Yesterday I read a LiveJournal post that told me a lot about the desire for “safe spaces.” The author thought that authority should put an end to all the guns in the world, presumably making its own into plowshares after using them to disarm the rest of the world. In the absence of that, he wished that at least it would establish a regime of censorship, so we’d be “safe” from hearing views we don’t like.
I’ve seen it lots of times before, but seldom so naively expressed. The lack of realism helped me to see through to the underlying wish for someone to take charge and make him safe from everything. We all want to be safe, of course. What’s disturbing is the way people keep turning to demagogues who promise safety if they’re only given enough power. History has shown how badly that works, over and over, but the wish for a great protective leader keeps coming back.
There isn’t really that much difference between the “left” and “right” versions of this wish. Many on both sides love the FBI’s terrorism watch list, which people can be put on without explanation and can’t challenge in court, as a basis for restricting people’s freedoms. Obama has called not expanding this power a “loophole” in the government’s infinite authority. The governor of Connecticut has tried to justify it by saying “It is incumbent upon leaders at all levels of government to protect its citizenry.” From whom? From anyone whom unanswerable authorities declare a “terrorist.”
Or we can look at the politicians, including one whose name I’ve mentioned too many times lately, who praise Franklin D. Roosevelt’s forcibly hauling over 100,000 citizens and foreign-born residents from their homes and sending them to concentration camps. He did it to give Californians a safe space from people with slanty eyes. Today the demand is for a safe space from people who talk Arabic and go to mosques.
These spaces actually aren’t safe; they always come with deaths or arbitrary charges and punishment. We know what Ben Franklin said about people who prefer temporary safety to essential liberty, but that doesn’t stop them.