Barbie Queues

Hot on the heels of my recent concerns about the surrender of rights comes a story from Coventry where a 20-strong barbecue was dispersed by police whose decisive stroke was to overturn the barbie with a sharp dig to the ribs (crispy pork, of course).

Perhaps they’d heard that the burgers needed flipping?

Now, if this had happened in a week’s time (like this Fry-day), we wouldn’t be questioning the legitimacy of the dispersal. Enforcement using powers approved by law. One for us all to relish. As it stands though, this may have been the thin end of the wedge (and not of the deliciously comforting potato variety).

Now whether upturning the barbecue would be seen as a proportionate response, well that’s another question. Perhaps an errant banger spat at one of the attendant constables who, already on a roll, proceeded to restrain it with reasonable force. I’m sure they didn’t relish it, but duty calls. Whatever went down, it will be there in the incident report.

Of course, those responsible for this griller warfare might have become unruly, brandishing their silicone spatulas, thus creating a public order offence. Then it would all have become much more straightforward with a cheeky little Section 4, Public Order. But were that the case, I’m sure the Chief Constable would have made it clear in his tweet.

As it was, he deemed the actions of his officers worthy of the thumbs-up, lauding it all as ‘good pragmatic bobbying’, which I guess is an appeal to common sense and our nostalgia for a no-nonsense approach to nonsense.

Well, ok. A clip round the ear from the Super may have worked when Winker Watson was scrumping apples in 1950, but the world has changed.

Now, an impromptu rare-up over a hot-dog (even with the superbly British commentary that ‘officers followed the scent’ to the scene) is not going merit cause for too much concern. Setting common sense, best intentions, and frustrations aside, my query is rather a matter of legal technicality.

Powers are given in accordance with law, and the law is the law. It’s not about magical thinking or ‘who knows best’. It’s not about the means justifying the end. As a rule of thumb, those who those who act outside the law, even with the best of intentions, act as vigilantes.

While this may be a matter of timing in anticipation of a law that is being rushed onto the books, The Coronavirus Act is at present merely theory. Smoking in a pub at 11.55pm on 30th June 2007 would have been perfectly legitimate. Sparking up at 5 minutes later at midnight on 1st July 2007 would have been an offence.

First smoke: perfectly legal and no lawful action. Second smoke: ordered to leave the pub with fixed penalty in pocket. But whether it would have been lawful to have crunched the rest of the packet and binned them is highly debatable. Until it becomes law, it isn’t law. And that’s the beginning, the middle and the end of it. The means justifying the end philosophy doesn’t cut the mustard, even if people are sloshing about on a bed of crispy salad and rocket.

Now, the circumstances of this are fairly petty other than some bruised ribs (and I refer only to the ones that fell from the grill). It’s not about undermining the police but about identifying microcosms and what is to come. I am sure that in the event of any formal complaint, some seasoned old Sarge will apply sage ministrations after a quick grilling of the bobbies concerned.

I’m more intrigued by the underlying thought processes at work within this new and emerging context than by a five-spiced, sticky pork rib hitting the gravel for the delectation of a hovering black Labrador.

In time of crisis, we surrender our rights and allow others to wield new powers without challenge. That’s a peak hot potato in its own right. What is even hotter to handle is that when we do this, we shouldn’t expect them to be rolled back once the dust has settled. It’s a potentially dangerous slide.

Segueing with the barbie leitmotif, the age of acquiescence now dovetails with that of the self-righteous Barbie Dolls who sit behind their screens, hopping onto the instantaneous spit-exchange platforms of social media to ride the slipstream of whatever crisis or outrage prevails. Everything is geared towards the promotion of their own ideal in a desperate lunge for the approbation of others so they can be someone.

In this example, when I questioned the legitimacy of the flipping frenzy, I was asked, ‘Are you for real?’ Another wag suggested that I might be a ‘do-gooder‘. All for simply questioning whether it is legitimate for police officers to exercise force on a matter where there is no (current) jurisdiction.

Burger me, who’d have thunk it?

I should have realised that facts no longer matter in this society, but these perfect all-knowing concept Barbies can hardly contain themselves because these are opportunities. Opportunities for self-definition. But their disregard for the foundation stones of fact (in this case the law) and potential rationales and their retreat to wholly emotional responses simply add to the momentum of a tidal wave of post-fact nonsense that influences a critical mass in society.

And in turn, it’s changing everything. We’re not just talking about fake news, but fake debates, fake people, and fake opinion. The mayhem (of our own making) surrounding this bug is playing a humungous role in eroding our already significantly impaired ability to rationalise, analyse and judge.

This isn’t about criticising the officers concerned. They’re doubtless virtuous public servants in the thick of it, who will continue to be called in to deal with the worst of the worst under increasingly challenging circumstances. It’s about another example where panic, pressure and responsibility will push us outside the parameters, checks & balances that keep us all on the straight and narrow. Not just with regard to the law but concerning the moral and community fabric that holds us all together.

From a community perspective, we’re only seeing the tip of iceberg from the bridge of our own little Titanic. And the police are going to have enough trouble as it is, wading through the swathes of mobile phone footage of people walking in the park twice in one day, or shopping for ‘non-essentials’. Just as the Brexit division has subsided, we will now see the Barbies lining up to appropriate the virus, and to use it as a means to virtue-signal their way to approbation.

It’s all going to get very nasty way before any of us start coughing up phlegm, or indeed our gravelly burgers.

In the meantime, our sweating hands will further lose their grip on what is right or wrong. The world we re-discover when the pause button is released in however months’ time will reveal irretrievable change that we never even glimpsed emerging. Remember when we woke up to Brexit?

D’ye no ken?

unsplash-logoPaul Hermann

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