Friday, August 18, 2006

Amerika's Latest Victim

A bizarre arrest leads a local crime-writing blogger to eloquently rail against our quasi-fascist state:

Last week, novelist Joshilyn Jackson was arrested and jailed because her maiden name was on her Social Security card and her married name was on her driver's license. She had a legally acquired and properly matching Social Security card in a nearby safe deposit box. Nevertheless two police officers from Austell, Georgia (which, according to its web site, "has the friendly, relaxed atmosphere of a small, southern town") pulled Joshilyn from a van full of Sunday School teaching materials, handcuffed her, impounded her car, and took her to jail.

...The mistake itself is probably understandable. Mistakes happen. Incompetence happens. What didn't used to happen is moms getting thrown in jail because a low-level state functionary with a Band-Aid on his pinky missed a keystroke.

I'm not going to traffic in silly, Godwin-invoking hyperbole over a minor event, but as the government creeps slowly into our cars and our phones and our computers, it's worth remembering that totalitarianism doesn't have to look like we imagine it. In dictatorships people eat at restaurants and get married and more or less get on with their lives. In fact, the only fundamental difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is that in a dictatorship leaders take power, and in a democracy leaders have to ask for it. That's no small thing, of course. The idea that the weak can say no to the strong is probably the most radical notion in the history of political thought. But in theory a dictator could choose to grant as many rights to his subjects as he liked. And in theory people living under a democracy could choose to surrender as many of those rights as they wanted. Reason tells you that neither of those things should be likely to happen.

Yet our leaders are constantly asking us to grant them more power anyway. They do this because, like people who use narcotics, individuals who wield power will always want more. And if we never said no to them, the difference between other people's dictatorships and our democracy would be rhetorical. People who willingly surrender their rights don't have any more freedom than people whose liberty is stolen from them.

Had she been arrested for having such an atrocious first name, my outrage would be a bit more muted. For crying out loud - "Shaniqua" shows up more than "Joshilyn" on the Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager. Government enforcement a strict name orthodoxy would only strengthen our democracy.


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