Skipping towards dystopia

There is a word I know exists but cannot remember. One applies it to a piece of art, which inspires in the viewer those things described or otherwise portrayed by that art. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road provokes a spotaneity that emulates Dean Moriatry’s anarchic carpe diem. I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch immediately before the 1998 World Cup, and I recall it had the effect of making a football obsessive out of me, when I hadn’t been before.

Whatever the name of this trait, I find it also applies to Terry Gilliam films. Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas is the best example for obvious reasons, and today I am beginning to think Brazil may be another. I saw it again on Saturday evening, and by Monday morning I was seeing totalitarian beuracracy everywhere.

So: Is it just me, or is the government’s threat graph designed for the sole purpose of striking fear into the population? It is very difficult to see what use it can be.

First, the system just gives a status, a ‘threat level’. It will not give any specifics, so the proles will not know where on these isles is at risk of attack. Second: In what ways should we act differently in the event of a heightened alert? If we are at Level 1, does that mean I can ignore those suspicious packages I find on the train? At what point should we stop using public transport altogether? Without context, it is useless information.

Most importantly, though, is that this system does half of the terrorists work for them. The system of threats without information will only serve to strike fear – terror, if you will – in the minds of the populous. At the very least, it will cause massive inconvenience for those trying to go about their daily business, to say nothing of the effect on commerce. To announce to the country that a terrorist attack is imminent, but then give no information as to its possible form or location, will surely breed suspicion and uncertainty in the financial markets.

The parallels with dystopian fiction are so startling, I’m surprised that Ministers aren’t more self-aware as they trot out lines from Brazil and its ilk. Ministers go on TV and announce banalities such as Vigilance Saves Lives. Then (as happened on BBC News 24 this morning) they talk about what their system will report when terrorists attacks increase (not if). And all the time, anonymous terrorists move among us. We don’t know or care why they might be attempting to blow us up, just that it could happen at any moment. When it does, we are told to “carry on as normal” and remained unbowed, despite the fact that ‘normal’ is now synonymous with a threat rating of ‘severe’.

The publishing of these threat levels is yet another desperate action of a government that has lost the trust of the people. Whatever the pronouncements of Lord Hutton, the Kelly inquiry proved that intelligence service decisions are subject to political interference. When caught doing this, the politicians are without contrition. Jean Charles De Menezes proved that the security services make mistakes, and that when they do, no-one will take responsibility.

Does the government imagine that this system will be trusted? Do they really think that we will use it for anything other than rueful satire?

One Reply to “Skipping towards dystopia”

  1. No, it’s not just you.

    Also, what information is it based on? It’s one thing to mistakenly (or deliberately) claim that the threat level is higher than it actually is, but what about the reverse error? What if there is a gap in the intelligence and we’re told the threat level is low, only for there to be a massive attack somewhere. Presumably, when the government/security forces think the threat is high, that’s paradoxically when there’s least likely to be a “successful” attack. When the government think the threat level is low, isn’t that going to be the best time for terrorists to strike, therefore making the *actual* threat level high.

    Also, people are notoriously bad at being able to interpret probabilistic information – I really do think this is such a pointless exercise, its only possible purpose can be to manipulate people.

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