Samstag, 5. März 2011

The Travelogue, Part IV - England: Paranoia and Control

Open any British tabloid on any given day of a week, and I promise you, you'll find at least one stabbing. It might be taken from any random place in England, but it will be there, to get the damn thing into the hands of the customers. England does not have a particularly high homicide rate (not even London for its size), yet a lot of people seem to be under the impression that life becomes dangerous once you leave the door. Whether that is caused by the media or the media just reflects the national consciuosness I don't know, but this fear has generated a penchant for law and order that sometimes borders obsession. England has the most security cameras per person in the world, roughly estimated at one for every twelve inhabitants. The intensity of paranoia is apparent on every corner: “If you see something suspicious, report it immediately!” - “Smile, you are on CCTV!” - “You are being recorded for your personal safety and security.” are just a few of the recurring slogans. Convincing studies have found that increased CCTV coverage does not prevent crime or significantly improves chances of catching the delinquent, but that has not caused a decline of CCTV sales to both the goverment and private owners. I have never seen adverts for security systems and cameras on German television, yet in Britain, you see them frequently even during prime time. 

Adding to that, minor nuisances normally ignored or dealt with on a interpersonal level are elevated to be “half crimes”, so called ASBOs. ASBO stands for Anti Social Behaviour Order, and is issued for things that in other countries would be something for neighbours or parents to sort out: being too noisy, spitting on the floor or breakdancing in a public place (I kid you not). Since a lot of these small offences generally seem to be committed by people of lower social strata, ASBO has become a common English slang term for people of lower class and education, further labelling an already disadvantaged part of the population. Whether it actually helps reduce more serious crime (like the Broken Widows Theory is claimed to have done in New York), I cannot say, but it surely gave me the impression that Britain is a bit of a “Nanny State” as some people here put it. Its reach extends well beyond the jurisdictional and into the educational. No day passes where you don't come across and advert for a government campaign of some sort: Don't listen to loud music, don't eat smelly food, don't bunk off, don't insult our staff. 
But Mama Britannia does not stop here. After all, you could not only hurt others, but also yourself. So welcome to the wonderful world of

Health and Safety!

Have friends who recently became parents? Noticed how there is suddenly a whole world of dangers you never knew even existed? How everyday items suddenly require all sorts of special treatment before they can be used? How the very air and grass is a minefield of life-threatening perils? Have you been explained how constant watch must be kept on diet, surroundings and experiences of the little adult-to-be? It reminds me a lot of how the British government (and its associated organisations) seems to view its citizens.

Stories about about the overzealousness of public safety officials and idiotic waivers are usually associated with America, but Britain makes a fair second place. Again, government campaigns taking a dubious lead in the advertisement of common sense. I understand that telling young girls to not take Ibuprofen with Vodka (so they don't mind the cold when standing outside in short skirts in freezing winter) is important. Telling me to make sure I watch out for my friends so they don't get hit by cars on the other hand should be a given. If they do die, it surely was not my lack of awareness that unexpected contact with a driving vehicle can be fatal, but rather to circumstance, such a drunkenness or lack of oversight, which is not curable by public awareness campaigns. The same goes for coffee: if I buy one, I expect it to be hot. And if I spill it and burn myself, it will not be because of my inability to understand its thermophysical properties, but because I'm a clumsy idiot. Doesn't keep them from labelling the coffee cup lids, though.
To not have their asses sued off, private people have to resort to these warnings as well. Going to a martial arts class I had to sign a waiver that I am aware that I might get hurt. Well, duh.
Yet friendly regulation of my habits continues one more step up the psychological ladder; not only warning, but subtle conditioning. Every bottle lists for me how many units of alcohol it contains, and how many I should be consuming. Apart from being a relatively arbitrary value, I doubt that the people who this is aimed at, meaning alcoholics and binge-drinking students, care even the slightest bit. Sweets tell me they should be “enjoyed as part of a healthy and varied diet” and everything that contains even the most remote bit of greenery tells me it's one of my “five a day” (of fruit and vegetables). I am regularly told that “even a short walk is exercise.” and that I shouldn't let “good times turn bad (by drinking too much).”
All of this is apparently justified by the horrible state Britain's people are in. If I believe the public administration of this country, I've gotten myself into a whirlpool of rude obese drunkards, careless pregnant teenage tarts and criminal child molesters. Now either all these people must live in Wales, or I have been exceptionally lucky to meet mostly nice and responsible people. Maybe they are all secretly having an extra unit of alcohol and only four and a half veg a day on their couch, when no one's looking.

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