Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Blunderbuss Effect

There is a security camera in our village.

Now Welwyn is not perfect and I am sure that even in this rather sleepy quarter of middle Hertfordshire there are some (dare I say it) criminals and (yes, even) louts. But we are not a city centre; we are not Birmingham, London or Manchester. Gracious me, we are not even Welwyn Garden City, where there are, if they will pardon me saying it, probably hives of yobbos. The front page of our local paper last week was celebrating a police 'swoop' on a noisy neighbour. That is how bad things are getting around here.

Nonetheless - Welwyn has a security camera.

Did I say 'a' camera?

I should say cameras. Four of them. On one tall black pole near the bridge over the River Mimram. Two looking down the street, one examining the bridge and the other scrutinizing a car-park.

Mind you, we should count ourselves lucky. Statistics tell us that there is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in Britain (yes, about 4 million of them) so in Welwyn we should have about 250 'public eyes'. Perhaps I just haven't seen them yet.

Because, therefore, of a small minority of potential disturbers of the peace, the rest of us have our potterings and perambulations, our wanderings and our window shopping, our chattings and conversations all recorded on a camera which probably feeds a small screen in some dingy security firm or police office. As a friend in the village said - 'It makes you feel you have to behave'. Exactly. It is that sense of 'Big Brother' which is so intrusive, the authoritarian wet blanket taking the edge off the enjoyment of a hitherto self-regulated freedom.

It is part too of the blunderbuss effect. A blunderbuss is an old type of firearm which, unlike a rifle with one bullet more or less accurately aimed, fires a load of shot over a wide area. One of the features of modern life is deprivation or inconvenience suffered by the many on account of the few. For example, because of a tiny minority of extremists who may want to blow up a plane, millions have to endure tedious security checks. Because of the small minority of real paedophiles, millions have to be treated as potential criminals and put up with endless bureacracy. Because of a few vicious dogs, it was even suggested that all dog owners should pay insurance in case their dog attacked someone. Thankfully that has been dropped.

From another perspective, because of a small minority of people who want to practise a gay lifestyle, millions of us have to fight not to have our children taught that perversion is normal. Not the same as catching potential criminals but still a minority imposing on a majority.

Is the blunderbuss really necessary? Is it necessary to spread the net wide enough to catch everybody, in order to apprehend the few? Or is it just the easiest way? Will the determined terrorist or paedophile or yobbo be caught like this? I suppose some will point to CCTV evidence which has helped convict some criminals, but was it the only evidence? Was it crucial?

Perhaps the price of greater (if not absolute) security is the reduction of freedom. Maybe Welwyn has to have a (sorry,four) CCTV cameras to survey a short High Street. Maybe we will have to behave. And maybe Big Brother will keep us all safe. But I can't help feeling something has died as, on my way home, I ruefully return the steely gaze of the fourfold unblinking Cyclops.

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