No other way to be here

April 20, 2009 at 2:07 pm (Civil liberties, literature, Max Dunbar, Pornography)

roth1After going to a No2ID benefit the other night I was wondering exactly what it is about the prospect of having to carry an ID card that inspires such anger. After all it’s not necessarily the physical card itself but more the register that the card would be connected to that is so problematic.

That got me thinking about the idea that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. Have you ever read a more base and vicious and stupid slogan. It seems to go beyond the offence of banality to piss upon the fact of human complexity.

One of the many reasons I respect Nightjack the English Detective is that he did what so many bloggers do not do – he turned up, said his piece and got out. His blog is no longer updated but it is well worth reading this reflection on civil liberties in the light of the Jacqui Smith prono scandal. Emphasis is mine:

“Nothing to hide, nothing to worry about” really is a very, very stupid take on things, right up there with “No smoke without fire“. Nobody I know has nothing to hide. Nobody I know wants the government arranging for the blanket collection and analysis of the huge amounts of personal lifestyle data currently proposed. That’s nobody. Nobody at all.

That’s it. No one anyone knows has nothing to hide. We all have something to hide. Not necessarily something illegal, or immoral – but it is there. I wonder if Smith’s husband reflected on this after having his sorry little sin exposed to public derision. We all have things that are hidden and things that we fear.

And then I was rereading Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, a great book about secrets and the fantasy of purity, and I found this:

Nobody knows, Professor Roux. ‘Everyone knows’ is the invocation of the cliche and the beginning of the banalization of experience, and it’s the solemnity and the sense of authority that people have in voicing the cliche that’s so insufferable. What we know is that, in an uncliched way, nobody knows anything. You can’t know anything. The things you know you don’t know. Intention? Motive? Consequence? Meaning? All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.

The second sentence could easily apply to the ‘nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-fear’ cliche.

Roth goes on to say this:

That’s how it is – in her own dry way, that is all Faunia was telling the girl feeding the snake: we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen – there’s no other way to be here.

1 Comment

  1. Jim Denham said,

    It’s a great book; one of Roth’s best IMHO. Various critics have said that the “revelation” half-way through is predictable. Well, it wasn’t to me. I thoroughly recommend it as a brilliant, moving human story.

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