Mar 2008

Official: people = consumers

It’s a busy night for coded government announcements. This time it’s the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who has revealed much with her choice of language. We all know by now that late-capitalism has reduced us all, in theory, to mere consumers; units of potential economic exploitation. But when our own governments begin to see us, treat us, and overtly describe us in those terms then perhaps it’s time to man the barricades.

The story in this case is the rather predictable news that the British government is back-tracking on ID-cards (via Garry). This was inevitable, and I predicted as much the day I heard the project announced. The logistics of the proposed system meant that any due-diligence will have highlighted the near-impossibility of rendering it secure, or even of getting it to work properly. And the cost was always going to be prohibitive given the sheer pointlessness of the scheme. After all, if ID-cards were truly a necessary weapon in the fight against terrorism, any British Home Secretary who announced that “by 2015, 90% of foreign nationals will have identity cards” would be immediately fired from the position (and possibly charged with treason for leaving the nation dangerously unprotected. That’s surely aiding and abetting terrorism, even if only through rampant incompetence).

But of course, everyone knows the real reason for the scheme was to allow the government to build a central database containing detailed information on as many people as possible. Or “consumers” as they’re now known.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said students would also be encouraged to get identity cards from 2010, as part of plans to let “consumer demand” drive take-up.

Firstly, I’m dubious about the notion that there’s any real “demand” for the things. Are British students really clamouring to be fingerprinted by the government? But it’s the phrase “consumer demand” that really caught my attention. Unless you are deliberately going out of your way to mangle the English language, there’s no way you could describe ID-cards as being “consumed” by those who are issued them. So the phrase “consumer demand” is being used in the sense of “being demanded by consumers”.

Perhaps I’m just being over-sensitive to the language of politicians these days, but it sounds sinister as hell to my ears, and gives a clear indication of the belief-system behind it.

Posted in: Opinion