I Want to Be a Number

Yesterday I had the extremely pleasant experience of sitting opposite a nubile young lady in my University cafeteria. She was in her mid-twenties, about 5 foot 3, short black hair, a good figure, and very cute. Draped around her shoulders and hanging over her chest was the University identification card. Now I'm unsure what the situation is in your American institutes of higher learning, but here in Britain we (as yet) do not have a policy in which you promote your name and number to all and sundry. As part of my sociological studies, I took the opportunity to clandestinely note her name and ID number. With this I can check what books she takes out and her e-mail address. If she happens to be a militant feminist interested in reading about lesbian sexuality, for example, I can discover this. Also, if I happened to have an unfortunate tendency to harass fecund young wenches with lewd and lascivious e-mail, this could easily be done. Worse still, if I had the skills and desire to engage in "social engineering" I bet I could discover a hell of a lot more information about her.

So what's my point? Why have I bothered to comment upon this? The reason is simple: the British students don't do this. I have never seen any student who appears to be a Brit sport their ID card in such a fashion. Incidentally, when you register at the start of the year a neck chain is not provided. She actively chose to make this information public about herself, and I have noticed a substantial minority of foreign students doing the same.

Why is this, I ask my enquiring mind? Could it be they are proud to be at a relatively decent educational institution? Perhaps they want people to know who they are in an effort to encourage international friendship? Possibly they are too lazy to take the card out of their wallets when using it for the library? Too poor to afford said wallet, maybe?

My view is very simple: They do it because this is what they have been taught to do. Brought up in a country that promotes the notion that everyone should be accountable and open about themselves, that their name and details do not belong to themselves, but instead to a higher authority.

Here in Britain we are having a national 'debate' (cue for laughter) about whether a universal ID card should be mandatory. Incidentally, it's not actually an ID card but an 'entitlement' card. If the average Brit chooses not to have it then they are denied education, health care, a bank account, welfare, and other services.

However, in those more enlightened Mediterranean countries, no one cares about ID cards. Yes, those countries with a minimum wage, maximum working hours, and a four-hour siesta. They are part and parcel of everyday life. In Spain, for example, at the age of 14 every child goes to the police station to be fingerprinted, photographed, and issued with their documento nacional de identidad (DNI) card. That's 'national identification document' for those readers who don't live in Miami . Give it ten years and the retinal scans and DNA will be appended. The notion of a debate about ID cards is alien to most European countries. After all, the people are permitted the great benefits of what the State (that's the taxpayer, surely) provides for them. And it shouldn't be seen as concerning when you buy a cellular phone in Spain that you have to produce the ubiquitous DNI. I mean, why on earth would you require an anonymous cellular phone? And look at the benefits of linking it to your employment ' taxation can be more easily deducted to finance all those great statist instructions everyone needs, such as the welfare state.

Let's face it and deal with the bullshit: Most people love identity cards. It makes them feel big and important to sport a nice tamperproof (sic) card with a macho/sexy (delete as gender appropriate) picture of themselves on it, with a cool number ' unique to them! Isn't it great to be able to prove who you are without fumbling around for all that annoying secondary identification? And we need to help the authorities, what with those job-stealing illegal immigrants about. Okay, so, you know, I'm not cleaning the toilets but, you know, like, some Spanish guy might want to. But get this: the Spanish don't see it as a crime prevention tool. It's not intended to catch the bad guys ' simply to facilitate ease of living, making life simple for the individual and the authorities. And look at those African migrants from Tunisia and Algeria flogging pirated DVDs. They don't have a card, right? So, what's the problem? It's not like France where you have to provide your card on demand or face criminal penalties. Look at Singapore, for example. They have compulsory cards, showable on demand. How efficient and productive their societies are. Even those libertarians (sic) at the Heritage Foundation think so.

And for the capitalists out there who think that businesses have carte blanc to do whatever they want because they're independent of the state, I have news for you. The boundaries are blurred. Soon they won't exist. Businesses love the card and guess who told them to request it? Shareholders? No! Try again. The downside of privatisation is that as corporations take over previously nationalised industries, they are regulated to death and are forced to become de facto instruments of the state.

But, hey, I need my welfare. My seven crack-addicted babies are dying without my government check. I don't have a problem with ensuring I'm legitimate. Well, that's good for some but in my world, you wouldn't need an ID card for welfare, because, guess what, there wouldn't be any! And that's the solution, isn't it. All these cards are needed to access stuff the state either provides of has delegated to private companies as quasi-statist organs. Get rid of them. Let businesses decide without state regulation. Not much need then, methinks.

But that's the problem. My views are, as I was once memorably told, 'totally [expletive deleted] crazy!' The fact is people want to be labeled. They want everybody ' known or unknown ' to know who they are, where they are, and what they do. Those against ID cards stupidly think 'the tyranny of the multitude' gives a damn. They don't. They want to be good sheep helping the bureaucrats with their little problems and they want to be told what to do and when to do it. And if they make mistakes, then they can and will learn.

After all, this is all about what being a good citizen is about. And if ID cards contribute to this, then that's just fine.

So, Olga, you're into 'Bar Culture in Early Modern England: 1688-1914' and 'The Politics of Gender: How Bastard Men Enslave and Oppress Cute Babes.' Oh, this evening, eight o' clock, you're available. I know a fantastic pub that dates back to William of Orange. And, you know, I'm a big fan of Dworkin and MacKinnon. Yes, we're so compatible. See you later.

Note: For those who accidentally stumbled on this site whilst looking for lesbian porn, or worse, man-hating literature, Olga does not exist although the incident in paragraph one did happen. No, I am not going to harass her. It's called a 'literary device,' idiots.

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