Tuesday, 6 January 2009

towards an anti-surveillance philosophy

"The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake - the wind may blow through it - the storm may enter - the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter - all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!" William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (1708-1778) quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1956

To the sanctity of the home, as a society, we must add the sanctity of the street. It is essential that the people are able to live private lives in public places. Our freedom is at stake.

We are born from wombs and buried in coffins. At the open and close of a human life is hiddenness, closeness, and darkness. In our infancy and youth, we crave the proximity of parents and the protection that they offer. We may stray far from them, but the realisation that one is on one's own is a cause for terror for a young child. The child cries. The child implicitly implores passers-by for their help to reunite him or her with his or her parents and with the security and protection that those parents can offer. In childhood, in return for security, we sacrifice something of our personal privacy. We cannot but let our parents know where we are at any moment, enter our room at moment, dress us, dictate our eating habits, schedule our day.

In late childhood, at the cusp of adulthood, the desire for freedom, to express our individuality, to become our own person roars like a lion within us. Our parents struggle at times to adapt quickly to the change, forgetful of their own coming of age. Many a door is banged and meal refused to be eaten as the teenager begins to assert him or herself to cast their own impression on the world. Yes, there is an air of predictability about the process, but the end result as with a pregnancy which has run its term, may often surprise. The end result is an adult full of views, opinions, failings and strengths, quirks, idiosyncrasies and identity. This life is no more valuable than that of people at other stages of his or her life, but this life is now at full strength, its powers as full as they will ever be, its will powerful and dangerous, its mind constantly roaming.

And yet though the mature and full-fledged adult is has attained in many ways the fullest extent of its capacities, it desires still a certain balance and order in its affairs.

We each of us need both security and freedom. We need both privacy and oversight. We do not want to be controlled, but feel the need to control others who might harm us.

Freedom and privacy must be fought for and claimed. Many Kirkcaldy people would happily surrender these rights at the first opportunity. This is not a generation that holds freedom sacrosanct, that has a healthy discourse on freedom, but rather one that is given to quick and bitter prejudices, that is suspicious of generally harmless people, like new immigrants to our country, yet all-forgiving of the State, a body that has killed and stolen, maimed and brutalised the peoples of the world, with a intensity that has never been matched by that seen in the twentieth century.

Given that an anarchist ideal is both unlikely and takes too little regard for humankind's inherent capacity for evil deeds, we must turn somewhere for security and oversight. This can be provided either by surveillance or society. In the past sixty years, we have turned our backs on society and now embrace surveillance. There is no society in a surveillance society. There are only surveilled upon individuals. Our accountability is no longer mutual, to others around us, but to the distant State, an amorphous, unimpeachable tyrant, who drags in communities and spits out insentient puppets.

Society survives in pockets in this town. If you find yourself hanging around after work, if you catch yourself loitering in the park, if you chat to a fellow dog-walker as you stroll along the Pathhead sands or out to Seafield, you touch for a moment society. You are living a private life in a public place. Provided you neither of you have no mobile phone with you, or you are not of any interest to anyone, provided you are away from the untiring vision of the cameras, you have just enjoyed a social moment. And how affirming was it? Immensely so, I hope.

You found out that Mrs Baxter's mother is ailing, and told Mrs Baxter that your daughter is getting married. You asked how Jimmy was coping with working to midnight six days a week. Perhaps you even on touched on one or two more conceptual issues like mental illness or the seasons or true happiness. Regardless the contact was what was mattered. Like two pebbles on the riverbed of life, you met and came away fractionally changed, perhaps even fractionally more alike.

'Would you like to come round for a meal on Saturday night?' Not something you'll be hearing from the State.

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