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 John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security

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Laura
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PostSubject: John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security   Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:18 pm

Has anyone read any of Katzenbach's novels? I have a few of his works as audiobooks, and I am having trouble getting used to them. For some reason, his style isn't very appealing to me. However, they're unbelievably creative. In the novel that I am listening to right now, he creates a 51st federal state called the "Western Territory" that is based on the idea of total security. Of course, you sacrifice your privacy, but there is no crime at all - well, at least until there is.

I like the thoughts that stand behind the story. In my eyes, it is that
a) there is no such thing as real security, regardless of how much authorities want us to believe that.
b) if you create a utopia within an existing society, the surrounding society will inevitable influence and, as in this case, enter and very likely destroy the utopia.
c) absolute openness and lack of privacy on behalf of the population usually coincides with unusually high secretiveness and lack of transparency on the side of the government.

This is, at least in my eyes, a very important topic in today's security-addicted society, especially in the US and the UK (correct me if I'm wrong there). What I mean is that here in Germany, there is an actual debate if someone suggests that CCTV cameras be installed around the main station (and people reject that proposal!). Next to nobody owns a burglar alarm of any sort, except maybe the odd dog. I have never seen an actual gun in the 26 years of my existence, because nobody owns one. (It would be legal, though, people just don't deem it necessary.)

And I was thinking, is the increased hunger for security not a way of reducing freedom? If we sit at home in guarded neighbourhoods with cameras in the frontyard and a security guy at the gates of the premises - isn't that just another way of putting ourselves in a cage?

And if - as in Katzenbach's novel - this system of increased security fails - isn't that proof that we need even more security?

Whoa. Just reread that. I should be going to bed. But still, tell me your thoughts. Smile

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PostSubject: Re: John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security   Wed Aug 03, 2011 4:42 pm

I once read an interesting article. It had a quote that went something like this:

"We [American people] are being forced to choose between freedom and security. And if forced to choose, we will inevitably lose both, because innocent people will still be killed while our government obsesses itself about policing its citizens, not guarding them."

Made me think quite a lot. I haven't read any novels by this guy, but I'll add him to my booklist. Thanks for the mention.
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PostSubject: Re: John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security   Fri Aug 05, 2011 2:04 pm

Well I subscribe to different leftist views that take a less than positive view towards the police and their efforts to deal with crime. I'm not an anarchist and I see their philosophy as naive. However, the amount of power the police have, their disregard for privacy, and their ability to make ones life miserable in the UK without sufficient evidence leave me just one question to ask.

How hard is it to learn German?

I don't find the idea of living in the UK or the USA appealing due to these reasons. I like the idea of Sweden, though, and Laura just gave a good argument for residency in Germany ;-).

Does the novel's creativity outbalance the annoying style? Was it written in English, and if not, is there a good translation? How does it compare against the dystopian classics? Lastly, is the 51st state a utopia or a dystopia?


I too believe that absolute security is not possible in out society, and certainly not desirable if it means that freedom and privacy must become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, our obsession with security also leaves both law enforcement agencies and the public incredible paranoid.
Related, and highly amusing, is http://www.cracked.com/article_16849_the-7-dumbest-things-ever-done-by-airport-security.html
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PostSubject: Re: John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security   Fri Aug 05, 2011 7:29 pm

March Hare wrote:

How hard is it to learn German?

I don't really know. My mum tells me I picked it up far too quickly for her taste Smile


March Hare wrote:
Does the novel's creativity outbalance the annoying style? Was it written in English, and if not, is there a good translation? How does it compare against the dystopian classics? Lastly, is the 51st state a utopia or a dystopia?

Yes, it does. I've read it twice, which is saying something, given that the style wasn't exactly wonderful. It is an American novel originally, though I read the German translation. I have since compared the two versions, though, and they are very much alike.

It doesn't really compare to the dystopian classics, to be honest. The 51st state is a given parameter, it is not explained in detail. Rather, the narrator refers to it casually from time to time, each time offering small bits and pieces of information which then present a rather incomplete picture.

One funny thing I noticed: The State Security is sometimes shortened "SS" - which the members of this organisation understandably dislike. However, the word is translated "Staatssicherheit" into German - and "Staatssicherheit" around here is commonly shortened to "Stasi", the invasively watchful secret police of the GDR.

But that's only one of the factors that makes it a dystopia in my eyes. Other factors include the absolute lack of any privacy, the fact that the state knows every last details of your life. Also, immigrants are screened much more closely than they ever would anywhere else, which smacks of elitism to me (which I usually don't dislike, unless it's about some exclusive club like here). And, as in any state with too much power, citizens tend to disappear once they appear on the radar of the State Security.

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PostSubject: Re: John Katzenbach and philosophical thoughts about security   Fri Aug 05, 2011 9:29 pm

Having grown up in the US, I do see a few more checks in place than there were before 9/11, especially in regards to air travel. Yet, do I feel my privacy and personal autonomy are in imminent danger? In all honesty, no.

The media has a lot to do with making people feel paranoid about the government. Does this mean I have complete trust in the government? Absolutely not. Neither do most other Americans. I realize it performs a number of necessary functions, and I know it is never going to go away, but the partisanship between the two dominant political parties, often seen (especially lately with the debt ceiling fiasco) as creating a dysfunctional government, actually performs its own check and balances upon one another. The government as well is very sensitive of the media, who can sway popular opinion with a snap of its fingers, and the politicians are very aware that their days are numbered if they even hint at taking personal liberties away, unless it is acknowledged by the majority that certain security measures are acceptable (such as the aforementioned air travel restrictions).

Could government and society in the US be better? Of course it could. But personally, I don't feel I am in any danger from terrorists lurking at my front door, nor do I feel that my rights and privacy have been unduly impinged upon.

Just my opinion, but there it is.

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