Imagine a world where no-one did anything wrong.
Sounds perfect doesn’t it? Where no-one ran red lights, where no-one parked in the disabled bays when they’re not supposed to, where no-one smoked in a no-smoking area, where no-one cycled on the pavement, where no-one failed to clean up after their dog, where no-one drove at 40mph in a 30mph limit.
Where no-one filed a fraudulent expense claim. Where no-one rounded up their mileage claim to make it a round number. Where no-one took an envelope from the stationery cupboard at work for their personal use. Where no-one checked the Argos website in their worktime.
Where no-one put a recyclable item in the general rubbish bin. Where no-one took illegal drugs. Where someone could use your online search history from ten years ago to demonstrate that you have sympathy with something which is now outlawed.
Now you’ve thought about it a bit more, it doesn’t sound quite so perfect, actually, does it?
Technology already exists that we allow to spy on us. We gladly sign up to car insurance which gives us discounts for safe driving, evidenced by access to connected sensors in our cars. We vainly hope that the data is only used for that purpose – or rather, we never even thought about it. We willingly wear sensors on our wrists to track our heart beats and never even consider how the data it gathers could be used against us.
Because we gladly swallow the racist lie that only countries with brown people have corrupt governments and corporations.
Because marketing people only ever sell benefits. We have a phrase for this: “oh it’s in the small print”.
No-one ever reads the small print, where the risks and side effects are listed in the interests of “consumer protection”.
The ability to use our discretion, or “common sense” is fundamental to our perception of freedom. We want to use our discretion as to whether it’s safe to drive at 31mph in a 30mph limit. Whether picking up a relative from a train station merits parking in an empty disabled bay. Whether smoking in an empty beer garden marked “no smoking” is fine. We have different thresholds for our ability to tolerate this kind of misdemeanour, but ultimately, we hope that we have the freedom as adults to discuss and agree between ourselves without the interference of the state or any other third party.
Too late. We sold that right a long, long time ago and now the beast of sensors and artificial intelligence will extend its inexorable grip on our freedom without us even being aware of it: because the complexity involved has broken launch velocity. We simply don’t recognise the difference between super complex and very complex, much like a crow doesn’t recognise the difference between eight eggs and seven – but it can tell the difference between five and four.
In the meantime, our opportunities to let off steam, to let our hair down and vent our petty frustrations are increasingly restricted. Previous regimes – even oppressive, fundamentalist regimes such as in ancient or medieval Europe – recognised the necessity of “carnival” and of “bread and roses”. Our ability to exercise discretion is becoming so reduced that we protect and exploit the few opportunities we do have: such as running red lights. Parking in disabled parking bays. Smoking where we’re not meant to. Driving badly. Swearing in public. Wearing tattoos. The increasing coarseness of everyday discourse and behaviour is, I think, a direct reaction to society’s inability to tolerate discretion, independence and difference, which has resulted in an increasingly limited range of options: despite our apparent interest in diversity.
In other words, if you’re not willing to follow the party line of paid education, non-unionised labour without basic privileges such as pensions and workplace security and then using those as limited security against a lot of debt to consume a lot of unnecessary and useless goods and services that make a tiny elite very, very rich – then you are surplus to requirements, and treated accordingly.
The choice to commit misdemeanours or transgress social conventions, is the difference between living in a “free world” based on human arbitration (the police, lawyers, juries, judges, probation), and Megacity One where no-one ever dares do anything wrong for fear of either immediate repercussions through direct fines (or the loss of discounts), or more serious extra-judicial punishment at the end of the Lawgiver.