Lee Anderson vs. the avatars

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Lee Anderson greets visitors who are part of the reception crowd Thursday in the Chattanooga Times Free Press newsroom.

By David Tulis

The passing from the Chattanooga newspaper scene of Lee Anderson leaves a big gap in a vigorous defense of the concept of local economy.It is unlikely that the Times Free Press will account for Mr. Anderson’s departure and the March 23 resignation of fellow conservative Steve Barrett. Though owned by an industry contrarian and a political conservative, Walter Hussman of Little Rock, Ark., the newspaper is likely to shift to the left (big media’s default position). Two liberal editorial writers, Wes Hasden and Harry Austin, remain, but each has been effectively fired and asked to reapply for his job. A newsroom realignment is reaching from the editorial page (team spirit to be upheld by one liberal, one conservative editorialist) to the copy desk at the other end of the newsroom.

Mr. Anderson has written for the newspaper for nearly 70 years. A tabloid in this Sunday’s edition will describe his many great works as a city booster, family man, church leader, entrepreneur, and a defender of limited constitutional government and the rule of law. Mr. Anderson has argued against the federal welfare state his whole career, and has dined with presidents who suggested they agreed with him at least partly.

A WEEK AGO THE newspaper ran a story about the hacking of social security numbers through a data breach in Mormon country, in Salt Lake City. The report about 25,000 people’s being victimized puts in mind a contrast between the world of Lee Anderson and the world he resisted in his tens of thousands of editorials. Whereas Mr. Anderson perceives a world of personal players, of individual responsibility and self-directed initiative on the basis of a biblical worldview, the hacking story posits a universe that is parallel — and hostile — to the reasoned and good natured world sought by Mr. Anderson.

The alternate universe is populated by avatars. Most every American has an avatar, a legally created fiction that lives a parallel life and bears a particular burden, a special sort of obligation that is the interface between a flesh-and-blood human being and entities of government. An identity stolen in Utah is not that of a proper person, but of his avatar.

The avatars were spirited away from Utah government computers on the weekend of March 30 when hackers swiped medical records and social security numbers. The Utah Department of health said 182,000 dolers on Medicaid and in a children’s welfare program had their data compromised. Each file that was taken contained hundreds of records. The event occurred after a technician “installed a password that wasn’t as secure as needed,” the TFP story by AP said. In conjunction with this apparent error, a hacker whose IP address gave itself as eastern European penetrated the network. **

The potential consequences of ID theft on a flesh-and-blood person are mind-boggling, claim ruinous spans of time to fix, bring people into conflict with police at roadblocks and cause would-be borrowers to be disqualified for loans. Victims in Utah are being told to watch their financial accounts and will be offered free “credit monitoring” for a year. Credit monitoring is surveillance of the avatar, of deeds done by parties controlling the electronic and digital puppet that is the shadow person. Most of us accept the artificial person without reservation and don’t even recognize visible, printed evidence of it in official correspondence. No soul dares dismiss this figment from our modern ghostly ideasphere.

THE RISE OF IDENTITY theft is possible in a system of pervasive commercial government and the conversion of every private person into a public person. This shift of private people to public ones doesn’t sound like a very exciting turn of events, and it hasn’t received headline ink in the local paper. It has been in effect at least since 1935, when President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.

Social security numbers, the linchpin of commercial government, turn people into public persons, a national and regulate-able asset, a consumer of government services, a carrier of legal fictions that slowly pile onto a person’s record until finally he is wholly encrusted, like a ship on drydock set for a barnacle removal. These complex legal instruments accompany — or might actually cause — a debilitation of soul to the host. It might be argued that their presence coincides with demoralization of the will, and a submission to spiritual temptation in the host person in which he agrees to shut his mouth and be bought off.

Conservative notable Lee Anderson, left, greets City Court judges Russell Bean and Sherry Paty, foreground. Behind, left, is U.S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and, right, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.

IS IT ODD TO CONSIDER Lee “Tat” Anderson and digital avatars as opposite ends of a spectrum? If anything, the juxtaposition does much to favor Mr. Anderson’s great body of conservative political and social commentary on the right-hand page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He is the archetypical Southern gentleman, scholar and idealist, and the world he has argued for is one populated by flesh-and-blood people of goodwill, though some are badly mistaken. His world is black and white, yet he did not snarl at the enemy or laugh at his pretenses. His approach has been one of forbearance and the giving of counsel. His style of writing preaches to the converted, some people say, and perhaps the Free Press side of the editorial pages did too little to convince people who disagree with his constitutional and biblical premises.

But these faults are understandable when one considers Mr. Anderson’s person, his cheerful way, his gracious conversation, his visits to the sick, his frequent compliments to coworkers and his Christian character. Though the paper is part of a declining industry, Mr. Anderson is to be credited for having saved it in 1999 when he arranged to sell Chattanooga Publishing Co. to Wehco Media in Little Rock for less money than the shareholders would have earned selling to Gannett or another corporate chain.

** An IP address in Moldova can easily be a proxy for a hacker in Salt Lake City.

Sources: “25,000 Social Security number, records hacked,” Times Free Press, April 7, 2012