Roger’s Rules

What would Orwell say?

A few years ago, I went with some friends from London to their charming farm in Wales. We bundled into their car and were buzzing along through the British countryside for quite some time before I noticed that that we were being watched. It was out on some sylvan lane that I first noticed the closed-circuit television camera pointed the the road. “What’s that?” I asked. “Cameras to catch speeders,” I was told. Gosh.

That’s old news now, of course. Today Britain boasts–if “boast” is the mot juste, which it isn’t–some 4.2 million CCTV cameras. They’re catching on in various spots in the US, too, I regret to say, as Big Brother muscles in on us little folk. It’s hard not to think of Orwell’s grim masterpiece 1984 with its “telescreens” everywhere, keeping track of everything: “What socialism implies above all,” Lenin observed, “is keeping account of everything.” Right, and that’s why Britain has one camera for every 14 subjects: keeping account of everything is full time work.

And hardly a day goes by when the subject of surveillance isn’t in the news. I remember one story in the Telegraph that reported on the worrisome innovation, now apparently widespread, that allows the Powers That Be to talk back to the subjects they are watching, docketing, recording for future indictments. Yep, now they can actually talk back via loudspeakers attached to the camera’s mounting. “The loudspeakers,” the Telegraph reports, “will allow CCTV operators to bark orders at people committing anti-social behaviour.”

Like what? Rape? Murder? Mayhem? Well, presumably those things, but littering comes at the top of the list in the Telegraph‘s story. John Reid, the former Home Secretary,  set aside nearly £500,000 to combat such plagues:

“Local communities are rightly fed up with littering and anti-social behaviour – they want to remind people about what is, and is not respectful behaviour,” he said.

“By funding and supporting these local schemes, the Government is [sending] this clear message to grown ups: act anti-socially and you will face the shame of being publicly embarrassed.”

Actually, by “funding and supporting these local schemes” the government is sending this clear message to grown ups: “You are not really grown ups after all, you are unruly children and we, the government, are in charge. We will watch over and intrude into every aspect of your life, take more and more of what you mistakenly thought was your (really it, all belongs to us), and we will reduce you, as Lenin tried to do, to being a mere “cog” in the gigantic wheel which is our metastasizing bureaucracy.”

The Telegraph quotes one opponent of the surveillance society who described the new talk-back cameras as an example of “Big Brother gone mad.” True, too true, but what an understatement.