There is a widespread belief that security and freedom are incompatible. We have been told, especially since 9/11 and not just in the US, that the needs of security, meaning keeping us safe from non-state actors who want to do us harm, who are apparently everywhere, outweigh the luxuries of freedom. But security versus freedom is a false dichotomy. The truth is, the extent to which we are free is the extent to which we are at peace.
Some extremes on the opposite end of the spectrum of freedom are prison, slavery, and a surveillance or informant state that does not tolerate dissent or differences. There is neither peace nor freedom in these situations, as anyone is subject to mistreatment at the hands of his or her masters at any time. The claim that “if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” is wrong because people who have power do not always need what you would consider a good reason to use it. Ask people living in jail for selling drugs, or a slave. They are routinely subjected to whatever form of abuse because their bodies are constantly at someone else’s mercy.
A short way from the extreme opposite of freedom is a situation such as a city locked down after a panic. The presence of vehicles of war on the streets of Boston or Cairo following terrorist attacks is not a situation of security. In the case of Boston, ordinary people had guns thrust in their faces and their homes entered, which presumably inspired them with terror as intense as the bombing that just taken place. It is unlikely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have killed people if they had been allowed out of their homes, especially since if he had the people could have dealt with him themselves. In Egypt following the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, peaceful protesters were killed and arrested and a curfew was imposed. Police of every level of the security apparatus, including those in plainclothes and the spy agency, remain all over the city. We are all subject to arrest (or extortion) for looking suspicious or saying the wrong things. The threat of violence looms always just over our heads. And it is not clear how such state reaction prevented further terrorism.
Getting people to expect such state action and believe in it as a necessary way to restore security and freedom are part of the building blocks of the police state. We usually do not know about how power is wielded every day because of compliant media; alternatively, when we find out about what the powerful are up to, we are told why their actions were necessary and right, proportional and in self defense. When we accept this state of affairs it can happen more often.
There is a middle ground (though not at times of crisis) in which police can provide the people with general protection and not turn despotic. However, state security of any kind is necessarily unaccountable to the people and can be used by those with power for social control. Getting a group we do not belong to to protect us does not necessarily lead to protection from that group. We do not necessarily have this choice, because rule is imposed on us without our consent.
That is one danger in the idea of private-security firms. Private security is more likely to be accountable to us than the state is, because if they do not report us they will not get paid. Nonetheless, we must consider the fact that my employing a private-security firm does nothing to guarantee the security of the people around me. And yet, my security depends on those around me. Errico Malatesta put it thus.
Solidarity, that is, harmony of interests and sentiments, the sharing of each in the good of all, and of all in the good of each, is the state in which alone man can be true to his own nature, and attain to the highest development and happiness. It is the aim towards which human development tends. It is the one great principle, capable of reconciling all present antagonisms in society, otherwise irreconcilable. It causes the liberty of each to find not its limits, but its complement, the necessary condition of its continual existence–in the liberty of all.
He proceeds to quote Mikhail Bakunin.
No man can recognize his own human worth, nor in consequence realize his full development, if he does not recognize the worth of his fellow men, and in co-operation with them, realize his own development through them. No man can emancipate himself, unless at the same time he emancipates those around him. My freedom is the freedom of all; for I am not really free–free not only in thought, but in deed–if my freedom and my right do not find their confirmation and sanction in the liberty and right of all men my equals.
Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of the conditions under which we can realise our potential. If we seek peace, we need security not just for ourselves but for others. This belief may be demonstrated when a desperate or mentally ill man robs and attacks someone. We did nothing to help this person and we are all vulnerable as a result. It is even easier to see in an age when people who feel their lives and cultures are threatened can go around the world to plan and execute a terrorist attack on the heart of the entity they believe is threatening them.
Security for all means peace. Freedom for all means peace. They are not opposites. They are, in the end, the same.
In only 18 days in early 2011, Egyptians succeeded in a major step toward revolution. (They unfortunately did not take the opportunities thus presented them but that simply makes their example more educational.) In only four days, from January 25 to 28, the people rose up in the millions, defeated the security forces in the streets and destroyed the legitimacy of the regime. You want to know how to defeat your oppressors? You want to learn from the Egyptians? Perhaps Etienne de la Boetie could explain both the causes and the effects of the uprising.
All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?
…From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.
That is what Egyptians did. They had to fight the police, but the state is necessarily a minority; as such, when enough people join in, even just through providing onions and vinegar to survive the tear gas, the state loses. The people denied the state its authority for FOUR DAYS and only four days, and it evaporated. All we need is enough people who decide to disobey.
There is a lesson behind this picture. It is a disappointing tale but it must be told. This picture is from Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo. The Egyptians who took down the Mubarak regime should be proud of themselves. Yes, they scored a victory for freedom. Yes, they did so by uniting. And most importantly, they showed the world that through uniting to face common problems, we can do anything.
However, the Egyptian Revolution took an unhappy turn. Since Mubarak resigned, what has happened? Hundreds have been killed and far more beaten, shot at and arrested for nothing. Who killed and attacked the people? Who did it before the Revolution? It is not the military. The military is one part of the state. Telling the military to move aside means asking a different set of rulers, still with different priorities from yours, to govern you. It is not one part of the state that represses. It is the state as a whole.
The state is not a humanitarian organisation. It is not a way for people to work together to get things done. And it does not represent the people. It is an institution that forces everyone to comply with the mandates of a few very powerful people who have their own interests at heart. If something needs to be done, why would you want these people to do it for you?
The state comprises far more people than a few elected “representatives”. It means the military, the heads of which will remain influential, rich and unaccountable, powerful businesspeople, police, bureaucrats and everyone who is connected to those in power. Those who have the power to initiate force, to use violence on others, will use it to protect their interests against those who want their freedom. That is true everywhere. Most Egyptians know the state has amassed power and wealth over the past 30 years but seem to think they have tamed it. But you cannot tame the state. You can only injure it temporarily.
Today is election day in Egypt. The electoral contest has divided Egyptians in every way that electoral politics always divides people: by opinion. People are attacked by others who insist that their party and their candidate is the right one to impose his will on 80m people. The greatest tragedy is that Egyptians have been so deeply indoctrinated by thousands of years of despotic rule that they believe the incoming president needs to be “a strong man”: a man who will force everyone to do everything he says. His subjects will have to hope he wants and knows how to get the best for everyone else. Well, it is possible. But it has not happened very often.
Egyptians threaten to protest again—a “second revolution”—if things do not go as they believe it should. But they are fooling themselves. The past 8 months or more have already shown that Egyptians, like everyone else, will be divided by those in power. Those who voted for whoever becomes president will stand by him, and will tell everyone else why they were right. It is simple psychology: if I voted for him, he must be good. I suggest Egyptians put aside their unhealthy craving for big government and consider life without it.
As I said elsewhere, freedom for Egyptians is still possible. Everything the government does you can do yourselves. It means taking responsibility for your community and working together, rather than hoping the state will come along to fix your problems. Here is one idea. Instead of relying on police for security, why not organise neighrbourhood groups that agree to protect each other? If you live in a reasonably wealthy community, you can pay people. When you pay people and can stop paying them if you want, you become their customers, and they do what you want or they lose your money. The government is not like that, because you have to pay. The police are not accountable to you but to their bosses, the politicians. If you do not have the money to pay for people to protect you, you probably need protection from the police more than any other groups. All that is required is some agreement, organisation and cooperation. Together you can solve your own problems in ways that the state will never do for you. That is what free people do.
I know you and your peers can think of other ideas. Remember the Revolution. Unite in the face of repression.
One interesting feature of Canadian culture is its love-hate relationship with the US. Much of what Canadians do is a reaction to what they see in the US as distasteful. They prefer a foreign policy based on peace, for example. They stayed aloof from Operation Iraqi Freedom because like the rest of the world, Canadians knew it was bogus. They are still persuaded to go to war, but only if they can be persuaded the war is about helping people, such as in Afghanistan and Libya. But something is changing. Society is going one way and the state is going the other. The country in which I lived most of my life is following the US trend downward into dictatorship.
First, consider that Canada is experiencing its lowest crime rate since 1973. Crimes that are down include homicide, attempted murder, assault, break-ins, auto theft and drunk driving. Crimes whose numbers are up include drug and firearm offences, which in themselves are victimless. The ruling Conservative Party, which, because it has a majority government, can do anything it wants, has passed a tough-on-crime bill (Bill C-10) that mandates more jail time to potgrowers than to people who sexually assault children. In fact, it includes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, meaning the judge is no longer a judge but merely a sentencer, and the courts are a waystation on the road to prison. It means more of the War on Drugs, with its concomitant rise in organised crime and violence. The “justice” system will uphold these laws, of course, because it is not about justice but the law. The bill to incarcerate harmless criminals will cost $19b.
The Canadian government is cracking down harder on internet freedom. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned Canadians to support a new law to enable the government to spy on its citizens online with the Bushesque “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Terry Milewski explains, “his bill would, in fact, dramatically change the law to allow the government much, much more access to our online lives and identities.” All Canadians’ basic information can be handed over to the government if it so demands, without a warrant, and thus without suspicion. Bill C-30 allows government “inspectors” to look at any private information on the internet now. Why do they want this information? What are they going to do with it?
Third, in this time of financial belt tightening, the police are getting raises. They already make far more than the average Canadian, but then they are a section of the bureaucracy. But most Canadian bureaucrats are not getting raises. Why do the cops need more money? Is evicting protesters getting more perilous? But perhaps they need it. The inevitable rise in violent crime due to the increased suppression of the drug trade will indeed make their jobs harder. But is it all necessary? Is there nothing better we can spend that money on?
When I say “we”, of course, I only mean we would have decided on that money if it had not been stolen from us in the first place. We have no recourse, because when the government makes up its mind, we can do little. We could protest, but we would need hundreds of thousands of people at least in the streets to repeal any one of these laws; and in true government fashion, similar laws would be sneaked by us later anyway. Moreover, if we protested and the police hit back as hard as they did at the last G-8 summit in Toronto when some 1000 protesters were arrested for disagreeing with the elites, we would simply feed the prison system. The government could use it as evidence that we need more prisons and more repressive laws to make things safer.
Canada will not become safer, only more repressive. Most Canadians will not benefit from these laws. Canada’s government is dancing on the fine line between democracy and dictatorship, and like all those who desire power, it favours an expansion of the power of the state toward the latter. Canadians should not remain complacent.
Most people I have met are in favour of gun control. Gun control ranges from a government monopoly on all weapons, to limiting assault weapons and heavier arms to government use, to only banning guns from certain people, such as the mentally ill. I used to agree with most gun control advocates that only government agents should carry guns, but no longer. Guns should be for almost everybody.
The reason that the Second Amendment to the American Constitution was written was because the founding fathers had experience with a government that attempted to disarm its citizens, thereby robbing them of their ability to rebel. Anti-gun Americans today may be right in thinking that they are not under imminent mortal danger from their government, but their house could still be broken into. There are plenty of criminals in the United States, just like everywhere else, and the idea that a gun could be in any or all houses is a good disincentive from breaking in. Gun control laws say not only that you are not allowed to defend yourself against the state, but also that you must put your faith in the police and military to defend you against everything from robbers to foreign invaders. If all houses have (or at least could have) a gun, not only could one protect one’s property against break ins, one could protect against government aggression. Many states have turned on their citizens after disarming them, killing countless numbers who cannot fight back. Imagine if Yugoslavs had been allowed to own guns. Had the same war taken place, the ethnic cleansing of large areas of the country might not have happened, as people would have been able to defend their homes. Perhaps no one would have died at Srebrenica, when some 8000 unarmed, innocent people were killed because only a select group, duty-bound to defend, had access to firearms, and they were nowhere to be found.
We thus need to consider the moral case for gun ownership. What could happen when another state invades our gun-restricted country where only the government has arms? If the opposing military broke through our government’s defenses, we would be powerless to stop it from occupying all the seats of government and taxing and oppressing us as it wished. Let us consider a different situation, one where there is no government and no military, only the people with guns in their houses (or perhaps militias). The invaders have no government offices to occupy and no tax collectors to send round. They could, conceivably, go door to door collecting taxes, but even this would be exorbitant; and if they are at risk of being shot, they will think a third time.
I do not think a country like the US, or say Yemen, even needs a military. There are so many guns of various types, and knowledge of how to make bombs, that in case of invasion, a united America would fight a successful guerrilla war against the invaders.
One objection to guns I can understand is that guns kill. The NRA’s “guns don’t kill people: people kill people” is fatuous in that a gun without someone holding it is useless. Silly logic designed to appeal to the NRA’s membership. The fact is, a home with a gun in it is a home where you could kill someone. But surely knives, axes, martial arts, ropes and fire could also kill people. Guns do it particularly effectively, but removing guns from the home does not make people unable to kill.
Gangs have access to guns. Yes, and they are just as able to have them in armed societies like the US as in unarmed ones. The difference is, in the US they are paying licensed corporations to buy them, and elsewhere they are paying other black market operators and supporting organised crime. Thus, the people charged with defending us, the police, with a monopoly on gun ownership, could be spending their time and our money chasing an enemy that was created by their very existence. And in places like Japan, where gangs have fewer guns, they still kill with bats and knives. Finally, the 9/11 terrorists, the most successful of all time, had no weapons at all. If you are ruthless, you do not need a gun.
Serial killers and the mentally ill have access to guns. Certainly, but currently it is the government’s job to ensure these people are marked down as serial killers. If they have not killed anyone yet or given reason to think they will, you should not take away their rights. Besides, guns do not produce serial killers, and serial killers could live in any country at any time. They will use whatever weapon they have to do God’s work.
It is nonetheless worth trying to prevent guns from falling into the hands of serial killers. One simple solution might be to demand of the gun market a database of all people who have been sold guns, with gun stores listing the basic information of everyone (though also protecting the information in the same way other companies do), and people would only buy guns from a dealer who contributes to the database. If an undesirable wants a gun, we have his information.
Moreover, people with a propensity for violence will often join the police or the military, thus becoming agents of the government, employing legal violence in its name. Of course, not everyone in those institutions has violent impulses, but you can be sure that many people who love shooting gravitate toward groups where it is encouraged. Perhaps that is not an argument against gun ownership but for stricter controls on police and military power. But since that power exists, we should be allowed to defend ourselves against its unfair and arbitrary use.
It might be better if we could decide not as countries but as communities if we would like guns. If ours is to be a gun free community, we can make everyone who enters it sign something. If we want to give everyone the choice, we can tell them when they arrive that some members of our community have firearms in their houses.
I will probably never buy a gun. I will probably never turn a gun on another living person. But I want the freedom to do so, simply to protect those in need. I can’t if there is too much gun control.