Dan Travis and Brendan O'Neill will look at how contemporary forms of state regulation and 'self-regulation' of our behaviour express a destructive distrust of adults, and impact profoundly on the democratic process.
Dan Travis will use examples from Brighton that has been a test ground for 'Lifestyle Bans' - restriction zones that formally attempt to improve social cohesion, but inherently increase mistrust and alienation. Brighton’s Labour council (and where the UK’s first Green Party MP has been elected) seem to be trying them out for Whitehall before rolling out nationally. Having campaigned against the Bans with the Manifesto Club, then co-founding the 'Free Brighton' group, Dan will show how initial bans on rap music escalated into bans on Flyering, then photography and then most dramatically, on booze.
Dan will then argue that these new forms of bans rely on excluding the public in any discussion of them, are difficult to challenge legally and most worryingly rely on the subjective interpretation of wrongdoing by the police and their proxy PCSO's. Ironically, the ban culture could be sowing the seeds of its own destruction though by creating opportunities to challenge them through poorly attended council meetings. Dan warns "The peculiarities, contradictions and often absurdity of the knee-jerk banning culture in Brighton need to be examined as it's coming to a City near you".
Brendan O'Neill will look at the problematic role played by 'self-regulation', a theme he's working on developing more extensively in his writing so will be looking to test out some of his ideas with his introduction and in the Salon discussion. Whilst there may be attempts by the state to introduce profoundly authoritarian approaches to controlling behaviour, there is an increasing mood to ask for regulation of our lives by people who may otherwise have opposed such intrusion in their lives.
Brendan will explore the context of a culture of fear and diminished subjectivity, focussing on initiatives like the bar in Oldham using old fashioned Post Office style queues managed by bouncers, for drink purchases with maximum sales of two drinks per person. These have been welcomed by significant numbers of people, though seem astonishing impositions to many older generations, though by no means across the board. There appears to be a trend away from demands for the police to stay out of people's social life like the ad hoc raves in empty warehouses of the 90's, toward demanding 'safe' venues in which young people can socialise. This discussion will try and explore in character and context what adult autonomy means today.
Dan Travis' introduction - click on the Play button:
Brendan O'Neill's introduction - click on the Play button:
Speakers' midway comments - click on the Play button:
Speakers' nearing summation comments - click on the Play button:
Note: Alas you had to be there for the audience discussion, and speakers' summation, as they weren't recorded.
Mark Iddon, regular attendee of Salon discussions, reflects on the discussion here:
Dan helped set the scene for the discussion by describing how Brighton, traditionally a very liberal and free town tolerant of people from a wide variety of views and lifestyles, had been introducing some rather draconian and restrictive bans of behavioural activity including the banning of playing legally available music, transporting legalling purchased alcohol through the streets and handing out commercial leaflets. Dan questions the validity of this consultation and is presently seeking, with the Brighton Salon, to challenge the ban with petitions from local people who object to being told what they can do and where in public places. This gave us a very practical image for us to think through how we might respond to similar bans in Manchester.
Brendan then rounded out the introductions noting that over the last 13 years of the 'New' Labour Government there had been an unprecedented increase in the regulation of public spaces, in a climate with a new dynamic towards self regulation. Alerting us to avoid the mistakes made by many civil liberties activists who have have railed against increasing state control, when the real threat to civil liberties is from an alienated public expressing misanthropy and distrust of our own sovereignty, with a government uneasy about it’s own leadership. A useful aspect of his introduction was the use of historical contrast between the American Bill of Rights introduced following a war of independence which stated the right to freedoms from the powers of the state, and the European Human Rights legislation which articulates a positive role for the state in protecting freedoms.
The discussion was lively from the start with strong and well argued challenges to the speakers' introductions coming initially from those with particular interest in the fields of law making and administration. This questioning was broadened to include how the discussion on how to define freedom and how to reconcile unfettered freedom with civil responsibilities and obligations.
The acceptance of such intrusions on our freedoms without any substantial resistance was questioned - such as bag and body checks when attending public events such as concerts. The smoking ban though, probably solicited the greatest passionate defence as a social good rather than an attack on freedoms and liberty of public life, forcing a clarification of where people stood and why that was somewhat missing from much of the discussion when the bans were brought in. The highlighting of smoker's addiction as a reason for introducing such bans for their own good provided an interesting example of how such bans are motivated.
Discussion about the CRB checks and the issuing of ASBOs for behaviours led to a fuller assessment of the way citizens increasing have to overcome an increasing presumption of guilt until you can show yourself harmless, and the impact this is having on the criminal process.
All in all this was a very provocative discussion about big political ideals and the consequences at a personal level of letting them be rubbished, and the need to take seriously the need to build an alternative movement for proponents of freedom by reclaiming the debate and politicising flashpoint issues.