Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Plastic Man

Apparently it's no longer enough for our lords and shepherds that we should merely be obedient sheep. This BBC article suggests that the whole boiling of our political class can hardly wait to take on a whole new level of control over the Artist Formerly Known As The Individual. They call this new use of their authority 'Person-Shaping'.

Barnet Council leader Mike Freer says bluntly: "The role of the council has shifted away from being a provider of services to being responsible for helping local citizens improve their lives." And by 'improvement' he doesn't mean help them to achieve their wishes - as far as I can tell, he means principally to improve their wishes so as to correspond with the wiser ones a benevolent Authority would wish for them. Various forms of soft pressure and psychological manipulation are to be the new nagging, the old nagging having proven unexpectedly unpopular for some reason. Sending canvassers around to knock on every household's door, and asking its members to make three out of nine 'voluntary pledges' from a menu prepared by the Council, are one of his new non-nagging techniques. H'mmm!

Defenders of this approach, like Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, follow the line of such nudge-nudge public policy advocates as Cass Sunstein, in suggesting that the State's influence is better exercised by small non-coercive interventions that go with the flow of human nature, than by sending the cops around to collar small children for playing hopscotch outside their front doors. And as far as that goes, who could argue with it?

But a world in which our rulers have figured out how to stop small children from even wanting to play hopscotch outside their front doors... does not strike me as any improvement at all.

A stranger who comes knocking at my door expecting me to make this year's quota of pledges to advancing the district boss's agenda... is not assured of a welcome.

A 'public servant' who aspires to replace the public with Person-Shaped units for the better service of his desires... should be sacked before he gets started, and that without a character.

And if all other serious candidates for his post have similar designs on the family honour, and abolishing his post or leaving it vacant aren't among our allegedly democratic options? What then, for those of us who prefer being persons to Person Shapes, and are flatly hostile to the replacement of our unregenerate species with a clean new Homo Plasticus?

Well, psychological warfare for the general good can be waged upwards as well as downwards. As so often before, the late great science fiction writer Eric Frank Russell has much to teach us on this subject. It's times like this that make me remember why that most mischievously and eloquently human of bolshy old geezers has been such an inspiration through all the yarns I've spun, including the one I am presently living out.

Let the diabologic, disobedience, and turning of cranks commence!

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