Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*In the state of nature each individual enjoys 100% freedom. They are able to do whatever their physical ability allows.

This is why the number one concept for creating a society from the state of nature is that each individual most forfeit some of their freedom.

Most societies ask people to give up their freedom so they can be more secure or to allow for economic prosperity. So the seminal question becomes how much freedom is worth forfeiting to join any specific society?

In the United States we have again come to this question as a result of news last week that the government is monitoring phone records to know who is communicating with whom. Since September 11th, 2001 and the advent of the Department of Homeland Security, many Americans have taken the position that the security of the country is worth longer lines at the airport or the government knowing your library habits.

But the phone issue seems slightly different because monitoring phone usage deals with an area of life that is usually private and personal. Libraries are government funded public facilities. Airports are public spaces that come under federal jurisdiction because many are points of entry into the country. But calling your sister to inquire about your nephew is obviously more private and has inspired a strong reaction and outcry against government invading into people’s personal lives.

But before we examine whether or not government has or should have the authority to track who we speak to, let’s return to the basic concept of forming a society. People forfeit some of their freedoms for a collective goal. Our current government has determined that this action is necessary for national security. Either you trust the government’s conclusion (and support their actions based on the conclusion) or you don’t. Your position on the issue of trust will determine the amount of authority you think the government has or should have.

The larger view of this issue also informs how we feel about the government monitoring our communications. During the Cold War the American public generally believed the country was in genuine peril and trusted the government to take the appropriate steps to ensure national security. Essentially people were more willing to trade their freedoms because of the Soviet threat. It must be concluded then, that people somehow don’t believe themselves to be in as much danger as 40 years ago. That might be true but lots of evidence (failed attacks, American attempts to dictate other country’s policies) suggest otherwise.

If the United States were to distinctly change its foreign policy so that it didn’t try to influence the decisions of every other country perhaps tracking phone calls would be unnecessary. And if you advocate such a change in American foreign policy then perhaps you have something to complain about regarding phone call tracking.

But if you like the United States being in position to dictate what happens in the world then be prepared for the consequences.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]