Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Big Brother in my Heart
I can never manage to get satisfactorily exercised about surveillance. Sure, 1984 was a scary book. Sure, information is power. But blanketing public places with video cameras a la Great Britain, or wiretapping US government-style, fails to conjure up the kind of visceral wrath I feel when confronted with, say, Catholicism. Or litterbugs. Or people who drive Hummers, play loud music in the middle of the night, misrepresent themselves in scientific studies, and cut me off in traffic.
Yes, I waste my anger.
Fully aware that I should freak out more competently re: Big Brother, I pay attention to surveillance stories on the news. There was one this morning on the UK, which is apparently in the running for the title of most surveilled society in the world, surveilled being a rather fetching word I just made up. I listened. I frowned. I failed to froth at the mouth. A government flunky came on, urging calm: "if you're an honest person without bad thoughts in your heart, you should have nothing to worry about."
Hang on a minute. Disregarding the miracle of cogitating muscular tissue, since when is it what's on the inside that counts? Oh, sure, if you're Catholic (see getting exercised, above) or otherwise convinced that morality is an indoor sport. But most of us, from Kant on down, have bought into the notion that so long as we act according to our various principles, our first impulses -those lumpen clots- don't count.
That's what's scaring me, here: not so much the idea that someone is observing me as the possibility that that person might confuse observation with understanding. Let's take the ten commandments (the Christians may not have been the deepest moral thinkers, but they had a better PR machine than Kant). In real life, I have broken three of the ten commandments (there's no denying the theft of that tiddlywink). Maybe three and a half: some of the commandments lack clear operational definitions. In terms of impulse -the proverbial in my heart- I've broken six. Of the twenty-one precepts of the Ottawa and Chippewa, I've broken eight in actuality, 15 in my heart. That's a good 50%-ish reduction in the emission of sin, folks, and all due to a handy little gadget called will.
I would like my moral autonomy to be acknowledged by the British government. And a cookie would be nice, too.