"The most common characteristic of all police states is intimidation by surveillance. Citizens know they are being watched and overheard. Their mail is being examined. Their homes can be invaded." ~ Vance Packard
The Daily Subversion
It's still sticking in my craw, so I'm going to write about it some more. In a previous "Stop and think" entry I related the travails that resulted from my misguided attempt to purchase a few cigars at a nearby Walgreen's drugstore. But as I banged away at the keyboard I found myself drifting unreachably far from the point I originally wanted to make, namely, that in displaying my outrage I had seized the opportunity to conduct a Daily Subversion. I want to veer back to that point here.
After he read my blast against Walgreen's in January, one of my correspondents explained to me that the clerks "were just doing their job" and that the chain "had no choice" but to impose onerous, invasive inconveniences on its tobacco customers. Now, judging from the variety of ways individual stores are enforcing the chain's cowering over tobacco, I'm sure the Walgreen's on North Jefferson in Huntington, Ind., actually could have mitigated the insanity somewhat. (That's where I fought my bitter little skirmish over two four-packs of Antonio & Cleopatra Coronas with Natural Dark Wrapper.) But I grant my correspondent's point in general. And I go right on to insist that the Daily Subversion is still very much worth doing.
The full-scale Subversion is not =always= worth doing, of course. If your 4-year-old is tugging at your sleeve or you've got an appointment with your parole officer ten blocks away in ten minutes, you'll probably want to choke back your ire and walk away. Even in those cases, though, you've always got time for a wordless Daily Subversion. That is, you've always got time simply to slam your intended purchases down on the counter and stalk out, with superheated steam billowing from your ears.
That's all just tactical. But here's the substance of the strategy, and here's my reply to my correspondent. When a clerk mindlessly enforces some totalitarian regulation, and especially when he quacks some nonsensical non-explanation to justify it, I think we should do all we can to make his life a living hell. With all the compassion at our command. Call it Tough Love, libertarian-style.
I'm not anybody's meek little serf, and I'm under no obligation to act like one in the presence of meek little serfs. Rather I feel an obligation to show the serfs I encounter how a free man reacts in the face of tyrannous insult. Of course I don't always satisfy that obligation. I'm no martyr or hero, and I'm certainly not so forthcoming in the presence of armed glowering thugs. But, look, such gorillas are rarely found at the checkout counter.
When we display our genuine outrage and indignation, we throw a tiny bit of sand into the gears of the System. We impose an additional cost, tiny but meaningful, on those who "have to" enforce totalitarian regulations. We show those who "have no choice" that =we,= for one, do have some choice--in what we think, what we say, and where we shop. Remember, our masters are aiming at a fully perfected form of Polite Totalitarianism that essentially runs by itself: a regime where =everyone= concludes on his own--with no gorilla intervention required--that he "has no choice" but to serve his masters' whims.
Who knows?--the outbreak of a little libertarian Tough Love just may knock a few flakes of rust off our serf-clerk's mental machinery. By standing up and denouncing tyranny--by ridiculing it, even--we make it just a little more difficult for such regulation-enforcers to enjoy peace and quiet on the job. If we knock off enough flakes of rust, maybe we'll motivate them to look for a job involving less-serflike behavior. Maybe they'll suddenly realize that, even in the totalitarian miasma that's strangling all of us, they, too, still have a few choices--that they, too, in fact, can practice the Daily Subversion!
All right: probably not. But as I've suggested before, doing the Daily Subversion sure beats trooping out every November and voting for the System.
My original "Stop and think" observation about Walgreen's is here.
My column of September 15, 2000, about the Daily Subversion is here.
Please let me know if you've conducted a Daily Subversion of your own recently. If I get enough grist for the mill, I may establish a special letters section devoted to this kind of nonviolent guerrilla resistance.