Or not quite yet, as the case may be.
Yet this tweet encapsulates something I’ve also been pondering:
If you can publish an article in a national newspaper comparing your country to a police state, it probably isn’t anywhere near one.
The question, however, I think is quite different. What – if like so many post-modern moments – this is now a post-modern police state, where the rules of the game have been utterly reconverted?
A new kind of state which has learned from previous manifestations. Yes. I’ve seen a tweet describe how Ceaușescu’s regime registered all the typewriters in the country in order to be able to doublecheck the origins of any communication – with the inference that such behaviours were a precursor to what we have on the table now; I’ve seen other comments appear to compare the American NSA with the East German Stasi – comments which let it be understood the Stasi were small beer compared with today.
But I’m beginning to think that the new contract drawn up – even as it has been drawn up without our cognisance – is not exactly, not quite, the police state we’re assuming it must be.
A police state it is – don’t get me wrong. A police state where everyone is under suspicion. But a police state which has learnt to allow social networks an important role in keeping the lid on dreadful circumstance. In any other time, a government which allowed thousands of disabled people to die as a direct result of its policy adjustments would be massacred at the polls; in the media that cared to report it; in the parishes and grapevines that used to populate our country.
Now it would seem that people can become homeless as a result of the “bedroom tax”; the homeless can end up crushed in wheelie bins as a result of their poverty; and the poor who have nothing to eat can get sentenced to prison for stealing a sausage roll. And nothing happens. That is to say, nobody at government level cares to reconsider anything they are.
Anything they are, think or do.
This, then, is the new kind of state I describe above. A state where democracy no longer pretends its main objective is to represent the will of the people through the ballot box: the function of the ballot box, instead, is to legitimise the actions of a minority. As John Prescott describes today in a gently analogous process:
As Deputy Prime Minister I was asked by GCHQ to sign phone tap orders in order to trace the terrorists behind Omagh. I later discovered GCHQ had been tracking these individuals for weeks and my signature simply legitimised this State-backed phone hacking.
Writ larger, this is what has happened to representative democracy. What politicians are going to do, like corporations and their blessed succession-planning procedures, is already well laid-out way before an election takes place. We simply serve to rubber-stamp wealth’s instincts, justifications and objectives. And if we don’t always act according to the unwritten script, something else happens to impulse other actions; something else happens to cloak the reality in the inevitability of a sadly-tough political medicine – a medicine which aims to make us believe our political leaders, and their sponsors, have their hands just as sadly tied.
What’s really new about this police state is it’s actually morphed into a policed state: everything we are, do or think is getting to the point where it’s liable to be recorded and copied by someone. From CCTV in train toilets to Internet logs which register every website we go to … you know, it’s actually quite astonishing in a world where copyright law imprisons people for decades for the accessible crime of copying content in its digital form that, at least in security and marketing contexts, the very stuff of our own flesh-and-blood lives is quite easily the most broadly-copied and widely-shared sequence of events on the planet.
And I really do not hear anyone shouting out loud that our intellectual property rights over our existences are being deliberately and summarily violated.
I didn’t think you did.
Anyhow. Notwithstanding my intellectual bleating, this new kind of state has clearly shifted the onus of democratic representation onto the social networks. As it has become easier to complain virtually, so representative democracy has moved away from giving space to such complaints. Where we social-network users thought our acts made democracy better, it’s quite possible that our lords, masters and mistresses have actually invented/taken advantage of a way of venting off further requirements to respond – in any politically meaningful way – to any kind of societal dissatisfaction at all.
This is a police state which doesn’t – as a general rule – put people in prison, so much as construct virtual prisons within which we all are now living our lives.
It’s almost as if we’ve moved from being battery chickens to being their free-range cousins; from inhabiting caged zoos to inhabiting safari-parked enclosures. The frame looks so big and beautiful now – yet frame it continues to be.
And so they’ve imprisoned all of us, and so it is true – just as wild animals and pets become domesticated in what were once very English castles. And in this new kind of post-modern police state of
ours theirs, we they no longer need to incarcerate anyone.
We’re already, most of us, more or less cheerfully behind bars.
The only possible upside being maybe one day – just maybe – we’ll be on the outside looking in.