Friday, July 08, 2005

Anarchists, ID Cards, Liberty and Terrorism

Following on from my little rant on the topic of these blasted anarchists, I had been meaning to post a little more thoughtful something. Events have overtaken me...

Now that it looks - mercifully - as though London has survived to tell the tale, I feel that it is worth bringing you some thoughts on a number of loosely related topics.

Firstly, liberty and discipline. These are normally considered to be polar opposites. My old chum Field Marshal Sir William Slim has a different take:
If you get up from that chair you are sitting in [to bring this up to date, one really ought to add, "in your pyjamas"] and take out your car or bicycle, you can choose where you want to go. That is liberty. But, as you drive or ride through the streets towards your destination, you will keep to the left of the road. That is discipline. You will keep to the left without thinking very much about it, but if you do think for a moment, you will find that there is a connection between liberty and discipline.

First of all, you will keep to the left for your own advantage. If you insist on the liberty to drive any side ofthe road you fancy, you will end up, not where you want to be, but on a stretcher. And there's not much liberty about that. So you accept discipline, because you know that in the long run, it is the only way to get to where you want to go quickly and safely.

Equally, other people have as much right as you have to go where they want. If you career all over the road, you will get in their way, delay them and put them in danger. So for their sakes - to preserve their liberty - you keep to the left.

But it will be no use your keeping to the left if others on the road don't do the same. You will expect them to. You will rely on their discipline.

Lastly, even supposing you are tempted to go crashing about on the wrong side of the road, you probably won't. At the back of your mind will be the thought: "If I do, the police will be after me". In the last resort, there must be some force which can punish disobedience to the law.

There are, therefore, FOUR reasons why you keep to the left:
  1. Your own advantage;

  2. Consideration for others;

  3. Confidence in others:

  4. Fear of punishment

Whenever we put a curb on our natural desire to do as we like, whenever we temper liberty with discipline, we do so for one or more of these reasons.
So far so good. This is why the anarchists are contemptible. They appear to believe that we can all enjoy complete liberty without even a cursory nod towards reasons 1, 2 and 3.

But the late, great Field Marshal continues:
It is the relative weight we give to each of these reasons that decides what sort of discipline we have. That can vary from the pure self-discipline of the Sermon on the Mount to the discipline of the concentration camp - the enforced discipline of fear.
At which point, one cannot avoid the topic of ID cards. The good Sir William has supplied us with the "four tests" against which we should measure any proposed legislation to curb our liberty. Even today, just 36 hours since the wanton and purposeless carnage was wreaked upon central London, it is worth applying them:
Test 1: Will the use of ID cards be to your own advantage? I am struggling to see how they can be.
Test 2: Would I submit to the use of an ID card in consideration for others? Not really. No. If I cannot see that an ID card is useful to me, I fail to see how my use will be beneficial to anyone else.
Test 3: Do I have confidence that others will subject themselves to this loss of liberty, thereby making the scheme worthwhile? Definitely not. The people who need to conform to this most (criminals, terrorists, benefit fraudsters, illegals) are least likely to do so.
Test 4: Fear of punishment Fear of Punishment? Bring it on.

So that has dealt nicely with the nonsense plaguing us up here and the nonsense that the "safety-elephant" wants to inflict on everyone on both sides of the border. Job done: we can all be back in the mess in time for tea and medals.

Not so fast, laddie: this swam into my ken this morning.

Over the last few years - possibly more, certainly since Murdoch turned to the dark side prior to the 97 election - the independence of the analysis of The Times, and hence its quality, has suffered. It would appear now to be craven lobby fodder for the No. 10 propaganda machine.
It is, of course, vital that civil liberties are not trampled in a rush of draconian legislation. It has to be conceded, though, that new legal powers may be required to combat terrorism and that will have an effect not only on those suspected of terrorism sympathies but the broader public. Ministers should not reach for the statute book with undue haste, but citizens must also understand that the security situation today is hardly normal.
I cannot believe that it has plumbed such depths. London and Londoners have done this whole country proud. It is simply laughable that the murderers assumed that London would be gripped with "fear and panic". We do not need new legislation. Democracy in the United Kingdom is bigger, uglier, messier and far, far more resilient that The Times would suggest.

Their leader writers should be ashamed.


Julian Morrison said...

If anything, the conclusion to be drawn is more like: what of all the existing and rather draconian anti-terror laws? Why are these unexploded ordnance still buried in the statute book, if they are neither useful nor likely to be used?

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Meant to get back to you - thanks for this. You are quite correct, of course.

I was merely rehearsing the old "Step 1: stop the increase" type argument.