Enforcing Conformity: The Patriot Act
by Will Skinner

January 2005

I lost my bank card the other day. I'd long since cut up all my credit cards and usually carry little cash. And it was on a Sunday. So I had no way of getting ahold of any money at all. And my car was low on gas. It was a rough weekend.

So I decided to diversify my assets so this wouldn't happen again. I went into a Union Bank ready to start up another account where I could keep some extra cash.

"Have you banked with us before?"
"Do you have two forms of ID?"
"These IDs say you live in Laguna Hills?"
"That's my permanent address. I go to school down here in San Diego."
"Do you have any ID with your San Diego address?"
"Any bills? Anything like that?"
"They're in my roommate's name."
"We need a form of proof that you live down here in San Diego."
"Why? It's like 50 miles away from Laguna Hills."
"Well, because of the Patriot Act our guys would red flag this account. I can't open up an account unless you can show me an ID with a San Diego address on it."

On my way home I started thinking about just what this "Patriot" Act does. My situation is undoubtedly not unique -- new students move into new places without updated identification all the time. But on the other hand it is a little out of the ordinary. Let's face it, Joe Blow who lives his whole life within 10 miles of his house is probably the "typical" American. Banks are always giving new residents a hassle about things like that.

However, this is the first time I'm aware of that a congressional act completely banned something a little out of the ordinary. Wait a minute, of course it's not the first time. Interracial marriage, homosexuality, "fornication," pornography. All banned at one point or another by... well... conservatives. Since time immemorial, conservatives have been banning those things that were a little out of the ordinary.

Why, though?

Well, "out of the ordinary" is something novel, something that's possibly threatening. Conformity is non-threatening. We love to look at things that remind us of ourselves. We're not threatened by ourselves, and we're not threatened by things that are just like us, either. It's those things that are alien to us that frighten us.

But if conservatives are so adamant about banning all sorts of things, that must mean that all sorts of things frighten them. Why are conservatives so scared all the time?

My theory is that conservatives believe that the "System" -- essentially the political, economic, and social structure of this country -- is inherently weak, while liberals see it as inherently strong.

In fact, conservatives see everything they cherish as inherently weak. Look at the "Defense of Marriage Act." To a liberal, "defending" something like marriage simply does not compute. How can a societal institution need "defending?" Is it going to slip off a cliff or something? Are people shooting rockets at it? If it's surpassed by some other institution or no institution at all, fine. Great. Something better has come along. But why "defend" it?

Look at the Flag Burning Amendment the conservatives tried to tack on to the Constitution. Defend the flag. If we don't, our whole society will crumble.

Look at the "domino effect" theory of the Vietnam War. We must defend against communism. Else our society will crumble.

Same with the Patriot Act. We must defend ourselves from people, like myself, who might not be exactly like everyone else. Do we pose a threat? Maybe -- after all, we are different. And that's bad. That's "evil." Different=dangerous=evil, to a conservative.

On a deeper level, I believe that conservatives fear all these different things and see our System as inherently weak because they themselves are inherently weak. After all, we project our own insecurities on the rest of the world. We "lay our trip" on the universe. How can someone be afraid of something he cannot even comprehend? He can't. Strength can't comprehend weakness.

So when conservatives look around and see weakness in all their cherished institutions, it's simply a mirror showing their own weakness back to them.

Liberals, on the other hand, look at our System and see it as inherently strong. They don't see hidden dangers lurking around every corner which must be "defended" against. Strength cannot comprehend weakness. Liberals are usually the youth of the country while conservatives are old. Youth is strong. Age is weak.

Unfortunately for the youth and the strong within this county, we are currently being led by those who are weak. Those who see weakness in themselves and therefore see it everywhere they look.

Some guys flew some planes into a couple of buildings in New York, and now I can't open a bank account one county away from where I live? Something just doesn't compute.


A short week later, I successfully signed up for a Union Bank account online after answering a few short questions that anybody with any information about me could have answered. So much for security.



Contact the author at will@willskinner.com.
Copyright ©2005 Will Skinner All rights reserved.