Friday, July 13, 2007

Resistance Is Fertile

So, I'd promised, in an earlier post, that I'd explore the subject of whether the inhabitants of the United States or the United Kingdom are better at being obstinate. I define here obstinate as "being uncowed by the workings of government", and suspect that there is a better synonym at hand, but I'm too lazy to look for it (actually, I'm not, and Merriam-Webster suggests that it will do). And in the interests of harmony and accuracy, I'll narrow British down to English for the purposes of this discussion.

Now this post will explore, in a rather unordered fashion, which populace is best at standing up to its government, and rests on a few recent observations. The most shallow of these is that that the two, actually make it three, most recent dystopian visions of the near future on film have been set in the United Kingdom. Children of Men, V for Vendetta, and, to a lesser extent 28 Weeks Later, have all been set in an England under the thumb of authoritarian government.

The second is the idea that the United States is slipping into a state of fascism, and while I don't necessarily agree withe many of the arguments to which the previous google page provides links, it's interesting to me that they suggest that Americans might be more inclined to submit to government power than previously.

The last is the ongoing discussion of the extent to which law and order professionals and the UK political class have usurped the UK's citizens' freedoms and the extent to which said citizens are concerned about this.

I'm fortunate that I have two imperfect and anecdotal means exploring this this. I have had the misfortune to be present when smoking bans were introduced to both New York and London, and have also experienced brutal terrorism-inspired security measures in both the United States and United Kingdom.

The smoking ban can be dealt with most quickly. The short answer is the British accept it much too meekly. Now, you might say that grudgingly complaining that you have to push said smoker onto the street suggests incomplete subjugation to the law. And the British do this very well. What the Americans tend to do is own this law, like it was their idea to ban smoking (most cheesy bars). Unless they feel like flouting the law, at which case come 2am, out come the makeshift ashtrays. But you can tell that the odds of getting caught, rather than civic duty, are the deciding factor. I was not in London late enough to sample the 2am mood there, but I'd be gobsmacked if scofflawerism reigned in the wee small hours.

Now let's take airport security. Ooh, this is a tricky one, since I know that our brave security enforcers are only trying to protect us, and that hypothetically they're most at risk from being blown up. So we'll take it as read that they're motivated by the same things, and look at the attitude they bring to their task.

Again, you could say that this is an unfair exercise. America's customs checkers have had dozens of terrorist-inspired freak-outs to hone their act since 2001, but no substantial follow-on attacks. England has had only two years, but has had as many attacks. So one might assume that the typical English bag-searcher would be at once more febrile and more gauche.

But, still, there's a certain brusque, loud, exuberant pantomime villain pride that America's TSA officials bring to their job. They give the impression that they enjoy it, that it fulfills them, even though they can't collectively bargain. Maybe they're patriotic. Weird.

in fact, at times I get the impression that the screeners don't actually like me, even before I open my mouth, which should be cause for despair, but is rather comforting, because only actual malice could explain some of the stupid regulations attached to bringing one's possessions onto an aeroplane.

My return from London seven days ago, on the other hand, was marred by multiple screenings of joyless efficiency and dubious logic. Why, then, would one be intensively searched just before passport control and duty free, and then a second time before boarding? Either the shopping area into which we've been herded is sterile, as the security jargon goes, or it is not. More importantly, the age old custom, to which only the US and UK adhere, of not demanding to see your passport on the way out of the country has been quietly ditched.

More importantly, the commands are issued in a flat, joyless monotone. It's sometimes presumptuous, occasionally baffling (I was asked to "consolidate" my luggage into one bag, presumably on the understanding that i'd just carry the rest through security in my pockets, gum up the line emptying them, and then deconsolidate them in duty free). There's not quite a sense of shame at being the vessel for these preposterous demands, but you can tell they don't like being accomplices, and that's what's so depressing about the whole charade.

So, what are my conclusions? Both the US and UK are going to 1984 hell in a handbasket, but the Americans are doing it with more panache. It's no wonder Greenwich Villagers turned down that contrived and misguided Little Britain nonsense, either because it wasn't classy, or because one already existed.

I'll be off-line for a week. Stay easy.


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