I swear to God - no writer of dystopian, alternative-history science fiction, no future-noir filmmaker, no paranoid conspiracy theorist could make this stuff up. When Jeremy first told me about Citizen Corps and Operation TIPS the other day, I thought he was making it up, and I laughed. And then I realized he was being serious, and despite the warmth of the summer’s day, I got goosebumps all over my body. And having just taken my first look at the Citizen Corps website , those goosebumps came back with a vengeance.
I mean, the Citizen Corps "emergency preparedness" schlock is one thing. I actually downloaded such documents as "Your Family Disaster Plan" and "Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit" . After reading all of this, I realized that you would basically have to build a fallout shelter in your backyard to store all of the stuff that you’re always supposed to have on hand in case of an emergency. A three-day supply of food and water for each person in your household? Uh, signal flares, anyone? Duck and cover, anyone?
I even downloaded the "Disaster Preparedness Coloring Book" just for a laugh - and it did make me laugh, in an I-simply-cannot-believe-this sort of way. Of course it makes sense to teach kids how to call 911 and talk to them about what to do in case there’s a fire or something. However, I’m a bit wary of the traumatic effect of forcing kids to color in little pictures of houses being swept away by tornados and floods while trembling families look on in fear.
But more than that, I’m just perplexed. See, in the rundown of all the emergency scenarios that may affect your family, "terrorist attack", "nuclear reactor meltdown" and "total war" are nowhere to be found. You’ve got your hurricanes and your earthquakes and your fires, but your smallpox epidemics and your jumbo jets crashing into buildings are curiously absent. I mean, isn’t that what this is really all about?
And if that’s not in fact what this is all about, then what the hell is up with this Operation TIPS thing ? I just - I just don’t even know where to begin in saying how bone-chillingly wrong this concept is. I simply cannot express my utter, horrified, jaw-dropped incredulity that this is actually happening - that the American government is setting up a framework for the good people of America to inform on one another. And what’s even more dismaying is this: the Citizen Corps (who comes up with this stuff?) website clearly states that "The programs profiled on this site are only the beginning of the Citizen Corps initiative". Yeah, I’ll bet.
Well, props to the US Postal Service for saying that they don’t want to have anything to do with Operation TIPS - "at this time", anyway. No worries, though: I’m sure there are enough other nutcases out there with personal grudges to settle and an over-zealous desire to answer "President Bush’s call to service" that Operation TIPS won’t have any trouble finding recruits. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will look at Bush’s vacant, squinty-eyed smirk on all these rousingly red-white-and-blue websites and somehow come to the conclusion that this man is a Benevolent Father Figure To Be Trusted and Served With Pride. Quite how they will come to this conclusion is utterly beyond me. All I see when I look at him is Someone I Wouldn’t Trust As Far As I Could Throw Him.
Wow, I feel Operation TIPS homing in on me already.
You know, I have a few TIPS for people. 1) Read a bit of history. Read about the Stasi, read about neighbors informing on each other to the Nazis, read about Stalin breeding a climate of fear and encouraging good citizens to denounce their families and friends.
2) Have a good, long, hard think about that history. Think of where an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust really leads. Think of all the innocent people who were sent away and/or tortured and/or murdered on the basis of someone "informing" on them for personal or political gain (or even "just" informing on them because the informer truly thought he or she was doing what was right for the country). Then think about people you know who might in some way benefit from casting the shadow of suspicion over you. And if you think you’re too lily-white for suspicion to stick to you, then think again.
3) Read the book 1984 and watch the movie Brazil (paying special attention to the propaganda signs throughout), and marvel yet again at the prescience of George Orwell, Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown (co-scriptwriter for Brazil). And then tell me that "Volunteer for Citizen Corps - Volunteer for America" doesn’t sound anything like "Help the Ministry of Information Help You".
4) And finally, if you own any radical literature (and in this climate, I’m sure that would include the Koran), then make sure it’s pretty darn well hidden before you call up the plumber to fix that sink.