Out Of Sight – Out Of Your Mind
August 22, 2006
by Martin ‘HStorm’ Odoni
My mother received a small item of local political propaganda through her door the other day, a letter about law and order from an aging activist for the Conservative Party in the Sedgley Park area of Manchester. And, as I’m sure you have already surmised, it made for a truly riveting read. Apart from the words.
The gist of his complaint was that the profile of the police in Prestwich and Whitefield was unacceptably quiet; if neighbouring Salford could invest a fortune in making sure there were regular bobbies-on-the-beat on every corner, and if they could invest a slightly smaller fortune in advertising these details in the local media, why couldn’t the authorities in Prestwich do likewise?
There are two obvious retorts to this. The first is rather beside the point, but still worth mentioning; Prestwich is not Salford. Prestwich is a comparatively mild area on the north edge of Manchester, which, although it has its share of rough patches, is not exactly one of Britain’s hotbeds of criminal violence. Whereas Salford is, per head of population, a candidate for the roughest city in northern Europe. (I should know – I’ve lived there for much of the last five years.) Therefore, Salford needs a larger and louder police force, a fact that is kind of self-evident.
The other obvious retort to this, “Why the hell do you want the police to throw away a fortune advertising in the papers, when they could use the money far more effectively by investing it in more officers and equipment?” is more relevant, but again it’s not quite the point. What I noted from the letter is that it fits into a disturbing wider pattern; the modern right-wing obsession with ‘visibility’.
What the guy seemed to be saying was that the work of the police only counts as long as it’s visible. And, furthermore, the more visible it is, the more it counts. It’s one of the most tiresome aspects of the modern Conservative mentality if you ask me, and can be summed up in this way; “If you can’t see something, it’s not there.“
This can be amusing on small levels like this one, but there are darker consequences to it. This concept of invisibility-equals-non-existence lends credibility to the world of propaganda and control of information. “If people don’t know that Israel has butchered a hundred innocents in Beirut,” the logic goes, “it effectively hasn’t happened.”
So, the US Government tapped phones without clearing it with anyone first, not even the highest Court in America. Because it wasn’t cleared with anyone, no one noticed it happening for a long time. Therefore, in a sense, it didn’t happen.
American Conservatives are in favour of drilling Alaska to bits for the oil reserves under the ground there (latest estimates suggest that those reserves will only last about a year). When challenged on the enormous ecological damage the drilling would cause, the justification they give goes along the lines of, “Hey, Alaska’s so remote and uninhabitable that no one will ever see what’s there anyway.” Again, because no one can see the harm, they think it sort of doesn’t do any harm, as though climate change will not affect anyone as long as they breathe in pictures.
This sort of attitude can be accused of being one-dimensional, but it seems to me that modern Conservatives are conservative in a two-dimensional way. They want to preserve, not just the ways of the past, but also its outlook in order to avoid having to justify the consequences. They want people to retain the parochial outlook of the eighteenth century, when technology was so perfunctory that the world was a huge place, and so any part of it could be cut off from any other part for months or years on end. Anything that was out of sight really didn’t count back then, and really could stay out of mind forever.
In case you’re wondering, by the way, this is the philosophy that Conservatives call ‘progress.’
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