This Time It Has To Cost Them Something

by L. Neil Smith
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Since September 11, I’ve been getting e-mail from half a dozen different sources, almost every day, concerning the pressure being felt in many quarters to create and implement a system of national identification.

Bush’s gang claims it doesn’t want such a program, but they’ve proven to be about as trustworthy and truthful as Bill Clinton. Those generating the most pressure are the heads of corporations that would manufacture whatever it is Americans would be required to carry, to demonstrate that our existence had been inspected and approved by the government. The same kind of creatures once manufactured manacles and torture instruments for the Inquisition, and poison gas for Nazi death chambers.

Do not mistake them for capitalists, making their way through the marketplace of mutual consent by offering the best possible goods and services at the lowest possible prices. What they are is mercantilists of the variety Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations to expose in 1776: low, putrid, crawling scum who, in order to enrich themselves, enlist government’s unique ability to threaten and brutalize their potential “customers”.

Even so, vermin like that are relatively easy to deal with. They have stockholders and boards of directors who can — and should — be told that this is not a morally acceptable way to make a living. Being the base cowards and poltroons that American businessmen typically are (something I learned the hard way, a very long time ago, to my eternal regret), if they get told often enough, loudly enough, and publicly enough, they’ll shut the ID projects down and find something else to sell.

More difficult to deter are the bureaucrats who already have half of what they want with regard to a national identification system, and are coldly conspiring to use it to leverage the rest. Their idea is simply to standardize drivers’ licenses from state to state so that they come to look exactly alike and contain exactly the same types of information.

With the help of federal “crime” databases that have existed for two generations, and are routinely accessed every time the police stop you, they can have gradually pass laws increasing the amount of data forcibly collected from you and stored in the card — name, address, photo, fingerprints, criminal record, family composition, blood type, retinal pattern, DNA, purchase and travel patterns, psychological profile, Internet use, group affiliations, sexual habits, and the sort of letter you write to the editor — until a single swipe of it past a sensor in a police car can tell them everything there is to know about you.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and anybody who wants to run or hide must have something seriously wrong with him, so lock him up in a padded cell and put him on a Thorazine drip until he’s a good citizen once again. Clearly we have come to a point in history at which we’re going to have to decide whether this will be the Century of Authority or the Century of Liberty, the Century of being disindividualized and turned into mindlessly obedient cattle, or the Century of the Bill of Rights.

Regrettably, the time to “draw a line in the sand” with regard to schemes for national identification was almost exactly a century ago, when politicians in some of the more puckered states decided that this newfangled automobile thing was a dangerous fad that had to be discouraged.

The first laws they passed required someone to precede such a conveyance by several yards with red flags and lamps, waving people and horses out of harm’s way and clearing a path for the mechanical monster. At intersections, the driver was required to ring a bell and sound a steamship whistle to make certain nobody stood in the way of this juggernaut approaching at the incredible speed of 12 miles per hour.

And, of course, eventually, those who insisted on operating such unnecessary and dangerous contraptions had to be tested with regard to their proficiency, and compelled to carry documentary proof of it at all times. The infernal machines themselves had to inspected and certified to assure their road worthiness, then issued documents of their own to attest to it. This was the Progressive Era, after all, when everything and everyone had to be measured, tested, numbered, filed, folded, spindled, and in some manner or another, mutilated by the state. Note, however, that, as more of the country — even women! — began driving, and cars began to outnumber horses, the red flags, bells, and steamship whistles went away. But the drivers’ licenses didn’t.

Instead, they and the metal tags on our cars swiftly evolved into what they are today. There isn’t a shred of respectable evidence that licensing drivers saves lives or prevents injuries. In fact I’ve been told — by police officers who said they’d deny it — that unlicensed drivers have markedly fewer auto accidents, if only because they don’t want to get caught. And Why not? That’s how it works with compulsory insurance.

As with licensing automobiles, licensing drivers serves purposes that are markedly different from what the government advertises for it. First and foremost, it’s a matter of revenue, meaning that once again, the government has taken away your right to travel as you like — along with that of everybody else — and generously offers to sell a little bit of it back, if and only if we’re good little boys and girls.

Secondly (for the time being) it’s a means of social control by which government agents can scrutinize your physical movements and other behavior. The wiser and more cynical of Leviathan’s minions will often admit to the first charge and claim that permit in your wallet and the tags on your car are merely proof that you paid the tax. But if that were true, there would be no need for the giant alphanumerics on the tag, or for your photograph or fingerprints on the permit. What they are, in fact, is police state tracking systems, and once again, we see that we are not simply human beings with inalienable rights, or citizens of the United States, but unknowing subjects of the Empire of Lies.

Whatever purpose it serves, enough is enough. We forget sometimes that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. The high capacity semiauto pistol in that cop’s holster over there is not a manifestation of his right as an individual to keep and bear arms, but an exercise of a privilege given to him by the people. Similarly, issuing drivers’ licenses is a privilege our grandparents and great grandparents foolishly bestowed upon a government that abused it from the very beginning. And abused privileges (quite unlike individual rights) can, and must, be taken away.

There is one way — and only one way as far as I can see — to prevent a program of national identification from ripping away what pitiful remnants remain of our liberty and privacy. It will take time and a lot of work, so if you’re impatient or lazy, stop reading this now.

It isn’t enough merely to oppose those who want to treat us like livestock, or to thwart the plot they’re hatching today. They’ll just be back tomorrow with another evil scheme. They must be punished. They must be taught a lesson. This — and every other — attempt to control the existence of their fellow human beings must cost them something dear.

For the time being, let it cost them a night’s sleep. The place to begin is in state legislatures across the country, and the thing to begin with is the basic concept of driver licensing as it presently exists.

What do you think would happen if legislators began getting phone calls and letters — a few per week, from every county in the state — demanding that they cease requiring and issuing drivers’ licenses, on the grounds that the system has been abused and it’s about to get worse?

Nothing, at first. They’d ignore these messages just as long as they could, answering them — provided they even bothered at all — with patronizing lectures about safety, the children, and the need to make it easier for the police to fight terrorism and wage the War on Drugs.

What do you think would happen then, if their patronizing lectures were ignored, and the phone calls and letters kept coming, gradually growing in number, informing the politicians in no uncertain terms that if they don’t abolish driver licensing, the correspondents will find somebody else — anybody else — to vote for, or go to the polls and “cast a blank”, or simply stop voting altogether because the politicians have made it clear by their responses (or lack thereof) that “consent of the governed” is a sham as hollow as the Statue of Liberty?

At the very least, if we were persistent enough, it could kill the national identification scheme for the foreseeable future simply because politicians, hysterically concerned with keeping what they have now, would give corporations and the federal government the cold shoulder.

At best, who knows?

The real question is, can individuals in the freedom movement organize and conduct such a campaign? Are we persistent enough to succeed?

Well, are we?


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for Number 161, February 18, 2002

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