A funny thing happened on September 11 last year in the cradle of democracy and beacon of the Free World. Within literally hours of Mohammed Atta's suicide-cruise-missile attack on the World Trade Towers, American airwaves were filled with pundits - and moderators-arguing first and foremost for the need to curtail America's civil liberties. As if that was what got us in the mess in the first place.
We're not talking about Rush Limbaugh here. We're talking about National Public Radio, that supposed hotbed of left-wing elitism. The Diane Rhem show to be specific. You know, that center-left DAR wonk with the Parkinson's Disease voice. All day, through the evening, and in the weeks to come, Americans were not only being prepared from above for a crackdown on their rights-they were DEMANDING their own repression, and demanding it hard. Even Comedy Central's John Stewart attacked a guest from the ACLU because she was taking a stand against indefinitely detaining people in America based on their ethnicity. All this in spite of the fact that as yet so little was known about the terrorists who attacked them that no rational person could possibly make a link between the civil rights then enjoyed, and the attacks that took place.
Fine, so it wasn't rational. But it certainly FELT good. Choosing the path that FEELS right over the rational path is highly underrated in our post-Voltarian world.
The mass detentions, military patrols, the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping powers handed to our law enforcement and spy agencies, the paranoid micro monitoring of our lives, the sudden rush of snitching and suspicion, the laws that were all rushed through our democratic institutions, egged on by the supposedly liberal media, and craved by the population at large-their purpose was not so much to prevent further terrorist attacks, but rather, to calm a panicked citizenry. And it worked. Calming the population that is.
While anthrax attacks made a mockery of unprecedented police state measures, sleeper cells went on sleeping undisturbed even by John Ashcroft's own admission. Yet the American population felt increasingly comforted by the knowledge that theirs and everyone else's moves were being monitored more closely and thoroughly than ever before in American history, overseen by a deluded, messianic bigot from Missouri. Dire warnings about "credible threats" of "imminent attack" were issued, each one increasing both the public's comfort with the new civil rights rollbacks (otherwise how could they have learned that The Golden Gate Bridge was being targeted?), and its demand for even further rollbacks of civil liberties, whatever that may entail.
Despite what you may want to believe about yourself and your country, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have been a step ahead of Ashcroft and Bush in demanding they be monitored more vigorously, and, if necessary, prosecuted more secretly, ruthlessly and unfairly than every before.
This brings us to our uncomfortable point, one that no post-Enlightenment humanist would dare to admit: human beings WANT to be repressed. They feel safer. They function better under properly administered doses of repression. It gives them limits, direction, order, comfort, security. This is why American management theory, alone among disciplines in the West, never bothered with the counter-intuitive humanist myths pushed by Voltaire and Rousseau about freedom of choice and man's essentially decent nature.
American corporations, the soul of the country, are top-down, rigidly structured mini-autocracies which are by definition anti-democratic and repressive. They function in a world of overt and covert employee monitoring, suspicion and pressure, fear and paranoia, rewards and punishments, conformity and caution. Their goal is maximum efficiency. Maximum efficiency is achieved both by motivating the workers to produce at their peak potential, and by creating conditions for maximum predictability. Cutting-edge companies like Intel and GE compared the work habits of employees motivated by teamwork and job security to those who were motivated by the constant fear of layoffs, deadlines, pressure... and they discovered a dark secret about man that our Enlightenment forefathers tried to make us forget: that workers--human beings, that is--respond most positively to fear. Using this discovery as the basis of their corporate management philosophies, these corporations wound up transforming American corporate culture, and eventually much of the world's. Most Americans spend far more time today in these vertically-structured autocratic mini-states, pressured, monitored, spied on, rewarded today and fired tomorrow, than at any time in American history.