Monday, August 14, 2006

Strangers in a Strange Land

If you've read and grokked Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," you grok satire and irony. The novel didn't become the 1960s counterculture bible for nothing, you know.

The main character, Valentine Michael Smith, you will recall, was the offspring of crew members of the first manned expedition to Mars, orphaned and raised by Martians. In his early 20s, Valentine was returned to Earth by another mission sent to Mars. Trouble was, Valentine had inherited the rights to an extremely valuable space drive invented by his mother as well as title to most of the Martian real estate. And, you guessed it -- the government -- World government -- wants his assets. Government agents hold him hostage while they try to figure out how to relieve him of everything he owns before he's sprung by attorney and general bon vivant Jubal Harshaw.

The more Valentine observes of "Earth ways" and feels constrained to rebel against them, the more charismatic he becomes, ultimately elevated to the status of virtual religious icon by an adoring public. This is, of course, another thorn in the government's side, relegating him to the status of a menace to be "managed."

These days, we plain old Earthlings have to contend with the threat of eminent domain, dodge the threat of search and seizure if we look askance at the wrong person, and be very careful about saying anything religious in public on an everyday basis. We make nice and engage in Sesame Street dialogue to avoid being labeled Politically Incorrect -- the kiss of death in modern-day America.

Tell the public "It's For The Children," and they'll give money, donate time and assets, make personal sacrifices, embrace censorship and, yes, willingly relinquish civil liberties, no questions asked. It's all for the greater good, right? This is especially troubling today when we, under the threat of terrorism, willingly exchange liberties for safety. Certainly, safety is a grave concern and an issue that must be addressed, but if we give up more and more of our inherent freedoms to achieve it, we do ourselves a disservice.

More and more of our activities are licensed and taxed and otherwise regulated, and you dare not complain too loudly lest you be visited by the IRS -- or worse.

By sheer happenstance, you could find yourself escorted out of your home by federal agents in the middle of the night. By the time you've had a secret trial in a secret court by a secret judge, your home might well be forfeited to the government and you'll never see it again.

Books like "Stranger in a Strange Land" are written for a reason -- to make people think; specifically, to prod them into thinking about the gradual erosion of rights and civil liberties and what the consequences can be. By the time the public wakes up and realizes what it's ceded away, there might be few rights left. And by then, it will be too late to raise up a hue and cry.

Are we in danger of becoming strangers in our own land?

I have only one Word Gone Bad today. It's so bad that it must stand trial alone, so bad that I couldn't decide whether it needed a paddy wagon or an ambulance. It's just ... So. Bad.

"To all intensive purposes..."
(As in, to all intensive purposes, the work was considered finished.)


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