Big neighbour is watching

He’s a friendly guy and you let him into your house because he is delivering an air conditioner on a sweltering day in August. And he makes some amiable conversation, the guy loves your house and when you show him around, he’s blown away by all those old 60’s posters on the wall.

“Must have been a great time” he declares. The delivery guy leaves and you forget him and concentrate on the air conditioner and getting cool.

But the guy doesn’t forget about you, on the contrary, he makes a full report about your posters to Homeland Security. It seems he has another job that runs parallel to his deliveriesand installations. The friendly man who loves your house is an informant volunteer for the Justice Department’s new agency and its nationwide program of participatory dictatorship called TIPS.

All over America postmen, parcel deliverers and all kinds of repair people and truck drivers are being recruited and trained in the paranoic practice of reporting on the “suspicious” or “unusual” behavior of their fellow citizens. It is perhaps the most terrifying of the various tyranical measures that have been employed by George Bush since September 11 in order to insure the preservation of American freedom.

Getting citizens to spy on their neighbors in large numbers, and FEMA plans to beat East Germany’s record, involves the destruction of our civil society and the replacement of communal sensibility with chilling paranoia. When Big Neighbor is watching, the necessary distance between society and state is pushed aside and we are left with massive mistrust, fear and a sense that 1984 wasn’t just a scary book.

Usually repression does not base itself on the mass recruiting of proletarians. But in this lazy consumerist age when so many people have their objects of desire delivered to their door and a multitude of workers get to see where you live, it makes sense that at least the most mobile members of the working class would be eagerly sought out for snooping and betrayals of trust and the old good neighbor policy. Some American workers will be taught how to parlay a friendly smile into amateur espionage.

To keep things fair, everyone in the country, even rich people, will be encouraged to spy on their neighbors. The TIPS informants will have stickers prominently displayed on their vehicles offering phone numbers where the stray snoop and gossip can call in information about any observed offbeat behavior and eccentric happenings. And of course, this will be a great way to settle a grudge. The U.S. Post Office under the embarrassment of public exposure, has decided, for the moment, to drop out of the TIPS program. But possibly there are enough bored, restless and angry Americans, the kind that want to do things, that will be described as being significant and of vital importance, enough desperate homeland volunteers to turn TIPS into a smashing success and a horrible new way to be an American.