Sunday, October 17, 2004

ESF Day Two: Contrasting Groups

I've never really subscribed to the London sport of transport whingeing, but this is getting silly. This was meant to be simple. No venture to the northeast frontier at Alexandra Palace, but a string of earnest discussions at the University of London's centre in Malet Street, as familiar to me as anywhere else in London. But no - no trains and a replacement bus that we couldn't board. We decided to bus it to Slough on the Great Western, but the bus turned out to do the 5 mile trip in around 45 minutes. The train we grabbed stopped everywhere it could stop. The tube train we got was being overtaken by cats. Grrr. So we were very late at the No2ID seminar in Birkbeck College. Now, I link to the Spyblog and occasionally see comments from them, so I was keen to see the anti-ID cards team in the flesh.

In contrast to the ranter cauldron in the kitsch palace, this gathering fitted its austere classroom setting nicely. Much earnest talk of subject access requests and biometric verification and the like, and only one man (it's always a man) who raved in a studiedly declasse accent about "Building a mass movement!" For the record, we agreed that much could be achieved by such tactics as mobbing a given set of CCTV cameras and then placing individual requests for the film that showed our faces - as all other persons shown must be concealed by law, this forces the target organisation to waste large sums. It was a much more focused, realistic and action-oriented discussion than anything we'd seen so far.

Soizick:It was interesting, though, to notice that when asked how to convince people of the necessity to resist such attempt as an ID card, a panelist resorted to an argument that he himself referred to as being "crass" such as saying "well, if you do not mind hiding anything because you have done nothing wrong, well, tell me all about the people you have slept with". I do object to this attitude, mainly because if asked, I feel that I would gladly tell, simply because the most intimate experiences are also the most universal and therefore the most willingly and perhaps foolishly shared. It seems to me that it is essential to try and convince people of the horror of such a scheme by bringing them back to the simple and practical idea of ethics, which means bringing them back to the reality of what being a citizen is, a being with "libre arbitre" and a power of decision, and that suspicion dictated from above should be enough to provoke resistance. In other words, it is not good enough to try and embarrass to convinve, we must try to convince by bringing out a reflexion on the rights of the state versus the rights of the citizens. I believe that when people are asked to think rather than simply react, they think and make connections, sometimes personal connections and all in all, they think, and that is fine by me.

Alex:An important issue of truth and trust that arose during this was its expression in technology. Under the proposed scheme, the cardholder-citizens will not be able to know what the cards say about them. Even if we were to buy our own card-readers, it is a commonplace in database software that different fields of information can be available to different users. Including more information or keeping sections of the database from us would simply be a matter of software, that could be done in secret. This is crucial.

We had another semmo to cover, just down the road at the University of London Union. The topic was "The world political economy today: strategy for the Left". The atmosphere was very different, in a packed function room of sixties glass and wood gone rotten. These were your original tankies. First up was one Peter Gowan who took time to inform us that he had a parking meter to feed. Fuck the rules! Viva la revolucion! He proceeded to a fairly sensible tour d'horizon of the world economy: post-Soviet space, regionalisation versus globalisation, monetary instability. It was basically sound, if nothing I hadn't heard before. He then handed over to one John Ross, author of something called The Anatomy of the Conservative Party. A few sentences in it was pretty clear we weren't going to learn much, except about Herr Ross. Having kicked off with a call for absolute precision and objectivity, he went on to tell us what a real socialist was. Apparently, we weren't to worry our pretty heads about unemployment or poverty. What mattered was to eliminate capitalists. The US, apparently, was being defeated as an economy, because it had a balance of payments deficit. Therefore it had moved to "the military level" of competition. Strange. No bombs seem to be falling on any of the competitor countries he admitted they did 90% of their trade with.

Pushing on, we were told that we had to eliminate (that verb again - Ausgerottet!) the "unimaginable offensive of American capitalism". This could only be achieved by (you guessed it) mass action. At this point we began to lose enthusiasm. Soizick felt she knew these people, in the blood. They were the ones who had expelled her from the Revolutionary Communist League in 1979. This was the revolution just waiting to eat its children. "You're called out and summoned to this..panel and suddenly nobody knows you. You can see the trains, the wire, the cards..." The brutality of words displays a brutal, authoritarian manner of thought. Which displays a potentiality for brutal, authoritarian action. Naturally, I suspect that all those taking part would have been perfectly horrified if anything like the drastic and negative economic cataclysms they spoke of with such relish actually happened to them.


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James Elsdon-Baker said...

The response of the Panelist to the question about "Having nothing to hide, nothing to fear" was by the sounds of it a simplistically put point, but it's sometimes difficult to counter sound bite questions such as this on the spot.

The response about not wanting people to know who you have slept with was a way of illustrating our right to privacy. Many people shut their curtains at night because they don't want people looking in, whereas some leave them open. If people want to hide their private lives from everyone else, then they should be able to. When people think they are being watched they adjust their behavior out of fear of punishment.

What we do or do not choose to divulge is I believe a right of the individual to decide. The Identity Card scheme takes away some of this right by forcing us legally to supply certain private information about ourselves to the state.

Alex said...

No-one agrees with that more than me.

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