Patterico and I are having a debate about American attitudes toward the law. We’ve settled on a hypothetical, and disagree about what people’s reactions to it will be.
Ground rules: This is a hypothetical, a gedanken experiment like Schrodinger’s cat. Yes, I acknowledge that it couldn’t be true. But don’t comment here on this topic if you cannot literally accept the assumptions.
Stipulate that there is a small machine that I could put into your home or workplace that with absolute accuracy – I mean 100% accuracy – would send an alarm in the specific case that a person who had the true intent to commit murder was close to it. Yes, it’s Minority Report territory. But accept it as true.
Would you – as an American – be comfortable having something like that in your house?
Update: So let’s explain where this came from.
Patterico and I were having a long discussion on voting, and on some ideas I have to test whether there is in fact meaningful voting fraud of certain types. He explained that he was far less concerned about voting methodology, and far more concerned about the risk that non-citizens were registering and voting in significant numbers. He was unhappy that we did not require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
I explained that there were two reasons for it, one good and one much less so. The less good reason is obvious; there are political factions who believe they gain support from the presence of the group of voters who can’t prove they are citizens. The good reason is more complex – it goes to the nature of our relationship as Americans with the law.
I started by explaining why America doesn’t like speed cameras, and why we feel it’s important that the law by arms-length away from us. We debated, and I raised the stakes to the idea expressed above.
We don’t like the direct intrusion of control – even when it’s for as important a purpose as preventing murder. We don’t like “showing our papers.” That’s a good thing, in my view, and something to protect.
It seems like a lot of you agree.