December 31, 2002  ·  Lessig

It was twenty years ago that I visited my first communist country. In 1982, I trekked through most of Eastern Europe, and a bit of the Soviet Union. I can still remember well the terror at the border to East Germany, when guards searched every inch of my bags before letting me pass. They even forced me to remove my shoes! (The last time that happened to me was, well, I guess SFO.) A Russian woman on the train told me: “Don’t worry. As long as you stay on the path, you’re fine. It’s only people who slip off the path who fall into the abyss.”

“The abyss.”

I was reminded of that story on my last trip to a communist country. My wife and I just returned from China. The reminder, however, was not the behavior of the Chinese border guards. Indeed, getting through customs and onto a plane there is like it was in the US 20 years ago — relaxed, respectful, easy, and you even get to keep your shoes. I was reminded instead by the Portland airport story that has been popped in blog space. Stay on the path, and you’re safe. Slip, and you’re in the abyss.

People — on both the left and right — boil in this space about what’s happening outside. Yet outside blog space, there is just more of the same. The Times writes about Democratic hopefuls rallying to attack Bush for not making America safe enough. Wonderful. Who ever wins in 2004, we can be assured of more petty fascism to keep America safe.

Where is the candidate who asks: Must we sell our soul to win this “war”? Where is the political party that demands respect for principles that I thought were fundamental. If we must detain Arabs, must we do so inhumanely? If we must frisk every air traveler, can’t we at least build in checks to the system to assure that it is not abused? If we must fight to defend America, can it at least be America that we defend?

I’m all with Dave that this space will be the space for political action in the future. If only the future comes soon enough.

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