“But it works.”
That, in three syllables, has been the go-to argument of the last two presidential administrations to justify assaulting civil liberties in the name of rooting out terrorists.
It’s a dubious line of reasoning, proceeding as it does from the implicit assumption that if a thing works, if it achieves the important goal for which it was designed, that trumps all other considerations.
But it’s a false assumption and you don’t have to do much cogitating to find the gaping hole in it. Namely: The question of whether or not a thing works has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not that thing is right.
If, for instance, you wanted to stop mass shootings, legislation outlawing the sale, possession or manufacture of any gun capable of firing more than one bullet without reloading might work. It would also be a terrible idea.
So the government’s logic is flawed. “But it works” cannot be the sole metric by which a thing is judged. Especially when it doesn’t.
Work, that is.
Apologists for the Bush administration argued that allowing torture worked, helping to safeguard this country against terrorist attack. Five years after Bush left office, the truth of that claim is unclear at best and still furiously disputed. The Obama administration, meantime, is dealing with its own civil-liberties controversy: the NSA’s bulk collection of so-called metadata — the date, time, length and phone numbers of every phone call made by darn near everybody darn near everywhere. It is a massive invasion of privacy and frightening, too, considering the ease with which it could be made to serve totalitarian purposes.
But it works, the president has said.
Actually, it doesn’t.