move about unidentified, unlabelled, unrecorded, is not only a flimsy basis for privacy but it is an open invitation for criminals and terrorists to cause harm undetected.
Consider that there is much anonymity today. People travel mostly anonymously, from city to city and within cities, walking, driving, flying on planes, making phone calls, buying things, meeting others, and doing other things without anybody really ever knowing what they are doing because it is anonymous, unrecorded, forgotten, a blur. Anonymity is multiplied by the swelling size of cities. In a small town where people know people, a criminal might be caught more easily because folks have an inkling of what their neighbors do, but in a large metropolis, few can remember the thousands of faces seen each day. Among those faces there may have been criminals or terrorists, possibly sitting next to us on a train or plane or bus, and in our brain for a moment there was a mental picture of a criminal but it faded over time. If that picture did not fade but was turned into a physical picture and given to investigators, then a possible future crime might be prevented.
Anonymity means that pictures continually fade, meaning data to prevent violence is continually being lost. While it probably matters little to most of us in most situations, it is a vital requirement for persons who commit violence. Criminals count on pictures fading.
Now the challenge as I see it is to have a system of identified movement while strengthening privacy, that is, to combine identification and privacy so police have vital information to prevent violent acts by criminals and terrorists while permitting people to have heightened privacy. Accordingly, I will first try to show how police can use light to prevent criminal activity, and then I will try to show how to strengthen privacy.
In my view, the task of identifying movement should belong to police, security people, FBI, transit authorities, and so forth. Their job is to protect people and to uphold the law so it seems that the task of identifying public movement should fall within their purview. Accordingly, police activity should itself be highly regulated by law and subject to review by superiors, in the same way that it is today, by government, by judges, and overall by the citizenry in a general sense. Individual police officers should continue to be held accountable by supervisors, local political authorities, journalists and citizens. An internal police department can watch where police go and what police do and what police buy and what police know to help ensure police obey the rules.
Police should be divided into two branches:
- An observation branch would monitor public movement. In a giant building, centrally located, police would use computers to sift through massive amounts of data about movement of people and things in public, looking for dangers. Our numbers, not our names, would be tracked in their computers as we move about in public. Investigators would search for patterns, for conspiracies, for crimes in the making. By law, all data should stay inside this building unless there was a threat to the public. There would be a massive privacy fence around this facility. Police could not remove any information or reveal it to anybody for a spurious reason, and if they did, there would be a record of such a leak, and leakers would be subject to punishment. Officials employed in this branch would be banned from working in other areas of government for the rest of their lives. What I find interesting is that in 2013, a massive government facility called the “Utah Data Center” is being built, although its apparent purpose is to focus on foreign communications; it is possible that such a facility could be used for exactly what I am describing.
- An enforcement branch would be all other police. They would do what they do today: issue traffic tickets, keep order at public events, settle domestic disputes, and so forth. But they would not know much about us other than what they see in public. They could not access information from the other branch. They would not know where we went, what we bought, who are friends are, what videos we rented, where we go to church, whether we voted. For example, to catch speeders, they could not query a computer, but continue to use hand-held radar detectors as they do today.
The idea is to keep the two branches separate. Any communication between the two branches should be highly regulated and monitored. For example, a court order may be required for regular police to get information from the observation branch needed to solve a murder, and procedures followed to make sure that private information stays private. Or, if the observation branch identified a possible conspiracy, then a court order would be required before alerting the enforcement branch.
Suppose there was a system of identified public movement in the United States, along with facilities such as the one described above; if so, it is easy to see how crime would be almost entirely prevented.
Consider that it is almost impossible to prevent a criminal’s very first crime. Anybody could grab a kitchen knife and run into a street and stab somebody. This is almost impossible to foresee and prevent. Before becoming criminals, people are presumed innocent and it is consequently hard for police to stop a possible first crime without interfering with the freedom of a presumably innocent citizen.
Still, if every first crime is exposed, then every first-time criminal would be caught, and this prevents any subsequent crime. The only way a convicted criminal could commit a second crime was after serving time in jail or after being acquitted by a jury. There would be no more crime sprees. If police had records of the public movement of every person, they could trace where anybody went, what they did, what they bought, who they met, and so forth. If a crime happened, police could access computer records and learn what happened. Knowing this, potential criminals would not commit a crime in the first place because they would know they would get caught. This kind of light enters the minds of would-be criminals and keeps them honest.
Crime, then, would be prevented. I believe the certainty of punishment will deter almost all people from committing crime, so almost all first crimes would be prevented. Notice I said almost all crimes. There are several notable exceptions:
- It deters rational criminals. Mentally ill people who do not understand the consequences of their actions might not be deterred. Jilted lovers overpowered by emotions can be dangerous too.
- A second exception in which certainty of punishment might not deter crime is when the expected punishment is mild, so a criminal may commit a crime knowing they can endure a mild punishment. But lawmakers can stiffen punishments.
- Another exception in when an opportunity to murder many people may tempt rational but suicidal people. Normally, in my view, a balance between crime and punishment restrains rational criminals who fear the retaliation of a death penalty, but the most a criminal can lose is one life. However, if there is a chance to murder dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, then the balance of crime and punishment is disturbed. I do not see how we can punish one who has murdered a multitude since we can not impose the death penalty a dozen times on one body. In a weird calculus a criminal might think losing one’s life is an acceptable sacrifice for murdering many, particularly if criminals do not value their own life much. I realize this is not rational. If soldiers who sacrifice their own life to kill many of the enemy are heroes, then people who sympathize with terrorists may see them as heroes as well. An increasing size of cities tempts mass murderers in the same way that a widening disparity of wealth tempts robbers.
How light prevents big crimes
While we can not rely on fear of punishment alone to prevent all crimes, a strategy of identifying movement in public makes it very difficult to commit a horrendous crime such as airline hijackings or bombings in public places or nuclear terrorism, so let me explain why I believe this would be so.
Before doing a big crime, criminals must almost always do little crimes to get stuff necessary for a big crime. For example, they might have to steal a gun before hijacking an airplane. However, since stealing the gun would result in capture, the airline hijacking would be prevented. The benefit of capturing all first-time criminals is blocking subsequent crimes such as bank heists and airplane hijackings and nuclear terrorism as well as preventing them from getting the experience necessary to commit a major crime. Authorities can take additional steps to prevent specific crimes, such as monitoring more closely people with the technical expertise to make bombs as well as tracking the movement of tools and parts for making explosives.
Light can squash serial killers. In the past, crafty and careful killers have murdered dozens before being caught, some eluding capture for years. A prevention strategy using light will make it very difficult for them to operate. Suppose a killer kills in city X on Monday, in city Y on Tuesday, and in city Z on Wednesday. Without light, the police in city X may still be looking for the murderer in their city on Tuesday and Wednesday long after the killer skipped town. With light, it is easy for police to compare lists: who was in X on Monday, Y on Tuesday, and Z on Wednesday? The name will pop right out of the computer. This is an efficient and intelligent way to catch a dangerous killer, that is, assuming that a killer could evade capture for even the first murder, which would seem unlikely given the amount of public exposure.
Contrast this with the inefficient method used to catch the Washington area snipers in 2002. Over three weeks, two snipers living in a used sedan killed ten people, terrorized an entire region, and eluded police for several weeks despite dragnets, aerial surveillance, psychological profiling, random searches. Admittedly, the attack was clever: one sniper hiding in the car’s trunk fired an accurate high-powered rifle through a small hole, and then the other drove their car away, making it hard to locate the gunshot sound. People were afraid to leave their houses. Police sorted through thousands of incorrect tips. Detectives trying to identify the sniper’s car had to pinpoint one vehicle out of millions, like finding one grain of rice in a truckload. This was a daunting task requiring oceans of patience. That police did catch the sniper is a testament to their hard work and dedication, but luck was involved since one sniper phoned in a clue that led to their arrest.
While most big crimes depend on a previous succession of smaller crimes, there may be exceptions. A passenger might say to a stewardess there is a bomb on the plane, and the plane might be diverted from its course, so this might be a case where a first-time crime is a big one. Still, in a world where movement in public is identified, it would be much less likely that there was a bomb on the plane. How would a passenger have gotten the bomb in the first place? Probably not by stealing since there is a record of purchases, so police would know if anybody had bought or stolen supplies necessary for bomb assembly. Authorities may see through the ruse and keep the plane flying on its proper course and arrest the fake bomber upon landing.
There is another way to look at things from the perspective of law enforcement. Consider that the preparation necessary for a big crime is mostly invisible, like the submerged part of an iceberg, and police need to see the whole iceberg, not just the tip.
To prevent a big crime, law enforcement must:
- Gather useful clues.
- Link clues together to identify a danger.
- Capture conspirators or thwart their attack.
The problem is in the first stage: police lack clues. There are intelligent investigators who can link clues together but they often lack clues so they can not do their job properly. Officers know how to catch suspects and make arrests and interrupt attacks, but they can not always see who to pursue. Law enforcement today, in a sense, is like a partially blind person. There is a brain to analyze clues and arms to capture criminals but there are no eyes to see clues.
A principle underlying a system of identified public movement would be that everybody must be identified, that nobody remain nameless, faceless, anonymous, dangerous. This follows since a criminal could be anybody: man or woman, old or young, black or brown or red or white or yellow, poor or rich, short or tall, atheist or Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or Jewish or Muslim, army officer or citizen or government official or judge or police officer or president or religious authority or visiting foreigner or anybody else. In addition, citizens must agree, voluntarily, as part of our duty as citizens, to identify ourselves and not try to block or evade any such efforts, identifying who we are, what we buy, what we carry, who we meet, where we go, and so forth. Self identification should be a duty of citizenship; people will come to see why it is sensible and necessary. In addition, it is much better if citizens initiate the transition to an identified world than if government forces this transition on us, perhaps as a response to terrorism. If the nation is beset by serious attacks or some kind of sustained internal rebellion or prolonged terror, then government may feel obliged to take extreme and hurried measures to protect us, such as placing cameras everywhere regardless of any respect for privacy considerations. But if citizens take the lead in advocating and requesting identification systems which preserve privacy, then I believe we can avoid a headlong rush towards a police state, and the overall end result will be much more to our liking. I believe the approaching reality is that identification is coming whether we like it or not. For example, police in New York City are installing cameras in public places throughout the city with few safeguards for privacy.
It is tempting to see the identification of public movement as an unfortunate but necessary trade-off between an authoritarian police state (safe but not private) and an open society (private but dangerous), with a belief that the best overall solution lies somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. According to this view which I see as mistaken, the only way to get greater safety is to sacrifice privacy and the question is not whether we want total identification or total “public” privacy but rather how much to sacrifice of each to find some desirable middle ground. I think seeing the choice as a trade-off is a mistake, which will become apparent soon, since in my view it is possible to have both better safety and better privacy. I believe most people realize that there is a national vulnerability to crime and terrorism, but what I do not think most people realize is how privacy today, as well, is flimsy, based mainly on anonymity, not law, so I turn now to enhancing privacy.
Privacy, as I think everybody can agree, is an important component of our freedom as individuals, since it protects us against current and future public scrutiny. It is a window shade helping people act without worry about what some others might think. If we know that others may learn about our taste for unpopular music, for example, then we might refrain from buying or playing music we like as a way to kowtow to public standards. The basic benefit of privacy is that for most people, there are things we prefer to do which are perfectly legal and harmless, but which may meet with varying disapproval by larger groups or by society as a whole; accordingly, by shielding ourselves from the public gaze, we are freer to do these things. Privacy helps us be free to let our hair down, buy music we like, be free from current or future scrutiny by a majority which can have a narrow sense of so-called “proper behavior”. We can splash with our friends in public fountains, we can cavort about dressed like it is Halloween when it is not Halloween, and not fret that a potential employer will find out about it later and punish us for such behavior. Privacy is important; it is a necessary part of freedom; obviously, we must protect it.
A general principle underlying a system of identified public movement is to encourage what I shall call ‘two-way seeing’ in which someone sees us and we see back, and each is aware of being seen by the other. ‘One-way seeing’, of course, is when only one sees the other, such as being spied on by a neighbor with a telescope or being followed by a stranger through public streets. One-way seeing is bad because power is not balanced: spies and snoopers have a lopsided advantage over the viewed, since they are aware of what is happening while those being spied on are oblivious. I think people will agree that in an identified world, a principle of two-way seeing should prevail.
Suppose, in an identified world, police know everything about us: they know who we are, where we go, what we buy, what we own, who we know, and so forth. Then I agree we would be vulnerable to abuse and this would be dangerous. But suppose those police with this information are highly secluded, prevented from sharing such information, and prohibited by both law and technology from using it against us such as using it for partisan political advantage or abusing it in any other way. The information about our public lives stays locked behind a strong well-defined fence and is only used for the purpose of preventing violence, so police know that we are not dangerous and can know, collectively, to not focus any further investigations on us. The data stays locked up, away from others in the public such as marketers, neighbors, nosy people, and everybody else. Suppose, further, that police with this special information are themselves identified, their behavior recorded, so there is a record of which police officers have what information. This means that if any information about our public activity was leaked out, that there would be an information trail pointing to who leaked it, when, and how. Accordingly, overall, the system which records public movement must record police movement as well. If police abuse their power and misuse information, then there would be concrete data to expose such abuses and police misbehavior could be punished. In a sense, the public could “see back”. A system which monitors police as well as civilian behavior is capable, in my view, of meeting everybody’s needs.
The current structure has only haphazard protections for privacy, with many loopholes and gaps. For example, consider how loose are the protections when third parties hold private information, such as personal medical data. At present, it is hard to know if these records are safely locked in a filing cabinet or loosely guarded on a computer network, or whether they were sold to a medical insurer for some dubious purpose. None of this movement of information is tracked; it should be, in my view, so if information is improperly leaked or otherwise abused, we can expose such abuse and punish the abusers. Social networking websites such as Facebook routinely sell private postings to advertisers with scattered attempts to protect privacy, or with options to adjust privacy settings buried in complex menu structures. There are repeated news stories about poorly protected credit card data being stolen and sold by hackers, without timely alerts to those account holders who have had their privacy violated. I suppose that most people probably do not realize how little privacy we have because most of us are uninteresting to others financially, but if we become more affluent, or if we become famous or in the public eye, then this lack of privacy becomes readily apparent. Consider that rich and famous people have precious little privacy; celebrities, in particular, know better than the rest of us that privacy is practically nonexistent because they live like poodles in a pet shop window. A few celebrities have been murdered by weird freaky types who abused lax privacy and stalked them secretly. Others have had their privacy violated when former nannies or bodyguards sold personal information to tabloids. Some have been bothered for years by obsessive fans and have been forced to build high-walled compounds to keep photographers with telephoto lenses at bay.
And even for particularly uninteresting folks such as myself, there will always be some person or corporation or entity interested in learning more about my private self. I buy things, I travel, I read, I have health insurance and, to a small extent, I am interesting to marketers, travel agencies, publishers, and health insurers. Suppose, for example, a person gets a terminal illness; then a potential health insurer can save money by declining coverage to such a person. It is realistic to suppose that there would be substantial financial incentives for insurers to snoop into private medical data, and little to deter health insurers from paying doctors to reveal sensitive personal data, or sleuthing out such information via other methods. If private health data was sold, it would be difficult to trace what happened, to try to figure out who leaked what, or what was paid for what information. There are a few legal safeguards but not enough, in my opinion, because generally the movement of information is not recorded.
Some ex-wives have been murdered by estranged husbands who took advantage of shaky privacy to discover their location. Swindlers take advantage of thin privacy to secretly profile assets of potential victims. Identity thieves take out loans based on information fished out of garbage cans. There are countless examples of privacy breaking down.
Sometimes we will not care if others have our private information. For example, I do not care if food makers know my preferences for breakfast cereal, since manufacturers with such knowledge can target advertisements more effectively to me. And I may get fewer messages from manufacturers who know I am not interested in their stuff. Suppose a police officer knew a person’s every public move, knew he or she drove to a coffee shop for breakfast before going to work, and later stopped by a store on the way home. The person bought toothpaste. So what. The officer will not care. Neither will the person; it is not a big deal. If we think through various situations in which our privacy could be violated, there would be many instances when we do not care.
Most likely, police would not see us as people or persons but rather as numbers in computers. Police in the observation branch would not be able to connect our number to our name or face without official permission, perhaps from a judge, an act which would itself be recorded. Our numbers, moving on a screen with millions of other numbers, need to be in that computer, however, so police can decide not to focus on us when hunting for possible terrorists, so police know we are good, so they know we are not a threat, so government knows not to frisk us at airports or inspect our shoes countless times or put us through unnecessary fuss again and again and knows not to waste money and time worrying whether we are terrorists. Police can focus not on us but on finding real terrorists. Suppose a person was at the coffee shop when a murder happened nearby. The number in a computer eliminates that person as a murder suspect, since he or she was at the coffee shop, not at the crime scene, so that person did not do it, and police would not bother him or her but focus on catching the culprit.
A number possibly interesting to detectives is one which drives to different gas stations repeatedly, buys gas, but drives only a few miles. The discrepancy between the volume of gasoline bought and the few miles driven could suggest, perhaps, a leaky gas tank or possibly a bomb under construction, and detectives having this information might foil a bombing.
A way to think of how privacy can coexist in a world of public identified movement is what I call ‘identified privacy’. If all movement is identified, then the movement of even private information should be identified, that is, we can use the methods of exposure to “expose” the privacy status of personal data. For example, every bit of information should be tagged with a privacy label which determines who can and can not see that information, and which determines where it can and can not go. For example, a privacy tag may allow a computer to release medical information within a hospital to doctors and staff who need to know that information to treat a patient, but not to medical insurers, or it may indicate that a specific piece of information is not private, or it may grant access to employees but not competitors. In addition, it should be possible to trace the pathways of information afterwards, so that there would be a record of which other people had access to any specific bit of information.
There are many ways to protect private information. During every police investigation, a record should be made of the investigation itself, noting the police’s request, the judge’s response, which officers accessed which private information, what police did, and so forth. In other words, the investigation itself should be exposed to light. Law may require police to notify people under scrutiny that they are, in fact, under scrutiny. During a trial, irrelevant private information should be kept secret, and this could be required by laws. Suppose, in an identified world, that a rogue police officer learned from a previous investigation that a particular citizen did something legal but embarrassing, and suppose further that such an officer threatened to reveal this information unless paid. In such a world, an blackmail would be very difficult to accomplish. The extortion request would itself be recorded, which is evidence of blackmail. It would be difficult for a blackmailer to be paid since all money transactions would be recorded. Prosecutors would have plenty of evidence to build a case against an officer who tried such a stunt. Perhaps in some cases individuals could sue police officers if it was proved that an officer released legal yet embarrassing information or violated a citizen’s privacy. This is one of many ways in which the public can see back, to complete the loop so that citizens are not victims of snooping and blackmail, and one more way in which privacy can be protected.
Generally I do not think police would abuse information, because they would not want to lose the trust of the public, be sued by citizens whose privacy was violated, be fired or demoted or suspended by superiors, or be chided by the media. Remember that the public holds the ultimate trump card since we could, as a group, refuse to cooperate with voluntary self-identification, and that is a drastic yet powerful weapon which the public has. If abuse of privacy happened, and if elected officials failed to fire top police officials or to release evidence about transgressions of privacy, or if police tried to cover-up privacy violations, then the public could stage an information boycott. I believe abuse of information will happen, but only rarely, and in such instances the abuse, itself, will be exposed, and this will be a good thing because it will spur continued improvements to privacy legislation. I do not think there is much to fret about, provided safeguards are used, because everybody in this nation loves privacy so much. There is a habitual respect for law and due process, so while we may worry about a 1984-style totalitarian oligarchy spying on us, I think there is little chance that such a horror would ever happen, because we would not put up with it. Currently, privacy laws are weak and inconsistent and fail to recognize the need of police to have information necessary for preventing terrorism as well as individuals to maintain a level of privacy.
To further protect privacy, lawmakers and courts should create good privacy legislation which:
- governs what happens to private information publicly held such as medical records
- punishes privacy violators
- specifies what is private and what is not
- establishes procedures for exposing privacy violations
- presumes information is private unless specified otherwise
What is needed are simple rules governing privacy so people can plan accordingly. Before we did something which might be recorded in some way, we would know which privacy rules applied to that upcoming situation or should be able to learn if interested. As time passes, privacy rules will become understood and accepted, and there will be fewer times when privacy is violated, and people will become familiar with the new arrangements.
Some particular cases may demand extreme measures to preserve privacy. One creative way to safeguard privacy is through phantom identities. A celebrity could have an additional and legal second identity, complete with name and number, allowing him or her to transact business and move through society without shopkeepers or hotel managers knowing their true identity. Only the police, with permission obtained by judicial due process, could link both identities.
A general test, before releasing private information, should be: is there a good need to know? An individual has a good reason to examine information if it pertains to himself or herself. A police officer has a good reason if it helps solve a crime. A lawyer has good reason if needed to clear a client of blame. Nobody should have access without a good reason. No neighbor needs to know what others bought yesterday. No employer needs details about the social lives of employees. It should be illegal to broadcast private information. For example, a lawyer with knowledge of private information could not reveal it, sell it, or broadcast it to the public without permission, but if he or she did, then there should be penalties.
Victimless vices in an identified world
There is another aspect of privacy in an identified world which is important. Simply, it is easier for privacy to mesh with identified movement if there is tolerance of individual customs, harmless religious behaviors, victimless vices, quirky behavior, unusual yet nonviolent activities. A majority with voting power can use the machinery of government to enforce its narrow ideas of proper behavior and punish people who do otherwise. For example, a majority can outlaw chewing gum in public if it desired.
Consider prostitution. It does not really hurt anybody in the same way murder does but perhaps it is not good for society as a whole, arguably, according to majority opinion. Some people will engage in the world’s oldest profession regardless of its legality and may undermine, convolute, and finagle any system of identified movement so they can keep doing it. Suppose a married man is caught paying a woman prostitute. Since prostitution is illegal, government faces a tough choice. If it prosecutes, it must expose the prostitution and, in so doing, it violates the right of both people to privacy. Any legal penalty may be insignificant compared to the severe penalty of public embarrassment. If government does not prosecute, it fails to uphold the law. Consider not only prostitution, but smoking, homosexuality, gambling, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pornography, obscene speech, marital infidelity, video game addiction, food addiction, sex between minors and other such behaviors which meet with majority disapproval to varying extents. Such behavior does not hurt anybody, arguably, and are not acts of terrorism, but punishing such behavior by making it illegal and treating people who do such things as criminals can aggravate any attempt to build a system of identified movement.
The basic problem is:
- If victimless vices are outlawed, then non-majority groups will be angry and frustrate attempts to record movement.
- If victimless vices are legalized, then the majority will be angry whenever it bumps into this behavior. The majority will worry that this behavior will corrupt society because it is legal and seems to be running rampant. And it may appear that government approves of these behaviors because they are legal.
A suitable compromise in my view is to legalize victimless vices but limit their activity to specific places and times, and protect the privacy of people who do such things. The battle between majorities and non-majorities should not be whether victimless vices are legal or illegal but about the degree of their exposure. For example, prostitution may be legal but limited to specific parts of town during specific hours, and people who do this activity should have their privacy respected. Instead of outlawing the oldest profession outright, a more intelligent and tolerant solution is to restrict more tightly those zones and times where such activity can happen, and punish violations with fines. People can battle in legislatures about where to draw these boundary lines, which will change as customs change.
Look what happened when alcohol was banned early in the twentieth century. Banning liquor made it scarce, driving up the price, causing a huge upsurge in crime to supply this need which, in turn, fueled other types of crime, including murder. Further, enormous profits were an ongoing temptation to police to accept bribes for assisting in protecting the liquor supply business, and this was a form of corruption with elements of tyranny, in my view. Banning alcohol gave organized crime a lucrative business. Later, wisely, the ban was overturned, but this whole sordid lesson seems to have been lost on people. I see it as one more example of how the types of violence are related: in this case, an overarching law to ban alcohol (tyranny) encouraged another type of terrorism (crime). Today, the same mistake is made with narcotics. Government is not our parent; it can not prevent us from vices; it can not enforce morality; and it should restrict itself to punishing violence, not vice.
While no perfect solution exists, a compromise is a way to keep most people happy while allowing both privacy and safety. Here are principles to organize information into a working system. It is necessary the system be sufficiently rigorous to prevent nuclear terrorism while being fuss-free and simple and quick so we can adjust easily to the new arrangements.
I will give brief sketches of a number of ways in which a system of identified movement can be achieved. Here are ways to identify people:
Identification cards. A single identification card may act as a driver’s license and bank card and credit card and identification card, all at once, replacing a wallet crammed with cards. Visiting foreigners should also be issued cards which have a person’s picture, unique number or numbers, fingerprints, address, phone number, height, weight, eye-color, skin-color, citizenship status, nationality, and perhaps genetic information.
Tiny radios. Citizens might wear a tiny radio on a belt which when paged would send an identification code silently, like tollbooth transponders currently in use, so all we would have to do is remember to wear it.
Personal data recorders. Airplanes have rugged recorders which survive crashes and provide clues about what went awry. Perhaps people could wear a personal data recorder, activated by loud noises or screams so a person in distress could leave an audio record of what happened. Once activated, the device should secure itself to the wearer and become difficult to dislodge or disable. If police recover this device, it may help their investigation. Such devices could be worn by police as well as citizens engaged in isolated or dangerous activities, such as tow truck operators or forest rangers.
Faces. A three-dimensional color image of a human face can be described by a number and processed by a computer. It could help investigators pose difficult questions such as whether one face could be a disguised or altered or older version of a second face or whether two faces could be related genetically.
Legal portals. Doorways to public buildings such as theaters and libraries and stadiums and hospitals should have entrances equipped with scanners to record the identifies of people entering and exiting. It should be illegal to deliberately bypass a legal portal, with exceptions being emergencies such as evacuating a fire.
Here are ways to identify things:
Unique numbers. Each item of value should have a unique identifying number to help police track things stolen or lost or used in a crime.
Barcodes on vehicle roofs. A black and white UPC-like barcode can be read by overhead scanners.
Weapons. All weapons should have a unique identification number. An internal black box could record every time a gun was fired. Technology permitting only owners to fire it is recommended. Rules for identifying weapons should apply not only to citizens but to police as well. Perhaps bullet manufacturers might be required to place inside each bullet a chemical tag to help police identify the owner. Guns should have tiny radio transmitters which emit an identifying signal every time they are moved or fired. Explosives should have chemical signatures.
No hidden weapons. It is especially important to record movement of destructive things such as guns, explosives, poisons, and their components. There should be no confusion about who is armed. Armed persons must signal they are carrying a weapon in public in some manner chosen by law, perhaps by wearing special clothing or displaying a badge, and failure to abide by such rules should carry severe penalties. Since handguns can be concealed beneath clothing and carried secretly in public, they are more dangerous than larger weapons such as rifles or shotguns; it makes sense to regulate their sale and use, or ban their sale to the public entirely.
Tag manufactured things. Manufacturers can label products with a sturdy metal tag. Shippers should keep records of things they move. The exact path of every manufactured thing should be traceable to foil bombers and poisoners and thieves. Tag nuclear bombs with tiny indestructible labels or traceable chemicals, and place internal radios inside them which silently send a warning signal on a frequency monitored by police.
Label packages. Senders must identify themselves and the contents of their packages. In addition, package delivery personnel can label packages with an indestructible tag shaped to maximize chances for recovery while not becoming a harmful projectile itself.
Here is a way to identify money:
Eliminate cash. Criminals, of course, prefer cash since it is harder to trace. Cash, then, should be eliminated over time except for small transactions, and replaced with identified money such as checks and credit cards and debit cards and electronic transfers in which a third party, usually a bank, witnesses and records each transaction.
Here are ways to identify communication:
Record communication. Each record should identify the sender and receiver, time, location, and medium. Machines used should be recorded too. If it becomes practical to record the actual conversation or message, in terms of technology and expense, then this should be considered. A common format should be used.
Ban attempts to obscure communication. Encryption must be illegal unless police have matching encryption technology, and the type of encryption must be identified before messages are sent. It should be illegal to use intermediaries to disguise the true parties of a communication. Destruction of communication trails for the purpose of deception should be prohibited.
Information can be woven into a system of interconnected databases, which might include:
- A database of people would link names, faces, numbers, addresses, faces, fingerprints, genetic information.
- A database of assets would record who owns what.
- A database of associations would record meetings of people.
- A database of financial transactions would record transfers of money.
- A database of weapons would link weapons to owners.
Databases should be linked so the purchase of a gun might be first recorded in a database of financial transactions and later in databases of assets and weapons. Each record should have a unique identifying number. Records should be able to point to other records. For example, the inference Tom went to a concert might be described with two records: the first record would be that Tom went somewhere, the second record would be the concert, and the first record could point to the second. If two people met in public, then records could point to each other and allow investigators to study associations such as meetings of law abiding citizens or terrorists planning an attack. The system should describe geographic space so the precise location of a house or boundary or sports arena or seventh floor of a skyscraper or a subway tunnel could be made. Government should establish standards for identifying subjects and times and places, perhaps using a fixed number of digits or common format so different computers can work together. Cameras should check each other; a camera recording a license plate, for example, might check another which weighs a vehicle, and overlapping systems make it difficult for a terrorist to outwit police by evading a single camera. Cameras should be positioned to maximize information and minimize cost. Vulnerable targets such as nuclear power plants should get more coverage, and capital cities should get more coverage than provincial towns. Information should be kept at a central site, such as a hardened underground bunker, for example, and backed up periodically to a separate site. Unimportant information should be discarded, provided that there was a record of what was discard, when, and by whom.
With such a functioning system, then after any crime, investigators could generate a list of suspects by posing questions to a computer. They could expand their list by searching backward in time or widening the geographic radius around a crime site. If a murder happened, then investigators could build a list of all persons who had contact with the victim. If a hotel fire happened, then the computer could generate a list of every hotel guest and staff member and visitor. Such lists could provide an intelligent start for an investigation, and if done properly, a list would contain the culprit as well as potential witnesses lost in the mayhem. Then, police work would be a matter of carefully pursuing each lead, rather than the current arrangement in which police hope that a violator makes a mistake.
Consider how a system of identified movement could solve a highly difficult terrorist bombing. For example, suppose a terrorist placed a bomb inside a television and smuggled it on a commercial airliner which exploded in mid-flight. Detectives could build many lists: passengers and items on the plane, maintenance crew who serviced the plane, people on the ground below the plane immediately before the explosion, and so forth. These lists would be an intelligent starting point for further investigation and would help police rule out persons who could not have been involved. If cockpit data was recovered, then it may be possible to pinpoint the exact location on the plane where the explosion occurred, perhaps pointing to the television, and a new list could be made of everybody associated with handling or manufacturing or transporting that television. There is an excellent chance that the perpetrators would be caught; at present, it would be much more difficult to catch the perpetrators.
In the case of poisoning, police could trace a consumer product back to the warehouse where it was stored, back to persons associated with handling and preparation and manufacture. Police have work ahead but their chances of catching the culprits are good. Today, chances are negligible.
Costs and benefits
This information will be expensive, but highly valuable. I think the value outweighs the cost. It is beyond my ability to even guess what it might cost and I doubt anybody could perform such an addition, but in my view, it is less expensive than the astronomical costs involved if crime or terrorism creates substantial damage, as well as all of the expenses incurred. Today we waste billions trying to guard every possible target. This is wasteful and inefficient and impractical. Airport security guards currently frisk every passenger. Terrorists will either outsmart or overpower protected sites, or attack unprotected sites, so that if we guard airports, terrorists will attack trains or ships. The expense of guarding big public events such as political conventions is astronomical; there are huge bills for police overtime, extra police, traffic delays, and these expenses entail a huge drag on economic growth. Money earmarked for disaster relief is much better spent preventing the disaster in the first place. Metal foil caps on medicines are an unnecessary and wasteful deterrent to poisoners. Further, I believe there are ways to make a system of identified public movement affordable.
I see seven benefits of identified public movement:
- It will save lives.
- There will be less fear.
- Court decisions will be more accurate, so that courts will find the guilty guilty, and the innocent innocent, more often than today. There will be fewer instances in which a lack of evidence leads to plea bargain arrangements.
- Preventing crime encourages investment, savings, productivity, and overall economic growth.
- More honesty in business, since it will be harder for fraudsters to cheat people, run, and set up shop in the next town.
- Less tax evasion will increase tax revenue, allowing government to lower the overall tax rate, further stimulating business.
- There will be less need for time-consuming security gadgets such as keys, locks, strong doors, security guards, high fences, barbed wire, cans of mace in pockets, chains on bicycles, bars to disable car steering wheels, removable radios, and other security gadgets which cause fuss.
I believe the issue of cost is irrelevant, in a sense, if it can save the lives of people watching a footrace in Boston or prevent explosions in cities.
Generally I believe a security system is affordable for the following reasons. First, there is no need to invest billions to invent some new gadget but merely to assemble existing inventions, such as cameras, clocks, computers, radios, and scales, since these items are obviously already invented; rather, the task is merely assembling technologies that have already been developed. Second, parts become cheaper and better daily by mass production. Third, individuals could pay selected minor costs directly to help reduce overall cost, such as buying a small belt transponder or sewing name tags on clothing or painting a black and white bar label on a car rooftop. Fourth, computers can perform routine checking, searching for discrepancies, hunting for anomalies. If something looks suspicious, human investigators could examine it more closely, which is a cost effective approach freeing human detectives to work more productively. For example, a single line of computer code could compare gasoline purchases to miles driven. It is an expensive yet worthwhile investment.
The vast information can have other good purposes, of course. Researchers could study traffic flow, marketing habits, consumer choice, investment patterns, disease patterns and many other things without accessing names, and their findings might benefit specific groups or firms or industries or humanity in general.
That is how to prevent crime.
This completes my outline of how a nation can use light to expose anonymous movement in public to protect people. It gives government much needed eyesight, but in a general way it also makes government much more powerful to the extent that it can become tyrannical. My essential complaint with the methods currently being done to prevent terrorism is that they are half-hearted steps along the lines I have suggested, with forays into more cameras, greater numbers of police and security people on the payroll, beefed up security at selected chokepoints such as airline terminals, but with gaps everywhere else, and little real regard for privacy. Again, I repeat an argument I made before, that the three types of violence are interrelated, and that it is vital that methods done to prevent one type of violence do not boomerang on us and exacerbate other types of violence. This is a chief danger in implementing a system of identified public movement, namely, that government might abuse this power of information and use it against citizens, and that it misuses the information which is supposed to be locked up in a secure information facility. This is why it is necessary to take steps to prevent the other two types of terrorism.
HOW TO PREVENT TYRANNY
The overall idea in this section is simple: become a real citizen. Almost all Americans see themselves as “citizens” but I argue that they are not real citizens but merely consumers, members with some rights in this entity known as the United States, so I will try to show what real citizenship is about.
A brief recap is in order. During a crime a person can seek help from government, but with tyranny there is no such protection because government is, itself, the criminal. I argued there are three types of violence:
- With crime, the judge is government. If a crime has occurred, police decide by looking at the law.
- With tyranny, the judge is, unlike the other types, the citizen. If tyranny has occurred, citizens decide by examining the Constitution.
- With foreign terrorism, the judge is again government. If foreign terrorism has occurred, national government decides by looking at international law and treaties.
Citizens: that is you and me. That is our job: assessing whether government has overstepped its bounds. Tyranny is different from the other two types because it is citizens, not government, who determine whether it is happening, and our job as citizens is to judge whether government is behaving, and we have a duty to each other as citizens to protect each other.
If people are serious about wanting to end this sporadic violence, then I believe it requires not just a law here or there, or an amendment or two to the Constitution, but a substantial overhaul requiring a second Constitutional Convention. Citizenship is a big change. At present there is little in the Constitution about what citizenship means other than it being a legal status of sorts. My thinking is a revised constitution should have an entire section detailing this important relation between people and the government.
I realize tyranny can seem abstract. The term conjures images of an evil king from a movie or play, or an abusive dictator in a foreign land, but let me see if I can make it more tangible. I assert that readers have felt tyranny, literally, when being frisked prior to boarding jetliners. I understand that people consent to this frisking because they believe it is the only way for officials to keep dangerous people and weapons out of airplanes. Still, this frisking is, in a sense, a violation of our space; when it happens, government is presuming that we may be guilty of air piracy. We did not do anything wrong. We were not planning wrongdoing. Still, we are treated like criminals. Every time we are frisked, consider it as a sign that government can not tell whether we are good or bad, that government is guessing about us, that it is clueless, and it should be a sign that government is having difficulty with its job of protecting people overall. Or, another example: Americans communicate by email, government intercepts them sometimes, reads them, and passes them along without anybody knowing who read what, when, or why. Government did not have explicit permission from us before doing so. It went ahead and did it.
Imagine there is a government official charged with fighting an armed insurgency punctuated by nasty terrorist attacks, but the official lacks the means of identifying public movement such as the one I proposed in the previous section. Any public official in such a situation will have difficulty targeting the rebels, but still he or she must try to keep order and protect the state and save lives, but to accomplish this job while following the law, it will be difficult to pinpoint, say, thirty terrorists in a city of millions. Here is the problem: if an official spies on persons that they think may be terrorists, but who prove to be law-abiding citizens, then the official has invaded the privacy of innocent civilians and, in a sense, committed tyranny. An official on a quest to identify terrorists will be continually thwarted by laws regulating privacy and police behavior and may find themselves in this bind: that to uphold law, one must break law. Suppose an official learns that a terrorist will detonate a nuclear bomb tomorrow in a city at an undisclosed location; such an official may be frustrated by every legally required procedure such as getting a judge’s consent before wiretapping phones. If an official follows every rule regulating proper police investigations, then it may take so long that the detonation is not prevented, or if the official takes shortcuts and circumvents privacy laws, then he or she may succeed in preventing the explosion but break other rules such as violating privacy. Some governments besieged by a serious and sustained internal rebellion have metamorphosed into an authoritarian state. This happened in Chile under Pinochet and in the Philippines under Marcos. In each case, democratic government reverted to a semi-authoritarian police state as a structure better suited to fight the rebellion and, in both cases, government won its war, but during the prolonged struggle, tyranny reigned and citizens suffered.
Government officials may see how their power increases greatly when a serious attack of terrorism looms, so they may be tempted to exacerbate the threat to keep citizens scared and obedient. Declaring a Color Coded Alert right before an election, for example, results in a slight percentage bump in votes, so officials may be tempted to manipulate elections by scaring voters, even when there is no danger. There is a political benefit to prolonging the danger of terrorism because officials have heightened power and importance during such times. There is an incentive for them not to catch the terrorists.
During the decade after 9/11, government resorted to a number of dubious measures to prosecute its so-called “war on terror”, including wiretapping of private phone lines, doing extralegal searches and seizures, having suspects detained in foreign jails and away from the jurisdiction of United States courts, reading emails, scanning Internet searches of private citizens, and detaining suspects without access to lawyers.
Some feel we must put up with such invasions of our rights by government to prevent a horrific attack, but please think carefully. Since in the United States there are really only two political parties, it may be tempting for whichever party is in power to use the spectre of terrorism to further its electoral ends. The party controlling the executive branch, in particular, is in a position to misuse the information collected supposedly against potential terrorists against political opponents. The anti-terror data enables government to hurt the opposition running for seats in Congress.
There is another angle to approach the subject of tyranny in government, and it stems from an observation that in history, tyrannical governments tend to be short-lived, problematic, possibly because they are weaker than legitimate governments. Aristotle wrote about this in his book ‘Politics’. It is hard to say whether tyranny weakens a government, or whether the weakness causes a government to become tyrannical, but in either case, there seems to be a correlation between weakness and tyranny. For example, one could see it this way: a strong government which is good at catching criminals has few incentives to violate our rights, because it knows, for example, that when we visit a gas station, for instance, that the gas we buy will be used for motoring, not bomb-making, and it does not stoop to dubious measures such as frisking citizens at airports. Conversely, a weak government is more likely to violate our rights because it has difficulty deciding whether we are peace-loving citizens or walking time bombs, and it is not sure, for example, what we are doing when we purchase gasoline. A weak government is less sure how to treat us and more likely to pester us with unlawful invasions of our privacy or seizures or detentions or jail time. A weak government frustrated in its attempt to catch real terrorists may impose a curfew on everybody, limiting everybody’s freedom. So I think a general relation between crime and tyranny is that a government good at fighting crime is less likely to commit tyranny, generally, so preventing crime brings about a beneficial tendency to lessen the risk of tyranny. In this capacity, helping government prevent violence will strengthen it, and make it less likely to tyrannize us.
I wish that it was this simple, but the problem is much deeper, unfortunately. As I tried to assert previously, recording all public movement makes government much more powerful, thereby increasing the risk of tyranny exponentially. So rethinking government is vital. In a simple monarchy or dictatorship, tyranny is easy to see because it usually involves a single ruler overstepping proper authority. But in a republic, however, tyranny is harder to see because power is distributed among many centers, and tyranny can result from different causes and combinations of causes, so that we may not face a torrent of tyranny but merely a sprinkling, or tyranny may fester quietly like cancer.
So let us explore government. In a democracy, representatives make laws, but it is possible that the laws they make are bad. If a right is an acknowledged zone of future action, and laws are boundaries between these zones, then it is possible the boundary lines are badly drawn. Lawmakers are people; people make mistakes. Bad laws are a form of tyranny, but generally, when exposed to democratic processes and public discussion, bad laws are, in the course of time, exposed and fixed.
Still, I think it is important to consider what makes a law good or bad, generally, so citizens can judge whether tyranny is happening.
Here is my list. Good laws, in my view:
- maximize individual freedom
- give freedom to as many people as possible
- draw concise boundaries between rights
- give rights equally to different people
- are straightforward
- are universal
- are constant over time
- help us plan
- are easy to enforce because people agree with them
If a law meets these tests, then I believe it is likely to be a keeper. Principles like these can help us gauge a law’s goodness, even in a world of constantly changing powers and rights and technologies and freedoms. By my reckoning, a good law is like a double yellow line dividing a highway, smack dab in the middle, giving rights equally to inbound and outbound drivers. It is concise, clear, simple, universally applied from Providence to Portland, easy to enforce. It does not care about your gender or religion or sexual orientation or skin color. It is fair. It is never wobbly, never crooked, straightforward literally. It does not change every season. All drivers get equal treatment. Nobody hogs the road. Your freedom is maximized because you can drive either way, and it meets most of my tests above. In contrast, a bad law is like Daylight Savings Time. Clocks are kept back an hour during the winter season for dubious reasons. It complicates time. It works against planning. It is not universal.
These considerations are relevant to this discussion, since laws permitting anonymous movement in public are bad because freedom is not maximized, in my view. Anonymity helps a terrorist smuggle a bomb into a crowded foot race, jeopardizing everybody’s freedom. Anonymity lets terrorists plan, hide, attack and kill dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions and possibly escape. If good laws balance rights, laws which allow or protect anonymous movement in public are bad in my view because they create a lopsided balance stacked in favor of terrorists and against victims.
Remember I wrote about how rights are like acknowledged freedoms to act in the future? If laws are boundaries between rights, then the institution which enforces these laws is government. I think of government as a kind of super person: like a person, it has powers and rights, and it makes sense to think about the boundaries between the government’s rights and those of citizens. This boundary is the Constitution. A good constitution specifies the roles of citizens and the roles of government and the relation of each to each other, and gives both citizens and government the most possible freedom without intruding on the freedom of the other, and permits each to act freely within its own sphere of activity. The Constitution is a national legal backbone which holds together its laws, and the laws are usually good although sometimes they can be bad.
One kind of law is almost always bad. Government oversteps its bounds when making a so-called retroactive law. When a current law is changed, and the force of such a law is extended backward into the past, applying to past actions, then it is retroactive and almost always bad because it undermines faith in the entire legal system. We can not be sure what we do today, legally, will be seen as legal tomorrow. It is possible a person could be punished for obeying the law today if it is ruled tomorrow that such an action had been illegal. Decrees of tyrants are like retroactive laws. By changing the law, and extending its power backward into the past, retroactively, tyrants can punish people today for having obeyed the law yesterday.
No doubt democracies will make bad laws from time to time, but the proper way to fight them is to expose them and urge reform, write letters, vote, protest, and encourage others to do likewise. If bad laws are not fixed, then it is probably better to keep obeying and tolerating them while continuing to try to change them, according to political philosophers such as Spinoza. Citizens have the right to take up arms against government but this very drastic measure should be used only as the very last resort when every peaceful alternative has failed and the stakes are very high.
If the Republic’s Framers were alive today, no doubt they would be impressed with America’s size and technology and wealth, but appalled at government corruption, partisan infighting, foreign policy blunders and apathetic citizens, and be worried enough to agree that a Constitutional Convention is necessary, in my view. I realize this is a controversial way of looking at things, but I seriously doubt that the Framers would like the current political climate in this nation at this time. When the Framers wrote the Constitution, America was protected by vast oceans from predatory European powers. Atlantic crossings took months. No regional power threatened. So instead of crafting a government built for astute foreign policy, the Framers focused on preventing tyranny by dividing government into separate branches based on function, and further subdivided Congress into House and Senate to prevent any person or group from dominating government. Each branch had specific duties and could check the power of others. Government was clumsy, but functioned; mistakes were made, but fixed; corruption happened, but was often exposed. In many ways this brilliant system contained tyranny for two centuries, and it is impossible after giving it serious study not to have substantial respect for the document. The Constitution nimbly prevents ambitious politicians from seizing too much power by crafting a system in which they exhaust themselves, with constant sparring with other ambitious politicians. It is brilliant.
Still, the Framers wrote it several centuries ago, and the world today is much different from 1787. America is a world power. The population grew from four million to over three hundred million. Technology has reduced travel times incredibly so that it only takes less than an hour for intercontinental missiles launched anywhere in the world to strike our cities. In a sense, the oceans have shrunk. Like an old house with squeaky stairs, there are noticeable defects in the Constitution. Voters in heavily populated states are underrepresented in the Senate. District of Columbia citizens lack representation. The electoral college method of choosing presidents seems convoluted and unnecessary. It is difficult removing presidents quickly who are incompetent or ill. And during the transition between a president’s election and inauguration there can be effectively two presidents, one in office, another awaiting office, which can cause problems. While these repairs need fixing, I find more substantial cracks in the foundation which threaten to bring the whole house down. For example, there is a troubling shift of power from state governments to Washington. This happened gradually, punctuated with dislocating events like the Civil War and the Depression and the New Deal and the Cold War, although an underlying factor explaining this shift may be a natural centralizing shift. But the Framers wanted a federal system, and ideally a federal system combines the benefits of small state regulatory smarts with the safety of size. State governments are likely to regulate local economies wisely because the distance between ruler and ruled is less, but of course they are weak because they are small, and therefore vulnerable to foreign aggressors, so the idea of the federal system is to combine them under a federal umbrella. But much state regulatory authority has been usurped by Washington using creative reinterpretations of the Constitution’s Commerce clause; as a result, Washington regulates much of the economy, but clumsily. The original Constitution did not specify the rights of states in the same way that it specified federal powers; the states’ sole protection was the mostly vague Tenth Amendment.
At present, as numerous critics will agree, is that there are numerous problems with national government. Critics complain about excessive influence of paid lobbyists in Washington, about legalized corruption, about a Congress that is out of touch with voters. Our elected representatives do not represent us but rather moneyed interests, lobbyists with cash and checkbooks, corporations and unions and associations and such. The situation could be worse. One factor which limits the damage is that some special interests oppose other interests. For example, oil and gas interests oppose environmental interests, and to an extent they check each other’s power; so we have modest gas prices with a semi-clean environment. Still, citizens pay a cost indirectly for this bickering between special interests in the form of higher taxes and prices.
I tried speaking with my congressperson about this strategy but he was not interested in my opinions. He did not want a free copy of my book. He kept walking to his car. Why should he care? He needed money for re-election. I did not have it. I was a nuisance to him. He will get re-elected with or without my vote. My own congressperson was supposed to represent me in Washington but he could not spend one minute listening to my concerns.
Not only has power shifted from state governments to Washington, but power has shifted within Washington from Congress to the President, partly as a result of danger from abroad, both real and perceived. Presidents have started wars without declarations by Congress. The Framers explicitly gave this power to Congress, not to presidents, but presidents have started wars in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq without official acts by Congress. A recent tool to increase presidential power is the signing statement, which has been criticized by the American Bar Association as being unconstitutional. In the past century a rather sizeable bureaucracy has grown up around Washington which is pretty much accountable to the executive branch, and in a sense, since these many agencies issue rulings and judgments, often without much congressional oversight or opportunities for debate, one could make a case that it is an example of excessive presidential power. I prefer a restored federal arrangement in which most economic regulation happens in state governments, and in which Washington manages affairs with other nations such as foreign policy.
Next, I would like to talk about citizenship which, I imagine, most Americans do not think much about, except to the extent that they see themselves as “citizens” which describes membership in America, a sense of belonging and entitlement, a platform on which to have other types of rights, or a “right to have rights”. Citizenship is essentially a legal marker and not much more than that. It is good that people have rights protected by law, backed up with Supreme Court protections, but what I will argue is that the relation of citizenship should be more active, denoting real participation in democracy, in addition to its being a legal term. For people born in the United States who become citizens, commonly called “birthright citizenship”, citizenship is presumed, not chosen. Nobody asks if we want to be a citizen; rather, we become citizens automatically by becoming eighteen years old. We do not think what it means. It happens without effort. There is no commitment or oath or promise. Some foreigners who move here become citizens after passing an easy test and taking a loyalty oath. As a result, citizenship is mostly a meaningless relationship other than its legal aspects. In my view, citizenship should not be a happenstance based on birthplace, but it should be an important relation describing the proper roles of citizens and government.
Let me illustrate one well-known example about how the essentially meaningless marker of “American citizenship” enabled real tyranny for over one hundred thousand people in the twentieth century. During World War Two, west coast Japanese-Americans, who thought they were real citizens, who had proper documents, were imprisoned for several years. Officials worried a few were spies or saboteurs but they could not identify them, so they imprisoned all of them. They did not do anything wrong. American government became their jailer. While German-Americans and Italian-Americans were treated with respect, Japanese-Americans were treated harshly because they looked like the enemy. These unfortunate folks got a rude lesson which African-Americans and native Americans and other minorities have known since they came into contact with whites, specifically, the humiliation and degradation of being less than free citizens because of skin color and ethnicity. If citizenship had been clear, and if government had been able to distinguish friends from foes, then this horrific racism might have been avoided. The same murkiness about citizenship which has confounded minorities throughout America’s history can hurt all of us today. The internment of Japanese-Americans shows once again how the three types of violence interrelate: the threat of foreign terrorism (type 3) caused government to commit tyranny (type 2) because government lacked confidence in being able to prevent crimes (type 1) such as sabotage.
So let us explore citizenship.
A core aspect of citizenship in my view must be a willingness to fight violence. Citizens are folks who, when confronted by violence, roll up their sleeves, pitch in, and fight. Citizenship means promising to fight, and if necessary, fighting, and people who do not, or will not, should not be citizens. Fighting means doing our best to help thwart terrorism, given our particular capabilities, and this may include summoning a police officer or alerting others as well as physically confronting a terrorist in a last resort situation. This does not mean being a vigilante or taking the law into one’s own hands, but it means being ready to fight for that freedom and to help it flourish in some way. Free people know deep within us that if we become dependent on bodyguards to fight for us, then someday we may wake to find their guns pointing at us.
This principle applies when crime happens without police present. Bystanders witnessing a crime should help as best they can, such as alerting citizens, summoning police, helping subdue the criminal if it is possible to do so safely, being a witness during a subsequent trial, or helping the injured; those who neglect such duties are not really citizens, in my view. Bystanders who fail to do anything when violence happens should be summoned to explain their actions, and if found guilty of failing to act, then they should be punished. With a system of recorded public movement, it will be easier to identify exactly who was at a crime scene, so it will be harder for shirkers to scoot away into the night.
It is especially important for citizens to help each other when government becomes a tyrant or violator or terrorist. Citizens have a duty to protest tyranny when other citizens are harassed or arrested arbitrarily. Citizens who do nothing have failed a basic duty of citizenship and should be held accountable by other citizens for failing to protest tyranny, which could lead to a possible revocation of citizenship. The reason that citizens must cooperate against government abuse is essentially that as individuals, we have no other recourse when government becomes a bully; the might and power of the state is such that it can do tremendous damage to an isolated individual citizen, but when citizens cooperate with networks of shared information and trust, then government is more likely to respect all citizens, and behave itself.
The requirement about being ready to fight obviously can not apply to those unable to fight, such as elderly or children, whose citizenship status is debatable and depends on past or future activity. For example, I think an elderly man or woman who fought or agreed to fight in younger days should be a citizen by virtue of their previous commitment. I think a child may be presumed to fight when he or she is older and, as a result, may be thought of as a future citizen.
What has happened over time, I think, is that living in a strong nation with a boisterous economy and a skilled military, which is geographically isolated by vast oceans, has meant that ordinary people have rarely been tested, have rarely had to fight for that freedom, have rarely had to think about such issues. Perhaps our sense of citizenship as a duty to ourselves and others has been whittled away over generations so we are, at best, marginal players in government, confused spectators watching from the sidelines, political zombies. If citizenship means having some control over government, we are not really citizens; rather, Congressmen and Presidents and Supreme Court justices and lobbyists are citizens as well as corporations and unions behind them, who have real power and clout, and who run things; they are citizens. We are not. I believe the concept of citizenship should be changed to reflect a participatory relationship, and ordinary people should work to become real citizens, as a way to exert more political power, and as a way to protect ourselves from abuse by government.
I think citizenship should be considered as a relation between an individual and the government which is:
- Active, because it takes effort to maintain.
- Temporary, because it has a duration in time with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Voluntary, because it must be chosen freely by both citizen and State, and can be dissolved by either party.
Citizenship should mean:
- Privileges, such as voting, police protection, representation abroad, and safety from foreign aggression.
- Responsibilities, such as military service, obeying laws, serving on juries, serving in government, protesting tyranny, and paying taxes.
Citizenship should be like a contract between citizen and State, entered into freely and voluntarily by both parties, with terms clear to each. If either party violates the agreement, then the other may dissolve the relation after due process of law. It is also a contract between citizens to protect each other if government becomes abusive. Since a citizen who neglects his or her duties affects the welfare of other citizens, then citizens should have a say in determining whether other citizens are meeting the requirements of citizenship.
Citizenship should be recorded by some form of light. For example, the citizenship compact should be written, and gaining or losing citizenship should be a matter of public record. The beginning of citizenship should be marked by a public ceremony during which an individual and a government official sign the Constitution together in front of other citizens, and such a ceremony would help people think about the commitment involved. Candidates for citizenship should take a public oath affirming a respect for individual rights, free and fair and open debate, tolerance, freedom, virtue. They should promise to participate in government by voting and serving on juries and paying taxes. They should vow to government and to other citizens to resist terrorism in every form. They must promise to participate in government regularly by voting, staying informed, attending meetings. Citizens must meet minimum standards of conduct. Citizens who shirk jury duty, vote rarely, and skip public meetings may have their citizenship status questioned by government or by other citizens. It should be a public matter to determine what these minimum standards are. Citizens failing to meet such standards may lose citizenship after due process of law.
Americans, in my view, need to rediscover citizenship habits long since forgotten, such as showing up at local government meetings, discussing differences, listening, debating, voting, cultivating a rational, tolerant, open-minded manner with a willingness to admit we are wrong while trusting truth to emerge from debate. There was a time when citizenship was vital such as in pre-revolutionary war New England towns. It is important to show up at regular local government meetings, even if we say nothing, since our presence forces speakers to wonder what we are thinking and lets other citizens know we exist and that we are citizens and that we care. It lets democracy happen. We learn which persons are citizens and which are not. It enables a vital forum where good ideas can emerge from the rigors of debate. Regular meetings help form bonds among citizens which may be our only defense if government becomes abusive. It builds a power base to offset government tyranny.
Let me return to another aspect of citizenship. Suppose a group opposes war for philosophical reasons, that is, they refuse to fight but they can vote, so they enjoy the privileges of citizenship while failing to bear its full responsibilities. Let us suppose, further, that the war is wisely chosen and necessary to secure the safety of all citizens. If the nation was attacked, then their refusal to fight could jeopardize everybody’s safety. I see this as unfair to those who risk their lives defending their nation. So, in my view, a mandatory requirement for citizenship should be promising to fight in a war if it happens, and fighting, if summoned.
Since government can be conceived as a super-entity which also has rights, then one could see government as benefiting from a more clearly defined relation of citizenship. Specifically, government has a right to know which persons it can trust for steadfast and loyal support when it jockeys with rival powers on the international stage. Government should not have to guess whether people will support its foreign policy decisions. If it chooses war, then it should know in advance whether people can be relied on to show up for battle rather than hide in the hills or try to evade military duty by other means. It is unfair to keep government clueless about domestic support. It makes government weak, and a weak government is less able to uphold everybody’s rights.
Clarifying citizenship can help with other issues. Since citizenship means promising to fight in a war, and serving if summoned, then there would be no question about war evaders, since he or she could be punished rightly for breaking an earlier promise made in the citizenship compact. A nation could still make a mistake by choosing to fight an unnecessary, such as the United States did in Vietnam and possibly in other conflicts, but preventing such mistakes is the topic of the next section. Similarly, citizenship involves an obligation to pay taxes, which would clear up any possible confusion about tax evasion. Jailed convicts can not vote or hold office or serve on juries, and obviously this is proper, but part of the reason why they can not do these things is that they violated their promise, made in the citizenship compact, to obey the law. Spelling out citizenship with a signed written contract is an important way to pour light on the relation between citizen and State. By defining the duties of each to each, it clarifies the boundaries of civic life. The citizenship ceremony itself may help people think about their relation with the State, about their duties to fellow citizens, about the nature of terrorism, and about their duty to fight terrorism in all of its forms. A written agreement, too, reminds government about its responsibilities. I can foresee a situation in which a citizen’s lawyer, pointing to the written citizenship contract, holds government accountable for keeping its part of the bargain, such as obeying the Constitution, giving people due process of law, holding free and fair elections, and so forth. Perhaps there should be additional provisions in the Constitution to force government to recognize persons who fulfill the requirements of citizenship as citizens, and perhaps give non-citizens regular opportunities to petition for citizenship.
Some persons may choose not to be citizens. This could happen. Such persons can avoid jury duty and military service and voting and possibly boring political meetings, but since they would lack political representation, their status in the nation would be determined by citizens and the legislature. It should be clear to everybody which persons are citizens and which are not. And it is proper to have regular opportunities for non-citizens to petition for citizenship. For me, I would like to be a citizen.
There are other ways to shed light to prevent possible tyranny. Light can be applied to….
Public meetings. Light can be used to expose public meetings, to record which legislators are meeting and what they are saying, to illumine meetings between officials and private contractors, to record who met with whom and what was said. The financial records of officials in charge of budgets should be exposed to discourage bribery and stealing from the public treasury. If government officials meet privately, the public has a right to know why such meetings are private and when their content will be revealed.
Court decisions. It should be illegal for parties to a lawsuit to settle secretly, but this happens routinely with many court cases today.
Police activity. Cameras should record police activity, track what they know, where they go, what they do, and who they meet. Every arrest and detention should be videotaped.
Identify police officers. Specifically, there should be no confusion about who is a police officer: all on-duty officers, including detectives, federal agents, and Secret Service guards, must wear uniforms identifying their status, and so-called “plainclothes detectives” should be prohibited as well as unmarked police cars. Further, off-duty officers should not carry weapons, or if they do, it should be clearly identified to the public that such a person is armed. For me, this is an example of tyranny since plainclothes detectives and undercover officers present a false image to the public because they have the power of armed force while appearing to lack it, and therefore they can evade accountability for their actions and can more easily violate the rights of citizens. Undercover detectives permits espionage on private citizens, essentially, and this lopsided one-way seeing can cause tyranny. A disproportionate share of shooting accidents occur when police are undercover or off-duty, because they are armed but not appear not to be, which invites mistakes and confusion. The confusion keeps the public guessing about whether another person is a police official or a private citizen, and this makes it easier for criminals to pose as police officers to commit robberies or fraud. This is another instance of the multifaceted nature of violence, since unidentified police (tyranny) can enable robberies (crime).
Emergencies. Flashing lights and sirens should indicate an emergency in progress. It is one more example of how light benefits our understanding and helps expose tyranny. Police who abuse such signals for spurious reasons should be punished. For example, police driving the New Jersey governor in 2007 drove 91mph in a 65mph zone, using sirens and flashing lights to speed along the highway. The governor was late for a meeting; there was no emergency. He was not wearing a seat belt, violating a rule requiring them. A crash happened which injured the governor, and could have hurt other New Jerseyans. Since in this case a public official was breaking the law, it is an example of tyranny.
Taxes. The current U.S. tax code is convoluted. Good laws are simple; the tax code is not. Calculating taxes has become intricate, labyrinthine, complex to the point of absurdity, positively painful, and needless tax complexity makes it easier for government to hoodwink citizens or tax evaders to find loopholes. Since citizens do not participate much in government or exert any influence with their supposed representatives, dubious arrangements have come about which bypass the normal pathway of citizens paying taxes directly to government. As I argued, paying taxes is a duty of citizenship; it is something we do as citizens. Further, citizens have a chance to express displeasure with government by withholding, or threatening to withhold, taxes. It is a real power which citizens should have. But what happened during the World War II years was that a system of “tax withholding” came about which essentially bypassed citizens, so that employers were coerced by government to pay a citizen’s taxes directly to the government, bypassing the citizen. In my view, this tax-bypass arrangement is a form of tyranny since it undercuts the basic relation between citizen and State. It says government does not trust citizens. Every April 15th citizens should have a chance to reaffirm our citizenship by choosing, willfully and voluntarily, to pay taxes, but our taxes have already been paid for us by our employers. So, on April 15th of each year, when we file the tax forms, if get a refund then it seems like government is paying us, or if we owe money then it is a small amount so it seems like our tax bill is negligible. This is devious manipulation by government. We would have more clout if government was genuinely worried every April that it might not get paid, so it might feel an impulse not to waste our money.
Two-party system. It is not clear whether the Constitution’s Framers knew that they were setting up a two-party system or whether they even anticipated political parties in the first place. Rather, it evolved, and one analyst treated the development of the two parties a “second constitution”. But perhaps it is time now to rethink this choice. Most democracies have multiparty systems and run well, generally, and I believe there are numerous advantages to such an arrangement: it brings chances for new parties to challenge the dominant ones; there are more viewpoints in the legislature; and there are more incentives for citizens to become involved in politics. However, a case has been made that the two-party system enhances political stability. But I believe the issue of two-party versus multiparty is relevant to the problem of tyranny since I believe that citizens are better protected in a multiparty arrangement, and that it strengthens government as well as permits greater chances for a citizen’s viewpoints to be heard. This is a possible issue for a constitutional convention.
Privacy. Protect it with strong, meaty legislation. Write it in the Constitution. Prohibit officials from releasing embarrassing yet private information. Insist every piece of information have a privacy tag so unauthorized leaks could be traced, abusers exposed, and punishments awarded.
Voting. This is a public act but which must remain private, for obvious reasons. If the party in power discovered how each citizen voted, then it could reward supporters and punish opponents, and turn voting for the opposition into a sort of political victimless vice.
Gerrymandering. This should be eliminated. Almost every political science professor will agree with me about this. Gerrymandering happens when the party controlling Congress redraws electoral districts so their candidates face less opposition in future elections. A majority party will carve out several districts with a 60% party majority, virtually guaranteeing re-election for their candidates in those districts, and leave one district with a 90% majority for the opposition. This trick results in more seats for the majority party, discourages competition and undermines voter choices. It rigs the election. It is a form of tyranny.
Presidents. One problem with the architecture of government has been well described by analysts such as Tocqueville, specifically, that presidents can run for multiple terms; this has been reduced to only a second term, but in my view, presidents should not be able to run for reelection. The problem is that there is a huge temptation for an in-office president to abuse his or her power and misuse the machinery of government to win reelection. One highly noteworthy example was President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. This was tyranny. Further, incumbent presidents have an unfair advantage over challengers which is born out by statistics so the public does not have a fair choice in such contests. A second problem with the structure of the presidency is that it is not easy to remove ill or incompetent presidents without some kind of political battle, and during such times, the nation becomes leaderless, such as the waning years of Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt. There should be a formal constitutional mechanism easier than impeachment to oust presidents disabled by sickness or mental infirmity, and it is a form of tyranny to have one branch of government temporarily disabled without a remedy as well as an incentive for foreign terrorists to take advantage of such a situation.
Congress. There are numerous problems with this branch of government. Since citizens are almost entirely divorced from politics, their supposed “representatives” have learned how to manipulate the system to get reelected regardless of what their constituents want. The process has been rigged by such measures as gerrymandering, free mailings to constituents called franking privileges which are really advertising for the incumbent, and access to cash from lobbyists because of their incumbency. As a result, 90% of representatives who seek reelection are in fact reelected. There is little turnover in Congress. Many congresspersons have been in office for decades. This is not what the Framers would have wanted. It means that congresspersons are out of touch with citizens since they do not need to listen to constituents to get reelected; rather, they must please lobbyists, special interests, and others with cash. And since most Americans are asleep in terms of politics, few understand what has happened or how their interests have been subverted, although they do know enough to give Congress low approval ratings, sometimes in the single digits or teens, out of a scale of 100.
The Electoral College. I believe this institution should be reexamined. I see it as needlessly complex, causing presidential candidates to sidestep many states while focusing exclusively on so-called “swing states”. The tyrannical effect is that voters is most states have little power to influence a presidential election; for example, in my state of New Jersey, seldom did candidates even visit or have their campaigns spend any money, but rather voters in Ohio were courted extensively. My power to determine the president was diminished for the simple reason of living in New Jersey and not Ohio. Elections should be fair.
Supreme Court justices. In my view, there should be term limits for Supreme Court justices because many become too old to reason effectively, sometimes visibly falling asleep during deliberations. Departing justices have an unfair way to determine the political party of their replacement by timing their resignation to coincide when a president from their own party is in power. In addition, most democracies in the world do not have a system like ours in which justices can essentially rule on legislative matters by the process called judicial review. In my view, this should be reexamined. I realize there is a benefit to having a judicial check on legislative action, but there is a downside in the sense that it politicizes judicial decisions, and turns justices into quasi-lawmakers.
State primaries. The Constitution fails to specify how states manage primaries, and what has happened is that some states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, have chosen artificially early primaries to attract much attention from candidates and the media. As a result, voters in these early-primary states have a disproportionate share of the power to pick candidates. In contrast, voters in a state like mine, New Jersey, rarely meet candidates face to face.
As citizens trying to guard against tyranny, there are no hard-and-fast rules, no clear-cut answers, only fuzzy issues everywhere. Nobody knows everything. Many issues are controversial. It is important to start thinking, debating, asking questions, listening to fellow citizens, to become real flesh-and-blood participants in the political process rather than asleep-at-the-wheel zombies. I hope people can begin to see how big the problem of terrorism is and how much must happen before it is solved, and why an adequate solution involves much more than reorganizing police or having greater cooperation between intelligence agencies or passing tighter gun control laws or chasing suspected terrorists in obscure mountain regions or toppling dictators or asking citizens to be more vigilant or avoiding train stations or buying gas masks or saving duct tape or buying better metal detectors at airports or having National Guard troops patrol nuclear power plants or choosing not to think about terrorism in the mindless hope that danger will disappear by itself or flying military planes over cities or any of the other stupid half-measures or non-measures or lame strategies bandied about.
What is necessary is serious rethinking of basics like citizenship and movement in public and privacy, and any adequate solution requires substantial change including amendments to the Constitution. What I am saying is that many of these issues, such as preventing violence, thwarting tyranny, reforming government, and reducing the chances for needless wars, are wrapped up together. Before anything, the key battleground is within our hearts and minds, and unless as citizens we can agree on a plan of action, and act on that plan, then sporadic needless violence will continue, and our freedom and rights and powers as “citizens” will continue to be tenuous.
So far I have tried to show how to prevent the guns of criminals and police from hurting us by shining light at them. But there is more to think about.
You are a citizen, that is, you have promised to fight in a war if summoned.
Suppose war happens.
Then you could find yourself crawling through shrub grass, dodging bullets in a dusty land, supposedly fighting foreign terrorism.
But suppose government goofed and chose the wrong enemy, so the war is unnecessary. Government’s mistake endangers your life. Soldiers killed or injured in unnecessary wars are, in a sense, victims of tyranny by their own government by virtue of its incompetence in foreign policymaking. This is one more example of how trying to fight one form of violence (foreign terrorism) can exacerbate another (tyranny), and further shows why we must see the broader three-part problem, and why an adequate solution forces us to look at its multi-faceted nature.
Consider the Vietnam War. 58,000 Americans died in a pointless, decade-long war. 58,000 lives were snuffed in the prime of youth. 58,000 homes suffered grieving mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. I consider this war to have been a form of tyranny against citizens. Certainly, and there is broad agreement that the U.S. government wasted treasure and goodwill and lives during this war. This mistake points to why we should examine foreign policy as an important part of the problem of preventing terrorism.
Today, government confronts a secretive, stateless network of dangerous international conspirators which poses particular problems for our nation. It is a tough challenge to identify them and either kill them or prevent them from causing harm. The task of the next section is to shine light on government so it can see which enemies to attack, protect us from violent foreigners, make smart choices in diplomacy, avoid stupid wars, fight necessary wars, and triumph, and at present, I believe the structure of American government is ill-suited for such ends.
HOW TO PREVENT FOREIGN TERRORISM
I believe there will be broad agreement that violence by foreigners who slip past border security to conduct bombings and assassinations and kidnappings should be considered as part of the general problem of preventing violence. However there may be less agreement that the overall problem of violence includes war. As I see it, both small-scale paramilitary attacks and large-scale invasions fit along a continuum of hostility, and these and other types of violence fall under the scope of what I call ‘foreign terrorism’, that is, violence by powerful foreigners or nations led by heads of State. For example, while one of the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing was technically an American citizen, both had foreign ties to a disturbed province in Russia, and so the problem is not simply one involving Boston metropolitan police, but it is a matter involving relations between nations. Even if a foreign group is in no way connected with its government, there are still matters of foreign policy, since the foreign government may permit such rogue activity either because of its weakness, or it may be willingly complicit in providing aid or protection to such groups. This is why I urge readers to see the problem of foreign-instigated violence in broader terms.
To recap briefly, foreign terrorism is the third type of violence. Foreign terrorists are foreigners who violate our rights, and they include foreign heads of State, powerful individuals and foreign-based groups including organized international coalitions. Generally, such terrorists target our government, and they will try to undermine, embarrass, weaken, confuse and destroy it, since it tries to protect free people. The proper locus of defense for such violence is our own government, with military forces being a strong component of this protection. This is different than the other types: the locus of defense against crime is police, and the locus of defense against tyranny is citizens, as I said.
The strategy for fighting terrorism is the same except instead of individuals uniting to fight crime, or citizens uniting to fight tyranny, it is nations which unite and fight and defeat the terrorist, and government makes decisions about how to do this, about which other nations to ally with, and so forth. Accordingly, the principles of fighting and preventing terrorism described earlier apply, but on a larger level, so that if the nation is confronted by a rogue state, often led by an unruly or tyrannical dictator, individual nations link together to form an alliance to fight the rogue state.
Light, in the general sense of exposure, can prevent foreign terrorism in many ways. Government can urge allies to expose anonymous movement within and between borders, especially to share information about suspected dangers or threats or possibly violent inconsistences. Government can urge other friendly governments to share information about violence, so that they agree on common data formats to assist with matters such as tracking people and packages seamlessly from country to country. They can cooperate to safeguard privacy internationally, and to urge other governments to respect privacy. Light can be used to expose agreements between nations, such as treaties. Secret deals between nations should not discouraged since it is a way for two or more nations to hoodwink other nations, and can be a precondition for further violence. For example, the secret agreement between Hitler and Stalin during World War II, before it broke down, helped to permit both tyrannical dictators for a short time to carve up Poland. Preventing foreign terrorism requires conducting a farsighted long-lasting foreign policy which bolsters friends, appeals to neutrals, and deters enemies, and the list of actions a nation can take to influence events is long and varied.
We can conceive of government as a kind of super person, with powers and rights that is bounded by a Constitution specifying the roles of citizens and government, and their duties to each other. Further, and I think people will agree with me about this generally, is that the best Constitution is one which gives both citizens and government the most possible freedom without intruding on the freedom of the other, and permits each to act freely within its own sphere of activity. In other words, a Constitution is good, or better, to the extent that it empowers individuals, and empowers government as well to act intelligently in the long run best interests of the citizenry, and my sense is this that I do not need to further prove this point or elaborate on it, since it seems intrinsically obvious to me, so let us suppose it to be true. So, a next question might be as follows:
Regarding foreign policy, what is the proper sphere of possible future action of the citizen, and what is the proper sphere of possible future action of the government?
And I can see why my answer may be controversial.
I think foreign policy is the exclusive task of government, not citizens, because government ideally should represent the combined national interest of all citizens. The principle of individual freedom for citizens, in my view, does not extend to actions which interfere with government’s task of dealing with foreign nations, as I see it. As individual citizens, we do not negotiate personally with foreign governments, of course, but we surrender that right to government. If a neighbor within our nation acts in some way to possibly instigate a war with another nation, without consulting our government, then such an act may violate the rights of everybody if war ensues. It is unlikely, but within the realm of possibility, that an individual, acting alone, could ignite a war. For example, during the Cold War in which two superpowers engaged in a tense nuclear standoff, a private pilot flew a small airplane without authorization into Soviet airspace and landed in Moscow’s Red Square. Luckily, no triggers were pressed, but this act could have been misinterpreted as an act of aggression.
What I am saying is people as individual citizens do not have a right to make independent foreign policy decisions because it violates everybody’s collective rights to have government decide these matters. I think this will become more apparent when examining particular cases. For example, citizens must not insult foreign ambassadors, vote in foreign elections, make political speeches or engage in other political activity abroad unless government explicitly permits such activity. I do not think citizens should protest within one’s own nation in front of a foreign embassy, for example, since this is, in a sense, making a foreign policy statement. Citizens who disobey travel advisories and become hostages, for example, become an unnecessary complication for government authorities, and such unauthorized actions violate the rights of other people to have foreign policy determined solely by government.
Government has a right to control foreign policy exclusively, in my view.
That is its job.
It is not a job for private citizens.
Government should represent the collective national will in international affairs, not me, not you, not any private individual or celebrity or local political leader or any other unauthorized persons or groups.
Accordingly, in my view, private citizens must not meddle with any aspect of foreign policy because, in so doing, they trespass the boundary between the rights of citizens and the rights of government. It should be a clear duty of citizenship that citizens respect government’s authority in foreign policy and agree, in advance, and as part of the citizenship contract, not to meddle in any foreign policy matter. Simply, if I email a foreign leader, without permission from my own government, then I violate your right to have government make exclusive foreign policy. For example, consistent with my thinking, I sought permission from the State department before sending earlier versions of this strategy to selected foreign governments.
My sense is that people have not thought about this issue much, because it has not come up, generally. My sense is the Constitution’s Framers might even have disagreed with me about this choice, and I realize it is controversial, but I believe that any sensible reading of history, combined with study of individual rights, will support my conclusion. I doubt there has been serious thinking about the issue of freedom in an international context, and that people have seen others protest before foreign embassies, and have accepted such protests as somehow acceptable and legitimate in the larger scheme of things. Perhaps people assume that freedom is absolute, and have not yet come to understand how some possible freedoms may violate other freedoms.
Overall, in my view, people fail to see how our government should have the right of exclusive authority to determine foreign policy. There have been examples of individuals trespassing into government’s sphere. Past mayors of New York City, for example, have met with foreign leaders and made political speeches at odds with national policy; mayors were not elected to make foreign policy and, in my view, they exceeded their rightful zone of authority and trespassed into the zone of authority of national government. Not just local officials but powerful business leaders and celebrities and prominent opposition candidates have occasionally behaved as unofficial ambassadors and meddled with foreign policy. A basketball star met on a personal basis with the leader of North Korea. Some celebrities have negotiated hostage releases or tried to settle disputes between warring factions, and their actions make real foreign policy officials look somewhat irrelevant, and present a divided front to foreign nations, as if the nation does not have a consistent approach or policy. I have no objection if a mayor visits a foreign country as a private citizen because it is proper for citizens to visit foreign countries and speak with other foreign citizens about international politics. There are ways to voice concern over foreign affairs without violating government’s authority. For example, citizens upset with foreign leaders can protest properly to our own government but not in front of a foreign embassy unless, of course, our government authorizes such a protest. Or, citizens should seek and get permission from the State department before writing to a foreign official. But certain lines should not be crossed, and these boundaries should be specified in the citizenship contract. It should be the task of government to specify these boundaries.
If we look seriously at history, then it will become apparent rather quickly that foreign policy is a difficult task for any nation, at any time, and let me offer a somewhat simplistic analogy here. Imagine a playground with 200 teenagers. Each chalks off a territory. A few territories are large, many medium-sized, some small. A few teenagers have sub-machine guns, many have pistols, some have sticks. Each chalked-off zone has toys other teenagers want. And there are no teachers, no police, no principals, no playground supervisors. It is everyone for himself or herself. Sometimes the playground erupts in a horrific game called Let Us Play World War. Other times it is calm. Survival depends on your street smarts, friends, savvy, weapons and skill in using them, ability to scare possible enemies with retaliation, ability to bluff, money. It is a tough game.
Such is the task of nations in the world.
Foreign policy has always been difficult. It has challenged every hunter-gatherer band, every city-state, every kingdom and fiefdom and republic and nation throughout history. It requires planning and patience, knowledge, diplomatic skill, ability to forecast, sensitivity and smarts and timing. There are many variables in constant flux and it is never clear how different choices may influence future events. Avoiding war is difficult. Some choices take decades to bear fruit, and require a steadiness of purpose and focus, such as cultivating allies; still, if war happens, allies may abandon us. Today there is the added challenge of fighting an elusive band of international conspirators searching for weapons of mass destruction. Such is one challenge of the United States today.
Few nations throughout history have been consistently good at foreign policy. Monarchies have mixed results; wise monarchs can work wonders but they are often replaced by lackluster offspring on the throne, and their work is undone.
Democracies, too, have mixed results. There are some advantages: citizens who participate in making decisions about war will be more likely to fight in wars that they have voted on; democracies bring economic benefits too, since the dispersal of power generally helps economically. However, democracies have trouble planning and acting decisively when necessary. Since many foreign policy decisions require debate, decision making can be slow, and officials in charge of these decisions often lack experience. And after some elections, a sea of fresh faces is found in government, which makes it difficult to stick with plans made by previous officials. Allies worry whether they can count on steadfast support from ever-changing officials pandering to a fickle majority, who can become enraptured by the passion of the moment and lose sight of future goals and forget past commitments. When democracies are beset by a serious international challenge, many revert to autocracies to meet that challenge, and such a change may stave off disaster if the leaders are of good quality, but citizens suffer during these periods, that is, a democracy may “cope with” foreign terrorism by imposing tyranny on its own citizens. The democracy of ancient Athens had mixed results in foreign policy. It had trouble befriending other Greek city-states. Sometimes it made good decisions, such as during the Persian War when it chose the wise Themistocles to lead the war effort. But other times it faltered; for example, during the Peloponnesian War, Athens made a horrendous decision, voted on after lengthy debate, to attack the equally large city-state of Syracuse, and few of its warriors survived this catastrophe. Like ancient Athens, American foreign policy suffers from similar problems such as how to handle prosperity and allies and trade, and shows signs of diplomatic arrogance.
American foreign policy is not always bad or clumsy. The nation prospers. Sometimes we make good decisions, sometimes not. Most experts might grade American foreign policy as average: not bad, not good, somewhere in the middle. It depends mostly on who is president; an astute president, and we are fine; an incompetent president, and grave dangers can result. In the past, America has survived not because of its skill in foreign policy, but because it had a superior economic engine based on democratic capitalism. During most of its history, few rivals had this winning combination of respect for individual rights, private property, free markets, individual liberty and popular sovereignty. As a result, when wars came, America had greater economic ability to make powerful weapons in great quantities, so it usually won. Its comparative advantage meant that it did not have to be shrewd diplomatically. Today, however, most nations have switched to democratic capitalism and have figured out the beauty of free markets, meaning that large nations will catch up in terms of wealth. So America will lose this comparative advantage which it has enjoyed during most of its history. In the future, national survival will depend on its international smarts.
And the crucial point is that in the age of nuclear and biological terrorism, with organized stateless groups seeking powerful weapons as well as rogue states threatening mayhem, there is no room for average grades, occasional failure, experimentation, guesswork, average or incompetent presidents.
Foreign policy must be excellent consistently.
And America was not designed for foreign policy excellence; rather, it was designed to thwart tyranny by having different power centers check each other. This was a reasonable choice in 1787 because predatory European powers were distant and regional powers non-threatening, so a focus on preventing tyranny within government made sense at that time, but this structure does not make sense today. America has grown to worldwide prominence. Nations throughout the world look to it for leadership but this is a role America was not built for. It can not afford to make mistakes and fix them later. It can not waffle, hesitate, or experiment; rather, it must make correct calls consistently. If the Republic’s Framers were alive today, they would grasp the danger and propose substantial changes.
Look at the structural weakness of foreign policy. No one branch of government is firmly in control. While the president has the most power, the Senate has an important role in ratifying treaties, and the Judiciary has a role in interpreting treaties and dealing with some questions of immigration. Since several branches influence foreign policy, each branch has an incentive to leak information to influence pending decisions, meaning that a skillful adversary can play one branch against another. Since Congress controls spending, decisions about the placement of military bases are made not by military necessity but by electoral clout; accordingly, large states like New York and California get much of this revenue instead of states in the strategic heartland.
It is especially difficult for two democracies to coordinate policy because many variables must be resolved in both governments. American presidents have often found it easier to befriend foreign dictators who could deliver as promised, act quickly, and get things done, instead of dealing with the difficult parliaments of foreign allies. Sometimes these strongmen brutally mistreated their own people, but American presidents have often overlooked such abuses and supported tyrants as long as the relationship supported our interests. So American foreign policy was, at times, hypocritical, publicly espousing human rights while privately supporting dictators who violated such rights. Tyrants supported by the US have included the Shah of Iran, President Musharraf of Pakistan, various Saudi Arabian rulers, even Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a friend until the relationship soured.
Some well-meaning but harmful domestic policies undercut foreign policy. For example, when narcotics are made illegal, they become scarce which, in turn, raises their price and, as a result, narcotics becomes a lucrative international business. Foreign terrorists can grow and transport and sell narcotics to generate cash for weapons. This happens in Afghanistan, where much of the profits of growing poppy and opium and hashish end up in the hands of terrorists. This is one more example of how the three types of terrorism are interrelated; it shows how making narcotics illegal (tyranny by the majority against non-majorities) exacerbates another type (foreign terrorism).
Foreign policy should be what is best for the whole country, not for only a part, not for a faction. A pro-business government may make business deals with enemies and, in so doing, jeopardize national safety; a pro-labor government may permit unstable persons to immigrate assuming they will vote for pro-labor candidates and, in so doing, jeopardize national safety. Either side is tempted to pull a cheap foreign policy stunt to help candidates win re-election. For example, a president beset by scandal is tempted to launch an unnecessary raid to distract media attention away from their misdeeds. A president with low poll numbers may raise the color-coded alert, falsely, on the eve of an election, to help party members win re-election. And a pro-business government may befriend another pro-business government because of ideological compatibility even though this choice may hurt the national interest. And a pro-business government may anger nations led by pro-labor leaders; for example, this may partly explain why Venezuela’s President Chavez and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad have railed against the United States in their many public speeches.
American immigration policy could be described as a convoluted jumble guided largely by special interests and partisan politics. Large immigrant communities exert pressure to allow fellow nationals to enter, preventing capable people from underrepresented groups to immigrate. Business seeks trained professionals and entrepreneurs from abroad, but pro-labor forces often prevent them from entering because they fear they will take jobs away from natives. Some immigrants are denied visas because of arcane and complex rules. Both parties are tempted to let in persons likely to vote for their party, regardless of what is best for the nation. One special interest is arms makers seeking permission to sell military hardware abroad. Arms makers are tempted to bribe officials to get the proper permits. Since elected officials need money for expensive re-election campaigns, they may be tempted to accept bribes in the form of campaign contributions, in exchange for approving unwise military sales and, in so doing, endanger national security. As a result, it becomes more likely that powerful weapons could be sold to future enemies. Similarly, special interests can manipulate government by steering aid money to places where it does not help the national interest. Powerful foreign interests, as well, can influence federal decision-making by circuitous routes, such as by contributing to lobbying firms which swap favors with other lobbyists. An example of how factionalism can hurt foreign policy was the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Clearly doubling the nation’s landmass for a reasonable sum, without bloodshed, was a wise foreign policy move, but seven senators voted against it. Why? They were Federalists, a partisan pro-business group who fretted that New England’s maritime interests would be hurt by adding new non-maritime states, weakening the Federalists’ grip on power. What shortsightedness. Luckily, twenty-four senators outvoted them and the treaty was approved, but this illustrates how partisanship can corrupt foreign policy.
A president can misuse foreign policy to hurt the opposition. For example, President Jefferson, favoring a pro-labor agenda, banned foreign trade to prevent the British navy from kidnapping American sailors. But the Embargo Act of 1807 also crippled New England’s maritime business interests. So here was a situation in which a pro-labor President used government’s foreign policy machinery to hurt the pro-business opposition. While it is difficult to tell to what extent Jefferson was motivated by partisan politics, these considerations were probably a significant factor in his decision. These motivations exist today: a Democratic president can make stupid foreign policy choices to hurt Republicans, and vice versa. For example, President George W. Bush (Republican) squabbled with Ambassador Wilson (Democrat) about evidence justifying the decision to invade Iraq; the ambassador had submitted an article to a newspaper criticizing Bush’s decision, and the White House retaliated by exposing the secret identity of the ambassador’s wife, who happened to have been a government agent. This happened. This partisan squabbling undermined national security. It ended the career of a committed government agent and endangered the lives of American agents who worked with her. When prosecutors tried to ferret facts regarding the unlawful exposure of the agent’s identity by the White House, a staffer lied, was found guilty of lying, was convicted, but pardoned by the president, who is unlikely to be impeached for his role in this affair because Congress seems to be too intimidated to confront him.
Presidents often fill sensitive foreign policy positions with campaign workers ill-suited for diplomatic work. Since campaigning is grueling work, with long hours and demanding schedules, presidential candidates may promise workers lucrative positions in the State department to reward their efforts, regardless of whether they are qualified for such jobs. Foreign policy posts should not be staffed with political cronies. This weakens the nation.
Currently, it is difficult to criticize a wartime president without appearing unpatriotic. Is criticism of a president’s foreign policy, for example, a partisan attack or a legitimate complaint? It is hard to tell given the current arrangement. Genuine criticisms can be painted as partisan bickering, or misinterpreted as such; critics can be accused of failing to support a besieged president. Such difficulties stifle real discussion and dissent, especially when clear thinking is most needed, and can lead to resentment and finger pointing. When Congress debated giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq, discussion was muted by a fear that dissenters would appear unpatriotic. Dissenting Democrats feared a Republican President would paint them as being soft on terrorism if they failed to approve war powers. So Congress authorized war, and it appears in retrospect to have been a mistake.
During the second Iraq War, Democrats opposed the war, generally, while Republicans supported it, with a few exceptions of course. It is hard to think of a better example to show how a foreign policy question is controlled by partisan politics. It was like the second Iraq war was a “Republican war” but not a “Democratic war”, backed not by the whole nation, but only by one part of it.
I turn, now, to general problems with American foreign policy, and offer my criticisms of the current arrangement.
Since administrations must change every eight years, sometimes after four, it is hard for the United States to keep a consistent long term focus. An ally can not depend on the word of an elected official who may fail to win re-election. This is a constitutionally-based structural flaw, in my view.
The presidency, as I see it, is overburdened. While the president has considerable responsibility for foreign matters, he or she has domestic duties including being the head of a political party. Further, the presidency has usurped much of the legislative function of Congress, as I have argued, by the use of regulatory agencies as well as dubious extra-constitutional measures such as signing statements. The result of these numerous responsibilities is an overburdened presidency; simply, it is too much work for a single person. I do not see how one person can handle all of these tasks. Should the president meet with a foreign leader or attend a party fund-raiser or rethink environmental legislation? Will a president order an unnecessary military strike to distract domestic attention from a local concern? A continuing domestic scandal can render the nation essentially leaderless; during Nixon’s Watergate, Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair, and Clinton’s amorous adventures, executive authority was distracted and the besieged presidents were less able to manage foreign policy.
My sense is that foreign policy experts in Washington will agree with me generally, perhaps not with every criticism, but with the general conclusion that America’s foreign policy is flawed. Read any book or magazine about this subject, and you’ll see what I mean.
I think most Americans will agree with me that while there are competing parts of government making foreign policy, that the main person responsible for it is the president. Further, good policy depends mainly on the quality of presidential leadership. Now, my next point may be somewhat more controversial, and it is that it is tough for the public to choose a president skillful at foreign policy. An easy way to determine this is simply to look at the foreign policy track records of previous presidents. But the process of electing presidents is not focused exclusively in choosing the most adept possible maker of foreign policy, but other aspects are important as well, such as partisan domestic issues or personal qualities such as charisma and likeability. What one skill can we be sure presidents have mastered? They excel at winning elections. That is what they are best at. They say what people want to hear. They know how to smile at cameras. But is a presidential candidate qualified to manage foreign policy? We will not know until they are in office.
Foreign policy demands special skill, an elusive art of statecraft which is hard to teach and harder to define, and which is different substantively from business or management skills. Some business executives think they are financial warlords and use terms like hostile takeover to describe buying a company that does not want to be bought, or try to apply strategy books such as Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ to managing businesses, but there is a world of difference between buying stock and storming a stockade. Business and war are vastly different. Foreign policy requires skill in military matters, knowledge of world history, diplomatic acumen, leadership ability. It involves extreme choices. Waste and inefficiency can be virtues; in war, a direct path is efficient but sometimes dangerous. An ideal leader is someone who can bluff and gamble, a poker player, unpredictable, hard to read, someone who knows how to deceive. In contrast, domestic policy requires skill at building coalitions, satisfying popular needs, business smarts, and it involves compromise and efficiency, routines and cost-cutting. An ideal leader is someone who invests wisely, finds the middle ground, pleases the masses, is a predictable and trustworthy truth-teller. These are opposing sets of skills. It is rare to find somebody adept at both and I find it difficult to name a President who managed both tasks skillfully, with the possible exception of Lincoln.
Flaws in U.S. foreign policy are apparent. On the international stage, America is a bumbler, a lucky giant protected by vast oceans, a mercantile power with a gangbusters economy but little skill in foreign policy, suggesting to me that the term ‘superpower’ is not applicable. That the United States was on the right side of two World Wars in the twentieth century was partially a result of having an ally with greater international dexterity, namely Britain. And it was also fortunate that there was considerable time to prepare for each war, and by being a late entrant on the right side, it prevailed.
Look at foreign policy errors. The Vietnam war was a painful, expensive, unnecessary mistake lasting a decade; the Middle East continues to fester, worsening; the U.S. invaded Iraq on the premise that there were “weapons of mass destruction” there but none were found; unfortunately there are many more examples of incompetent choices and policies. I suggest that foreign policy is vital, that our nation must be consistently good at it, that when it is haphazard or inconsistent or flawed that citizens suffer in many ways, and that it is particularly important in age of increasingly powerful weapons of mass destruction.
As I see it, foreign policy can no longer be a game of lightweights, a happenstance, a cacophony of discordant voices emerging from a nation, partisan bickering, a muddle, a ship with many rudders, a way to advance a partisan agenda, but should be treated seriously as a way to stave off war. Government should be a tough fighter for the national interest, astute internationally, shrewd diplomatically, tenacious and smart, steadfast with allies, with unified control over foreign policy so it can plan skillfully and maintain consistent strategies over decades without having to battle for control over policymaking with other branches of government or with private citizens. Government should be able to wait patiently for the right time to enact a policy. It should not be conflicted by partisan interests. Government must reward friends and punish enemies consistently, over time, and stick with complex plans which may take decades to unfold. It must not be haphazard and flaky in its dealings. Allies need to know they can count on us; enemies need to know that harmful deeds will not be forgotten when administrations change. Right now government can not do this, and I do not blame current officials but rather the architecture of government, so let me turn to this subject.
Some political philosophers see elements within government having specific strengths:
- A monarchical element, or rule by one, especially helpful in emergencies and war.
- An aristocratic element, or rule by a minority, very helpful for long range planning and diplomacy.
- A democratic element, or rule by a majority, which protects citizens and the economy.
If we look through history, governments skilled at foreign policy had all three elements, with foreign policy managed by an aristocratic group within government. The best example is ancient Rome. Its republic lasted five centuries. Roman government had all three elements, each checking the other two, each rising to prominence to cope with changing circumstances. In wartime the monarchical element represented by consuls became prominent; when Rome was sacked by the Gauls, a dictator was appointed temporarily who restored order. A democratic element represented by tribunes reflected popular concerns. An aristocratic element represented by the Roman Senate managed foreign policy with shrewd dexterity because it consistently rewarded friends and punished enemies. It rarely made mistakes. It seldom fought two wars at the same time. Senators studied the Mediterranean political world with hard-headed rational intensity, year after year, decade after decade, and became experienced and knowledgeable about this world. They knew what was happening. When they debated among themselves, incorrect strategies were exposed and dropped. They knew what to do. And unlike a king, an aristocratic body is like a wise man who never dies, as Tocqueville wrote, since members are continually being replaced with new members, allowing wisdom to be passed from senior members to junior ones. Allies knew they could depend on Rome’s help. When Hannibal invaded Italy, few Italian cities defected to the Carthaginian side, and chose wisely to remain loyal to Rome, and the few cities which defected came to regret their decision.
In contrast, the United States government has a monarchical element represented by the president who serves as commander in chief, although this office is overburdened as I have suggested. The democratic element is dominant because the president exerts substantial control over legislation and domestic policy, with additional input from Congress. The aristocratic element, however, is lacking, which is a huge disadvantage. Talented and bright Americans do not manage foreign policy but run businesses or become celebrities or pursue science and such, although to some extent this lack of talent is mitigated by think tanks and policy experts. As Tocqueville noted, the legal establishment has a quasi-aristocratic function in the sense of helping to preserve rationality and order to lawmaking, but it does not manage foreign policy.
In contrast, in my view, foreign policy was much better managed in Britain, particularly in the nineteenth century. Even though it was a small European country, it was able to manage a far-flung empire which, at one point, covered a quarter of the globe, and lasted several centuries. It had a multi-faceted government with all three elements represented by the king (monarchical), Parliament’s House of Lords (aristocratic) and Commons (quasi-democratic). While the structure of government evolved over time, it is clear that during major periods of its history, particularly the nineteenth century, enlightened aristocrats had substantial control over foreign policy. Britain prospered. It consistently sided against the dominant European land power when power struggles emerged in Europe, and this wise course prevented warlords such as Napoleon and Hitler from dominating the continent, and preserved Europe’s balance of power. The lesson is not that British rule was perfect; rather, its foreign policy was superior to America’s throughout much of its history. And when Britain fumbled, such as when it lost its American colonies, foreign policy was in the hands of an inept king rather than an aristocratic body. Later, when its economic power began to wane, Britain consistently followed a shrewd long term strategy, maintained over decades in many acts and gestures, large and small, of befriending its former adversary and rising power, the United States. When world war threatened twice to overwhelm Britain, this friendship paid huge dividends because the United States sided with Britain in both world wars.
What America needs is an aristocratic element managing foreign policy, in my view.
It is common sense.
I am not suggesting America become an aristocracy, or be ruled by one, but rather that the foreign policy function become aristocratic, like Rome, like the Soviet Union (more accurately an oligarchy), like Britain, like China.
Accordingly, I propose a separate branch of government with exclusive control over foreign policy called the State department which would have foreign policy advisers appointed by individual state governments, and who were confirmed by Congress. Their terms of office should be long to enable them to become knowledgeable and skilled and unlikely to be hoodwinked from lack of experience. Their number should be odd to prevent tie votes, perhaps fifty-five to ninety-five. They should be highly paid to attract talented, seasoned, smart, high-caliber thinkers of character, and appointed when relatively young, such as in their thirties, with the hope that they will serve for a long time and, in so doing, gather experience and wisdom in studying world affairs. They would be required to report in person to Congress at regular intervals, perhaps quarterly or monthly, as well as to their individual state government, again, in person. They should inform national and state officials about international developments. Espionage agencies would report to them. They would appoint ambassadors. They must have no connections with either political party and be prohibited from identifying themselves as party members or receiving funds or assistance from partisan political groups. As a further check on their power, each state government would control the security guards for each adviser.
The State department should control all foreign policy variables, including diplomacy, treaties, trade policy, intelligence gathering, immigration policy, military spending, foreign aid. It should have unity of action so competing power centers in government would not interfere with its decisions. It would not be distracted by domestic concerns. They would represent the missing aristocratic element.
In addition, to strengthen the monarchical element, I propose to split the overburdened presidency into two separate offices.
The head of domestic policy will continue to be the President.
But foreign policy should be led by a new officer called the head of State. This person would be charged with defending the nation, and would meet with foreign leaders, make treaties, negotiate with foreign powers, conduct diplomacy, and so forth. He or she would be appointed by president and Congress and confirmed by the foreign policy advisers. If he or she became ill or incompetent or tyrannical, then he or she could be replaced quickly without a prolonged scandal, and this solves a defect in America’s current Constitution which makes it difficult to rid ourselves of an incompetent commander in chief.
Then, it is possible to find two people, each suited for each task.
In review, here’s the proposed architecture:
- Monarchical: The head of State could act decisively in a crisis and coordinate foreign policy in peacetime.
- Aristocratic: Foreign policy advisers would advise the head of State. They could help keep lasting commitments with other nations as well as help develop long term strategies.
- Democratic: president and Congress would focus on domestic matters. They could hire and fire members of the State department. In addition, Congress should retain the power to declare war.
The democratic element remains dominant by controlling the other branches, and this is consistent with America’s nature and history. The public would continue to elect the president and Congress by voting, but these officials would be restricted to domestic matters with the exception of hiring or firing any member of the State department, and voting on war. The State department would have exclusive control over foreign policy. An ideal arrangement would keep checks and balances among these branches of government, to prevent abuse by any one or by any combination of branches, while allowing each to operate autonomously in its own sphere of influence.
And while citizens should continue to elect domestic leadership, including the president, by voting in free and fair and periodic elections, I think members of the State department should be chosen not by citizens but by the president and Congress, who in turn select the nation’s foreign policy officials, including the head of State. Since government’s task is to defend the nation, it should be able to choose which leaders it entrusts with this task. Presently the public elects foreign policy leaders directly by voting for a President who has this as one of many responsibilities. I feel it is better if the public chooses foreign policy leadership indirectly by electing a government which, in turn, selects foreign policy leaders.
These proposed changes are substantial, of course, and I realize there may be better ways to reorganize government to improve foreign policy. Still, I think the proposed architecture is substantially better than what exists. Of course any change of this magnitude requires substantial discussion and debate, and while change can happen by separate amendments to the Constitution, it is much better to bring together non-partisan thinkers of excellent character who can discuss a new structure, resolve conflicts, and draft a superior Constitution.
In addition, the military should be changed to mirror the revised structure. A national military force would defend the nation against external aggression from foreign powers, have power to wage war on distant battlefields, and would be commanded by the head of State. It should excel at highly sophisticated technical war at a distance. A militia, in contrast, would maintain civil peace within the nation and would be led by the president. It should excel at grass-roots war and defending the homeland. Each force, while operating in a separate sphere of influence, would check the power of the other and minimize the risk of tyranny by a military coup.
Similarly, courts should mirror the new structure. Domestic courts should continue to handle disputes and crimes between citizens in which government is an impartial referee. The basis is civil and criminal law. National courts, however, should handle crimes in which government is attacked. It might have jurisdiction over foreign terrorism, treason, tyranny against the government, crimes by soldiers, international espionage, immigration law, crimes by foreigners here or Americans abroad, and other international cases. It should handle domestic cases when damage is so great that government is seen as the victim, such as mass murder, serial murder, murders of police, assassinations of government officials, or substantial destruction of property. The basis is military law, with procedures, standards, and tests different from civil and criminal law. Further, national courts should be able to use the death penalty, but domestic courts should not, for the following reason. Government’s right to defend itself includes the power to kill. When soldiers kill a battlefield enemy, they impose a death penalty, in a sense, on the enemy soldier, so I see the death penalty as a logical extension of a basic power. To deny government this power could backfire in all sorts of unforeseen ways. Government, as I see it, should even have power to use torture to prevent horrendous crimes. Although this is cruel, it may be necessary to cope with extraordinary situations of extreme urgency, such as when a person suspected of planting a time-delayed nuclear bomb in a city is caught by police yet refuses to reveal its location. In contrast, domestic courts which mediate civil disputes should not be able to punish with torture or the death penalty.
National borders must not be porous. It should be difficult to smuggle weapons of mass destruction across them so the national perimeter should be closely guarded. At every port of entry, all incoming people and things should be inspected, identified, labelled, and tracked as they move within the nation. Special rules regarding diplomatic travel should be made to prevent smuggling of hazardous materials while preserving the privacy of diplomatic communication.
If government is rearranged as proposed, then it could cope with thorny international complexities such as nuclear proliferation as well as fight international conspiracies with greater precision and vigor, in my view. So it makes sense to begin thinking this way.
I would like to comment on war and how it relates to the problem of preventing violence. Generally I think Americans have not had to think much about the dangerousness of war because the conflicts which have involved us have generally been overseas, with little chance of a direct invasion, and these conflicts generally resulted in stalemates or victories, to varying extents. Most likely, in the next few decades, there is little chance that a serious life-and-death type war will happen, but of course the future is uncertain, and it remains within the realm of possibility that the nation could be challenged by a serious rival. So I think it makes sense to remind everybody that war can be a most ugly and dangerous affair, with nasty surprises and uncertain victory, which can press any nation in a life-and-death struggle in which survival depends on how skillfully citizens are transformed into expendable tools. War upsets the balance of power inside nations. If the nation is defeated, then personal freedom may be lost entirely; if victorious, then surviving citizens may find it difficult to regain pre-war freedoms or limit the increased power of government. War can result in confiscated or destroyed property, lost lives, restrictions on free speech, disruptions of free elections, unnecessary detentions of suspected spies. War challenges individuals with two types of terrorism at once: foreign terrorism and tyranny. Government’s power over citizens increases exponentially during such conflicts, while the rule of law is tenuous. Censorship threatens free speech. Government is both a shield from external enemies as well as a dagger pointed at citizens, and government has the power to foist the whole mess of war on the citizenry. And when it fights stupid and unnecessary wars, it becomes like a tyrant against the citizenry.
So, in my view, it is best to give government sufficient power to wage war effectively and quickly while ensuring it does not initiate war without careful deliberation by experts. Any laws or changes within government made during wartime should be viewed as temporary; after war, these changes would automatically expire, in the hope that the nation will return to a normal peacetime stance.
It is possible, of course, to apply the concept of light to waging a war, such as the following one. Before a war, a database of all private property would enable government to inventory resources available for fighting. During a war, government can consume or destroy private property to prosecute the war. After a war, government should restore property or provide compensation as best as possible to pre-war levels. For example, government may decide to burn a citizen’s house to deny shelter to an invader, but after the invader is expelled, government should build the citizen a new one or compensate the homeowner for their loss as best it can.
The worst case of foreign terrorism, or war, causes many transformations: from street corner to battlefield, from city to jungle, from the rule of law to the rule of force, from private property to public property, from individual rights to group rights, from respect for industry to respect for power, from individual initiative to group action, from capitalism to socialism. While capitalism is good in peacetime because it brings prosperity through individual initiative and helps secure individual rights via free exchange, it is bad in wartime when everybody must cooperate to fight a common foe. While socialism is good in wartime because it fosters group cohesiveness, fairness, and cooperation, it becomes tyrannical during peacetime because it stifles freedom.
So, in my view, the United States should not attach itself permanently to either capitalism or socialism, but rather be capitalist in peacetime and socialist in wartime, and alternate as needed, in the same way that humans can shift from an individual orientation to a group orientation, depending on circumstances. The danger is becoming fixed to one orientation when the other is needed. Accordingly, the nation will prosper if there are long intervals of peacetime, but short intervals of wartime, and grow economically while keeping alive valuable military skills. While switching from capitalism to socialism and back again is stressful and difficult for any nation, the flexibility helps individuals defeat all forms of terrorism and violence and gives mankind, as a species, extraordinary leverage and power, and it is a potent weapon in the war against violence.
And looking back at America’s history, transformations from capitalism to socialism, and back again, have been the pattern. During serious wars such as World War II, the nation was highly socialist in character: government appropriated private property without payment, seized businesses in order to prosecute the war, suspended writs of habeas corpus, jailed peace advocates, and even imprisoned an entire ethnic group of west coast Japanese-Americans on suspicion of espionage or sabotage. Government ordered blackouts of cities. It drafted soldiers. There was little capitalist freedom during this war. But it worked, and America prevailed in a dangerous struggle. In different wars throughout its history, America usually fared better when its conversion to socialism was more complete; in such cases, it tended to win, like in World War II. When America did not transform itself well to socialism, such as the War of 1812, Korean War, Vietnam War, and both Iraq Wars, the results were stalemate, inconclusive victory, or defeat. There was a half-hearted transition to socialism. Some fought, most did not, and the nation behaved as if war was a secondary matter, like a boxer fighting nonchalantly with only one arm. The transformation from individual to group and back again is easy for me to describe in a book, but difficult in practice.
Light must illuminate whether we are at war or peace. There should be no blurriness. It should be clear to everybody as a flashing red light indicates an emergency.
If America heeds my suggestions, it will prevail against violators of all stripes, from garden variety criminals, to power-hungry public officials, to foreign terrorists and unruly dictators, without becoming a terrorist itself.
That is my thinking.
I believe this strategy will prevent crime and violence and terrorism for our nation at this time.