11/21/2016 10:15

What's my name?

Republicans and other adversaries of personal identity have worked assiduously for half century to promote the concept of a "legal name". By this they mean the name which was assigned to you with your birth certificate or as subsequently modified by official action. Fifty years ago, when I was young, it was a matter of American pride that we didn't have such an intrusive government, that in our country you could use any name you wanted so long as you did not intend it to deceive. The restrictiveness of foreign states was laughable to us.

With the help of Middle Eastern terrorists, the war is now nearly won; the general assumption among ordinary people, major corporations, inept lawyers (of whom there are so many), and all public officials is that the concept of a "legal" name has been defined and every person is obligated to use that name except among friends or if the person is sufficiently famous as a performer.

So it struck me as odd and deeply puzzling that the Social Security Administration doesn't use my "legal" name to identify my account. Nor do they use the abbreviated form which I prefer. Instead, they adopted a different abbreviated form which, while not truly incorrect, would seem to have no basis whatever. (The local Social Security office said that the internal computer records faithfully record the full "legal" name; the nice woman said she couldn't speak for other divisions and departments within the Administration as to why they failed to use the "legal" version.)

It is an annoyance and for me only a small matter. I would likely be more annoyed if my name were P. Dale Ives and the government insisted that I be identified as Paul D. Ives. Who is the Social Security Administration to tell any of us how to name ourselves?

In an era when a different federal bureaucracy has been granted power to veto almost any offer of employment, government arbitrariness over the forms of personal names is a pale shadow. And, yet, it is a shade cast by the same fire: The right to have a name, the right to work and to contribute to society, the right to vote and participate in running the country, the right to travel or pay a bill; all are now subsumed into the electronic data about us held by the federal government. All this from the advocates of "smaller" government -- but in Newspeak "smaller" means "more concentrated power".

Within a generation, lifetime residents of the United States will be able to understand scenes in European literature from a century ago, in which the protaganist is invariably stopped by police officers demanding, "Show us your papers!" Without the documents given to you by the government, the government believes that you do not exist.

But, in actual reality, identity resides in the person and not in the documents.