I came home from work one evening to have my wife mention off-hand, “I got our census form done.”
As my thoughts were distracted by the excited overtures of my four children, whom were each clamoring for my attentions and affections, I responded with only a mumbling assent.
For a man who spends the better part of his day sorting out picayune details of the affairs of his local community, avoiding this trifling bit of miscellanea was fine with me.
However, when I sat down that evening to read one of the fine “big-city” newspapers in our state, I became aware of the fact that there is a large contingent of Texans who feel that the census is an invasion of their privacy.
What is more, this sentiment is not merely relegated to fringe separatists who live in rural compounds with weapons hoards but has, in fact, gone mainstream. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the response rate nationwide stands at only 55 percent, with Texas trailing even this mark at 46 percent.
Now, I consider myself a fairly open-minded and cerebral sort of fellow. If someone holds to a position, whether I agree with it or not, I try very hard to understand where they’re coming from in order to engage them in productive dialogue.
Of course, I may not change my mind about their take on the issue (and they with mine) but I like to at least give them a fair hearing.
So I called around to some friends of mine to get their thoughts, even asked a retired gentleman I know who’s working for the census, and then checked out the official census Web site at census.gov.
Reading over some of the questions was an eye-opener.
I have to admit, I am a bit curious as to why the federal government is concerned with whether I have a “flush toilet” or a sink with a faucet, and if I was the second gunman on the grassy knoll. OK, I made up that last one.
Another question made me actually laugh out loud: “Do you have serious difficulty hearing? Seeing? Concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?”
Yep, guilty as charged. Sounds like Big Brother’s been watching me extra close this year.
Seriously though, how is this a priority?
I can just see some feckless bean-counter in DC tsk-tsking and shaking his head at an affirmative response to this one: “OK, we better send a couple special agents to round up that Prosser fella. It seems he’s unable to pay attention to what’s going on around him, just like about 300 million of his neighbors.”
Juxtaposed with such typical questionnaire classics as name,address, date of birth and gender are head-scratchers like: “What time do you leave home to go to work?” or “What’s the most important thing you do at work?”
Now call me an unreconstructed smart-aleck but if I stopped a random stranger on the street and asked them these sorts of questions, I’m liable to get more than I bargained for out of the exchange. Not only that, even considering the latter question might put some into such an existential quandary as to leave them lying on the floor in a fetal position.
All kidding aside, I think the governing dynamic underneath so much of the alarm and/or contempt for a census is a sense of infringement upon one’s personal autonomy.
It’s hardly a modern concept.
The Pharaohs kept a census of their populace and their burgeoning Hebrew slave population, the results of which led to a rather radical governmental policy of infanticide.
In ancient Roman provinces, a census was kept for numbering the males of military age (officially), while bilking the populace of their hard-earned denarii. The long-term impact, of course, was the First Jewish-Roman War that resulted in the sacking of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius Vespasianus and the utter ruin of Judea.
Uh, not that I’m drawing any parallels or anything,I just want it established that taking a census is always going to be a rather controversial issue for a state to manage.
Nevertheless, the concept of government, irrespective of one’s place along the vast political spectrum, is always by definition a participatory endeavor.
One may choose the method and avenue by which one participates in this hybrid democracy of ours but to withdraw oneself completely, under the guise of a protest that is at very contradiction with the nature of the government itself, is self-refuting at best and just plain ignorant at worst.
To call the constitutionally-mandated census (see: Article 1, Section 2) “unconstitutional” is to err in thought and to allow one’s own contempt with an administration or public policy to overthrow one’s own reason.
One may find fault and even dispute the particular methodology, but no political victory was ever gained by wholesale withdrawal.