Soon, everything will be public knowledge, except what governments do.
Last Tuesday, May 29, Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz published “An Open Letter to Starbucks Customers” in The Wall Street Journal (it may have been in other publications as well).
Recently, a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police a few minutes after two black men arrived at a store and sat waiting for a friend. They had not yet purchased anything when the police were called. After police arrived they arrested the two men. The situation was reprehensible and does not represent our company’s mission and enduring values.
The employee or employees responsible for calling the police may have acted out of racial prejudice. Or the black men may have done something not mentioned in the letter and calling the police averted a troublesome or potentially dangerous situation. Black people walk into Starbucks all over the country without incident. It’s difficult to believe the police were called simply because two black men walked in and sat down. But if they were, why not just reprimand and instruct, or fire, those responsible, apologize, offer lifetime free coffee to the two gentlemen, and be done with it?
Such a response wouldn’t require the following:
FOR SEVERAL HOURS THIS AFTERNOON, STARBUCKS WILL CLOSE STORES AND OFFICES TO DISCUSS HOW TO MAKE STARBUCKS A PLACE WHERE ALL PEOPLE FEEL WELCOME.
Offices and 8,000 stores were closed for an afternoon so that employees could discuss how to make Starbucks a more welcoming place. Judging by its success, Starbucks has already made millions of customers of all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual persuasions feel welcome. You have to wonder what the employees responsible for doing so, probably 99 percent of Starbucks’ workforce, feel about this pointless waste of time, which could have been, in a company-wide email, condensed down to: Treat everyone who walks into Starbucks like you’d like to be treated.
Why did Schultz make a mountain out of this molehill? Nobody has questioned his or his company’s commitment to treating everyone walking into a Starbucks equally. This was simply an instance when employees may have failed to live up to the commitment. Schultz is a member in good standing of the establishment, and professes to believe all the things members are supposed to believe in. Why couldn’t he have handled the matter in the same way Robert Iger, CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, and another member in good standing, handled the Roseanne Barr matter?
He could have. That he didn’t speaks to an insidious issue and its even more insidious corollary. There is less and less in the realm of private behavior, action, and thoughts that remains private, that is not subject to public scrutiny and demands, demands which are implicitly or explicitly backed by recourse to the government. For the government itself, on the other hand, more and more of what it does is shielded from publicity and disclosure.
For CEOs of large companies, virtually everything they and their companies do is fair game for public comment, media attention, lawsuits, and regulatory, legislative, and judicial redress. Schultz probably thought his over-the-top public atonement would preempt the kind of media—including social media—and government crucification that’s meted out to the defiant and the insufficiently contrite. There are rumors he wants to run for president someday.
He was probably aware of what happened to bakers who didn’t want to provide cakes for gay weddings. Or to Hobby Lobby’s owners, who didn’t want to provide contraceptives mandated by Obamacare, citing their religious beliefs, and had to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court, where they won. Once you’re in the contemporary Star Chamber, only abject public prostration, dramatic gestures, and the writing of large checks will propitiate the grievously offended.
Governments promulgate laws and regulations, but they also promulgate ideologies. Public obeisance to the latter is far more important than compliance with the former. By now the tedious totems of political correctness are well-understood, even where they’re resisted, so there’s no need to list them here. Through endless hectoring and indoctrination, people know the politically correct catechism like people once knew the multiplication tables. Publicly step out of line, as Schultz, Iger, and Barr recognized, and retribution is swift and severe.
Ideological conformity is even more stringent across the Atlantic. Tommy Robinson may do more time than the alleged pedophile rapists—members of a politically blessed group—about whom he was reporting and commenting, if they’re found guilty.
The average person may think: at least I can say and do what I want in my own private spaces. They’re working on that; those private spaces are shrinking down to nothing. Houses, cars, televisions, appliances, computers, and telephones are already microphones, cameras, and recording devices. Newer model cars and smart phones track and record where you go. Public cameras are everywhere. Future self-driving cars—called autonomous in a bit of Orwellian double-speak—may strip your autonomy to choose where you travel.
Confronted with all this, the average person may console him or herself: at least I can think as I please as long as I don’t reveal those thoughts. They’re undoubtedly working on that, too. In the interim, with the information they already have, they have a pretty good idea of what you’re thinking…and if that thinking comports with the proper ideology. Can China’s social credit system be far behind?
Their goal: to know everything about you, while you’ll know nothing about them. But for an intrepid few, we wouldn’t know the extent of intelligence agency surveillance, how the mainstream media serves as governments’ propaganda arm, corruption and criminality in high places, and the ties contractors, the media, and high technology companies have to the world’s militaries and intelligence agencies. Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Tommy Robinson, and other truth tellers pay a high price for their temerity. When governments, their string-pullers, and their minions are a criminal class, telling the truth is the ultimate crime, dealt with mercilessly.
The inversion is almost complete. What ordinary citizens can do without the approval of the government, what information about themselves they can keep private, is almost nothing. What governments can do is virtually unlimited, what they willingly disclose or allow to be disclosed almost nothing. This inversion is the opposite of freedom, a recipe for, if not the very definition of, tyranny.