Saturday, May 26, 2007

UK govt's edge over the DDR

"The Stasi was relentless in its pursuit of data collection, despite its lack of decent technology. The everyday details of the country's citizens were instead logged meticulously by pen on paper. In the 21st century, the UK government is equally obsessed with charting our lives, from the pills we take to the type of sex we have. But it has one massive modern-day advantage over the east Germans - computers." —Victoria MacDonald (thanks, Terri!)

The Stasi's obsessive logging of citizens' activities was brought out well in The Lives of Others. I made a similar point in my presentation to a NATO-Russia workshop last month. You can imagine how well it went down with a room nearly full of current and retired intelligence officers, with one even asking me what was so wrong with the Stasi's activities!

1 comment:

Guy Herbert said...

On the guy who couldn't see what was wrong with the Stasi:

A leading Blairite was recently at dinner with a friend, and found himself being challenged over the government's activities. Eventually, frustrated by the criticism, he leant forward and said: "What you don't seem to understand is that we are good people!" - Jenni Russell

Same phenomenon. Not just, "But we're the good buggers." Those who exercise any function almost invariably see the power they exercise as intrinsically good and necessary, because they cannot admit the possibility that what they do may be contingently wrong.

Cf. "Don't be evil" not "Don't do evil". Existence presumes essential virtue. You could call it the ontological theory of morals.