Nowadays you can’t rob a bank without your ugly mug being captured on CCTV and broadcast on fear-mongering crime programmes; hosted by rightious Christian presenters and viewed by millions of people who obviously don’t have a sex life worth mentioning.
That being said, you can’t even walk down a street in Manchester without umpteen cameras following you around like eyes in a painting in a Scooby-Doo castle of horrors.
I was once told that George Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be a cynical look at communism. But we live in a capitalist society and it seems CCTV is accepted, Big Brother is celebrated as a commercial success and nobody seems to get the Room 101 joke on the BBC anymore.
Fantasy versus plan
Anyhow, the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that more and more people are being arrested for planning things. People planning abductions, people planning demonstrations and people planning terrorist attacks. And this is surely strange.
The first thing that springs to mind is: What’s the difference between planning something and fantasizing about something?
Am I the only person who finds this semantic difference intriguing?
At one point in our lives we’ve all fantasized about urinating in Rush Limbaugh’s mouth whilst a goat is shagging him from behind. Does this constitute a plan or a fantasy?
If you fantasize about illegal sexual acts, can you be arrested for it?
At one point I fantasized about robbing a bank in Hellevoetsluis (of all places, it’s enough to know it actually exists and the only note-worthy mention of it in history is that William and Mary sailed from there, before starting all the troubles in Northern Ireland). I drew up a sketch on how it would be done. Basically blowing up a building on the other side of town as a diversion (there’s not that many police in Hellevoetsluis), robbing the bank, cycling to the canal (there’s only one canal), pulling on a scuba suit, stashing the money in weighted plastic bags and swimming across the Haringvliet lake to safety.
Can you be arrested for that?
Let’s up the stakes on this little gem.
I got beat up during an anti-fascist demonstration. The police, for reasons of their own; I’m sure, decided to side with the fascists and us communists had our heads bashed in. So, I came up with a plan (which I actually handed in to the head office of my political party) which consisted of keeping a second wave of demonstrators in reserve (split up in side streets). Then when the police close in on the main demonstration, the second wave can come in, surround the police and take their weapons from them. It was rejected, by the way.
Can you be arrested for that?
When does fantasy become a plan? And how on Earth can you prove the difference?
One could suggest that proof of planning has to be in writing. But surely, if you’re a smart criminal, you can easily avoid this little faux d’evidence by not writing anything at all. Keep it in the head and, voila, you’re innocent.
If there is no victim, can there be a crime?
The second thing that springs to mind is the definition of crime. There are two sorts of crime, seemingly: harm-crime (where there’s a victim) and offence-crime (where there’s no victim).
This second category encompasses such things as personal drug use, homosexuality between consenting adults, blasphemous crimes and nudity. Generally speaking, the offence principle is political in nature and, equally generally, democratic societies tend to get rid of them.
Now, suppose I plan to blow up the sun; killing everyone on the planet.
The sun isn’t blown up, everyone’s still dancing around merrily. Can I be arrested?
What if I plan to blow up an aeroplane? It’s not been blown up. Everyone’s still flying around happily. Can I be arrested?
So, another difference between fantasy and plan is S.M.A.R.T. fomulation. With the R of Realistic being of key importance. However, in neither example are there any victims.
So, according to the offence principle, a dictator could have me arrested for planning to blow up the sun, which a democratic society will laugh at. Yet, this same democratic society will seemingly turn dictatorial for lesser crimes without victims?
Another way you could look at this is: When does one become a victim?
Are you a victim after the bomb goes off, are you a victim when someone has planted the bomb or are you a victim when someone thinks of blowing up a building?
The State has an obligation to protect you (from others). Can the State decide that someone’s plan or fantasy is a danger to you, making you a victim (before a bomb is actually planted, goes off or if someone has only thought about it)?
Say, for argument’s sake, that someone plans to build a motorway. That motorway is potentially lethal (driving kills lots of people a year). You could be a victim (roadkill has its seasons just like anything. There’s possums in the autumn and potentially you in the Spring). Should the State arrest this criminal to be?
The general defense will be along the lines of: “He isn’t planning to make you a victim, therefor it’s not a crime and the State doesn’t need to stop it.”.
So, if I rob a bank, which is insured, and don’t hurt anybody in the process, it’s not actually a crime either?
The nosy neighbour
Exactly when does the State think it’s alright to delve into your private business when there are no victims to speak of and nothing provable but fantasy to entertain them?
Is it when somebody snitches on you? So, I can suggest that my neighbour is planning a terrorist attack and the police will investigate him?
I have noticed various snitching hotlines popping up all over the world. From criminal hotlines, to the TV shows I’ve mentioned earlier to posters inviting you to sell out your neighbour if you think he’s into tax fraud.
Are these not police-state tactics? Isn’t this Cuban or Soviet Union-esque in nature? And how far can it go? Echelon already tags key words in your text messages and mobile phone conversations. When you use one of these tagged words, your message is recorded. You could be writing a saucy e-mail d’amour and suggest you’d like to do the nasty on some bush. That mail is gonna be read by some four-eyed geek in Langley or Birmingham. You can count on it.
And what do people tell you?
“If you’re not doing anything wrong, what have you got to hide?”
That’s what they tell you.
Not everything you think is right. And lots of what you think is of no concern to anybody else but you. Do you really want your neighbour knowing what you think of his wife?
I think 1984 has come about. And nobody really seems to care.
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?
And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.
- Dylan -