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Not too long ago, I predicted that if I live to the average American male lifespan of 76 — I’m 46 now — I’ll have outlived the United States as we know it.
At the time, I feared I was being over-optimistic, but lately I’m leaning the other way and thinking that my timetable may have been unduly timid. The United States may be something quickly receding in history’s rear view mirror by the time I start getting junk mail from AARP (“you’re 50 — join now!”).
The recent temper tantrums of the American political class and its toadies abroad bring to mind an old saying (incorrectly attributed to Gandhi) — “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” — and the Kubler-Ross model of grief. Our would-be masters appear to have moved forward from “denial” to “anger” in a big way.
In England, Metropolitan Police thugs (in admitted connivance with their US counterparts) abducted David Michael Miranda and held him prisoner for nine hours, stealing several pieces of computer and communications gear. Miranda’s crime? He’s the husband of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist most responsible for bringing the disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden forward for public scrutiny.
In the United States, US Army Colonel Denise Lind is, as I write this, “deliberating” over a sentence for American hero Bradley Manning, who likewise embarrassed the political class with exposure of their crimes and peccadilloes. The prosecution is asking for a sentence of 60 years or more. Given the complete illegality of the proceedings in nearly every respect, the proper question is how, and in what amount, to compensate Manning after releasing him and apologizing to him. But this isn’t about justice. It’s about revenge.
Ladar Levison, owner of secure email service Lavabit — which Snowden allegedly used when preparing to unload his trove of secrets — recently closed down the service rather than become entangled in the US government’s revenge operation versus Snowden. The government’s response? He’s now under threat of arrest … for going out of business! And he’s not the last to shut down rather than bend over.
These are just the latest incidents in a weeks-long run of American tantrum theater. I’ll be unsurprised if tomorrow we see US president Barack Obama throwing himself onto the Oval Office carpet, thrashing his arms and legs vigorously while holding his breath.
I’m not sure which fact Obama finds more upsetting: That his gang can’t keep secrets any more, or that the rest of us can. But in truth those two facts are the crux of the matter.
Knowledge being power, the continued existence of the state as we know it — centralized political authority with a monopoly on “legitimate” violence — requires maintenance of an illusion: That government can know everything it wants to know about us, and that we can know nothing that it doesn’t choose to tell us. A situation opposite, as it were, the current reality.
Thanks to heroes like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, that illusion has been shattered over the last few years. As a result some states have fallen, more are failing, and all are besieged. We are on the cusp of the post-state era. Thus the anger among those whose lives and ambitions are bound up with a dying institution.
Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).