New American Revolution #2: Your Papers, Please

Austin Washington

“ID?”

“Excuse me?”

“May I see a picture ID, please.”

“To get a copy of my own medical records?”

“Yes, we require that.”

There was a time, y’know (before my time, but still…sometime between horses and rockets, I think…) that there were no photos on drivers licences.

Drivers licences were licences to drive.

Nothing more.

If you cashed a check, or paid on credit, it was because you knew the other person.

Simple.

There was no such thing as an ID.

A driving licence was not meant to be used in the “Your papers, please” way.

This was America.

This was America.

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I’ve lived in some pretty fascist countries, but I have never been asked for my ID by a private party or a government official anywhere else. In America, our post Patriot Act culture has become so bad that I can’t even join a gym without being asked for “your papers, please.” The gym probably wants my private info so it can market to me in a more effective/annoying way, but the gall of asking, and the sheep-like acquiescence of Americans who allow complete strangers to see, and even copy, information from their IDs, is a clear sign we are closer to Nazi Germany than to the American republic envisioned by my great uncle, George Washington.

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Okay, there is one exception.

In Moscow, once – but only once – I have to admit, a guy at a gym did say “I must see your passport. For your protection.”

Well, it was Russia.

But nowhere else, ever. Not even at several other gyms in Russia.

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But, (and I can hear your breathless anticipation) how about another medical situation, like the one that triggered this libertarian-tinged effusion?

Ok:

I was under the NHS in the UK for years (the National Health Service). I was, very early on, given a flimsy cardboard card with my NHS number on it, so I wouldn’t forget. But no one ever asked to see my card, not once, not at my doctor’s office, not at the chemist (pharmacist), not at a specialist doctor, nor even at two hospitals (sports related injuries, by the way.)

Nor was I asked to prove I was who I said I was when I went to a private doctor on Harley Street.

No one ever insulted my honour by assuming I might be lying.

(It still escapes me why one patient would want to pretend to be another one.)

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Or it did escape, me, I suppose, until I asked the hospital clerk who had demanded my ID:

“Why?”

“What if your girlfriend,” said the clerk, smiling like an opiated lemming, “came in and asked for your medical records, to see if you had any STDs?”

This rationale, before I’d thought thought it through, seemed wrong because of:

a) The inherent assumption that I might have an STD (which would be insulting to many, surely, but in the end no big deal.)

b) The assumption that I had a girlfriend who might

i. be so sneaky that she’d secretly steal my medical records, and/or

ii. mistrust me enough to feel she wanted to.

Of course this explanation implied that the “your papers please” policy was there to prevent my putative white trash girlfriend from protecting herself from my putative white trash disease.

Which, if you thought about it, wasn’t a very good reason.

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But then I thought it through.

None of this touches on the fundamental problem:

Underneath these insulting assumptions (along with the hospital’s apparent disregard for the genital health of my imaginary white trash girlfriend) lies the fundamental belief that a certain type of character – or lack thereof – is common enough to be the catalyst for policies that affect all citizens. It’s strange, to me, because cretins and cretinous characters don’t fill my life, nor the lives of people I know. Yet somehow this hospital clerk, or the media-hypnotised paper pushers who invented this Nazi-tinged policy, who are probably nurtured at the teat of trash TV, the 24-hour salacious news cycle, and God knows what other influences, assume their fellow citizens are scrotum scratching scum.

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But you know what’s weird?

In none of the many other countries I’ve lived in, nor in those in which I’ve spent months upon months at a time, have I ever encountered anything like this American assumption that one’s fellow citizens should be presumed dishonest, untrustworthy, and scrotum scratching scum.

I once waltzed into Italy through Rome’s international airport, from Indonesia, and no one even asked for my passport. It was Sunday, or something. And guess what? No one’s ever blown up Rome. It’s a much safer world than you think, at least if you think what you think because you get all your information from the media and the internet.

To live in a society in which a citizen, equal under God and the law, is presumed guilty by another equal citizen, who perhaps works for the government (or Gold’s gym), is the very definition of tyranny. (Perhaps only petty tyranny, yet, but babies grow up, y’know? Even Hitler was a baby, once. “CUTE moustache,” his mother must have said…) These countless little encroachments on our freedom are like maggots eating away at our hearts and souls. They kill our feeling of freedom as they kill our actual freedom.

This distrust and paranoia is purely an American phenomenon, from what I’ve seen.

Land of the free? My foot!

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George Washington’s farewell address might be summarised, in a tweet, something like this:

#Character

Character, thought George Washington, was vastly more important than any bit of paper, or any rule designed to protect us from ourselves. (If you don’t believe me, look at what’s happened in Liberia over the past few decades. Liberia is living proof of just how far down Hades’ hole a country can fall while living under a Constitution almost identical to our own.)

Character, said George Washington, undergirded everything (while a lack of character, he knew, would create a bottomless hole to hell.)

The restoration of character, therefore, must be a central concern for America’s future. Character leads to success on all levels, inward and outward, as well as emboldening people to stand up against the petty insults that assault our liberty every day and which, otherwise, would eat away at our freedom until there is nothing left.

This is why I started GeorgeWashington.Today.

To bring character to the forefront, but also to make it seem, if not entirely cool, then not entirely uncool…

Thanks for joining, helping, or doing whatever you can do…(or even doing what you think you can’t do, but you may find you can do if you care enough…)

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