Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: We're the surveillance state

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Harry Potter arrived without fanfare.
Harry Potter arrived without fanfare.

Children in early-childhood education, ages 3 to 5, are to be given ID numbers.

It's not the fact of having a number that should concern us ... it's the compulsion and the reason for it. Given the only group of children who must compulsorily attend early-childhood education are those of beneficiaries, it is hard to see that it is aimed at anyone except them.

It leaves us asking: why? What is broken that this will fix?

With characteristic dissimulation, the Ministry of Social Development insists there is no need for concern. At the same time it won't rule out that these numbers could be used in the future to monitor how well parents are sticking to newly introduced "obligations" to seek work, which many believe are unworkable.

We have lots of numbers in our lives but most are voluntary. We choose to have a passport or a driver's licence. They are not assigned by the state, at an age when we've only just got the hang of flushing the toilet, simply because we exist and have disadvantaged parents.

This Government operates on the principle, if that's not too noble a word for it, that it is easier to marginalise beneficiaries than help them. It just wants them to go away.

Meanwhile, it will insist beneficiaries look for jobs that aren't there, without accepting an equivalent obligation to create jobs.

Many feel it's not the Government's job to make jobs but it has a part to play and it acknowledges this by paying someone to be Minister of Employment.

ID numbers for preschoolers are not something we should welcome, but, unfortunately, they are typical of the sort of thing we need to get used to in the surveillance state that we are becoming.

Literary hoaxes and pranks and cases of mistaken identity have a grand history. As an experiment, Nobel prizewinner Doris Lessing submitted novels under a pseudonym to her own publisher. They were turned down. Wags sent copies of V.S. Naipaul's Booker Prize-winning In a Free State, under another name, to a bunch of publishers who turned it down.

Many publishers also turned down The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, which has been revealed to be the work of J.K. Rowling.

Turning down books is what publishers do and a rejection is not always a reflection of a book's merit. So this is no reflection on their professional skills.

"It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name," said Rowling of the incident.

You can feel the relief, can't you? She must have been suffering terribly. But hard as I try, I can't summon up a lot of sympathy for the plight of the internationally popular, much-loved, happily married, mother-of-three gazillionaire writer.

Because "without hype or expectation" is how Rowling's first book entered the world - no one knew Harry Potter was going to be that Harry Potter when Philosopher's Stone was published.

For lightning to strike an unknown author once is wonderful; to expect it to happen a second time verges on greedy.

Royal baby special: I've done the math for you. If you're wondering whether you'll be around to see the latest heir to the throne sit on the throne, the answer is: probably not. Given the Windsor life expectancy and the state of modern medicine, we can assume the Queen, Charles and William will all hit 100 before moving on, and therefore young Boadicea or Merlin or whatever they've named it will not be crowned until 2082.

- Herald on Sunday

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