Well informed

I realise that all countries have their share of nosey parkers and busybodies all too eager to keep an eye on and interfere in the lives of their neighbours, and that indeed there is a long and ignoble history of folk like this in the UK. But it has always been looked on by the vast majority of people with a mixture of disgust and contempt – a despicable habit, and the words used to describe it heavy with disappobation.

One of the most unpleasant aspects of the New Britain is the constant encouragement of this behaviour – the government, both at local and national level, is eager that we should all turn the unpaid informer, spy upon our fellow citizens and report to the authorities any suspicion of officially-forbidden behaviour. Not only that, but instead of feeling ashamed of our nosey-parkerish actions, we should instead feel a glow of pride in the accomplishment of our civic duty. After all the ultimate aim of any authoritarian state is to have the population police themselves – to atomize society, creating a non-community of mutually-suspicious individuals: don’t use that hose-pipe, you don’t know who may be watching. It’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s petty and it’s making Britain a more unpleasant place in which to live.

So what brought this on today? Following on from the Scottish smoking ban, we’ve just been sent a load of (temporary) signs to put up in all our premises. Not just ‘No Smoking’ signs, but ones which spell out that smoking (or allowing smoking) on the premises is an offence, and which have a telephone number to call to complain about anyone found smoking. So, instead of remonstrating with a smoker, people are asked to phone an informer line; instead of dealing with a situation on a personal level, it becomes a matter of state enforcement.

I could point out here that all our premises have been non-smoking areas for years anyway (decades in fact). They are museums, after all. But nothing must stand in the way of the need for the state to pry into every corner of our lives, to break down our personal relationships and reduce everything to a transaction betweeen the powerless individual and the all-powerful state…

Sorry about that. I’ll calm down now. What annoys more than anything about this sort of thing is the complete absence of any necessity for it. It’s not because they must; it’s certainly not because they ought; it’s simply because they can.

Remember to inform on your neighbours... it's your civic duty!

NB: I may have made a little change by adding the words ‘Informer Line’. And changing the phone number. By the way, in case anyone’s wondering, I don’t smoke.

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
John Stuart Mill

2 Responses to “Well informed”

  1. Bondwoman Says:

    Sorry, mate, I am glad to have that number. As a woman, I absolutely am not interested in confronting a possibly drunken male smoking in a pub. I will wait and see what happens. However, if someone is smoking in a pub, and the publican or manager is doing nothing about it, then I also think I am entitled to slip out and make a phone call of complaint. It’s nanny statism, IMHO

  2. Pete Says:

    You’re spoiling the purity of my argument by introducing nasty hypotheticals (like ‘possibly drunken male’) :-). However, as the law stands it’s the responsibility of the owners of the premises, so remonstrate with them. If you don’t have any success with that, well just go elsewhere – the ultimate capitalist answer. And in the end a more effective one than demonising, then criminalising, the essentially law-abiding.

    But why do you want to ‘slip out and make a phone call of complaint’? Why do you think you’re entitled so to do? It seems to me that the language you use to describe the act indicates that underneath you really feel that doing that would be sneaky, underhand and at least a little reprehensible.

    I don’t understand your last comment. It is nanny statism. That’s a bad thing, isn’t it?

    In any case, note what it says on the poster: it tells you to phone the informer line, not to complain to the management of the building (though that would be the obvious thing to do)

    BTW I wouldn’t use the number on the image!

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