Posted by Irresponsibility
Britain’s cranky authoritarianism has always seemed relatively harmless, like the old man next door waving his walking stick at the neighbour kids and muttering that their hijinks would never have been allowed in his day and if he had his way…. But lately the spectre of a bona fide police state has seemed less paranoid fantasy and more regrettable inevitability.
Case in point: suburban National Express trains sport window stickers inviting passengers to rat on fellow-travellers they suspect might be fare-dodging. “If you believe a fellow customer is deliberately avoiding payment of their fare you can text the details to 60006. Please start your message with the word dodger and provide us with details of the train you are travelling on, where you are travelling from and destination, the carriage and a few details of what the person looks like.”
The unapoligetic Stasi-ism is breathtaking. Why not turn yourself into an unpaid nark for a faceless corporation that patently doesn’t have your best interests at heart? You have to admire the audacity of the injunction when just days ago rail fares spiked by an average of 10%. Not only is Big Brother watching, he has his hand in your pocket.
The more I think about it the grosser it is. Not only is National Express asking you to tattle on presumed miscreants, it’s giving you carte blanche to decide who looks like a fare dodger. A young person? Someone with dark skin or a foreign accent? Anyone who looks as if their rucksack holds all their worldy goods? What National Express really means is: please feel free to profile your fellow citizens. Don’t view them as human beings with needs, wishes, desires and a right to privacy, oh no. Fix your beady eyes on them and watch closely. They are potential criminals. Not you though, you’re a good guy, you’re on our side. Do the right thing, pick up your phone.
National Express doesn’t say what might happen should you take up their kind offer to become a secret policeman. Will the accused (whose right of due process has already been violated by your anonymous condemnation) be whisked from the train by uniformed guards? Will they face a civil fine? A criminal prosecution? Will their body be found dumped behind disused canisters in a switching yard somewhere outside of town? Who knows.
What creeps me out, most of all, is the National Express’s arrogant assumption that no one will think twice about their fascist attempt to turn commuters into spies. They clearly — and probably rightly — conjecture that the average Brit is so downtrodden he or she will automatically, either out of fear or a perverse desire to curry favour with faceless authority, side not with their fellow human beings but with an unknowable corporate entity.
What National Express doesn’t want is for people to treat each other like people, to have a little empathy and show a little respect. So what if someone is fare dodging? Who “deserves” to be ratted out? The broke student sponging a ride home? The struggling mum? The exhausted traveller who bought the wrong ticket? The immigrant who didn’t understand the blizzard of ticket options? Who the hell is anyone to judge anyone else?
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