Monday, June 9, 2014
Illuminatus online reading group, Week 16
(This week: Page 154, "ILLUMINATI PROJECT: MEMO #17" to page 164, "That would probably be a Fascist plot, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish and anti-Negro.")
For today's episode, I went a pulled an extract from Robert Anton Wilson's Right Where You Are Sitting Now:
Taking somebody's money without permission is stealing, unless you work for the IRS; then its taxation. Killing people en masse is homicidal mania, unless you work for the Army; then it's National Defense. Spying on your neighbors is invasion of privacy, unless you work for the FBI; then its National Security. Running a whorehouse makes you a pimp and poisoning people makes you a murderer, unless you work for the CIA; then its counter-intelligence.
Lately is is fashionable to claim that Nixon was a bit nuts toward the end of his career. I doubt it; he had merely been in government so long (1946-1974) that he had forgotten there was another America (outside Washington) where people still believed in something called common decency.
(This is entitled "The Watergate Syndrome" and it's on page 159 of my And/Or Press edition. A stamp at the front of my copy says it was purchased from Peace of Mind Books, "Nation's Largest New Age Selection," in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
Isn't that a great quote? Of course, the bit about National Security is wildly outdated, but I guess that's what happens when you dust off an old book dating back to 1982.
But I wanted to post the bit also because I think it relates nicely to the courtroom scene, pages 156-158, e.g. Hagbard Celine's question, "Why can't we say highway robbery is highway robbery, instead of calling it eminent domain?" And then on the next page, the judge upholds the federal government's right to redefine whether a "bandit" is someone who takes something of yours without your consent: "I will not hear the United States government called bandits again."
Of course, under eminent domain, a landowner is supposed to be entitled to fair compensation, but at the end of the day, it's not up to you and it's not a consensual transaction; if the government wants your land for an airport, a highway or a dam, it can take it. The U.S. Supreme Court even ruled in 2005 that eminent domain can be used to take away private property to make it somebody else's private property, if it is done for "economic development." (In the United States, "economic development" means the government provides tax breaks or direct subsidies to a private business, usually at the expense of another private business.) Incidentally, Indian tribes in the U.S. are supposed to be sovereign on their own land (they often have their own license plates, are not subject to many of the usual state taxes, etc.) so it is relevant to question whether the same eminent domain rules apply to them as apply to everyone else.
In the courtroom scene, Hagbard and John Feather both try to warn about the danger of a government which acts as if the actual meaning of words does not matter.
Libertarians and anarchists will love the courtroom scene, of course, but the discussion is also relevant if merely still believe in civil liberties. How much, in 2014, do the words of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights matter?
For the Bill of Rights, the record would appear to be mixed. For the most part, the First Amendment is still in relatively good shape; freedom of speech, of religion and of the press is still pretty strong in the U.S. The Second Amendment has not become a dead letter, either, thanks to the efforts of a well-organized gun lobby.
On the other hand, as I alluded to in my sarcastic comment above about the NSA, the Fourth Amendment is very much in play. Many of us believe that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" was flaunted when the National Security Agency took it upon itself to collect phone records for everyone in America.
(Next week, Page 164: Muldoon grinned. For once I don't have to play Watson, he thought, to Page 173, "Now is that communism, or isn't it?")