For those of you familiar with America’s history in befuddling or outright superplexing the rightfully-elected governments of Third World democracies during much of the 20th Century, particularly when those democracies leaned too far left, you may think America’s looking pretty good these days. And you may think it’s looking absolutely stellar when compared with what’s currently going on elsewhere in the world.
Focusing solely on what’s happening in places outside of America this past week, I was left head-shakingly outraged (as tends to happen when I do this) at the efforts many ruling governments are engaging in to seriously stifle the general freedom of their people. Some examples I found were:
Myanmar extended its repressive, two-year military rule this week by postponing elections and re-declaring martial law all over the country. Next: Iran admittedly has detained or sentenced tens of thousands of protestors who’ve done little more than take to the streets recently to voice their opposition to years of repression, or just dance in a f—ing social media post. The Chinese government also is trying to round up citizens abroad and likely imprison them upon returning through highly restrictive practices like ‘exit banning’, meaning refusing their spouses or relatives the right to leave the country until the dissident in question returns to face what will likely be seriously trumped-up charges. And finally, in the occupied West Bank, though not oppressing their own citizens per se, Israeli eviction of Palestinians from land they’ve called home for very a long time—spurred by a one-sided ruling from the Israeli high court—amounts to virtually the same thing.
If you’re of the mind that every geopolitical Cold War maneuver by the U.S. was done out of the purity of America’s pentagonal-shaped heart, and that ‘intervention’ and ‘salvation’ are completely interchangeable terms here, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. However, if we shift the focus from every else in the world back to America for just a moment, all I need do to highlight shadowy, historically questionable authoritative practices is bring up things like J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the massive, domestic, counter-intelligence program it conducted (known as COINTELPRO), the on-the-ground (and in the court) resistance to the civil rights and counterculture movements and, more recently, the seemingly endless list of info-mining-and-gathering software programs being used by government and state agencies like Palantir, Pegasus, Fog Reveal and Endeca—not to mention Microsoft’s Azure Cloud and Amazon Web Services—and programs like ShadowDragon being used by police departments to real-time surveil U.S. citizens without a warrant. Which also brings me to the reverse search warrant, a very legal way for law enforcement to demand that technology companies (and others) hand over your information because you were in the same location as a crime in question, you possibly punched the same phrase into a search engine as the perpetrator or your DNA is needed to compare against a suspect’s, gathered at a crime scene.
But otherwise, out in the open, things seem pretty day-to-day staid and unobtrusive, compared to places like China, Iran, Myanmar, the Israeli-occupied territories, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or just look at this pretty damning list of the worst abusers of press freedoms in the world. Future national health crisis mandates and heavy police state activity aside, that is. And they are, for the most part.
But not entirely.
It may not seem like America is openly stifling the day-to-day, general freedom of its own anymore, but that all depends on who you ask. The question is similar to looking at the death toll of the Black Plague in Europe, and agreeing with the notion that it significantly decimated the world’s population. The world had around 440 million inhabitants at the time. The Black Plague killed around 25 million. It’s all about perspective. And who you’re leaving out.
Now, I’m going to demonstrate in a bit how one’s “rights” are often determined by people who’ll never walk a mile in a pair of impoverished, second-hand or rainbow-colored shoes, belonging to citizens for whom they draft and approve legislation, for or against whom they judge that legislation, and those they protect and serve. But before I do, I want to bring up one sensible, rational point (I feel): A crucial, objective factor when determining the potential violation of one’s individual rights is, ‘Is what someone’s claiming to be rightfully theirs impinging upon the rights of others?’ In the case of, say, morons storming the capitol because they were either too idiotically impressionable to not believe the U.S. election was stolen, had no sense of the legal ramifications they’d be slapped with a year later or actually believed a civil war was on the horizon, then no. But, say, in the case of transgender people being allowed to use a bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they currently identify, or a school trying to teach African-American culture to their students, the answer is arguable. Which means, yeah, probably. Homophobia, bigotry, prejudice and outright hatred aside (which shouldn’t be set too far aside), the question that needs asking is, Are people’s actual rights affected, and whose? Unfortunately, in the end, such is determined by a court of law slotted to rule in a particular jurisdiction, or the choice of a DA or grand jury to bring or not bring a case. And the decisions handed down by those courts, juries and prosecutors can be rife with any and all of those same human emotions and prejudices.
(Take the recent Oklahoma case, for example, of a man violating federal law by being in possession of both marijuana and a firearm, and a federal judge subsequently throwing out the case, writing that copping the devil’s lettuce—legally accessible at over 2,000 locations in Oklahoma—shouldn’t interfere with one’s constitutional right to own a weapon. Opinionated, no? Tricky, no? Legal cases are ruled on in similarly subjective ways all over the Western world, with legal precedent or just plain old bias altering or subverting what otherwise should be a pretty black-or-white outcome.
Or take the far more famous case of the county DA in Georgia who refused to bring charges against the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. Great case in point, there.)
But the fact that people’s rights are affected even sometimes by legal opinions and lethal force—as can clearly and objectively be seen in places Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida again, and Florida—means that average Americans sometimes don’t possess the very basic rights to go to the bathroom where they should be able to, to read the contents of a book out loud, to say a phrase in a classroom, choose what happens to their own bodies or have the right to a fair trial without someone else taking that right away before it even has a chance to be acknowledged.
And, rightfully, that’s a problem.