THE NATION'S LEADERS ARE FAST AT WORK dividing the population into two sprawling camps: the Watchers and the Watched.
Who can blame them? When one individual—armed only with inalienable rights and a book of matches—can set fire to half of California, the necessity for round-the-clock, one-on-one surveillance becomes all-too clear. Moreover this recognition may explain why the proposed project hasn’t drawn a firestorm of protest.
Cultural questions abound though. Are self-starting briquettes a little too idiot-proof? Is ranging pyromania the inevitable dark twin of rugged individualism? History has shown that no government by itself can suppress a tidal wave of pathologic behavior. Restoring national security will require a still more claustrophobic paradigm than even the Nanny State can offer: that would be one fire chief for every Indian.
Selection criteria for America’s future Watchers include returning Blockbuster videos at least a day early, observing Walk/Don’t Walk signals even at deserted intersections and showing a demonstrated proclivity for the goose-step.
To that end, the Census Bureau has been tasked with identifying the top 150 million “control freaks exhibiting fascist tendencies” in America. Selection criteria for America’s future Watchers include returning Blockbuster videos at least a day early, observing Walk/Don’t Walk signals even at deserted intersections and showing a demonstrated proclivity for the goose-step. Smokers are precluded from Watcher status altogether, as are the overwhelming majority of Californians.
The actual pairings will be derived via a complex algorithm developed by off-shore Indian engineers and held under lock and key by one of those accounting firms used at the Oscars and complicitous in the Enron debacle. To forestall charges of favoritism and nepotism, one government official vows that “no one will be his brother’s keeper.” Amen to that.
President Bush is on board. “I don’t like social engineering. Then again, I didn’t like nation-building either. Bring it on!” For her part, Ms. Norma Kline, retired librarian from Duluth, Minnesota promises to monitor the President very closely.
So have the all-too terrifying prospects of the 21st century overwhelmed the venerable march towards unsupervised freedom? One distinguished libertarian described the broad-based abandonment of the Liberal tradition rather artfully: “By creating a formidable grass-roots security apparatus, the proposed National Watch Program does a good job of addressing the asynchronous threats posed by religious whack-jobs, garden-variety imbeciles, community college aspirants, avowed nihilists, chain smokers and teenage mutant celebrities. If Lindsay Lohan can—theoretically—sober up long enough to devise an IED, it follows that everyone in America is both a potential threat—and a potential victim. Regrettably, the Jeffersonian model has reached a post-modern cul de sac. Our very survival now depends on studying each others every move.”
But the modern police state, even one devolved to the grass-roots, is no panacea. Bleary-eyed atop an undisclosed, highly-fortified, mountain compound with a ton of screens, Big Brother was recently overheard muttering about the “futility of omnipresence” and demanding a vacation. Even fascism is awakening to the grim reality that the center, no matter how repressively policed, cannot hold.
The economic implications are no less daunting. With every other American relegated to de facto social worker status, the real work of nations—hard, sweaty stuff such as building trains, planes and automobiles—falls increasingly to a bunch of demonstrable momos. Newly installed Watchers notwithstanding, experts are bracing for a surge in suspicious shop-floor fires.
Even fascism is awakening to the grim reality that the center, no matter how repressively policed, cannot hold.
Remarked one clever scholar: “All tangible outputs of labor will have to be out-sourced to nations whose work forces are frankly too hungry to start fires. Here at home, our plates will be full watching one another with a mixture of wariness, dread, flame retardants and plummeting productivity. If we persist in meaningful, sustained labor, the whole damned place is liable to burn down. The choice is as stark as it is smoky. This nation needs to decide what it wants: measurable output or the charred remnants of former communities.”
Thus goeth Liberty. Earned in blood by the few, burned with Zippos by the many. As Ben Franklin sort of said, any society that values the Patriot Act over arson deserves Santa Ana winds.