Wednesday, January 03, 2007


In a comment to my earlier post on Root Cause, Robin Wilton suggested a link between anonymity and bad behaviour.
"If all potential criminals were identifiable all the time, they would be inhibited from committing crimes ... [and therefore] if no-one has any anonymity, everyone will be law-abiding."

This proposition appears to justify a high level of surveillance, as a crime-prevention measure. It also appears to justify various forms of "naming-and-shaming". Unfortunately, the proposition is not universally true. There are apparently some people who are not inhibited - and may even be encouraged - by the possibility of being identified.

For example, "a head teacher has spoken of his shock at seeing a video clip posted on a public website of a laughing pupil hurling a rock at a classroom window". [BBC News Jan 3rd 2007 via Into the Machine] And see also "Is there shaming in naming?" [BBC News Magazine via Tomorrow's Fish and Chip Paper, with a comment from me.]

So we have two kinds of identity in competition here. There is an old-fashioned notion of identity-as-respectability, and a Big-Brother notion of identity-as-notoriety. And so if social control mechanisms are designed by and for people with a given mindset, how are they supposed to work on people with an entirely different mindset? On people who find the proposition "Big Brother is Watching You" thrilling rather than chilling?

According to Donella Meadows' 12-point framework for system intervention, changes in mindset or paradigm are among the most powerful modes of system change (leverage point 2). Old fashioned social control (including the measures enthusiastically embraced by the current Government) doesn't seem to have the requisite variety to respond appropriately to these changes.

I am not saying that people are changing their notion of identity solely in order to evade social control - paradigm shifts aren't generally amenable to such rational calculation. But it is interesting that certain changes in the prevailing notion of identity seem to have the effect of weakening or negating certain social control mechanisms. And it is conceivable that these social control mechanisms have the effect of reinforcing certain social trends, including a paradigm-shift in notions of identity.

See my earlier post on Big Brother. And see Scribe's post on The Polarizing Effect of Surveillance.

1 comment:

Scribe said...

Yup yup. Perhaps the pop-phrase "those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear" should be adapted: "Those who fear nothing hide nothing."

There are some interesting ideas coming off this, such as whether the "exaggeration of trouble-makers" is necessarily a "bad" thing (from a control point of view), but I'm still catching up on blog reading post-Christmas, so maybe someone's already pointed it out.