Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

The other day, while reading some cases related to my Criminal Law studies, I was thinking about the tradeoff between security and freedom.

It is an empirical fact that larger societies with stronger state powers have resulted in less danger and violence towards the individual. The centralization of violence may have been one of humanity’s greatest inventions.

But perhaps we have not taken it far enough?

In most places in the world, crime is still a thing. You can still be robbed even in the safest neighbourhoods of the safest cities in the safest countries. Bad things happen; that’s life.

Because it only takes a fraction of the population to act in a manner that is not consistent with a civilized society, for there are huge costs in preventing and curtailing their behaviour.

Legislative bodies keep passing laws on every possible type of behaviour, trying to shape behaviour one law at a time. There are laws on driving speeds, public drinking, music levels from speakers, and anything else you can think of. Many activities require licenses for similar reasons.

We need locks on every door to prevent that small fraction of society that would enter and cause chaos if the door was unlocked.

So what if we went further? What if we had surveillance on every single individual? What is every move, every word spoken, every place visited, was meticulously recorded by the state? With complete transparency on everybody’s actions, that would be nowhere to hide for criminals. We could live in a society were even the concept of having cocky would be strange. It would absolutely not be required you could just open your car and turn on the ignition and that would be it. You wouldn’t even need a password for your computer or your email anything like that.

But the problem is that we might be picking up pennies in front of an incoming train, to paraphrase Nassim Taleb. We are reducing the risk of petty crime but perhaps we are enabling the largest kind of them all: genocide.

We never know who will be in power 20 years from now and we should perhaps assume the worst. No system, regardless of the checks and balances in power, is foolproof. We have to remember that Hitler used democracy against itself. His attempted overthrow of the government in Munich ended with his arrest, his eventual rise to power was via being democratically elected.

What would Hitler have done if he had complete surveillance of everyone under his control?

I do wonder if with further advancements of society, there could be a way to have automated monitoring systems that could take us further towards Utopia without compromising individual freedoms and risk a huge amount of centralized power. But, Utopia will always come at the expense of freedom.

In 10,000 BC you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to do, there was little law. But, your options were limited. Now you are far more restricted in your actions and yet have far more choices.

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