Bernays refuses to break from the tribe!

TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 2013

Even as she flips on surveillance: We live in a highly tribal time. Kevin Drum reports one way the tribes have flipped in a new post which is based on a survey by Pew.

Here's the basic rundown:

When Bush was in charge, Democrats thought NSA surveillance was unacceptable. On balance, Republicans held the other view.

Now that Obama is ruling the roost, the views of the two sides have flipped. On balance, Democrats support surveillance. GOP members do not.

This morning, a letter to the New York Times helped display the tribal feelings which may be occasioned by such events.

The letter is from the novelist Anne Bernays. Bernays, who is 82, has long since earned the right to the world’s respect. But even at that distance from the insecurities of youth, she seems to want one point to be clear:

Even as she changes her mind on surveillance, she still belongs to the tribe:
Re “Mining of Data Is Called Crucial to Fight Terror” (front page, June 8):

As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and an ardent progressive, I never thought that I would be writing anything like this letter.

But your article about the capture of Najibullah Zazi, who was plotting to leave bombs in New York City subways, through tracing his e-mails, and thus thwarting what would have been a catastrophe, persuades me to shift my attitude toward the government’s monitoring of phone calls and other communications. I picture the mayhem on the IRT, the panic, the many dead and wounded, the disruption of a major transit system. It’s a terrible scene.

So, though it kills me to say so, I think the assault on privacy was probably worth it.

Cambridge, Mass.
We do not mean to criticize Bernays for changing her mind on this matter or for any part of that letter. But this morning, we were very much struck by the strength of her tribal insistence.

Even though she now supports surveillance, she is at pains to let everyone know that she is still an ardent progressive. It kills her to say what she thinks to be true, so strong is her tribal identity.

Bernays has long ago earned the world’s respect. That said, we were intrigued by her letter today—by the strong desire, in tribal times, to maintain one’s tribal allegiance.

Another way of conceiving such matters: There is of course another way of perceiving this change in point of view. A person could think something like this after changing her opinion:

“Maybe I was a bit too ardent in a few of my past views. Perhaps the other side had a germ of a point which my ardor kept me from seeing...”

In tribal times, our ardor often keeps us from spotting the presence of germs of truth. You don't have to think that the others are right.

Can you see that a germ may be there?


  1. Anne Bernays might as well be a Nixon Republican which is what the Democratic leaders in Congress have each become now that Obama is President. Al Gore protested this unconstitutional spying by Obama, but other Democratic leaders are just our new Republican conservatives (McCain conservatives).

  2. I don't think her original position or her changed position has to be based on "tribalism." Her original position could have been based on her belief in the Constitution and civil and privacy rights. Her change of position may have occurred when she was presented with evidence that there are in fact real bad guys out there and sacrificing rights may be necessary to catch them before they strike. A problem I have with that is that you can never know whether these security people are telling the truth or not.

  3. Just think what would happen if She considered the ACLU's terrible record and poor arguments on "Speech as Money." Her head would explode like in "Scanners."

  4. I might be less angry if Bernays stopped talking about being a "progressive" and about the letter killing her. This is just hypocrisy. The Constitution means nothing, fine, but enough about being a progressive.

  5. Bernays needs to just write down her opinion, the progressive stuff is sheer hypocrisy since Bernays evidently cares nothing for the Constitution.

  6. Bob, this may well have been the crappiest post you've written in a long time. I have no brief for Anne Bernays, but to jeer a considered and obviously hard-won change of mind as somehow related to "tribalism" is insufferable. Having a consistent and thought-out ideology deriving from one's world view is not tribalism, you jerk.

    YOU, Bob, are a person who's more consumed and driven by tribalism than any of the people you so love to jeer at.

    1. Why did Bernays feel she needed to advertise her political affiliation, then? The reason is clear to me: So that no one would mistake her for a member of the other tribe.

  7. Edward Snowden said that he could track anyone he chose to, if he had their email address. It is only one of the problems with mass monitoring of the communications of all Americans and putting information into a database. Anyone with Snowden's security clearance or higher can build a pretty accurate profile from an individual's purchases, locations when calling, list of incoming calls, comments on web sites and a host of other data.

    Unless there has been a revolutionary change in human nature, the temptation to investigate whoever one chooses is powerful. Should an government agent investigate a neighbor, coworker, business competition or political adversary; what is there to prevent him or her from doing it?

    While it is true that the NSA does not have enough employees to investigate every American's communications it can selectively choose an individual to target for further study, Many crimes could be prevented if Americans allowed law enforcement to search every home on every block in America. The FBI requested the right to wiretap everyone block by block in the US.

    Another problem is the chill the NSA program places on free expression. Journalists cannot protect their sources, everything one communicates can be monitored and everyone is afraid of their neighbor. Does that seem familiar?
    Why not simply install two-way televisions or other monitoring devices in every living space in America? We'll certainly be perfectly safe then.

    North Korea must be almost completely safe considering that the people have no rights what-so-ever. The entire country is nothing more than an open air prison.Try to imagine sons of the Confederacy saying things like, "Today our city will be graced with the wondrous magnificence of our Supreme Leader Barak Hussein Obama. I'm so excited I'm beside myself." It is never going to happen.

    There has been a change in priorities in America. At one time I believed that the first priority was to protect the Constitution of the US, protection of the principles and rules that guided our nation, but then I discovered that the first priority is to protect the lives of American citizens. Without protection of the principles America becomes just another location on a global map. Soldiers will sacrifice their lives for freedom, but it is doubtful they would make the same sacrifice for GE.

    1. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

      Ben is sad for post-9/11 America.

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  9. Bernays was never a progressive. She was down with progressives on some issues but not the fundamentals, which she obviously never considered.

  10. Mark Thompson, the unapologetic progressive of Sirius XM Left, says progressives know they aren't going to get all they want, but asking for the sun, moon and stars is simply a tactic of negotiation.

    This is a tactic progressives feel Obama doesn't understand.
    That was the official mainstream script earlier this year.

    If you ask for something reasonable, your opponent knows immediately that you will take what HE wants to offer.

    It's basic games theory.
    In politics, the less informed the voters, the greater the divergence between political opponents.

    That said, in the digital information age, the lid will NEVER go back on the box.
    It is capability that will determine the level of scrutiny, not oversight.

    When people put their purchases including their medications on the internet, their opinions on Twitter, and their fetishes on Facebook, they have willingly traded their privacy for fifteen minutes of fame.

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