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“One day, early in 1925, I sat down on a concrete bench on the
Columbia campus, facing a little Greek shrine and the statue of my old
political hero, Alexander Hamilton. … There ran through my mind the
only lines I remember from the history textbook of my second go at
college. …’The Roman Empire is filled with misery, but it is
luxurious. It is dying, but it laughs’” (Whittaker Chambers, Witness,
1952).

With a DOW that only knows “up,” unemployment that goes only down,
retirement accounts bursting at the seams and an economy that is
perpetually expanding, many people ask, “Can things ever get any
better?” And if they are particularly thoughtful, they may ask those
around them, “Who do you think will make the DOW rise faster and higher
– Bush or Gore?”

Oh, there are dissenters, of course. But they are all on the fringes:
the religious right, China-haters and national security freaks, prolife
protesters, homeschoolers, gun-owners, homophobes, Clinton-haters,
white-supremacists and, perhaps somewhere in the archives a few aging
Black Panthers. Overseas they have names like Milosevic, North Korea,
Afrikaners, and Orthodox Jews.

Their views don’t matter — because they don’t hold a 51 percent
majority. When times are good they can be humored; with their frantic
gestures, actual belief in their cause, and stark, intense facial
expressions they can be quite amusing when they appear briefly on the
evening news.

Of course, one must be careful not to make too much fun of them. When
provoked, they can become violent. We should all be grateful, therefore,
that government has assumed the role of protector and guarantor of our
rights! FBI mandates that require telephone companies to provide for the
simultaneous tapping and recording of three percent of the nation’s
telephone calls at any given time are for our protection. It’s also a
good thing that our intelligence services have expanded into domestic
spying: by entering the names of those with politically undesirable
views into their vast databases, recording their telephone calls,
intercepting their mail, reading their faxes and email,
cataloguing their website visits and planting informers among them, such
dangerous people can be arrested and brought to justice before they can
actually commit a serious crime.

But that is not to say that life is perfect. With illegal immigrants
sneaking into the country and deadbeat dads evading child-support
payments, it was fortunate that the Social Security number was added as
a federal requirement for most state drivers’ licenses. Funds can be
withheld from states to bring them into compliance. Now we finally have
a national database of all workers.
With employers reporting where we live, work, and how much we make, it
will be a lot harder for these socially irresponsible individuals to
escape detection.

And with drug-dealing the major problem that it is, it only makes
sense to have banks trace all cash deposits and withdrawals. If people
don’t have a good explanation for why they have the cash,
they are probably up to no good. Of course it makes sense for banks to
furnish account information for all their customers to state and federal
authorities; that way computer matches can be run against Social
Security numbers to find deadbeat dads and tax delinquents. Everyone’s
got to do their part!

Meanwhile, back at the Bush vs. Gore discussion at the water cooler,
some hot news arrives. “Hey Dave! Did you see the police come and haul
Fred out of his cubicle at work? Wow — guns drawn, the whole bit!
Scuttlebutt has it that he sent off for some white supremacist
literature. …”

Dave calls home to give Mary the hot story. “You should have seen the
police nab old Fred down in programming today –” But Mary cuts him off.

“That’s nothing, sweetheart,” she says. “The police raided the Jones’
house today! They were all dressed in black uniforms and held Stan and
Missy at gunpoint, flat on the ground, while they carted Stan’s gun
collection away! Child Protective Services came and took their three
kids. …”

“I’ve got to go, Mary. The boss is waving me into his office.” Dave
weaves his way between the cubicles and into the boss’ office. “Dave,”
the boss begins, “we got a letter today from state Social Services. They
said you owe 57 thousand dollars in back child support. They’ve attached
your bank accounts, and our vice president doesn’t want this kind of
thing happening around here.” He looks up at you from his desk. “I’m
sorry — you are terminated.”

“But I don’t –”

“Dave, we can’t have the authorities on our case.”

“But my kids are home! I live with them, Marty!”

“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about, Dave,” says the boss. He
gestures for someone to come into the room. You turn to see two
uniformed officers and a Child Protective Services caseworker.

“He’s a little distraught, officer,” the boss says as they handcuff
you. “We’ve terminated him. Feel free to go through his desk and
computer, if you like. We don’t want any trouble.”

“The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character,
understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it
laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses
to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole
civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality,
because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to
distinguish between good and evil” (Whittaker Chambers, Witness, 1952).

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