on the anniversary of the gettysburg address, i want to point out the completely obvious fact that government of the people, by the people, and for the people has perished from the earth. that concept is from an entirely different set of political commitments than, say, an effective government program of universal surveillance. but it is obviously, breathtakingly incompatible with the idea that such a program is a state secret. this is the thread that connects obama with lincoln: the first black president has participated enthusiastically in everything lincoln fought the civil war, by his own account, to destroy. were lincoln around now he would, unlike daniel day-lewis, be raising a rebel army, possibly in the south and west, to resist the enslavement of everyone directly by the government of the united states. thoreau and douglass got a little pissy about the fugitive slave law: they thought this meant that, for example, the government of massachussetts was implicated in slavery, and hence that they were themselves implicated as citizens and taxpayers. the dred scott decision is being enforced, now, on us all: we have no rights that the government of the united states is bound to respect. we're all niggers, baby.
universal surveillance, again, is not every aspect of totalitarianism. but it entails, if you also have overwhelming police or military force, every other aspect of totalitarisnism. obviously, the government is inside the internet and the companies that run it etc to the tune of being able to control media and communications much more thoroughly if they want. indeed, we have no idea to what extent they actually do; they are certainly already monitoring such things in every respect. they know where you are if they need to grab you, and it is extremely unlikely that you could evade them for long if they wanted to catch you. they have enough on you to throw you in jail, i predict, if they are in the mood, or blackmail you into doing what they say, including saying what they tell you to say. put it this way: much active totalitarianism is actually in place, and every possible aspect of it is implied by the powers these people claim and the means they have to exercise those powers. plus resistance is futile. it is. perished from the earth, y'all.
in terms of a comparison to american slavery itself, the current situation does not feature very common officially-sanctioned rape, for example, or routinely break up families or literally work people to death, usually. but first off, american slavery depended absolutely fundamentally on surveillance: ponder well the word 'overseer.' it depended on a system of surveillance that basically included as agents all the white people of america who wouldn't go to heroic lengths to violate the law. every white community in the south was mobilized to watch the slaves, and they were twisted to monitor each other. but the degree of surveillance operated by the united states government today would give a plantation-owner an orgasm: if he knows what they're doing at all times, he can take steps to control them completely. no escape.
one thing to focus on in the text of the address is the relative roles of liberty and equality. on the anniversary and for the last x decades, the equality part has been relentlessly emphasized. and equality is certainly one good reason to try to emancipate slaves. but i think that any purported opposition or tension between these concepts forces you into extremely unfortunate political orientations. so, first of all, lincoln's and founder's basic vision of equality is equality precisely of liberty, and any plausible vision of human equality has to include that. where many or most people are subordinated politically, and even if that subordination is used to try to level incomes, for example, you have a profoundly unequal society. (also, in such a situation, incomes overall are extremely unlikely to move toward equality, because the subordinating power is actually a bunch of people, operating this subordinating power at least in part for their own benefit, and inevitably constituting a frozen economic as well as political hierarchy.) and i do want to suggest that people read that address again and see the extent to which it really does crystallize on liberty, or consider that as the central message of america.
why were abolitionists, including, very eventually, lincoln, opposed to slavery? because they were advocates equal basic rights, because they were committed to human liberty. they were individualists, even. but surely you can see that this is itself an egalitarian position. it is not every aspect of egalitarianism; it is an imprtant aspect, and the rest is nonsense without it.