Where Nobody Knows Your Name
I don’t, as a general principle, allow anonymous comments here. Chief among the reasons is that the more anonymous people are, the worse they behave. People do things behind tinted glass on the freeway that they would never do on the sidewalk. They say things from the cover of darkness that they would never say in the light of day.
Despite the fact that he's right, I've chosen to allow anonymous comments. But like hearsay at a suppression hearing, the assertions of anonymous commenters, whether thoughts, feelings or beliefs, aren't given the credit that goes with putting your name and reputation behind them. You want to hide? Okay, but then don't complain that you aren't treated with the respect you think you deserve. That's the price.
Anonymity on a blog is relatively benign. Sure, it can offer misleading, even dangerous "advice," but I trust that others reading it understand that if the person lacks the guts to put his name to his words, his advice is worth no more than his reputation.
But the same concerns that Bennett has about commenters hiding in the shadows apply to others who, though you know what they're wearing, are similarly anonymous.
Why do TSA goons steal? They steal because they can. They steal from your checked luggage because when you get to Chicago and your cufflinks are missing, there is no way for you to track down the guy in the Atlanta airport who stole them. If TSA wanted to stop its employees stealing from checked luggage, there’d be a simple solution: any TSA employee who opens a bag puts his name in it.
But that would create accountability, and the security state cannot operate if its functionaries are accountable. If screeners knew that their mothers were likely to read on the internet about what they were doing on the job, they would be on much better behavior, which would not aid in the government’s avowed program of unquestioning compliance.
The argument against this is one heard frequently, and used a blanket excuse for any wrong that occurs as an unfortunate by-product of a safe society. If the functionaries of government could be put in fear for the performance of the job the government demands of them, then we risk their hesitation, their failure to act as the government tells them, and we will all be put at risk and suffer for their fear. We can't have that, the government says.
The argument is valid, with the caveat that the government imputes good will to the people it pays to do a job. If no TSA agent ever pulled out a pair of cufflinks from a bag he was checking for bombs that have never been found, then it wouldn't be an issue. The government assumes that no agent in its service will do wrong, because they aren't supposed to do wrong, and makes rules based on its assumption.
They are sound rules if the assumption proved accurate. It never does, completely. There are always some who violate the authority and trust, and on the rare occasions that they're revealed, the isolated-incident trope is pulled out of safekeeping.
But Bennett's point is not only that it's not an isolated incident (provided you agree that when something happens constantly, isolated isn't a proper characterization), but that if the assumption was true, it need not happen at all. Why, if our government functionaries are so honorable and trustworthy, should they live in mortal fear? If they steal nothing from your bag, touch nothing on your body, that would give rise to anger, hatred, fear of publicly outing them to their mother, should they need to conceal their identities?
Thoughts immediately flashed back to the Oakland police preparing to put an end to Occupy Oakland, when the first thing they did after strapping on their battle gear was cover their nameplates in black tape. In a bit of total irony, my post about this included a video posted by Carlos Miller, which has since been removed because, according to the Youtube message:
The You Tube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement.
If you're not aware, Carlos has been at the forefront of recording police, making sure the light (if not sun, then klieg) shines on their conduct, and they absolutely hate him for it. Copyright infringement? Not likely.
The black tape didn't appear on their shields by magic. It didn't sneak into their closets at night and affix itself to their nametags. The Oakland cops made an affirmative decision to conceal their identities, since the only description anyone could provide about them aside from their names is that they looked like Federation Storm Troopers in black. And the only answer back would be, "we would love to help, but without knowing whose club broke your skull open, there's nothing we can do."
Anonymity is the refuge of coward and scoundrels. It's where evil can have its way. It's the means by which the psychological forces that prevent our worst angels from taking control of our thoughts and actions are swept away, and we devolve into our most vicious, malevolent selves.
You want to be anonymous when you comment on a blog? Big deal. Say something stupid and that's how you'll be treated. Ideas can be dangerous, but by hiding in the shadows, everyone knows you aren't to be taken seriously. You render yourself worthless by choice, and your cries that you don't want to suffer the consequences of your spewing are a joke for the rest of us to laugh at.
But this can't be said for agents of the government, who bask in anonymity to avoid accountability. The excuse that they can't do their job if they're afraid is a lie, no matter what court, agency or official perpetuates it. Their attempt to conceal themselves is, alone, a wrong perpetrated by an agent of the government on the public, as clearly as the Oakland cops who put tape over their names. And it is incumbent on good people to get the names of those who hide in the shadows and utter them so they don't get away with it.