Citizen Solidarity and Liberal Society

by Daniel A. Kaufman

In his essay, “See Something?  Don’t Say Anything,” Dan Tippens has broached an essential subject.  For a liberal society to survive, a healthy space must be maintained between the state and the citizenry.  That space is filled with the elements of civil society, by which I mean the voluntary associations and affiliations we have with one another: family; friends; associates; club members; parishioners; etc.  Maintaining that space requires, as Dan put it, “citizen solidarity,” by which he means a base-level toleration for one another (even in the case of substantial, mutual dislike), as well as a strong disinclination to turn our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors over to law enforcement or sue them in civil court, save for the most serious breaches of the social contract.

Dan is certainly right.  As we know from both the scholarship and literature of totalitarianism, a successful totalitarian regime relies upon the undermining and ultimately, the destruction of civil society and the atomization and mutual alienation of its citizens that follows.  It is for this reason that such regimes invade our private spaces, subvert our relationships, and turn us against one another – brother against brother; lover against lover; friend against friend; child against parent; neighbor against neighbor; colleague against colleague – the result being that each of us finds him or herself isolated and defenseless against the predations of the State.  As Hannah Arendt described it:

If we stick to the image of the pyramid, it is as though all intervening layers between top and bottom were destroyed, so that the top remains suspended, supported only by the proverbial bayonets, over a mass of carefully isolated, disintegrated …  individuals.” (1)

Dan examined this issue in microcosm, his example being that of a person at the University of Miami, who decided to cross a sizable, outdoor parking lot in order to demand he put out his cigarette, on threat of reporting him to Security.  But he might have chosen any example in which someone, when confronted with behavior that is off-putting or in some way offensive, runs to an official authority, rather than dealing with it him or herself.  The point is that the woman broke what few bonds of solidarity she and Dan had as members of the same voluntary community, insofar as they otherwise were strangers to one another.  And you can be sure that if the shoe ever came to be on the other foot – if on some other occasion it was she who was doing something that violated some minor rule or other, and it annoyed Dan – the ill will she had created would be duly reciprocated, and in that moment, the official authority in question would come to have a power over them both that it otherwise would not have had.

What seems like mere pettiness, then, is in fact, extremely dangerous.  We create antipathy towards one another, one petty act at a time, until we suddenly find ourselves in our current situation, in which it seems like everyone hates each other and law enforcement and other official authorities are welcomed everywhere and involved in everything, at our own request.  Indeed, it’s gotten to the point where one routinely encounters official communications that are indistinguishable from fictional, totalitarian propaganda and which evoke no discernible outrage on the part of the public.


Sign Issued by the Connecticut Department of Transportation


A sign in Terry Gilliam’s dystopic film, Brazil.


A sign issued by the British Transport Police


Another sign from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

In Orwell-style dictatorships – Nazi Germany; Stalinist Russia; Maoist China – this sort of thing is effected by brute force and the threat of it, but Aldous Huxley showed us how it could also happen non-violently, by way of operant conditioning and social manipulation.  Citizen solidarity in the Brave New World is destroyed not by way of children having their parents arrested or lovers turning one another over to the authorities, but through a meticulously cultivated shallowness, engendered by conditioning children into a hedonistic ethos that is constantly reinforced, to the point that the very terms used to describe the various elements of civil society, ‘family’, ‘mother’, ‘marriage’, ‘best friend’, and the like are either incomprehensible or treated as a sort of foul language.

The primary force behind civil disintegration in the West today and especially in America – the thing that is being used to convince us that we should break solidarity with one another and turn to state and other official authorities at every turn – is a bogus conception of “safety,” with which people are being conditioned and reinforced with as much dedication and vigor as the hedonic ethos is imprinted upon the citizens of the Brave New World.  And it is one that extends not just to the threat of criminal violence, but to well-being more generally construed, and especially personal health.

That a persistent, deep-seated conviction that we are unsafe has taken root, in contradiction of the plain, demonstrable fact (as indicated by federal statistics) that violent crime is at its lowest point in three generations and that we are the safest we’ve been since the 1960’s; that we see the widespread acceptance of lunatic notions like that we live in a “rape culture” or that “cities are burning” (the latter being a point Donald Trump used to great effect in the last election); that a constant anxiety about our health is sustainable, despite the fact that people in the modern, industrialized world are living longer and healthier than anyone at any time in human history; all of this demonstrates the power not just of propaganda – and there is plenty of it – but of appealing to human fears and engendering perceptions of weakness and helplessness on the part of ordinary, common people.  It also demonstrates the dangers of a certain kind of hyperbole, which, when employed so often as to transform ordinary language and common meaning – as has happened with words like ‘safe’, ‘harm’, ‘violence’, ‘aggression’, and the like – has the capacity to self-condition, with no external intervention.  The citizens of Orwell’s tyranny of suspicion and Huxley’s tyranny of pleasure are conditioned by the tyrants and their agents.  In our budding tyranny of safety, we condition ourselves, through our use of a normalized, yet wildly hyperbolic language.

Dan also was quite right to suggest that this crucial lesson regarding citizen solidarity must be learned at a young age, if it is ever to take root, which is why for today’s aspirant authoritarians, there is such a concerted effort to train children to always look to official authorities for the resolution of their problems, rather than to take care of them, amongst themselves, and to convince them that they are always unsafe.  In all but a handful of schools, campuses are closed, hallways and classrooms are under video surveillance, and students are always in the presence of an adult authority.  In most schools around the country, students are required to bring their personal disputes to official “conflict resolution” bodies, staffed by fellow students and overseen by teachers and administrators.  One finds a ubiquitous, on-campus police presence that just a few decades ago only would have been found in the most dangerous of inner-city schools, and somewhat creepily, it begins at a very young age, so that children will become accustomed to seeing police around them all the time.  I was profoundly disturbed one day, years ago, when I dropped my daughter off at her elementary school and saw that they had a police officer there, at the front door, greeting every student who entered with a smile and a lollipop.  Nothing had happened that day or week or month.  He was simply there to normalize his presence in the minds of six, seven, and eight year-old children.

The citizens of the Brave New World do not have to be coerced, because they “love their servitude.”  In our own “See Something, Say Something” world, we do not have to be coerced to rat out our family, friends, or neighbors, because we love our safety.  In either case, the result is the same.  Citizen solidarity is broken, civil association rots, and we are left as isolated individuals, mutually antipathetic and exposed before the State.


  1. Hannah Arendt, “What is Authority?” (1954) reprinted in Between Past and Future (New York, Penguin Books: 1977), p. 99.


45 responses to “Citizen Solidarity and Liberal Society”

  1. davidlduffy

    “Tags: hyperbole”. First they came for people who didn’t wear seat belts, then they came for the smokers, then they came for the compulsive gamblers, then they came for those who didn’t pick up their own dog’s shit, then there was no-one left!

  2. David: If you have a serious point to make, then make it. Reductio-ad-snark, however, is not an argument.

  3. s wallerstein

    People (outside of their immediate family and tribal groups) don’t matter to one another. If they did, they wouldn’t threaten to call the police because someone is innocently smoking a cigarette in a parking lot.

    I’m not sure if people ever did matter to one another (outside of their immediate family and tribal groups), but when I was younger, most people were more courteous to one another in public places, not so much because they cared about one another or because they really respected them, but because they had been raised with very strict codes of behavior.

    Since the 60’s, we’ve all been liberated from lots of “repressive” rules. Some of that liberation has been very positive, but with the positive aspects of liberation (openness to gay behavior, to new gender roles, to dressing more informally, to experimenting with new forms of relationships, etc.) come the negative aspects of liberation, including
    a lack of courtesy and the fact that every wacko, sadist, fanatic and sociopath feels justified in “doing their thing”, including callling the police if someone is doing something harmless (smoking in a parking lot, for example) that ignites their wrath and their puritanical indignation.

    I don’t see an easy way out. Earlier this afternoon coincidentally I was conversing with a good friend about a related phenonenom, the “fascism” that one observes in political discourse in social media on the right and on the left, that is, resentful, hateful, fanatical discourses without tolerance, without humor, with caring for the other.

    We brought up Erich Fromm’s the Art of Loving, which is one of the best books I know about how to create or try to create decent, respectful and even loving human relationships. It’s an uphill climb, however.

  4. s wallerstein

    error: in my penultimate paragraph I meant to say “without caring for the other”, not “with caring for the other”.

  5. DanK,
    “we are left as isolated individuals, mutually antipathetic and exposed before the State.” Yep; and no amount of protestation will change that.

    I ask that we think in larger, global terms. In a passage I removed from comment to DanT’s essay, I made it clear. There is China, which effects the state centered intervention you worry about, or there is India that barely manages the cultural fragmentation that Mark English has expressed concerns about. There is no third choice, as far as I can see,

    The fundamental problem is one we almost never address – the enlargement of the populations exponentially. What the hell do we expect of governments having to control immensely large heterogeneous populations?

    You write as though this doesn’t matter. It matters greatly. The structures of the liberal state remain; but liberal democratic culture has fragmented, virtually beyond recognition.

    Having avoided it for years, I went to a shopping mall today – I didn’t recognize the people, I didn’t recognize their clothing, I didn’t recognize their interests..

    I stopped at a (Barnes and Noble) book store, In the philosophy section, I found a text explaining what to do if I ever met a ghost. There was nothing by Heidegger there.

    Let’s stop kidding ourselves, The liberal-democratic United States is an experiment of the past. I’m sorry (far more than I can express here), but it’s over. Bother. but your fears, and those of Mark English, are now fully realized. The question is not what we can do about it, but how to live with it.

  6. 1970scholar

    This essay reminds me of that great George Kateb piece “On Being Watched And Known.” It seems that you have a similar view of liberty and the role of the state as regarding liberty as Kateb. I am curious if you know his work.

  7. labnut

    I have read with great interest these cri de coeur from Dan-T and Dan-K. I sympathise and agree. I sympathise because I have seen the future. Indeed I was immersed in it when I worked in Shanghai from ’92 to ’94. This is the future we should fear and even dread. We are sleep walking into that future and it is entirely our collective fault. Perhaps one day I will describe that future in an essay if I can do so without harming my lovely secretary/interpreter who insightfully guided me through that complex society. The mere fact I have to exercise restraint already tells you everything.

    But for now, while I completely agree with Dan-T and Dan-K, I am troubled by the absence of an explanatory framework. Why is this happening? What is going on? My reply is too long to fit in the confines of a comment so I have written it up as an essay, mainly to clarify my own thinking. Perhaps it may be suitable for this venue.

    In any case, here is the opening paragraph from my essay, which I use to set the stage for the remainder of the essay:

    Some days ago the agonised screaming of a dog echoed through our suburb. This continued on and off for four days until at last I could take it no longer and called Animal Welfare. I and my neighbours had been fearful of intervening because this was a new neighbour of a different race group. Any action by us would have sparked hostile, angry and aggressive accusations of racism that would poison the friendly interaction of our neighbourhood. But eventually I did intervene to end what I found was unbearable. There were four large dogs on one property. Three of them had turned on one dog and were savaging it until it would eventually die. But death was a long time coming and its dying screams tormented our suburb for some days. The alpha male was eliminating competition from a juvenile male so that he could have unfettered access to the two females. This behaviour is of course natural in the animal world and it has no moral content. But it deeply offended the moral sensibilities of our neighbourhood. Were we right to act? Did we do the moral thing? Were we being racist by projecting white sensibilities onto a black neighbour?

    Did we become the intrusive, intolerant, controlling busybody described by Dan-T in the car park?

  8. the ill will she had created would be duly reciprocated,

    I don’t see why.

    Our property adjoins six other properties and two of these neighbours make it their business to monitor our gardening carefully and report any imagined infraction against local by laws to the Council. Not just threaten to do so but actually report us to the actual Government without even trying to speak to us.

    So we are regularly spending a good hour at a time explaining those by laws to the Council officers who come round to see us. For the record they have never found an actual infraction.

    We have plenty of opportunity to respond in kind, but we don’t report their illegal bonfires, although it prevents us from drying our clothes. We don’t call the police to their loud late night parties, although they keep our kids awake. We don’t report their drainage work done without planning permission although it floods our land. We try to deal with these in a face to face and calm manner, or else put up with them.

    But we do this because that is how we roll and not because of some unreciprocated solidarity we feel for them. Our principles are not contingent on theirs.

  9. davidlduffy

    “snark”: Dear Dan, what kind of short response do you expect. I come from a country that heavily taxes cigarettes for the good of the smokers, not because of passive smoking. Similarly,

    “The University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine is committed to promoting the health, well being and safety of the staff, students, faculty, patients, and visitors to our campus. Tobacco smoke is a proven health and safety hazard both to smokers [my emph] and to non-smokers who are involuntarily exposed to the serious health risks of second hand smoke. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and tobacco use is inconsistent with our healthcare mission.”

    Nothing to do with how big the parking lot is.

    As to the more general point, I’ll support the State over the “civil society” when it does the right thing and vice versa.

  10. dmf

    The chief cause of the dis-integration of civil society groups has been the decline of industrial capitalism and rise of extractive/financialized varieties that keep people on the move (job to job, city to city) and keep them in competition with their colleagues, while dismantling the middle class. Also lets not forget the related role of academics feeding the student debt markets while pumping out ever more lawyers and the like into the already bloated job market…

  11. David: Thanks for your very straightforwardly put point of view. Obviously, I disagree with you entirely, as does Dan T.

  12. Dmf: that may be, but it’s not what this essay is about.

  13. 1970: No, I’m not aware of that one. Thank you for the tip!

  14. 1970: My university has the journal, but for some reason, JSTOR says I don’t have permission to access it, so I am unable to read the essay.

  15. I’m inclined to think that much of this is mistaken.

    I’m approaching 79 years of age. And all of those massive changes in society — I haven’t seen them. I see as much solidarity to day as I did when I was a child. Back then, there were people who would threaten to call police, just as there are today.

    For a while, I lived in Chicago in what might be considered a yuppie townhouse. Across the street was a public housing area which we avoided lest we be robbed. But one winter there was a large snowfall — around 24 inches. And there was great solidarity between people from both sides of the street, in shovelling the snow off the street so that cars could get through.

    I now look at Chicago from a distant suburb. And in some parts of Chicago, there is great citizen solidarity in the sense of not reporting petty crimes to the police. Those are the parts of Chicago where the people do not trust the police, and for good reason. There are other parts of Chicago, where people have good relations with police and will quickly tip them off if they see problems.

    It seems to me that the solidarity being discussed has to do with forming temporary informal alliances for shared purposes.

    What has changed, is technology. When I was growing up, people would chat with their neighbors over their back fence. And today they chat with people a thousand miles away over facebook. Those are the changes that we are seeing. But I don’t think people have changed that much. I see a great deal of solidarity in opposing Donald Trump. And I don’t doubt that there is solidarity in supporting Trump among some.

  16. Neil: I’m 50 years old and my experience is diametrically opposite to yours. As a child and adolescent, we largely settled conflicts among ourselves. “Running and telling” was verboten and considered dishonorable. Today, not only is it often required, but people are proud, rather than ashamed of doing it.

    Aside from dangerous inner cities, law enforcement and other official authorities were largely absent from one’s life. Today, they are ubiquitous.

    Apparently, we live in entirely different countries.

  17. I have to admit, I find many of the comments here mystifying, as I did with regard to the comments on Dan T’s piece.

    I don’t see how anyone who is liberally inclined can look at the posters I included and not think that they indicate something quite serious and threatening to liberal forms of life.

    I also don’t see how anyone who has been paying attention the last few decades, in the US, cannot see that we have not only become far more *inclined* to go to the authorities rather than settle our disputes with one another personally, but that we are being *trained* to do so, at a very young age, in our schools.

    The point is not that this erosion of citizen solidarity leads directly to totalitarianism. The point is that it is part and parcel of the erosion of civil society, which as Arendt indicates, is *the* crucial bulwark against totalitarianism. *That* is why the erosion of citizen solidarity is dangerous and something we should be worried about.

  18. As a child and adolescent, we largely settled conflicts among ourselves.

    This still seems true, at least where I live (a suburb of Chicago).

    But isn’t the big difference that, back then, we knew our neighbors very well. These days, we mostly communicate with people at distance over telephone or Internet and rarely talk with neighbors. I know Dan Kaufman better than I know my next door neighbor, though I have never actually met Dan.

    When I was in that townhouse in Chicago, we knew other townhouse owners much more closely than we know our neighbors today. For one thing, we were supervising each other’s children as they were growing up. But that was an artifact of where we were living and the newness of that townhouse development.

    Apparently, we live in entirely different countries.

    I did grow up in Australia.

  19. labnut

    that violent crime is at its lowest point in three generations and that we are the safest we’ve been since the 1960’s

    It may be at its lowest point but it is still pretty damn bad. Consider this data, in homicides per 100,000

    0.92 – United Kingdom
    1.68 – Canada
    4.88 – United States

    You see, we don’t carry around with us built in historical comparometers. We see the present. We see innumerable alarming reports of violence and rape. And we should be concerned, indeed more than that, we should be alarmed, because these figures represent deep, agonising and irremediable loss for large numbers of people. When we see that the homicide rate in the US is more than 500% higher than the United Kingdom we should be deeply concerned.

    You need only be at the receiving end of violence once to have a profound change of view where you prioritise security above other concerns. Can you blame that person? After two years I still have not completely recovered from my injuries after being mugged. This has changed my world outlook. It has changed that of my family and my friends. This experience has rippled through my extended network, changing their perceptions.

    And this is what is happening in the US, with its high homicide rate. Social media is enabling awareness on a large scale, as reports ripple through the network, creating concern and fear.

    Is that wrong? Should we not be aware of the threats to our lives so that we can take precautionary measures? I 100 percent support the reporting of potential threats to our safety. We should be doing everything possible to assist the police forces in their task of protecting us.

  20. Labnut: Yes, it’s wrong. And yes, I expect citizens in a liberal democracy who enjoy the franchise to be able to think a little bit about things, in perspective.

    If our current crime rates justify the sort of surveillance state/police presence we now endure, that means that thirty years ago, when crime rates were much higher, we should have imposed martial law. Does anybody really think that?

  21. labnut

    Labnut: Yes, it’s wrong

    It is wrong to be knowledgeable about the threats to your safety? It is wrong to be concerned about threats to your safety? Your response is incomprehensible.

    We operate neighbourhood watches in close cooperation with our local police. We patrol our locality, day and night. We are the vital ears on the ground that help them do their job. We keep our community informed about the evolving threats and help them to adapt. Everyone feels safer as a result and the job of the criminal has become so much harder.

    I find your response to be utterly baffling.

    when crime rates were much higher, we should have imposed martial law. Does anybody really think that?

    That is reasoning by extremes and is unjustified. Better policing is called for. The jump to martial law is a wild jump in imagination.

  22. That is reasoning by extremes and is unjustified. Better policing is called for. The jump to martial law is a wild jump in imagination.

    = = =

    It’s basic logic.

    If threat level N deserves X response, then threat level N++ deserves X++ response.

  23. I recently read an interesting article (but I forgot the name of the authors … should have saved it!)

    It contrasted two different cultures. The first was called an honor-culture (if I’m not mistaken). In this culture, institutions are weak. People have to fight for themselves. They can’t accept even the slightest insult, because it would show that they are weak. They have to retaliate immediately and forcefully, because there are no institutions that protect them.

    I forgot how the second culture was called by the authors, but it was more or less the culture I grew up in, with strong institutions that protect you. In this culture, you shrug off insults and slights, and you have the confidence to handle conflicts yourself, because you know that the institutions will protect you if things get out of hand.

    The authors noticed that we’re seeing the emergence of a new type of culture: one that combines strong institutions with the impulse to call upon these institutions to handle an ever growing number of conflicts that citizens previously ignored, or handled themselves. You’re confronted with (real or imagined) micro-aggressions on the university campus? You demand that the university organizes a safe space for you. You see a guy having a smoke in a deserted corner of a parking lot? You call the police, etc.

    I thought the analysis of these authors was somewhat overblown, but after reading Dan T’s piece (and the reactions) I’m not so certain anymore.

  24. Its a social science piece that Jonathan Haidt regularly refers to.

  25. Labnut: Let’s put it this way: If one is “unsafe” now. What was one back in 1991? Or 1976? When crime rates were much higher.

  26. labnut

    If threat level N deserves X response, then threat level N++ deserves X++ response.

    And from that you infer martial law?

    Why not just infer improved policing? For example, more policemen on the beat? More frequent patrols? More police stations? Greater police presence within the communities? Police/community forums? Better forensics? Better police intelligence? Hah!!! Every policeman will will tell you that police intelligence work is the key to solving crimes. Closer ties with the community?

    There are so many ways the police can intensify their work. There is absolutely no need to resort to martial law. In fact that is the worst solution since the military are woefully ill equipped to handle these challenges. And I know what I am talking about since I worked in military intelligence during a hot war.

  27. Labnut: I’m obviously not communicating my point very well. Unfortunately, I don’t know any better way of doing so than the ways I’ve already tried, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  28. labnut

    Labnut: Let’s put it this way: If one is “unsafe” now. What was one back in 1991? Or 1976? When crime rates were much higher.

    It was more unsafe.

    But so what? We are dealing with an unsafe present. When I was mugged it was no consolation whatsoever to be told that twenty years ago it was worse. It was. But the blood pouring from multiple injuries to my body was very much in the present.

  29. Labnut: And what would it have to be in order to count as “safe”?

  30. s. wallerstein

    There has been an inflation of our expectations of well-being, including safety, since the 1960’s or 70’s.

    I was mugged at knife point in Newark, New Jersey, then mugged by three guys who had guns in their jacket pockets or were faking it (I wasn’t going to experiment) in New York City, then robbed by two fake cops in San Francisco, all in the 60’s or early 70’s. No harm done, no traumas. I didn’t see that as calling for the National Guard (I never even bothered calling the police), but as part of life in big cities.

    Similarly, with health and physical well-being. When my grandfather was my age (about to turn 72), he had retired, he saw himself as old, he accepted that he was no longer physically vigorous and by the way, for his generation, he was careful of his health, walked daily for exercise and lived into his 90’s. However, I have friends of my age (early 70’s) who go to the gym, who expect to look “good in a bathing suit”, who consider themselves to still be vigorous adults and far from retiring, work intensely, competing with much young people. I think that they expect too much and that they’re fooling themselves. We all get old and lose our vigor.

  31. labnut

    Labnut: I’m obviously not communicating my point very well.

    I suppose I must tone down my comments. You will have gathered that I have strong feelings about this.

    Here is my problem. I happen to agree with your overall thesis but think you have made a bad case for it.

    In my opinion what we are really talking about is social capital, as defined by Robert Putnam. Social capital is the sum of all the bonds that define society. They are made up of
    1) Political Participation
    2) Civic Participation
    3) Religious Participation
    4) Connections in the Workplace
    5) Informal Social Connections
    6) Altruistic activities, Volunteering, and Philanthropy.

    Putnam has good evidence to show that social capital has strongly declined towards the end of the twentieth century, and this is what I think you are really talking about.

    His book, BOWLING ALONE, THE COLLAPSE AND REVIVAL OF AMERICAN COMMUNITY, discusses this in detail and will repay careful reading. He discusses why this matters and makes suggestions about what we can do about it. He has some detractors but even so I think his overall thesis is strong.

  32. > Its a social science piece that Jonathan Haidt regularly refers to.

    Yes, that was it. What’s your opinion on the Campbell & Manning article? I didn’t like that expression “victimhood culture”. I thought it wasn’t neutral enough, and it made them miss a few important things, things you and Dan T. mention.

  33. labnut

    I think that they expect too much and that they’re fooling themselves. We all get old and lose our vigor.

    I am 73 years old. Yesterday I did a 20 km trail run on a rugged trail. Today I shortened that run to 15 km so that I would not be late to attend Mass. Tomorrow I will do another 20 km run, and so on for the rest of the week, even though I am in the middle of my Lenten fast. I do these runs with ease. This is not fooling myself but doing what I naturally enjoy.

    For sure we all get old and lose our vigour, but why give in to it prematurely? Why not push the boundaries for as long as we can? Why not give due credit to all those who keep going, despite all the odds? We need a lot less ageism.

  34. labnut

    Labnut: And what would it have to be in order to count as “safe”?

    That is hard to say since we are talking about societal perceptions. I suggest that it should be better than the benchmark of 0.92 homicides/100,000 of the UK. Which means the US has a long way to go.

  35. s. wallerstein


    I sincerely congratulate you on your energy and vigor.

    I have chronic sciatica and I now limp.

    My friend Roberto, a bit younger than us, with whom I was conversing yesterday, used to run daily, but now has knee problems.

    My brother-in-law used to play basketball, but also has severe knee problems. He had knee surgery, but things after surgery are never what they promise to be.

    I could go on with more examples. However, as long as you can, keep it up.

  36. Dan,

    I don’t see how anyone who is liberally inclined can look at the posters I included and not think that they indicate something quite serious and threatening to liberal forms of life.

    This is the part I do agree with, I have been saying this for years. 15 years ago the Australian Government launched their “Let’s look out for Australia” campaign with a 24 hour hotline for reporting suspicious activity, a booklet about what to look for and a fridge magnet so that the information is always handy.

    This was widely mocked and criticised at the time, mostly by liberals and the left but also by the more sensible conservatives. However the hotline seems to have survived and we still see advertisements from time to time of people peering into their neighbour’s garbage bins and seeing the packaging and leftovers of bomb making materials, and looking over the shoulders of kids using laptops in the cafe and logging into terrorist sites. No one seems to say much about it any more and, yes, it is very redolent of those posters in Brazil.

    Meanwhile we seem to get incremental increases to police powers to take information without warrant, to hold people longer without charge. Increases in the laws which prevent journalists reporting on government activities.

    And there is ever the attempt to try to make us feel unsafe, most recently the Government together with certain parts of the mainstream media have been pushing the line that the people of Melbourne are afraid to go out at night due to “African crime gangs”, although the people of Melbourne seem to be indicating that they are enjoying the famous nightlife in Melbourne as much as possible.

    At the same time religious people are being encouraged to think that they are being persecuted by gays and ‘progressives’, people who disagree politically are being encouraged to see the other as a dangerous enemy.

    So I am only disagreeing with a small part of what you say. Busybodies are still just busybodies and are an irritation. They are still our fellow citizens and they will remain a minority unless we behave as though this was some kind of contract and their bad behaviour licenses similar bad behaviour by us.

  37. dantip


    I’m inclined to agree with you that the authors miss something important by using the term “victimhood culture.”

    In my view, we live in an “endangerment culture.” Not all people who feel endangered are victims, or see themselves that way. But pretty much everyone these days feels endangered.

  38. DanK,
    First, let me apologize for my first comment. I had had a miserable day, what promised to be an amusing visit into mall-limbo turned out to be despair-inducing hell, and as I had continued thinking about DanT’s article, the less certain I was that there were anyway to repair the situation he complained about – or, more precisely, its broader implications. I read through this article of yours quickly, and then popped off from the top of my head. That was not fair to you as writer nor to the readers of these comments. I’m sorry.

    So I have now given this article the proper reading it deserves. The argument is cogent, and I understand that it follows up the general principles DanT was working through. In general, I don’t think a counter-argument is going to have much momentum, because you’ve been careful to account for many of the sources of such counter-argument. It is the case that we can get too comfortable with surveillance. My job actually includes checking up on surveillance cameras for a private company, yet I am very wary – and dismayed – whenever I see police cameras on street corners, even in high-crime areas. And I remember when the “see something, say something” signs came out, I was talking with a cop one day, and an over-the-road truck driver was just getting in his truck, when he saw us, came over to the cop and demanded “well, what about all those truckers with the towels on their heads?! I see them every day; what are you guys doing about them:?!” Such signs just foment fear, they’re otherwise perfectly worthless – which makes me think that fomenting fear is precisely their purpose.

    But in the comment I popped out of my head last night, I think I was (poorly) remarking a theme implicit in some of the other comments here. We don’t know each other as citizens or certainly not as neighbors anymore. The surrounding cultures are so different, that there seems no common ground, no meeting between them. Distance breeds strangeness, strangeness alienation, alienation mistrust. I went through a “Deadhead” phase back in the early ’80s, and I learned a lot from that crowd about learning to live and let live, and had always been slightly suspicious of police intervention in social or personal or family affairs. So I’m hardly going to go ballistic whenever I see someone smoking a joint, or gambling on a street-corner, or whatever. But I know my fellow citizens can trust met, do I know I can trust them? I suppose where I live, I’d probably say, yeah. At work, less so. At the Mall not at all.

    That’s why I expressed such a pessimism last night. Without some way to bring people back together, talking with one another, sharing with one another some common sense of mutual interest, I don’t see any good resolution to the future you suggest.

  39. alandtapper1950

    “In England everything is permitted unless it is forbidden; in Germany everything is forbidden unless it is permitted; in France everything is permitted, even if it is forbidden; and in Russia everything is forbidden, even if it is permitted.”

    Lezsek Kolakowski, quoted in Roger Scruton, “Where We Are”, idiscussing different legal cultures and lamenting the loss of citizen solidarity in Britain.


  40. I would assert that anyone that believes that he has the right to spew toxic smoke into the air is creating preconditions of intolerance by treating his fellow citizens as garbage cans. If the wind is blowing the wrong direction (like into the intake of an air system) distance is no protection. We are confronting this here in California with pot legalization – people come into yoga classes loaded, and everybody else gags.

    The issues mentioned here are incredibly complex. Economic decay is evident in many parts of the developed world, and creates insecurity (“Where is my next meal coming from?”) that does not stem from violence. Secure public global communications empowers decentralized, stateless warfare by individuals that feel unconstrained by the Geneva convention (our grandparents would have called them “anarchists”). Long work hours deny teens adult supervision at an age when they are most likely to commit crimes.

    And, of course, government has become God: it is the most powerful social entity, and as God himself is passé, government is supposed to solve all of our problems for us, and even to prevent them from occurring in the first place. When it fails, the public demands action, and gets the government it deserves.

  41. I would assert that anyone that believes that he has the right to spew toxic smoke into the air is creating preconditions of intolerance by treating his fellow citizens as garbage cans. If the wind is blowing the wrong direction (like into the intake of an air system) distance is no protection.

    = = =

    Wow, this is one of the more unhinged things I’ve read here.

  42. labnut

    I would assert that anyone that believes that he has the right to spew toxic smoke into the air is creating preconditions of intolerance by treating his fellow citizens as garbage cans

    I wonder if you know how long and ancient this line of reasoning is. Our species has always had an obsession with purity. It can be purity of thought, purity of our ideology, purity of sexual behaviour, purity of our diet(Dan-K knows a lot about that), purity of lineage, purity of race, purity of the environment, etc, etc.

    You are merely continuing an age old obsession with purity. We hold up purity as the ideal that justifies intolerance and oppression. It is a kind of obsessive, compulsive disorder that blinds us to the needs and humanity of the other. We purge the impure, we punish them and we silence them. Purity is the blinkers we draw over our eyes to justify our superiority and our cruelty to others.

  43. Interesting reflection.

  44. s. wallerstein

    For those who are not aware, cigarette smoke is not as toxic as the nerve agent allegedly used by Putin to attempt to murder a Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom and which is so toxic that the police officer who first arrived on the scene had to be hospitalized.

    If you smoke cigarettes regularly all your life, you have a good chance of developing lung diseases. Those who are in close contact with the smoker on a regular basic in a closed space, such as family members, have increased chances of developing lung diseases.

    I know people who smoked a pack a day until their 60’s, stopped and now are over 90 and in relatively good health.

    Thus, if you smoked a cigarette or two at a party when you were in high school, you most probably will suffer no ill effects. If you had a girl friend (or boy friend) for a year or so who smoked a cigarettte after making love, you most probably will suffer no ill effects. If you glimpse a smoker in a parking lot through your binoculars, you most probably will suffer no ill effects.

    A word to the wise….