Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Yesterday, driving into town, I caught a bit of Brisbane ABC radio talkback, where one 'Madonna King' asked viewers to phone in regarding their opinions on a 'dilemma' of an ethical nature. If this thing is a 'dilemma', then we are indeed in deep shit, and if the radio people expected anybody to admit publicly that they'd do anything but what is expected, the radio station really is in dire need of a decent presenter and even more so of some producers with a modicum of brains.

The dilemma: You're at the airport, waiting for a plane. You go into a book/stationery store there and browse around, then accidentally walk out with a book without paying. You're now at the gate and realize what you've done. What do you do now? Make sure the book is returned, either by yourself or maybe a friendly airline person; or take it with you on the plane and never mind payment and stuff like that?

Yeah, I know, it's a killer, that one. A Gordian Knot of moral dilemma-ness.

Anyway, despite my 'DUH!' reaction, which expected not a single person to admit that they'd take the book, there was a surprise. Well, not a real surprise, but I didn't expect the guy who came out with it to be so stupid as to admit it. He may have been flippant, of course. Yeah, right. I think of it as a version of Freudian Slip.

On the same show, at the time of the question being asked, were two 'regulars', politicians from opposing sides of politics. One of them, after paying due lip service to doing the right thing, he also said something like "Well, a guy in my position can hardly afford to be caught on CCTV taking a book without paying for it."

This was a real gem, mainly because of the guy's loose tongue. And these are the people we elect to parliament? Please, if there is A Deity—which I very much doubt—help us. Please, please, please! Apart from this fellow's stupid, self-revealing comment, the whole segment made me think about a number of other issues tough...

One thing I really dislike about Australia—and one excellent reason to spend as much as possible of one's life outside cities—is not just the ubiquity of these damn CCTV cams, but also their spread. Damn things breed like rabbits. Nothing—as yet!—compared to the per capita CCTV numbers in the UK, but I can see it getting there; and the element of larrikinism in Australia is definitely complemented by an officiousness and desire-to-control that is truly disturbing. But that's life in the modern world for you. I understand the rationale for it—both versions, the official and the real one—but that doesn't have to mean I like it. It's just the old rule: give the bastards a useful instrument with any capability for abuse, and they will abuse it.

In many ways, CCTV have replaced God in the minds of many, whether they know it or not. Well, not just 'in the minds' either. And maybe CCTV isn't God per se, but the perverts watching it certainly must feel like they are. CCTV is really the 'eyes of God', and as was clear from the unguarded remark of the politician, it's assuming the same function in regulating public life as simple superstition once was—you know, when people actually believed that 'God' or Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, actually 'knew' what you were doing all the time, and whether you were naughty or nice, and so better be good for goodness' sake.

Ahh, oops. There are actually people who still believe it. Well, you people, you now have a good reason and solid technology to back up some of that, except that it isn't God, but some 'security' or 'authority' person, who has even less right to poke his or her oversized nose into your damn business than God ever had in the Dark Ages. And those who never believed this God-thing—well, sorry, but no, there may not be a God, but now there's CCTV; and the watchers behind it are even less likeable and more obnoxious than any deity the human mind ever dreamt up. Give me Santa any day.

As I said, I know the rationale behind all this. And, yes, it may be true that, for example, without CCTV it might not have been possible to catch those lunatics that wanted to blow up those planes some time ago—before they got around to doing it. But I didn't say that the dilemma we're in is resolvable. The only thing we can control is its use and abuse. We can control the circumstances under which it may be used.

But there is no doubt that we are paying dearly for the 'security' that the eyes of 'authority' provide us with. And for most people, let's face it, they don't do diddly squat. Because their effect almost invariably is post-facto, with the delays involved equally invariably being far too great to help anybody. It doesn't help an assault victim one iota that the event was recorded by CCTV an that the police in due course catch the offender—and if lucky, the courts will actually follow the process through to a sentence that fits whatever crime was committed. Society's desire for 'justice' may have been satisfied—or not, as is almost as likely—but the victim of some crime is still a victim, and the presence of CCTV will not make a shred of difference.

But won't it act as a deterrent? Not likely! Because either the perp is prepared for the presence of the EOA (Eyes Of Authority), in which casse he or she will probably make sure that visual ID is pretty well impossible, or else he's suffiently stupid, or motivated by whatever prompt that drives him, not to give a toss about who watches and why.

So, no, CCTV is extremely unlikely in helping any potential victim from being victimized at the time the victimization takes place. Their proliferation in 'public places'—which eventually basically means everywhere the 'authorities' damn well want to put them, with the lethargic and easy-to-con public letting them—is therefore unnecessary, and actually only helps the huge industry profiting from their installation, maintenance and updating.

Still, here it is, as are lots of other surveillance techniques that I'm ignoring right now. And so, just remember the Isaac Asimov's tiny tale...

If only the minds of today's Gods weren't so infinitesimally small, in terms of their capacity as well as their capabilities for ethical judgment.

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