Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thoughts on a Police State

Given recent current events, I've been thinking a bit about police states. I've had the opportunity in the last year and a half, to live in a place where people lived under martial law not so long ago. (Martial law was lifted in 1987.)

I don't know much about the experiences of people under martial law, because people are very reticent to talk about it, or politics in general. I asked someone once, why people don't like to talk about politics here, and they said "Because it shows what kind of person you are." I don't know if this is true for everyone, but I thought it was an interesting viewpoint nonetheless.

All of my students and teachers have all been very reluctant to talk about politics. They will a little, I usually have some idea of their political leanings, however, there's always a sense of restraint and figurative (or sometimes literal) looking over one's shoulder before speaking. You just get the sense that someone might be listening, that something might happen to you. And even to me (a relatively privileged outsider) it feels pretty real. I use an American-centric textbook with my adult class, so there's lots of opportunities for political discussion and such. I don't think the authors allowed for teaching it in a place where discussing politics openly among relative strangers is not an option, or at least not a comfortable one.

I'm not saying people aren't interested in politics, most people I've met clearly have opinions. Some people I've met go to rallies and things with very little trepidation. But at the same time, it seems like a lot of views on politics are understood and not necessarily spoken about. Maybe because, people are never sure what might happen. Or maybe what could happen.

So, anyway, police states. Is America a police state yet? I don't think it is, yet. We may not be as free as we think we are, and quite frankly most of America is too busy watching American Idol to care, but I still think the very American sense of entitlement is still fairly free. The average American is may be having our rights stripped from us, but we're not looking over our shoulders, yet. And when we are deprived of the freedom we feel entitled to we feel indignant. Being deprived of rights has not become the status quo, yet. (For those of you who noticed that I have used the word yet four times in one paragraph, congratulations. You have won the Literature Major Close Reading Prize.)

Disclaimer: My observations are, as always, necessarily limited by my status as a (lower) middle class, college educated, light skinned, Northeast Asian American, English speaking person. (Yes, I realize I lack in the realness department.) For those who feel that I am not telling it like it is, please feel free to let me know. I can only tell it like I see it.

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