Passing into a government building resembles passing out of one mode of existence into another. The very act of gaining entrance into one of these citadels of authority is fraught with dread, anxiety and alienation. This is a normal response to the lifting of the veil from one's irrelevance and powerlessness before the State. It is the inverse of an impression (sometimes obliviously expressed by the newly elected when freshly immersed in the well of power) of those employed by the same, when taking in architectural government grandiosity: a novel, intoxicated thrill. This comes from finding oneself on the other side of the power equation. None of us are immune to either impulse; they are the same yearning, reacting to diametrically opposed contexts.
Just getting to the door is often a will-weakening ordeal, as these buildings seem to be purposely made inaccessible (even before 9/11 security concerns resulted in consequences filtering down through the massive superstructure of the empire, becoming manifest in the most banal and lowly reaches of the homeland). They are often difficult to access from the street and even in the center of the city seem remote from the very public they exist to serve. This is merely one of the lesser ways that government's service to the citizen becomes the citizen's subjection to the government.
The inaccessibility of the government power emplacement (to which the citizen is more often than not summoned), if not by design no less works to render the citizen a bit more compliant--or resentful. And in our time what has the portal by which we physically engage our government become? The metal detector. A crude undiscriminating dullard of a machine, sometimes accompanied by its more intrusive, leering partner, the x-ray device.
Submitting to the unthinking arbitrament of a machine is the ultimate act of dehumanization. The already humiliating effects of the search, the presumption of guilt to be disproved, is magnified, imposed not by another person but by the absence of humanity, by a machine with an insect sort of logic.
The metal detector itself, with its inability to reason, unable to give any quarter to the harmless batch of keys (or the quarter, for that matter), or the occasional belt buckle that requires disrobing of the now penitent citizen pleading entrance through that peculiar square plastic gate, holding his pants up like a beggar dressed in rags; this is nothing in comparison to the people who man it. The callow cruelty of the government building security officer is a solemn testament to how cheaply we will sell our humanity. The machine only seems to relish humiliating you, and clearly can't make it a point of pride or a source of amusement. The officers of the gate are no less unsentimental and unreasoning, while at the same time bringing the human elements of stupidity, cruelty and malice to a transaction already humiliatingly unequal. At their posts they become like mere apparitions of human beings, no longer bound by fear or fraternity, tasked with adopting a posture of unremitting suspicion and guile.
Those predisposed to cruelty thrive in this environment, and through emulation their advancement induces greater cruelty in all within it. Cruelty itself becomes selected for and magnified within the walls of such places and is carried out into the wider world like a virus in the host bodies of the government's minions.
Such encounters, increasingly common, are still brief and contained, individually of little significance, but they are not without significance, and the cumulative effect of these ever-multiplying requirements is still unknown. It alters us without our assent, or knowledge. The change is diffused across the population, altering society and changing the People. None of this is within our control, or even within our ability to comprehend.
Technology and modernity mean a world forever new. It means one's society differs greatly from that of his father's, and the society of his children will differ in ways unknown. It means one is born into one world and leaves another. There is a characteristic look of bewilderment that sometimes comes upon us; the modern mask of marvelment. Whereas throughout history humanity's experience has been of only slow, barely perceptible progress punctuated by periods of revolution that usually brought more noise than real change in the daily life of the individual, we exist in a continual, unending revolution--not of ideas or values, but of technology and commerce; it is not a revolution of a population or a faction with designs, but the aggregated energy of self-interest. No purpose; no design. It is under no one's control; yet the same game of wile and cunning will promote some to power and condemn most to insignificance. Same as it ever was.
Humanity's progress once seemed destined for a more libertarian future, and perhaps it is, but the lesson of our time is that there is no guarantee of this, no reason to make this assumption. Invasive technology and multiplying media unduly empower not only of the government, but any powerful entity, and the masses as well, to crush the individual. The surveillance state may in fact be the inevitable result of indifferent technology blithely destroying the private realm. But above all, technology, for all of its wonder and because of its irresistable nature, has thus far been as much a friend of government and corporate power as it has been a tool for resistance to them. And they already operate at a distinct advantage. I do not lament technology, but humanity, as always.
The very reason that government is necessary means that its benignity is not possible; the cruel force upon which government must be predicated, a consequence of nature, cannot be concealed or mitigated but through layers of restriction, dull and sense-deadening at their best, murderous at their worst.
But the threat of violence is there, always, implied but overwhelming, the most terrifying and all-encompassing sort of violence, state violence, the sort that, sufficiently provoked, can not merely kill a man but ruin him, with impoverishment, enslavement, scandal; the destruction of his very name and humanity it holds in reserve and uses with ease.
I don't pretend it can be any other way. One can just as easily argue that we've accomplished an astounding compromise with our violent nature, and the gray face of government is the dam behind which that dark force is contained. This compromise is more fragile than we know; we always forget. But our duty to humanity, to ourselves, is to remain keenly aware of these effects, to mitigate them as much as the preservation of order allows, to imagine the realization of something more. To be vigilant in pursuing the dream of liberty. To plot our escape.
(In a wholly unrelated side note, I will be absent from posting for a period of 2 to 3 years, with possible time off for--never mind)