There is so much back-and-forth about the NSA spying scandal that I can’t figure out which positions are supposed to be “left” and which positions are supposed to be “right.” Is the government reading my e-mails? Do they track my phone calls?
Let me say up front that, probably, no, they shouldn’t. But also, I don’t care that much.
I think this is one of those issues, like guns, in which one’s living situation makes a big difference in how one thinks. There is an urban and rural divide.
If you live out in the middle of nowhere, in a place where meth production is a dominant industry, you might think having a gun in your house is a good idea. In the city, where we are constantly bumping into each other, we benefit from relying on more labor-intensive and conspicuous weapons. Most Americans, no matter where they live, agree on background checks (see above reasons for having or not having a gun), but after that, our personal situations affect our opinions.
It’s the same with the government spying on us. If you live out in the country, with your own personal plot of land, and your own personal car and your own personal water supply (maybe), then I can understand that you think you can live your life unobserved. For those of us in cities, however, it’s different.
I live across the street from a nursing home, so I can’t even get out of bed without the possibility of someone seeing me (which is why my blinds are drawn most of the time). I get to where I’m going by mass transit, which means there are always other people in transit with me. I can’t take a solitary walk because there is no solitude, unless I go all Zen. Which, as a city person, I’ve learned how to do.
This isn’t complaining. This is where I want to be, and I’ve made my peace with the trade-offs. And I live my life under the assumption that everything I do can be observed.
New Yorkers are profoundly judgmental. If you are a tourist, and you are walking around in baggy shorts, flip-flops, and a tight t-shirt over your average American flab, you can be sure we see you, and we have an opinion. Your waiter, observing you order your meal, is deciding how much of a rube you are based on your choices. You can’t walk down our sidewalks (too slowly, too spread out, with your gigantic backpacks and on the wrong side) without us taking note.
Believe me, I’m more afraid of my fellow citizens seeing me walk into an Applebees than I am of the government reading my e-mails.
Also, I’ve always assumed the government was reading my e-mails, listening on my phone calls, and doing whatever else they wanted to do. In the mid-1970s, when I lived on a commune that published an anti-war magazine, the FBI staked themselves out down the road on the assumption that Patty Hearst was with us. We know from FBI files, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that they bugged our phones. I hope they enjoyed all the drama I was going through with my mother at that time.
I don’t like it. I didn’t like it when Bush did it and I don’t like it now.
But, I have to say, I’m not that interesting. Being observed by the government might be the most exciting thing to happen to me all year.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess, will consider better offers for exciting things.