In the dystopian novel 1984, the government relied on the use of telescreens and informants to enforce its massive, repressive regime. And while that was fiction, events in our modern society are eerily similar to it.
There’s a troubling trend emerging: Americans are being encouraged and even incentivized to turn their fellow citizens in to the government for a myriad of reasons.
For one example, federal officials this week announced they plan to rely on informants in order to determine which companies are enforcing their new (unconstitutional) vaccine mandate. The Biden Administration has used the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a means of implementing the rule without Congressional approval. Essentially the order says that companies will be heavily fined by the agency should they not demand their employees be vaccinated. But even the administration recognizes there are limits to their ability to enforce such a rule.
From the OSHA website:
Federal OSHA is a small agency; with our state partners we have approximately 1,850 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of 130 million workers, employed at more than 8 million worksites around the nation — which translates to about one compliance officer for every 70,000 workers.
So you do the math. The government has no way of actually catching the vast majority of companies should they flout this new mandate...that is unless employees decide to start reporting their own companies.
In another example, a new Texas abortion law actually pays citizens to identify and file lawsuits against abortion providers in the state. The legislation was written this way because the government cannot carry out these actions itself as it would be illegal under Roe v. Wade. But the Texas constitution has a citizen enforcement clause within it and it is this that lawmakers have chosen to hang their hats on. This plan of attack has of course caused much concern that similar tactics could be used in other states to similarly get around things like free speech protections and the Second Amendment.
And in Tennessee, the legislature had to pass a bill to protect doctors during a special COVID-19 session this Fall. The reason? The state’s medical board attempted to set up a system where residents could report doctors for “spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines.” The plan was to take their medical licenses as a result. You know, because reducing the number of doctors during a pandemic is great public policy.
A Look At History
These are serious issues. As limited government advocates have warned for some time, the entwinement of government and healthcare could ultimately lead to the government determining who gets healthcare, what kinds of services the doctors may provide, and the infringement of the bodily autonomy of patients. We may not yet have the government monopoly on healthcare progressives desperately want, but one could argue we are already seeing many of these rights violations nonetheless.
There are also of course blatant free speech, free market, and constitutional violations here. Doctors do not lose the right to their opinion because they are doctors. The government has absolutely no authority to make businesses force healthcare decisions on their employees. And like it or not, abortion is the law of the land until such a time the right can muster the support it needs to actually overturn Roe v. Wade. Undermining the rule of law by creating a system for citizens to stalk, harass, and sue one another is no way to conduct a society. And we should all shudder to think what this might look like should other states build upon this precedent. Rights could start slipping away very quickly if we embrace a culture in which Americans report on one another over such legal infringements.
This is perhaps the most concerning part of all: urging citizens to turn on their neighbors.
Governments throughout history (including our own) have often used this tactic to enforce horrible laws they would have had no chance of upholding without the help of citizens willing to sell out their fellow man.
During the second world war, for example, in his fireside chat of May 26, 1940, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt insinuated that German and Italian Americans were probably Nazi sympathists and spies working for their homelands and encouraged Americans to be “vigilant.” Americans responded by calling the FBI with over 2,900 reports of suspected sabotage in just one day that May. According to the Associated Press, “After Pearl Harbor, more than 11,000 German-Americans and 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war.”
During the same war we also of course saw the atrocities of the Holocaust in Germany and other parts of Europe. These atrocities were made possible not only by the complacent citizens who stood by and allowed them to occur, but by the people who joined the government in its efforts. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:
“Within Nazi Germany many individuals became active or semi-active participants in Nazi racial and antisemitic policies aimed first at the isolation, impoverishment, and forced emigration of German Jews during the 1930s, then during World War II (1939–1945), the annihilation of European Jewry. They included civil servants engaged in their 'normal work' such as finance officials processing the steep 'tax on Jewish wealth' levied in 1938 or inventorying property seized following the wartime deportations; clerks who kept files of documents listing ‘race’ or ‘religion’ and addresses used in police roundups; teachers at all educational levels whose lessons incorporated racist and antisemitic content. Individual citizens chose to be ‘involved’ when they voluntarily denounced their co-workers and neighbors to the police because of their alleged transgressions as Jews, ‘friends of Jews,’ anti-Hitlerites, or gays. Teenagers also played a role in many communities when they enjoyed their newfound power to harass with impunity Jewish classmates and their parents—adults to whom youth were generally taught to defer—thereby contributing to the targeted group’s isolation. Many ordinary Germans became invested in the ongoing persecution after acquiring Jewish businesses, homes, or belongings sold at bargain prices or benefiting from reduced business competition as Jews were driven from the economy.”
From a historical perspective, it is easy to see how mass human rights violations often begin with people being willing to hand over their neighbors to the government.
Do Americans really wish to embrace these examples and that of modern-day China? The Chinese Communist Party’s social credit system is yet another example of an authoritarian government using the willingness of residents to snitch on one another to implement a ridiculous surveillance system. Under this system, Chinese people are rated based on a wide-range of activities—from not paying fines, to being late to catch a train—and can lose state “privileges” should their score fall below a certain threshold.
The Buck Stops With You
Despite all of its spying, technology, and the incredible amount of people it employs, big government would still be unable to function without the complacency and eager cooperation of the everyday person. It’s simply too big. There are too many laws. And the vast majority of the time people could still break those laws without getting caught.
This is why governments often rely on people who will do their job for them—people who will lean into their own authoritarian and nosy instincts and gladly rat out their neighbor for the smallest infraction.
We know this type of person is prevalent in our society. Often called a “Karen” in pop-culture, we unfortunately have no shortage of supply for this personality type. And while we can mock their antics and make fun of their behavior, the end results of their actions are seldom funny. Rather these individuals get people killed in police interactions, rob them of their businesses, and get them fired because of their personal health choices.
As the Roman politician Tacitus said, “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” One look at the unbelievable number of laws on the books in the US should tell you something about the state of our government. But without our consent, complacency, and especially assistance, all of this madness stops. If we want to limit the government, we must commit to resistance and refuse to help the government carry out its injustices.