I read an article in the Guardian the other day about the introduction of CCTV cameras that got me thinking.
In March this year, Sam Goodman, 18, walked out of his politics lesson to protest against four CCTV cameras that had been installed overnight in the classroom. He was joined by all but one of his classmates. Goodman says his school, an Essex comprehensive, told the class that the cameras had not been switched on yet, and that when they were, they’d be used for teacher training purposes only.
A few weeks later, Goodman says students discovered that the recording system was in a cupboard in the classroom and that the microphones were in fact on. Goodman and his friends promptly switched them off.
Now in general, I’d agree with young Mr Goodman. I find the erosion of civil liberties in the UK worrying. I value my privacy. And if you were to ask me how I’d would feel were my boss to put CCTV inside the office where I work, my answer would be that I’d be horrified, and that frankly, I find the idea that such a thing might happen inconceivable.
But then there are many other things that I’d find similarly inconceivable.
I would find it inconceivable were I to walk into the kitchen at work and be punched hard in the face, without any cause or provocation, by one of my fellow co-workers while a number of other fellow co-workers laughed and applauded.
I would find it inconceivable if the situation at my work was such that I was fearful of going to places such as the computer room, where I would be on my own, because other co-workers were liable to take advantage of that, and assault me.
I would find it inconceivable if items were regularly stolen from my backpack, if ever I were unwise enough to allow it out of my sight, if only for a few seconds.
And of course, if any or all of these were happening, I would find it inconceivable if, were I to report it to my bosses, the perpetrators were not (assuming compelling evidence existed) immediately sacked for gross misconduct and reported to the police.
I find all those things inconceivable now, but when I was at school they were far from inconceivable- in fact, they occurred on a weekly if not monthly basis. I still feel particular dislike for one Mr Owen, who regularly chose to take an extra ten minutes or so to drink his tea in the staff-room at break time when he was supposed to be in his classroom teaching me English. At break-times I could hide from the bullies; but at the end of break I was forced to line up with them in the darkened dead-end corridor that led to his classroom, just on the off-chance that he might turn up on time. And when he inevitably did not do so, I would be tormented and occasionally assaulted.
If I’d been asked then if I would have liked CCTV cameras installed in that darkened, dead-end corridor, would I have said yes?
Damn right I would!
If I had to explain in one sentence why my life as an adult is so much happier than my life as a child was, it’s because the people my life now dictates I spend time with aren’t allowed to hit me. That probably sounds very sad, but it’s true. People often say that children deserve the same rights as adults, but if that was the case then anyone who (beyond any reasonable doubt) assaulted a child at school would be immediately and permanently expelled. And I know from bitter experience that this isn’t what happens, when that other person is also a child, which of course it nearly always is. (I’m not saying it should, mind, just that we shouldn’t kid ourselves that – CCTV aside – we’re applying the same rules to children as we apply to ourselves).
So I don’t know how I feel about this. But when we discuss the high-flying philosophical aspects of this issues, let’s not forget the poor bastards going through what will be by far the worst period of their life.