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Toward a Disidentification Movement

By L. Neil Smith

I had an argument a few days ago with my brother, a police officer who agrees with me on firearms ownership (we're for it) and on capital punishment. (We're against it -- no government should have the power to kill its people, a point he startled me by volunteering).

Despite a refreshing outlook on this and other issues, my brother sees nothing wrong with stopping you or me, in his official capacity, and expecting to be presented with some document establishing that the government approves of our existence. This, although he grew up as I did, in the 1950s, when the arrogant demand, "Your papers!" was the distinguishing characteristic of a totalitarian dictatorship.

Every time I see The Hunt for Red October, [VHS, VHS widescreen, DVD] one of my favorite movies (I'm a sucker for submarine flicks) I'm amused and frustrated by an otherwise charming conversation between Marko Ramius, a sort of latterday Captain Nemo played by Sean Connery, and his First Officer, played by Sam Neill. Neill dreams of what he'll do once he's defected to the United States. He'll raise rabbits in Montana, he says, and marry "a round American woman who will cook them for me". He'll travel from state to state in a pickup truck, "or perhaps a recreational vehicle", to Arizona, where he may need another wife.

"They let you do that, travel state-to-state without papers?"

"Yes," Ramius assures him, "state to state".

As most of those reading this column are aware, this is undiluted horseshit. Just try travelling from state to state in America without a driver's license and proof of insurance, to be yielded up to the first uniformed road-thug who demands it. Keep the title to your vehicle handy, too, as well as your dog's shot records. America has an internal passport system just as stringent as that of any former communist country -- only we don't call it that. To criticize anybody else about it is blatant hypocrisy.

Even with all the right papers, there's no guarantee. Last week a friend from Arizona was telling me about a friend of hers visiting Tennessee who was stopped by a cop from the Elvis State for no other reason than that he had Arizona license plates -- "we get a lot of drug traffic from Arizona" -- apparently probable cause to stop and ransack the cars of several million individuals each year. Here's my tourist money, Tennessee, that's the closest you'll ever get to it.

There was a time when all that the numbered metal tag screwed to the bumper of your car meant was that you'd paid a state tax on that vehicle, a heinous enough practice in itself. The only reason cars get taxed at all is that, like your home, which also gets taxed, they're relatively large and impossible to hide.

All a driver's license meant was that you had proven yourself proficient. Now, both are routinely used to track you from point to point and control your movements should the need arise.

A social security number used to be the ticket to what 50 million dimbulbed Roosevelt voters -- the "Greatest Generation" -- imagined was a pot of gold at the end of their actuarial rainbow. But is that why such numbers are now mandatory for your kids before you can claim them as a deduction? Is that why a trial balloon was floated a while ago to have that number tattooed on the bottoms of their little feet? The truth is, all that number guarantees is that a place will be reserved for you in the next generation of deathcamps.

"Oh, but they'll be American deathcamps!"

While we're at it, let's not forget the new, improved Second Amendment: the privilege of approved citizens to register and store properly serial-numbered guns of increasingly diminishing types shall not be infringed unless the politicians feel like it.

The irony is that all of this is being done by a generation who claimed they hated being treated like numbers in college and revolted in the streets over it.

And they're still revolting today.

Everywhere we go, everything we do is numbered and documented. If we get married or divorced, start a bank account, make a deposit or a withdrawal, buy a home, a car, or a gun, use a private mailbox, travel by airline, check into a hotel, go see a doctor or a dentist, have a prescription filled, write a check, or use a credit card, unless the numbers are simply turned over to the state as a matter of everyday course, they're never more than a court order away.

Since the Vietnam War, government agencies have been x-raying our snail-mail or simply opening it. They tap our phones and intercept our phone calls, especially if they're made to numbers overseas. They read our e-mail if it contains certain forbidden words (like "steakknife", believe it or not) and labor to defeat the encryption we wouldn't allow them to outlaw. Now, of course, they're taking our pictures at intersections and ballparks, not to mention every time we use -- or walk by -- an ATM, and cybernetically combing through the pictures with face-recognizing software.

They know where to find us -- they have every number that's ever been fastened to our lives -- they can look through our clothes at airports and through our walls to see whether we're at home, grow the wrong houseplants, own guns, or use proscribed sexual positions.

Every day we're more like the characters in the movie "Tron," tagged, tracked, sorted for use by the Master Control Program. Every day they take more of rights, our property, and our lives. Every day we're made more helpless to resist the looters who steal half of what we earn, tax most of what we own, inform us the Bill of Rights doesn't mean what it clearly says, and will someday wrench the gold teeth from our mouths and render our bodies down for soap. The difference this time is that there will be no discrimination. You won't have to be a Jew, Gypsy, or gay to receive this government "service".

Aside from the uppermost echelons who erroneously imagine themselves immune, does anybody like this situation? I doubt it. I don't think most cops would like it if they ever put the whole picture together. The pertinent questions then, are: what are we going to do about it? Is it too late to do anything at all?

We have to assume that it isn't too late, or simply lie down and die like the dinosaurs. Lots of folks I know try to hide one way or another. They move around a lot, won't give out their phone numbers, use mail drops, encrypt everything, or play other games that can only result in a scornful smirk from those who treat us like cattle. Me, I want -- no, need -- to stand up in the sunshine like a free man, one reason I always attach my e-mail address to these diatribes.

Don't look to the government to abolish these abominations against the Bill of Rights. At every level, America's courtrooms are operated by corrupt slugs in long black robes who see themselves as part of the prosecutorial team, and, more importantly, above the law, themselves.

Ever try suing a judge?

Although it can still be used in a sideways sort of manner (I've done it, myself, from time to time), the electoral system was rigged, long before any of us were born, to prevent it from producing the kind of results a free people desperately need it to produce. I doubt that we'll ever be able to vote ourselves free.

So what can be done?

The first thing is to size up the enemy. Understand that he's an abject, quivering coward who goes into blind panic mode when he hears any phrase -- "tax rebellion" comes to mind -- associated with freedom from more than three individuals at the same time.

He has body armor, helmets, face shields, machineguns, gatling guns, field artillery, missiles of every size and megatonnage, tanks and armored troop carriers, helicopters, jet fighters, bombers, poison gas, flamethrowers, recordings of rabbits being slaughtered and Nancy Sinatra singing "These Boots are Made for Walking" (assuming anybody can tell the difference). And yet he strives ever more hysterically to deprive us of our pistols and revolvers.

He's afraid because he knows that more and more individuals are fed up with the welfare/warfare state and want to be rid of it. (I'm not certain whether the freedom movement has been successful in that respect or government itself has done the persuading.) I don't believe what any opinion poll says to the contrary. All I have to do is observe the behavior, from the halls of Congress, right down to the city council, of those who imagine themselves our masters.

So what do we do? Scare them more. Make their stomachs churn. Deprive them of a night's sleep. Ultimately, reduce their life expectancy by a few more minutes.

More than anything else, what these creatures are afraid of is ideas. The thing to do is feed them ideas the same way you feed cornmeal to a goose to get pate de fois gras -- and a dead goose. Don't send the ideas to them -- Carnivore and Echelon, those automated systems spying on our e-mail and phone calls, will do that for us -- send them to each other. The place to begin is with all those numbers.

The place to begin is with a Disidentification Movement, the ultimate goal of which is to abolish every form of identification, to restore the institutions of complete privacy and total anonymity, and the uniquely American right of every individual to disappear and start life over again.

What was your name in the States?

There is no acceptable excuse -- in general, or under the Bill of Rights -- for licensing automobiles or their drivers. We can deal with the implications of that as the conversation develops (because, you see, the conversation is what this is really all about), but there is no proof that driver licensing reduces traffic mishaps. The vast majority of accidents are caused by licensed drivers, the same way most medical quacks are licensed. Government-approved doctors claim thousands of victims every year, just as licensed drivers do.

More importantly, even if driver licensing did reduce accidents, that's no reason to see the Bill of Rights violated or suffer any more government abuses under the current system. People aren't meant to be tracked and herded like cattle, no matter how unsafe it may prove, or inconvenient for the cops.

The simple fact is, all that one needs to prove that one paid an automobile tax -- for as long as we go on permitting automobile taxes to be collected -- is an unnumbered receipt. The claim that such taxes are necessary to maintain the roads is garbage. Let the money come from the general fund, until the burden becomes so great that even the most complacent taxpayer revolts.

Better yet, let private parties build and maintain the roads -- roads that reflect 200 years of transportation progress in the private sector -- and pay for them in any of dozen different ways libertarians have been suggesting for 30 years. Or let the roads go to hell; I'd rather live a free life in a free society with rotten roads, than go on living in an increasingly fascistic dictatorship with the broadest, smoothest roads in the world.

People aren't meant to be tracked and herded like cattle, no matter how unsafe it may prove, or inconvenient for the cops. Let's write a Constitutional amendment and circulate it as widely as we can (because, once again, that's the point), outlawing the practice of slapping identification numbers on everything and everybody.

Under the amendment, it will be a felony to leave serial numbers on weapons -- or watches, cameras, engine blocks, computers, or anything else -- once they're out of the factory, where such numbers are useful. No more Social Security, no more library cards. It will be a capital offense -- punishable by death by public hanging -- for a government employee to record or transmit any number associated with individual human beings or their possessions.

People aren't meant to be tracked and herded like cattle, no matter how unsafe it may prove, or inconvenient for the cops. Sure, it may be inconvenient. It may be harder to get your stolen blender back. But it's only "may be" -- how easy is it to get your stolen blender back now? -- and shouldn't you really have shot that burglar?

People aren't meant to be tracked and herded like cattle, no matter how unsafe it may prove, or inconvenient for the cops. Getting and keeping freedom is always inconvenient. Thomas Paine complained famously about sunshine soldiers and summer patriots. With each year that passes, I grow less tolerant, myself, of the police state we find ourselves living in. I get tired of trying to figure out where America went wrong (which is essentially what my first novel, The Probability Broach, published two decades ago, was all about). But I get even more tired of figuring out yet another way to fix things -- only to be greeted by yawns or excuses from those who ought to roll up their sleeves and pitch in with me.

People aren't meant to be tracked and herded like cattle, no matter how unsafe it may prove, or inconvenient for the cops. Yet in the end, as civilization slides backward into another Dark Age -- a Dark Age our species is unlikely to find its way out of, this time -- it will not be due to the evildoing of any villain. It will happen because so few individuals, nominally on the side of liberty, were willing to do anything about that villainous evildoing.

Tell me I'm wrong. The first step, as Sun Tzu tells us, is to convince one's enemies -- before the fight -- that they've already lost it. They will then defeat themselves.

That's what's been done to us.

It's time we did it to them.

L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of more than 20 novels, including The Probability Broach, The Crystal Empire and Forge of the Elders, as well as the non-fiction collection Lever Action.

Permission to redistribute this article is herewith granted by the author -- provided that it is reproduced unedited, in its entirety, and appropriate credit given.

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