Robin Wilton – mate of mine, sound geezer – is writing extensively about matters of Identity Cards, a topic about which he knows a great deal from his past and current occupations inside Sun Microsystems.
I am trying to get a handle on what affects citizen uptake and usage of Identity Cards, bearing in mind that this country (UK) has only minimal collective memory of such a thing.
As far as I can see, the most likely factors (more or less in ascending order of optimism) are:
- Legal compulsion: (you will get nicked if caught not carrying it)
- Direct benefit: (convenience, risk avoidance, incentive)
- Citizen Culture: “The Greater Good”, or “We ve always had one”
- Fashion: OK OK, I did say optimistic, but just imagine: “ID Cards the new iPod” ;^)
Now me: I think that Governments and the Police are really missing a point.
They are missing one big trick that would instantly garner acceptance of an Identity Card.
One big example.
Supermarket Loyalty Cards.
I am not joking; hear me out.
I have several friends who are in the Police, and godluvem they’re absolutely wonderful, generous, trusting people, but it wasn’t until I became familiar with how they talked about work in their off-hours that I actually learned what is meant by the term institutional mind-set. They make jokes about The Ways And Means Act – as in: “we have ways and means to deal with people who deserve being nicked” – and thus gave rise to my perception that the Police sometimes (often?) see people as generally falling into one of three camps:
- friends, to be socialised with
- bent, to be nicked
- innocent, to be patted on the head but otherwise watched in case they turn out to be secretly bent
These friends of mine were rather appalled to hear me once ask: What’s the point of being good?
By saying this I was not trying to endorse criminality, but rather follow a line of thought that: once you get rid of the whole religious/morals/ethics thing and dispense with the notion of God – some great big finger, wagging at you for being naughty – then the next thing you question is the judiciary and/or any other arbitrary authority, especially one that talks about “ways and means”. (ahem)
So you start thinking: at least with the whole religion mythos, there is a stick (“burn in hell, nasty pointy things, brimstone”) and also there is a carrot (heaven, sherbert, self-starting virgins, etc…)
With society and government however, there is only the stick; other than your continued liberty – which frankly most people take as a given, or don’t seem to much care about given the way they are happy to fritter away aspects of it in the name of “Homeland Security” – you otherwise get nothing for paying your taxes on time, obeying the speedlimit, not shooting pheasants out-of-season or fishing without a license.
In short: Cui bono? Aside from making a personal moral choice to be largely law-abiding, what is the point in being so?
On that basis, with this gap in the market, a UK National Loyalty Card is a stonkingly fantastic idea!
Think of the possibilities: You could accrue Citizenship Points for snitching on benefit cheats and badly-parked vehicles, teaching immigrants how to talk proper like, y’know, or organising community-minded projects like wheel-clamping or neighbourhood-watch schemes. The sort of complex projects that would otherwise require a middle-class neighbourhood with a high percentage of social-climbers, to achieve.
These Citizenship Points could then be redeemed for positive benefits: being let-off the occasional speeding ticket, a minor discount on taxes, automatic granting of planning-permission for small household extensions – or, at the extreme end, honours, peerages, and a lunch at Buckingham Palace with the Home Secretary of the day.
Just imagine how much “good” would be done by people in pursuit of points that would actively let them do things they do already anyway, if mildly illegally. The mere snob-value would drive enormous effort.
In fact, the only people likely to be against it would be the Police, if you think about it. For starters there would be fewer people to arrest.
Fewer ways and means.