After they read yesterday’s post, my parents called me repeatedly to suggest that I edit the post because they were afraid that the NSA was going to haul me off to an undisclosed location for my comment about Malia Obama.
To take a phrase from the elder Obama, let me be clear: I am not, have not, and will not be making threats against anyone at any time for any reason. There are no threats in this blog, nor will there ever be. I am a pacifist. I condemn all violence, anywhere, ever, in all forms, unlike this country and most of its inhabitants, who seem to increasingly be looking for reasons to justify violence, especially state-sponsored violence.
My comment about Malia and the associated writing was intended to hold up a mirror to this country, as most of my political discussion of the United States is trying to do. I have heard all these reports about Israel killing the young children of Hamas leaders, about the United States slaughtering infants and families and children of “militant” leaders in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, undisclosed locations beyond that. And so I wanted to explore a thought experiment of how we would feel in the United States about the relatives of our own militant leader. And obviously this struck a chord with at least my parents, especially my mother, who felt it was something that could get me in trouble.
For me, the troubling thing is not what I said. I think it’s pretty evident that the line “For surely we wouldn’t blame anyone for killing Malia Obama, wouldn’t call that terrorism,” was a sarcastic reflection of how American lives are understood to have value, but the lives of non-Americans are understood to be worthless in this country. I think this is clear to anyone with basic reading comprehension skills, which is not a criticism of the concern of my parents. My parents’ mission statement in regards to me is basically to keep me safe and has been for 34.5 years. This country doesn’t make that job easy when their son regularly expresses free speech in a public forum, I guess. But what does that say about us?
I mean, honestly, what does it say where we have a country with much-vaunted “free speech” rights where my parents spend most of yesterday fretting over whether I’ve used my free speech in such a way that I will be detained indefinitely without charge in an undisclosed location by agents of our increasingly police-y state?
I know a lot of you are saying that this is just a reflection that my parents are paranoid. And as I infamously said in my French Revolution CTY segment in the middle-90’s, “Paranoia is healthy in paranoid times.” But more to the point, maybe they aren’t being paranoid? There are issues like this guy, who was locked up for making an obviously sarcastic “threat” on Facebook wherein he was lampooning, albeit awkwardly, the idea of how crazy he was. These cases are increasingly common, it would appear, though most of them seem to involve teens talking about school shootings. And I guess these folks are all in disclosed locations, but then, you don’t hear about the ones in undisclosed locations, do you?
I mean, what are the limits of this? Is it reasonable for the average politically restive blogger to have to constantly be trying to read the worst possible interpretation of their comments in the worst possible way and wonder how the NSA will take that? And then to make amend(ment)s? Is that the implicit goal of stories like the above and the way people take everything so deathly seriously these days? Is the goal that free speech is sufficiently chilled that we don’t want to discuss any issue more controversial than how frequently we wave the flag and with what level of vigor? Isn’t this kind of self-checking and paranoia precisely what this country was allegedly founded to contrast with?
I’m increasingly thinking this is just paranoia. But here’s a reverse chilling effect for you: If I disappear and send only an awkwardly written text or e-mail saying that I’m okay and don’t go looking for me, then please go looking for me. I will never disappear with only this form of communication as my farewell.
Honestly, that should probably apply to everyone you know.
Some freedom that’s being protected right now.