Our Snitching Society

Our favorite part of this job is getting to know readers. So when we read Jim Anderson's letter to the editor, we phoned him.

Anderson, of Churchton, worries about the proliferation of 1-800 numbers for people to alert authorities to petty crimes. He observed that we have snitch lines to turn in people with out-of-state tags; to turn in merchants selling cigarettes to minors; and now to turn in "water poachers."

"I don't think this anonymous phone calling is healthy for neighborhoods," Anderson said by phone. "Maybe it's because we're so transient, but people don't even know their neighbors anymore. Thirty years ago, if you had a problem with your neighbors, you'd just go talk to them."

We agree.

We live in a climate of growing mistrust that does not contribute to the public good. We are conditioned to view one another as gun violators, drug-takers, child-abusers and worse, and then urged to get on the phone or the Internet and expose one another. We even know of two recent cases, one locally, in which children turned in their parents.

Our tendency is to over-react rather than to calmly analyze. On television we watch the horrors of isolated classroom shootings. But rather than take time to understand statistics showing a decline in school violence, we demand metal detectors, searches and Draconian security.

Same with drugs. In the face of declining usage across the board, many employers and school districts demand testing that threatens constitutional rights against self-incrimination. These are the same rights we sacrifice when we condone random roadblocks looking for drinkers and who knows what.

While citizen turns against citizen, the sorts of Big Brother technologies George Orwell anticipated in 1984 take us in their grip. Seldom do we challenge the corporations that amass information on our credit and even our medical histories and then sell it. We're observed by remote cameras and even satellites looking for infractions.

We just read about a new French technology that empowers a satellite to monitor the movements and the catches of hundreds of boats in a single body of water. How long before it's recommended for use in Chesapeake Bay?

For the past few years, we've eaten food genetically modified for production ease without demanding labels that would notify us when companies monkey with the building blocks of life. Unlike us, the Europeans and Japanese have demanded a choice in what they eat.

With so many forces closing in on us, perhaps we ought to think about sticking together rather than turning one another in. Maybe there's something to be said for introducing ourselves to the new family at the end of the block rather than seeking distant carbon copies of ourselves in Internet chat rooms.

We liked the kicker of Jim Anderson's letter. "There's not much I can do about our leaders' pursuit of petty criminals," he wrote. "But as for me, they will have to do without me. I will not inform on my neighbors."

| Issue 35 |

Volume VII Number 35
September 2-8, 1999
New Bay Times

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