Wednesday, April 4, 2007

April 4th, 2007 – A nation in self-imposed chains

Today’s story of new measures to curtail the freedom of movement of undesirables, banning them from particular places and requiring them to report to the police even though they’ve committed no crime, has made my hair stand on end. Quite apart from any infringement of human rights and civil liberties, my gripe is that I don’t recollect any debate on the subject. Being somewhat of a news junkie, I watch and read whatever I happen upon while BBC World Service is on as background noise but this one either escaped my attention or wasn't brought to it. I suspect the latter.

Free and open debate is one of the most important measures of a democratic society. But what do you do with a people who accept whatever laws are imposed without so much as blinking? With a media operated almost exclusively – to use my favourite metaphor – by the alphas and betas in this Brave New Land (Havo/VWO graduates) that are themselves programmed not to question, not to criticize and to be a mouth piece of celebrities and politicians without being the eyes and ears of the public? What self-respecting public media anywhere else in the world would consider the endless repetitions of the same news broadcasts and text screens to be anything remotely resembling journalistic output? Not to mention a product in keeping with the vast sum of taxpayers’ money spent on it?

The measures announced today come as self-evidently as the requirement to carry ID. While Brits have opposed this vehemently for many years now, successfully arguing their right to go about their business peacefully, in Holland it was never even up for debate. The powers that be said ID cards serve to counter terrorism and to catch illegals so everyone complies. Blindfold. Brilliant idea, let's all do it. Talking to a Dutch student doing an MA in political science (of all subjects) recently, he said ‘you’re right. I never even thought about the implications. He continued ‘but the government is elected democratically and has the people’s mandate to do as it sees fit’. What if ... you can fill in the blank as you please but let me make some suggestions ... it saw fit to go to war against Iran and the other rogue states now? ... it saw fit to install cctv in every home? ... it saw fit to tax the air we breathe?

It gets worse. So entrenched is the mindset that the government know best and that the law must be obeyed that anyone applying a little … creativity, shall we say, in his or her compliance is termed antisocial. Not carrying ID by way of taking a personal stance for your rights is antisocial, as is trying to get away with a parking ticket or painting your window frames any colour other than dark brown or green. Voicing my notion that a dynamic society needs a degree of civil disobedience, of protest, of people pushing their luck and testing the law to its limits, I only ever get ‘there are official channels for doing so’ coupled with a dark frown. There goes the innovation the Dutch so urgently need for surely the two are inseparable? Acceptance of the status quo precludes any desire for change, any ability to think outside the box and any need to make things better.

Another questionable measure was introduced not too long ago in a new Leiden Police Order. It is now a fineable offence to chalk on the pavement. Children cannot play hopscotch without breaking the law. So when the intelligence services estimate the threat to Holland to consist of something like 100 to 200 people having thoughts “that are not completely coherent with the rule of law”, maybe they’re referring to children’s antisocial need to play outside?


theguest said...

The opposite I feel is that sometimes we are obsessed with opposing the state. In many other countries I have also found a similar attitude about ID cards. In fact, Britain is one of the only places to object about them - they are considered an acceptable intrusion. It's a bit like seatbelts and their compulsory use. Sure, its an infringement of "rights", but you have to accept some and fight others. Where you draw the line is another matter though...
I must admit to being surprised that the Dutch do not give it too much thought though.

mxl said...

It's all about individual or peer group stakes fit within paradigms that are forced as absolute truths through all our throats I'm afraid.

U wrote "So entrenched is the mindset that the government know best and that the law must be obeyed that anyone applying a little … creativity, shall we say, in his or her compliance is termed antisocial." Now it is precisely that what the VVD stands for, but only in the local old boys network block. THey ceased to be a liberal party (I know this word is viewed as leftism, that's why I use it anyway, while I stress the importance for collective thinking as well). The MA student formally is right, but shows that he learned his lessons very well while demonstrating he did not bother to ponder on it at the same time. Or is he of the trusting or even believing kind? These qualities are prone to get abused by vulture characterised egodomain expansionists.

"Voicing my notion that a dynamic society needs a degree of civil disobedience, of protest, of people pushing their luck and testing the law to its limits" is all about the trial and error learning process, which is only natural. But it might also be a dangerous aspect of liberalism, while there are certain limits to it. That what this testing is for, of course, but where does entrepreneurship end where criminality begins? Not all people are gifted with ethical Fingerspitzengefühl (yes I am 43, so I love the Umlaut und der RingelS ß), beit that this ethical framework itself might be object to criticism. I'd like to apply layered thinking in here, weighing individual freedoms with collective interests; that was why tolerance was invented anyway I suppose...
The official channels are there to monitor and do some steering, but only a select few can really enter through these gates, or want to bother to try this.

ID cards
I never carry any ID card with me, unless I expect to be required to for a certain action of my obligation or choice, eg collecting something. But I am a white male with blond hair, and without a moustache. I may look like an anarchist but that doesn't seem a problem today. Perhaps it is because I'm still able to smile to other people. That is because I understand who the 'we' are, instead of that I fight my own way through all the shit. This does not mean I am successful though, whatever that may be.

Good piece of thinking anyway.