This piece originally appeared in my FLiCK Magazine column in June 2014.
I was recently informed that I would have to be more careful when throwing things out. This isn’t because I’ve been launching empty food packaging and used matchsticks across the room, and missing the bin. Nor is it because I have been piloting my wheelie bin so violently up and down the drive that I have received a ticket for dangerous driving whilst at the helm.
No, I have to be careful because I have occasionally thrown food waste into the general rubbish bin, rather than the special food waste bin - out of, I admit, laziness - and that I have now been ‘caught’ by the bin men. The bin men, it seems, have spotted food waste in the regular bin, and they are not happy about this; apparently, if you get ‘caught’ too many times, you may have to pay a fine.
Now, I would like to make it absolutely clear that I don’t have an issue with the concept of recycling, or of being careful with your rubbish for the sake of the environment. If you’re the sort of person who believes passionately in this stuff, then good for you - I really mean that. But I definitely do have an issue with the idea of being coerced into behaving in a certain way (in this case, an environmentally conscious way) either through threats or rewards.
The thought of agents of the state (the bin men are employed by the council) sifting through my rubbish to check up on whether I’m being a ‘good citizen’ is like something out of Stalinist Russia, and is frankly rather sinister.
Maybe you think I’m being melodramatic - that comparisons with totalitarian regimes are unnecessarily hyperbolic, bordering on preposterous. Perhaps you’d be right. But personally, I find the idea of anyone being legally allowed to invade my privacy, rifle through my things on my property and report to the state on how I am living (who can then levy ‘corrective’ punishments to encourage me to change my ‘behaviour’ if it is deemed not orthodoxy), like some kind of Securitate informer, deeply disturbing.
There will, I am sure, be those who argue that this self-important government interloping is ‘a price worth paying’ for a better, cleaner, more responsible society - but I’m afraid I cannot agree. The state should exist to protect individuals’ freedoms, not to ride roughshod over them in the name of one ideology or another, and this sort of invasion of privacy is something of which we should be very wary indeed, even in the name of a ‘good cause’ - in fact, especially in the name of a good cause. Once we accept one pretext for government making life choices for us, we are on very shaky ground indeed.
I don’t ever want to live in a world where the state is peering into our homes to makes sure we are living the ‘right way’. It may start with our bins - but where will it end?
We are the dead.
In the wake of new Tory proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act, and replace it with some bungling alternative, it becomes ever more important to make people aware of the growing reach of the oppressive arm of the state. Far from repealing the Human Rights Act, we need to enshrine more individual freedoms in law - including the freedom to dispose of our own property without the state rummaging though our bins to check what we've been up to. We could call this the Freedom Of Bin-formation Act.