Those agreements aside: The idea that opposition to the NSA's surveillance is rooted in selfishness is utterly groundless**, a point I won't dwell on only because there's an even more important one to be made. I'll put it in the form of a question for David Simon: If the NSA abuses its authority in a way that would have been impossible or much harder without the controversial data gathering, do you imagine that the victims are going to be wealthy, ruling-class white people who went to the same colleges as the folks who staff the White House and donate to Senate campaigns? Or is it perhaps more likely that political dissidents, those who betray the ruling class, and especially "the most vulnerable Americans" will (as ever) be disproportionately subject to abuses? Is there any particular ethnic minority you can think of that might fear the abusive potential of a pervasive, terrorism focused surveillance state more than most? If not, try looking at what the NYPD has done with its mini-surveillance state apparatus.
The most vulnerable citizens are, yes, most vulnerable to NSA policies with great potential for abuse. So forgive me if I bristle at that part of your reluctance to oppose the NSA that's grounded in the fact that the American masses didn't meet your standards (or mine!) on the drug war. I find that part of your reasoning vindictive, irrational, and likely to harm some of the categories of citizens you profess to want to help most.
UPDATE: David Simon and I have been debating this post over in the comments section of his Web site. He argued, in a new post, that by taking issue with a small part of what he wrote, rather than the whole, I misrepresented his argument by omission. After due reflection, I vehemently disagree -- see his comments section for the full back and forth -- but I am happy to add more information here, both so that he feels he's been treated fairly, and just in case I am mistaken.
(Always possible! But in this case, I don't think so.)
In that spirit, I asked Simon if the following update would be accurate:
David Simon doesn't, in fact, think that the public's inadequate
reaction to drug war abuses should factor into or diminish anyone's
willingness to oppose the NSA's recently revealed surveillance
After his response, I still can't tell if that is his real position or not (I do think that position is contradicted by what he wrote in his piece, but also that his piece is, at times, in tension with itself).
The best I can do for Simon is to quote the response that he did offer:
For you to say, David Simon actually made a series of specific legal and ethical arguments in support of the NSA phone metadata program, noting that the same level of intrusion has long been acceptable in other law enforcement endeavors to courts and public opinion both -- that would address what you carefully avoided. As to what David Simon thinks the public's inadequate reaction to drug war abuses should do, you could, instead of putting your words in my mouth, say that Simon thinks it is indicative of a societal hypocrisy so fundamental that he won't take seriously the sudden concern over the legal use of such data in this context, or get exercised about claims of a real civil liberties affront with regard to this NSA program, when legal intrusions elsewhere are, in fact, more aggressive. But wait, that would be saying what I said, fully contextualized. And if you do that, your essay won't stand on its own legs. It falls on its ass at the premise.Really, we do indeed have a basic disagreement, and in saying what you think is fair, you've convinced me, Mr. Friedersdorf. I can't take your purposes sincerely, and I can't take this process seriously. You are protective of a performance that I simply can't hold in high regard.
I hope that is more clarifying for readers than it was for me. Also, non-regular readers should note that, prior to this post, I had already excerpted and addressed other part's of Simon's argument.