Where Everybody Knows Your Name… And Literally Everything Else About You

Doc’s note: Today, I’m sharing an essay from famed political satirist P.J. O’Rourke. In a recent issue of his online magazine, American Consequences, P.J. details how privacy has become a thing of the past and the government is taking advantage of our oversharing culture.

American Consequences is edited by P.J. and written by some of the smartest contrarian market analysts in the world. The best part is… it’s 100% free. There’s no subscription fee or “paywall” or anything like that. Sign up to start receiving issues right here.

We’re on our way to a new life in a Security-and-Surveillance State. Everything about us will be seen and known. And my greatest fear is that when we arrive in this place of universal visibility and ubiquitous public knowledge of all our private thoughts and deeds… we’ll like it.

A Security-and-Surveillance State that is all-seeing and all-knowing could replace religion. Something will. According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, only about half of Americans age 18-29 are certain that they believe in any kind of God at all.

Central to the concept of God (or gods) in every faith is that He (or They) know exactly what we’re up to at all times and why. This should be terrifying, but most people who are religious – myself included – seem more comforted than frightened by God’s omniscience. Our original Security-and-Surveillance State was a state of grace – a oneness with God. Maybe a oneness with TSA will be just as good. Most Americans pass through airport security more often than they go to church.

Comfort with Security-and-Surveillance runs even deeper in the human psyche than religion. There’s Mom.

She always knew what I was thinking. “Don’t you even think about it,” she’d say about the fresh-baked cookies before I’d caught a whiff of them. And she always knew what I was doing. She had eyes in the back of her head. She also had all the other eyes of all the other moms in the neighborhood. I’d come home from a jolly Saturday afternoon tormenting cats and tipping over birdbaths with my pals, and, before I was halfway up the front walk, I’d hear: “No TV for a week!”

It hardly came as a shock when they taught us in Sunday school that “God is watching.” Mom had gotten there before Him. Yes, God might – in some future too distant to be imagined – send us to hell. But He never smacked us on the butt with a wooden kitchen spoon. Much less did God wait until our fathers got home and tell them our sins so that we got a real whooping.

Plus we were also taught in Sunday school that “God is Love.” And that He would “forgive us our trespasses,” certainly including the foray into Mrs. Pulaski’s yard where we cracked the head off her garden gnome with our Wham-O slingshots. And Mom, of course, was nothing but love. Can anything be as secure as a mother’s love? Whatever we’d done, she got over it. Dad, too. By the time he’d had his second highball he’d forgotten all about giving us a real whooping and was out in the kitchen saying to Mom, “Boys will be boys… ”

Then – to further muddle our attitudes about Security-and-Surveillance – there was Santa Claus.

You better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He’s making a list and checking it twice.
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.

And yet, after 364 days of my being a peevish brat, the Erector Set was under the Christmas tree anyway.

Due to our instincts and our formative experiences, it is all too easy to confuse a Security-and-Surveillance State with Mom, God, and Santa Claus.

The U.S. government is Santa Claus. Federal government annual per capita spending is $21,875. Everybody in America gets almost 22 grand apiece. Meanwhile what the average individual taxpayer gives to the federal government is only $9,655 a year.

Making up the difference must keep those elves at the North Pole busy.

The U.S. government is also Mom. There are a multitude of “eat your vegetables” federal laws on the books. All of them intended to make us healthy and safe, to give us “Security.”

I’m not talking about what really gives us security. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines go begging. (According to a DOD report, about 23,000 active-duty members of the armed services receive food stamps.)

Due to our instincts and our formative experiences, it is all too easy to confuse a Security-and-Surveillance State with Mom, God, and Santa Claus.

I’m talking about things like the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The act, as signed by President Richard Nixon, was 39 pages of What’s-Good-For-You that spawned a myriad of federal regulations and bureaucracies. A PDF of the “Occupational Safety and Health Administration Field Safety and Health Manual” is 265 pages long.

But that’s barely a note under a refrigerator magnet by federal Good-For-You regulatory standards. The PDF for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Food and Drug Administration’s Public Health Service “Food Code” is 768 pages long. “Don’t put that in your mouth!”

The government has a vast apparatus to secure us. And an even vaster apparatus to surveil us.

It’s not just the CIA, NSA, FBI, and Homeland Security. When it comes to U.S. intelligence and investigative agencies, their name is “Legion:”

(I have printed the following list in very small type so that you won’t read it all and experience a horrible fit of paranoia.)

Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations, Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export, Office of Security Enforcement, and Office of Inspector General, National Institute of Standards and Technology Police, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service Office for Law Enforcement, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Pentagon Force Protection Agency, United States Pentagon Police, Department of Defense Police, Defense Logistics Agency Police, and Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency Police, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Police, Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Command, Military Police Corps, Counterintelligence, and Intelligence and Security Command, Department of the Navy Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division, Master-at-arms (United States Navy), Department of the Navy Police, Marine Corps Provost Marshal’s Office, Marine Corps Civilian Police, Office of Naval Intelligence, and Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Security Forces, Air Force Police, and 25th Air force intelligence unit., Department of Education Office of the Inspector General, Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, Office of Health, Safety and Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, and Office of Secure Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services United States Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, National Institutes of Health Police, Federal Protective Service, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service and Coast Guard Police, United States Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine, Office of Border Patrol, and Office of Field Operations, Federal Emergency Management Agency Weather Emergency Operations Center Police, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Removal Operations, United States Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration Office of Law Enforcement and Federal Air Marshal Service, Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General and Protective Service Division, Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs Police, Bureau of Land Management Rangers and Special Agents, Bureau of Reclamation Office of Law Enforcement, Hoover Dam Police, National Park Service Division of Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Services, United States Park Police, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, United States Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, and Division of Refuge Law Enforcement, Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and United States Marshals Service, Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, United States Merchant Marine Academy Department of Public Safety, and NHTSA Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation, Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, United States Mint Police, and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs Police, Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives, Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, United States Capitol Police, Library of Congress Office of the Inspector General, Government Publishing Office Police, Marshal of the United States Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court Police, Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, United States Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Protective Services Office of Personnel Management Inspector General, Federal Investigative Services National Background Investigations Bureau, United States Postal Service Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Postal Police, Smithsonian Institution Office of Protection Services, National Zoological Park Police, Amtrak Office of Security Strategy and Special Operations and Amtrak Police, Federal Reserve System Federal Reserve Police and Federal Reserve Board Police, Tennessee Valley Authority Police, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Inspector General, National Science Foundation Office of the Inspector General, National Archives and Records Administration Office of the Inspector General, Railroad Retirement Board Office of Inspector General, Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, General Services Administration Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development Office of Inspector General Corporation for National and Community Service Office of the Inspector General 

But if the government wants to know our wickedest thoughts and most dastardly plans, none of this intelligence-gathering and investigation is necessary. We’ve posted those thoughts and plans on social media.

And if we’ve followed through on our stupidest ideas and put them into idiotic action, then we’ve got a video on YouTube with a million views.

Add our Social Media State to the Santa State and the Mommy State and we’ve already arrived at the Security-and-Surveillance State.

We want everyone to know everything about us. (And take care of everything for us while they’re at it.) Even the most secretive terrorists can’t resist the opportunity to gurgle and coo – or bawl and wail – to attract attention.

The Security-and-Surveillance State makes us feel like we’re the center of the universe again. It puts us back in the crib, without worry or responsibility. America used to need liberty and Fourth and Fifth Amendment privacy. Now America needs diapers.


P.J. O’Rourke