^^ Franz Kafka was haunted by the impenetrable bureaucratic, protection state whose surreal impositions he so brilliantly envisioned


You may recall reading the novels and stories of Franz Kafka, a Czech who lived from 1883 to 1924 and who documented the impersonal, labyrinthine, secret world of bureaucratic tyranny in “The Trial” and “The Castle.” We read Kafka, and we had nightmares of his world. It was a maddening world in which the single individual was hemmed in by petty rules about everything, rules issued by no one he could identify or find, and whose minions, when he tried to protest, sent him from one door to the next in a fruitless search for relief or even for an answer to “why ?”

What we did not expect was how peacefully a world like Kafka’s would come into being and how calmly it would sit upon us. But now we know. Because we are living in one. Our Kafka world is called “the surveillance state.” We Americans created it as a result of the jet-plane attacks upon us on September 11, 2001. With legislation ruefully called “The Patriot Act” we have erected around ourselves a bureaucratic shield as impenetrable as possible, a structure of snoop and survey — not to mention the TSA and its body pat downs — intended to make us prophylactically secure against a repeat attack. We named it the “Department of Homeland Security.”

Legislation that placed security above liberty — explicitly said so — proclaims that it’s for our own protection. So said the Kafka “Castle” state as well. So has said almost every Big Brother (thank you, George Orwell in 1984) ever established. Most Castles and 1984’s of course, come into being by violence and are maintained by a terror apparatus. Not so with us. Our surveillance state has come about by legislation and controls us as blithely as the sea is smooth at dawn. Many of us like it that way.

The surveillance state that we put into place here in America always says that it takes every precaution to not violate Constitutional protections; that it respects our privacy, our liberty, our freedoms; that it will “not give up the values we live by.”

This is pure horse manure.

We know now, thanks to the revelations given us by Edward Snowden — and expanded upon by what remains of our free journalism — that the secret FISA court has authorized surveillance of all our communications for many other purposes than hunting terrorists. Our communications — all of them — are now to be commandeered in search of nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, espionage. And that’s only what we KNOW about. Had Ed Snowden not uncovered the work of this secret court, who knows what authorizations they would have given to the National Security Agency ?

If not for Snowden, we wouldn’t have known that the FISA court even existed, much less been able to read its findings.

Few Americans would deny the CIA, or even the NSA, authority to collect data directly related to the pursuit of terrorists. Since World War II, at least, we are accustomed to having a large intelligence apparatus at work fighting our battles. ┬áBut war is war; we are not at war now. Terrorism can hurt us grievously, but it is largely an international police matter. Or you would at least think…

As a secret court, the FISA was not given a brief to fight crime. Yet that is what it has expanded to doing. This brings us to the Fourth Amendment, which sets the ground rules for searches and seizures. The Amendment requires a reasonable basis for the issuance of a search warrant. It has not been repealed — yet.

The ACLU had already sued in Federal Court to block FISA from isuing blanket surveillance authorizations. This week another group has brought suit, directly in the Supreme Court, to obtain a ruling that will limit FISA to surveillances that would pass the Fourth Amemdment test. We support their fight.

One hears the word “security’ a lot lately. “Secure the borders,” say the anti-immigrant people. “Security” is part of the very names of both the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. we are troubled to hear the word security used so broadly.

We much prefer the word liberty. Unhappily, that word has been all but commandeered by the Tea party and its anarchic, survival of the fittest agenda — a world amoral in the extreme — which, oddly, one finds in Franz Kafka. Amoral liberty, as he well knew, is the only kind that can survive in a surveillance world, secret, impenetrable. It is really no liberty at all. It is a death sentence.

Badly America needs to step back from both its security obsessions and its amoral liberty. We wish all success to those who fight either or both.

—– Michae,l Freedberg / Here and Sphere