Taking Liberties

The Carnival On Modern Liberty is an online ‘blog carnival’ – an attempt to engage the wider ‘blogosphere’ in debates about what freedom means, in the runup to the Convention on Modern Liberty. James Graham, of Quaequam Blog, is organising it, and anyone in Britain can take part. The two things they’ve asked people to do are to write a blog post about what action we can all take to reclaim some of our liberties, which I will be doing with the rest of this post, and also to link to five blogs that *don’t* normally talk about that sort of thing directly, in the hope that they’ll see the pingback and respond appropriately by joining in. For that, I’m going to link Andrew Rilstone, Gavin Robinson, Holly, Gavin Burrows and Lawrence Miles.

There are three things I think anyone who wants an increase in liberty needs to do – protect themselves, in the short term, against immediate threats, fight against future governmental attacks on our liberties, and help to change the discourse surrounding civil liberties.

For the first, if there’s one thing you can do to protect yourself from intrusion more than any other, it’s install a free software operating system on your computer. A GNU/Linux variant such as Debian or Ubuntu is not vulnerable to Windows viruses or many other methods of intrusion into your data. That may not seem like much, but in the UK right now the police no longer need a warrant to gain access to your computer and read all your data. Don’t want the police knowing about your collection of ‘erotica’? Or your connections to ‘subversive’ groups? Or even just generally poking around in your stuff? Then don’t make it easy for them. Running Windows on your machine is like leaving all your doors and windows open.

On top of that, free software is based around the idea of free speech and free communication of ideas. Supporting free software (I’m not a free software absolutist myself – I believe proprietary software is ‘less good’ rather than actively evil – but I do think in general it’s much better to use free software where you can) is supporting software that is created to give you more freedom.

Once you’ve taken some steps to protect yourself (and that’s just one step – do whatever you can to safeguard your liberties) you need to help protect others. If you only do one thing here, you should join Amnesty International. Many other organisations do very good work too (you should support all the organisations in my ‘other sites – politics’ sidebar) but Amnesty have done more, for longer, than any of them, and are completely non-partisan in their support of human rights. If you want to ensure that not only you, but everyone else, get to retain your rights and maybe even get more, then they’re the organisation that you need to support more than any other.

And finally, and most importantly, something that everyone can do is to change the tone of the ‘national conversation’. Write to your MP, and to the newspapers, and post on your blogs, every time a politician or anyone else in public life attacks the freedoms we hold dear. But more than that, speak out, loudly and clearly, every time you hear anything in casual conversation that attacks those liberties. Every time you hear “No smoke without fire” or “If you’ve done nothing wrong, why should you have anything to hide?” or “If it helps them catch the criminals it’s worth it”, speak out loudly and clearly.

And remember that liberty doesn’t only apply to white English-speaking males. Speak out against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, prejudice against the disabled, wherever you hear it. Because if liberty means anything it must mean liberty for *all*.

Preaching over. Comics again tomorrow (more 3D Superman!!!)

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6 Responses to Taking Liberties

  1. Josie Le Blond says:

    Things are indeed rotten in the UK. The Government is unaccountable to the people and will continue to be so unless there is a significant shift in political attitude. The events of October last year and this Monday clearly show where the state’s true allegiances lie. Politicians kow-tow to the financial institutions, desperate to scrape their way back up the slope to reassert the manic prosperity of the boom years, although events have exposed the system upon which it is based fundamentally flawed and corrupt. Meanwhile the people suffer from the rising cost of living, (by which I mean food and energy prices) toppling house prices, losses of savings, and the prospect of long term and rising unemployment. Despite 3 million predicted out of work by this Autumn (I as one of the unfortunate graduates of 2009 will inevitably add to that number), still the heartless state appeals to us to spend, not save, when the future looks so bleak. Now the government uses our money, our future, to pay bonuses to the bankers.

    Of course, the British cynics say, all this fear-mongering about the economy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps they might even venture that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Why, then in that case lets try some Obama-style optimism, some people power. In response, the same cynics suddenly change tack and say that nothing has changed, nothing can change. But as the great man himself pointed out, it already has. The self-liberation of America that the world witnessed yesterday is a call for an end to self-defeatist cynicism in politics everywhere. It is a call to the people of the world to demand of their governments the transparency and respect they deserve and to demand of their financial institutions a service, not a ransom note.

    It may already be too late for the UK. The likes of Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw work daily and tirelessly to erode our civil liberties in a shark-like exploitation of our characteristic reluctance to confront authority. It was they who followed the immoral Bush administration into an illegal war in Iraq, endangering the lives of British people across the world and trampling on the rule of international law. It was they who then lied to us to create an atmosphere of fear, justifying the removal of our rights and the erosion of the justice system under the cloak of ‘anti-terrorism’ measures. The dark days of Bush have now ended in America, but still the British cower behind their sofas, too scared to put their necks out and even talk to each other about politics. The stark fact of the frightening vacuum where our own Obama should stand means that we must start things rolling ourselves. We must think creatively about how to reassert the proper balance between capital, state power and the people in the UK. First we must rediscover our political voice.

    Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw who said the people get the governments they deserve? In our current stupor of apathy, cynicism and defeatism we have allowed our government to bully us into a corner. Our flabby and complacent political attitude has given them the green light to sacrifice our future on the altar of the market. We must work now to discuss, to find alternative solutions. Maybe we could hold the Government accountable and work towards a UK democratic government dedicated to service of the people, not finance. A government of the future dedicated to the creation of a new closely regulated system of credit, coupled with a green revolution public works scheme to put our people back to work. Maybe we need to see a revision of higher education policy so that further generations will not be pressured to take on crippling debts as their adult lives begin. Maybe we need to see social cohesion grow through dialogue between all the many constituent parts of this patchwork country. Maybe we need to openly address painful issues like immigration, Europe, joining the Euro, our place on the world stage. Above all, we need to talk and to be listened to.

  2. Jennie says:

    * smoochies *

    Fab post.

  3. Not sure when I’ll get round to this as I was planning to stay on hiatus for another month or two.

    I’m ambivalent about hiding legal porn because it adds to the sex-negative ideology that all porn is something to be ashamed of. But with the new law coming in it’s virtually impossible to tell what’s legal and what isn’t. And the police have been known to victimize people who only ever subscribed to legal adult sites.

  4. Holly says:

    I’m not sure I can think of anything you haven’t already suggested, and I have no blogs to tag. Thanks a lot. :)

  5. In my experience British people have become complacent about their liberties. If you mention to them attacks upon the rights of speech and assembly (to name but two) they will act completely unconcerned only to tell you moments later we still have these ‘inviolable’ rights.

    In Medieval times rights of access were contingent upon use. If you and your fellow villagers didn’t use a particular track all that much, the landowner had a perfect right to deny access. It seems to me a similar thing is happening to our liberties. Rather than try to act upon them people just expect them to be there, like a statue in the park. The result is they are getting slowly and ceaselessly eroded without many people even noticing much.

  6. Pingback: Carnival on Modern Liberty No. 2, Tom Griffin – Politics Unlimited | UK politics news

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