Blogger Mr Eugenides displays courage to rival that of Leonidas (the chocolatier rather than the king of the Spartans) as he takes on intellectual giantess Polly Toynbee in the argument over government surveillance and points up classic fallacy after classic fallacy in her defence of ID cards and CCTV cameras.
What case does Mr E offer in reply? The “what if a bad government took control?” one. Yep, a fallacy so limp that no one can be bothered to give it a fancy Latin name (though I’m happy to be corrected). I hate to break it to him and other “libertarian” lovers of this non-argument, but this administration already has hold of telephone tapping equipment, synthetic toxins, night-vision goggles, laser-guided sniper rifles, stun grenades, and powerful new non-nuclear explosives. All of these at least offer the option of being deployed by security operatives who follow orders without question, leave no audit trail, and know exactly how to apply the hardware to the software (to the short-lived dismay of many mass murderers with AK-47s and fist-length beards—and, indeed, one harmless electrician visiting London from Latin America).
Apart from the possibility that government agents might frisbee them Odd Job-style into the necks of misbehaving chavs, what threat exactly do computerised plastic rectangles present when wielded by people who can barely manipulate email? Mr E warns us about these horrors and waves his hypotheticals in our face, but he doesn’t actually point to anything real. It’s all very well pomping on about Polly’s broken arguments, but threatening “serious and grave dangers” and citing a “sizeable body of concern” aren’t any kind of argument at all; they’re the sort of empty clichés intoned by Sir Bufton Tufton MP in front of a sleeping House of Commons.
And I haven’t even mentioned Mr E’s catastrophic failure to understand the nature of English law: “framed in such a way to protect us from future abuses”, “[enshrines] fundamental human rights”. It’s ironic that he should wheel out such lame and ill-informed rhetoric since one thing states that don’t have ID cards do tend to have is a legal system based on common law. His writing about this curious phenomenon might have been a smidgen more interesting than bitch-slapping Polly Toynbee across five sides of A4. I’d invite my sister to take time off from giving one of her classes to treat him to some of the same if I didn’t think he’d enjoy it.
Don’t get me wrong. As I have said here before, the introduction of ID cards is likely to be a shambles of Millennium Dome proportions and a bigger waste of money than Elton John, Imelda Marcos, and Elvis Presley could brainstorm together in a week speeding on the finest amphetamines, but it’s partly because the supposed civil liberties arguments are so shockingly feeble and so poorly made that Tony Blair can get away with backing a centralised database of citizens on the grounds that it would be more “modern” to have one than not to.
At least that majority of people in favour of ID cards and security cameras Mr E sneers at have been able to point to concrete reasons why they would and do improve their everyday lives, reasons that those living under the totalitarian regimes of our neighbours France and the Netherlands have proved in the field. It’s good to attack the ropey reasoning of the pros, but not when you’re an anti sitting in a cat’s cradle made out of Silly String.
Reading the comments under the piece doesn’t help either: the complacency of the usual media suspects is as nothing next to the scatological smugness of certain bloggertarians. At this point I could imitate the approach Mr Eugenides took with Ms Toynbee and make crude sexual suggestions about what he and his admirers get up to in the ever-more-threatened privacy of their bedrooms, but I won’t because I’m not very boring indeed. I mean, do any of these all-lads-together types think that John Reid wakes up a cold sweat worrying that the Devil’s Kitchen is going to feature another post calling him a “cunt” or that broadsheet corporatists feel that their arguments are fatally undermined by Tim Worstall labelling them “morons”?
Both sites sling the word “fascism” about too liberally [boom-tish!] but Harry’s Place is better than Samizdata—not because the Harry’s Place people are right and the Samizdata people are wrong; but because some of the Harry’s Place gang still know how to make a case. They’ve spent the last half-decade defending themselves against fierce criticism from former allies and defending the outcomes of certain real-world policies, while many Samizdatans have spent it congratulating each other on the sexiness of one another’s minarchist fantasies. In the world of the fighting keyboardists it’s the difference between a corps of battleworn commandos and a gentlemen’s shooting club. I suppose that’s a reason to be glad our wicked, oppressive, authoritarian government forbids us to carry guns: Perry De Havilland would have accidentally shot his valet at least twice with a Glock before wardytron had been able to find a semi-automatic that wouldn’t spoil the line of his Henry-Fonda-in-Twelve-Angry-Men summer suit.
Omigod. We The People can’t bear arms. What if we are taken over by a future government of giant lizards?!