Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/03/2010

Identity theft, Adam Smith, George W. Bush, and YOU

“Identity theft.”

No phrase has more power to cause anxiety. But it’s one of those phrases that we have invested with more power than it warrants.

What some call “identity theft” is real. Thieves broke into a friend’s car (in the parking lot of the church where she was attending services) and stole her computer and her briefcase. They racked up $13,000 of check cashing on her bank account and opened a new account in her name. She has recouped her losses, but the thieves have not been (and never will be) caught.

Yesterday I received an email from another close friend saying she was in London, that she had been mugged and her purse stolen. My friend has leukemia and is in the hospital. I received the address in London to which I should wire $1200. Foolishly I deleted the messages without sending the address to the cops or someone. I did, however, email my friend’s daughter (in a country more remote than England) who had already managed to get through to the ISP which was working on the theft of my friend’s email. The thieves had already set up another account in her name on another server. (My firewall took care of the Trojan horse on my computer; don’t worry.)

Are you scared yet? Terrorized?

Let’s panic! Let’s set up an entire industry (and advertise it on TV and online in every pop-up imaginable) to combat “identity theft!”

Fear is the motivating factor by which we Americans have abdicated responsibility for ourselves and turned our will and our lives over to the care of the Department of Homeland Security. And people who complain about “government takeover” of health care are those who most completely look to the government to make their lives “secure.” It’s OK for government to take over our minds as long as it (“we”) keeps its hands out of our wallets.

. . . .while Bush ascribed [the source of] “fear” to his symbolic Other. . . U.S. corporate media have been exploiting fear for decades in their excessive presentation of murder and violence and dramatization of a wide range of threats. . . .[they] whipped up fear and panic. . . . became weapons of mass hysteria that created tremendous fear in the population, which made the public look anxiously to the government for protection, rendering the population malleable to manipulation. (1)

My closest advisors (spiritual, psychological, medical, and others—people helping me get my life together just in the nick of time before I’m too old to enjoy it) urge me to take charge of my own life, to take responsibility for myself (figure out my relationship to Medicare, for example). Here’s the truth. I take responsibility for myself more than most (all?) of the “together” people I know.

Long ago when I first read Ralph Waldo Emerson, I memorized those familiar Emersonisms people love to quote. My favorite is, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. . .”  I memorized a great chunk of the essay. Most people, I fear, who spout that phrase don’t know the context of Emerson’s wisdom about little minds:

And we are now men. . . .and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark. . . .A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall (2).

The greatest legacy of the Bush/Cheney regime is that they have finally finished making Americans into “minors and invalids in a protected corner. . . .cowards fleeing before a revolution.”

The theft of my friend’s briefcase and laptop was a pain in the ass. What do you think? I’m blind to reality or an idiot? There were extenuating circumstances I won’t explain that made her ordeal one most of us would have had to pay someone to take care of (see the TV ads). If the cowards, the vile creatures who hijacked my other friend’s email while she was helpless know she couldn’t do anything about it (she had emailed her friends where she was) are caught (which they won’t be), “We ought to let [them] hang there. Let [them] twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (3).

But what is this terror by which we live?

Malls have made the list of most likely terrorism targets because they “represent Western materialism” and draw [terrorizable shoppers]. In April 2004, news broke that a mall in West Los Angeles was at risk. . . .the threat was false. Nonetheless, sales at shopping centers in Los Angeles dropped by 7 percent in the weeks after the story aired. (4)

Five days after the events of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush speechified:

We’re a great nation. We’re a nation of resolve. We’re a nation  that can’t be cowed by evil-doers. I’ve got great faith in the  American people.. . [we] have great faith because of the desire for people to do what’s right for America (5)

Kellner hypothesizes, that

For years to come, Bush continued to use the word “freedom” to describe both what he was fighting for and what the terrorists were opposing. Yet “freedom” for Bush has usually signaled the capacity to say and do anything he wanted to, in a lifetime of providing deregulation of the economy, favors to his corporate supporters, and participation himself in dubious political and economic activities.(6)

The capacity to say and do anything he wanted—duping Americans into believing that we are at “war” on every front imaginable. With the Muslim world (even our next door neighbors), with computer hackers, with drug dealers, with illegal “aliens,” and, most frightening of all, because the ghost of Adam Smith rules our minds, with IDENTITY THEIVES.

Is your “identity” so fragile that someone can steal it? Is your identity your credit card number, your email address, your Social Security number? Is that what defines you as a person? Apparently Americans would say

My identity was prescribed in the eighteenth century by the inventor of ‘the invisible hand’ that guides human life—in other words, by GREED. My personhood is my ability to make, spend, and (rarely) save money. That’s who I am.

And we will allow the government to do whatever it takes—Patriot Act, suspension of First Amendment rights, water-boarding, invading sovereign nations—to protect that personhood, that ability to be as materialistic as possible.

John Locke had a different idea, thank God. Freedom, he wrote, means

. . . .to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone in that society, and made by the legislative power elected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where that rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the unconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary rule or will of another man. (7)

Let’s have that “standing rule,” not the whim of the Administration, not the rules of Homeland Security, and for God’s sake, NOT the manipulation of the corporate media. “. . . .follow my own will in all things. . . .”

( 1) Kellner, Douglas. “Bushspeak and the politics of lying: presidential rhetoric in the ‘war on terror’.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 37.4 (2007): 622+.
( 2) Emerson. Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” Essays: First Series, 1841.
( 3) “THE HEARINGS: The Ehrlichman Mentality on View.” Time. Aug. 06, 1973. Web. 03 Feb 2010.
( 4)  Predmore, Carolyn E., et al. “Shopping in an age of terrorism: consumers weigh the risks associated with online versus in-store purchases.” Competitiveness Review 17.3 (2007): 170+.
( 5) Kellner.
( 6) Kellner.
( 7) John Locke, Treatise of Civil Government, 1690. (New York: D. Appleton and Century Co., 1937), p. 12.


  1. Identity theft is a term used that is to refer to fraud that involves someone pretending to be someone else in order to steal money or get other benefits. Great powers comes great responsibilities..


    • Yes, that is what people mean by “identity theft.”
      It is, however, a ridiculous vacuous phrase that means nothing.
      It is doublespeak designed to frighten people into buying
      protection against credit card fraud and other crimes. As I tried
      to point out, anyone who has an identity, a persona, even a
      modicum of character not based on materialism cannot have
      her identity “stolen.”


  2. Hi Harold- There is a commercial on T.V. where a guy breaks down the front door of a house to kill the occupents -but he is scared away by their Brinks alarm system. Have you in 50 years ever known anyone that this has happened to.


    • Not in 65 years.
      Scaring people is the name of the game, I’m afraid.
      We live in a nation in constant fear.
      I love Emerson’s image of “cowards fleeing before a revolution.”
      When did this happen to this country?



%d bloggers like this: