Teachers are familiar with reporting the badly-behaved (moot point as to what difference it makes when they do...) - so it's entertaining to read in today's Guardian that the police want us, in our communities, dobbing those around us in if we think they're anarchists. This is all part of a creeping system of social "telling on" - universities have been told to report extremists for some time, though the emphasis of those first efforts was on Islamic extremism, whereas this police plea is about anarchism, specifically (one presumes) at the masked members of recent London protests. The analogy with teaching is neat enough: when a group of students get out of hand and something serious happens, teachers tell assemblies that it hurts everyone, no-one should protect the culprits, you can tell us in secret - and so forth.
The question is how many teachers do care about most such instances, or actually do want anything reported. You're tempted to say that most feel they have to adopt that position while hoping fervently that no-one says anything more. Nobody wants justice or social peace and order more than teachers, but quite often dobbing - particularly the state-sanctioned and -fueled sort - brings out the absolute worst in people: over-exaggeration, unreasonable pleas to minority status, self-defeating victim behaviour, and outright lies quite often; and that's without the moments where authority is applied ineffectively or too heavy-handedly (yes, we've all done it.) I confess to a sneaking admiration for that boarding school phenomenon of groups of students refusing to dob on anyone and all accepting the punishment for wrongdoing together even though only one or two did whatever was done: it shows collectiveness, solidarity, and mutual sacrifice - it's surprisingly leftist, in fact. Everyone can just take the point and move on. The social fabric stretched, but didn't rip - a principle worth preserving, and which an encouragement to tittle-tattling can undermine permanently.
And so back to the police, who want us dobbing in anyone with a black balaclava (as a motorcyclist, I'm in trouble) or who follows UKUncut on Twitter. New Labour social policing wanted us going through our neighbour's bins for fear of bomb-making and now the Tories want us going through their wardrobes as well - in search of a giveaway circled-A hoodie.
Let's not get serious. This sort of nonsense (as the Guardian article points out) is fatuous and designed (like the aformentioned teachers' assemblies after anonymous or collective damage in schools) to be a public posture, not meant for real reply. Anyone who's ever phoned their local constabulary at 2am while a full-on domestic violence scene has occured in the road outside their house, only to be told, in essence, that the police aren't interested - you will laugh yourself silly at the idea of the police taking it seriously when you ring up saying "I think my neighbour's an anarchist." So, in the spirit of pointless satire which presumably underpins the police announcement, I wrote back to the Guardian letters page with the following. Enjoy:
Dear Met Police,
(cc The Guardian Letters page)
Further to your request to report anarchists formally to you (Guardian, 1st August) I would like to report a dangerous person living in my community in central London.
Your definition in the police guidance is that “Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy.” You encourage citizens to notify police of any such individuals immediately. Under these terms, I would like to report a Mr. George Osborne of 11 Downing Street. I am uncertain of the exact motivations for his actions, or indeed the detail of many of them, as (like most extremists) his political philosophy appears piecemeal, dated, self-contradictory and an odd fusion of dogma, prejudice and fantasy.
My suspicions about his behaviour include: an intention to destroy all public services in the UK; to trigger a national and possibly international economic collapse; to eliminate all legislation relating to protecting workers or the environment; to cease the effective functioning of any branch of government; to reduce people to a state of fending for themselves in a stateless society; and to allow an anarchic free-for-all in labour markets, pensions, and commodities. Whilst I am aware that you will be shocked by this violent and wide-ranging programme for total social disaster, I assure you that a raid on 11 Downing Street will secure detailed documents supporting all my suspicions in this regard.
As a concerned citizen and active member of the “Big Society” promoted by his neighbour David at number 10, I write to inform you of the serious risk to Britain posed by this extremist individual. I urge you to take swift action – as I will urge my fellow concerned citizens to continue to ring your helpline to back up my reporting of this vile man.
address withheld (but probably not for very long after this letter.)