You feel safe in your neighborhood, but worry about the small chance of a break-in or act of vandalism. To protect yourself from those risks, you pay a security company to look after your house. It costs a little more than you’d like, but you determine it’s worth it.
They put an unarmed guard in front of your house at night, just to keep an eye out. It seems a bit unnecessary, but you rest easier knowing he might deter would-be thieves. The guards start coming earlier and staying longer. It seems silly to have them there before sundown, but you ignore it. Soon, they’ve got someone there almost around the clock. Then they send you a bill with a new, higher rate for their services. You suggest going back to night-only guards, but they assure you this is necessary to protect you and also tell you the neighborhood is getting a bit more dangerous. You pay.
The next week, not only do they have a guard around the clock, but he’s armed. Then there are two or three patrolling at a time. Rates go up again. You’ve been hearing more stories about how dangerous the neighborhood is, so you pay. Before long, they have a constant cadre of armed guards patrolling not just your sidewalk, but the whole neighborhood. They start randomly knocking on your neighbors’ doors and searching their houses for anything they might use against you. They set up permanent stations throughout the area, manned 24/7. Guards constantly patrol and conduct random searches, without permission, and occasionally they cage or kill someone. They assure you: there was reason to believe those neighbors had it in for you. It’s a jungle out there. They raise their rates.
Some of your neighbors object. Some devise ways to protect themselves from being searched or bullied. All become suspicious of you, and a little angry. After all, the guards are invoking your name when they do what they do. The more the neighbors resist or lash out at the guards, the more the company explains just how unsafe you are unless you purchase the latest upgrade. You do. They deploy more street patrollers. They preemptively kill and cage more neighbors. It seems a fight breaks out every day. Bands of neighbors form for the sole purpose of combating you and your security team. Their children grow up afraid of you, and they hate you and your children for it.
The company says more is needed; threats can come from anywhere. Now guards are groping your guests and your children each day before they enter or exit your house. They search your house on occasion, just to be sure your conspiring neighbors don’t have an inside man. They treat you like a suspect on your own property. You pay the new fee with the only credit card you haven’t yet maxed out.
Every day you wake up scared of your neighbors, suspicious of your guests, leery of your own children, and irritated by the guards who may or may not rummage through your belongings. You juggle money around just to keep the lights on, meanwhile the guards roll around in tanks, thanks to your borrowed money. You remind yourself that they’re here to protect you from an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. It’s worth it. Sure, they could cut some costs, but it’s a struggle to convince them of anything, and it’s a little intimidating to try. Besides, what’s a few dollars overspent compared to the imminent danger you’d face if they scaled back too far?
One day it hits you: You’re not safer. You’re paying a lot of money, not to insure yourself against unlikely violence, but to stir it up. You’re paying to create enemies, not defend against vandalism. You’re paying to be treated not like a customer, but like a criminal in your own home. You’ve been ripped off. You have fewer options when it comes to social circles, since you’ve made a lot of enemies. You can’t travel down certain streets, because there your name has become a byword. You’ve learned to fear your neighbors and you’re not really sure why or what threat they pose except to the guards that harass them.
You fire the company and begin the long task of putting your life back together.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in the real world. You can’t fire those who provide supposed security. You have to pay, and you have to obey, or else. Don’t be mistaken: it’s done on a grander scale and wrapped in a lot of fuzzy feelings and national myths, but that doesn’t make it different from the neighborhood story above. States are supposed to provide protection; instead they poke people with sticks and incite them to violence.
The United States has enemies. I do not have enemies. There is no one in a far-flung place in the world looking at a map and saying, “Here, on the Atlantic coast where the Cooper and Wando rivers come together. The people who have chosen to live on this bit of land are terrible. Let’s invade them. Let’s kill them.” Every international threat to me is a threat to me because I am associated, whether I like it or not, with the U.S. government.
Acts of terrorism and war are strategic acts. They are intended to pressure the state into changing its policies or to make it pay for previous policies. Attackers know that the state ultimately responds to the views of its people and the interests that form around it. They attack civilians because they believe it creates impetus for the state to do what they want. We are the pawns in the game of states. We are at risk because we are seen as leverage with which to manipulate the political class.
The state is often defended as necessary to secure individuals against foreign aggression. Yet the state does not make us safer; it makes us less safe. It kills in our name, with our money. It harasses us in our own country in the name of protecting us. It makes us suspicious of people we’d otherwise never know, or know only through Tweets or peaceful commercial interactions. It makes us hated.
The sooner we can forge an identity separate from the states that claim to protect us, the safer we will be. If the state is a kind of security provider, or insurance against international aggression, it’s the worst form of protection I can imagine. You wouldn’t stand for a company that marauded through the neighborhood in your name; you shouldn’t stand for a nation that does that either.
This article was originally published in the June 2013 edition of Future of Freedom.