Has this ever happened to you? Somebody mentions an old friend, say, or some topic of interest, and over the next couple of weeks the same subject arises again and again in different contexts? I'm sure it has. And many times. In fact, this kind of thing is so common that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung gave it a name : synchronicity.
Recently, I experienced just such a network of interrelated coincidences. First, I read in the news that in Britain the local councils, the equivalent of the Italian comune, have trebled the numbers of CCTV cameras on the streets, despite the clear evidence that they do nothing to deter crime, or indeed to help in the prosecution of criminals. I was none too surprised to find my own home town in the top ten, having more than four cameras per 1,000 residents. The Outer Hebrides topped the list with more than 8 cameras per 1,000 residents. With a population of just over 26,000, that's a staggering 208 cameras.
And they're not cheap.
And surely the Outer Hebrides has nothing more than a bunch of sheep to safeguard...?
Then one day, I was listening to BBC Radio 4 over a cup of tea. A segment came on about a new piece of equipment being tested by the Manchester Police Force - ominously called a 'drone', but in fact a small radio-controlled flying gadget with a camera mounted on it. The Manchester Police Force are ecstatic. Now they can spy on whoever they like whenever they like, without the cost and rigamarole of calling out the local helicopter squadron. Those who like to take an innocent stroll at odd times of the day or night are not so sure.
Later that day, a friend was complaining about New Labour's new biometric ID card, currently compulsory only for immigrant workers and foreign students, but already being offered to British citizens, who despite decades of resistance seem actually to be taking them up voluntarily thinking that by doing so they might in some obscure way be helping to solve Britain's benefits-fraud problem. And worse, its tie-up with the new DNA super-database, which includes DNA information even on people who have never so much as asked a policeman for directions, let alone been arrested or prosecuted.
My mind really started ticking when I saw that our local computer shop here in Italy is displaying a sophisticated range of surveillance equipment for private use, and then that it seems to have become à la mode to mount a sweet little webcam on the handlebars of one's motorcycle, of all things. What could it be for? I asked myself. I could only reach the conclusion that bikers far and wide have finally admitted to a vanity we all knew they possessed in buckets. They have found a way to watch themselves breaking the ton with the sun sparkling on their opaque Darth Vader visors (or dog ends from passing motorists getting stuck in their Lynyrd Skynyrd beards, depending on nationality, age and engine capacity). In the meantime, however, they record the activities of any person who comes within range of the parked machine.
And finally, I read a review of a new novel called The Dying Light (published in the US as The Bell Ringers, I believe), by Britain's self-styled guardian of liberty, Henry Porter, whose name rang a definite bell in that part of my dim and distant memory that related to my early days in the world of London publishing, but that's another story altogether...
The synchronicity was too strong to be ignored. My mind, working on its own, quickly grouped these events by meaning as Jung describes and forced my One-Click-Ordering hand. I bought the book, despite not being a huge fan of the thriller genre.
Here's the blurb. 1.) Former intelligence officer dies in bomb attack. 2.) Estranged soulmate inherits his house, lots of dosh and some disconcerting messages from beyond the grave. 3.) Said soulmate finds herself and a lot of other people under surveillance and in some instances under attack. 4.) All is gradually revealed and the dènouemont rages to a breathtaking finale.
The author's note makes it clear, if it is not clear enough by the last page, that while the story is a fiction (bound for Hollywood, perhaps?) the structures within British society that would enable the given scenario to become a reality are already in place. One merely needs to project forward a few years. Spy drones, spy cameras, human spies and computerised spies. It all adds up to a Big Brother-style society in which ordinary people acquiesce in the slow and silent theft of their liberty because they think they are being made more secure.
And as Benjamin Franklin once wrote : "Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither".