New Skype chat, this time with Brigitte, who’s German and lives near Liverpool:
She talks a bit about post-war Germany. And post-smoking-ban Liverpool. And then about Romano Grieshaber, who ran a German cancer research institute.
Grieshaber had been gagged from speaking out while he was still in employment. But once he retired, he became highly vocal – about how bar workers in smoky bars got less cancer than most people, while kitchen workers got more. He even has his own blog, and I’ve written about him on several occasions: 1, 2, 3, 4. But the most remarkable thing that Brigitte had to say was that in the UK some people were gagged for life from speaking about their work.
I found that very disturbing.
When I was working as a computer programmer in the 1980s and 1990s I was required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement with several of the jobs I did. And it wasn’t as if I ever did any secret, military-type work. Most of the time I was just working on the firmware inside keyboards that translates key presses into messages to send to the attached computer, and respond to commands sent from the computer (e.g. Turn on the Caps Lock led).
I didn’t like signing these NDAs, but I needed the money, and I couldn’t imagine a circumstance where I would want to talk about some computer program that I’d long since forgotten everything about – certainly given that I can forget such things in days or weeks.
But all this gagging now seems to me to be part and parcel of a Political Correctness which is forever trying to ban free speech in one way or other, and prevent people using words like “nigger” and “queer” and so on, and of course stop them smoking cigarettes anywhere. It’s a world of multiplying bans. A world from which all freedoms are under attack. And in which everything is becoming secret, undercover, shadowy.
I can see a day coming when you’l have to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement if you want to buy a plate of steak and chips in a restaurant, or take a holiday in Barbados. And the effect of signing the NDA will be to prevent you from telling anyone what the steak or the holiday was like. You would be gagged from complaining if the steak was half-cooked, or the holiday hotel room had no bathroom. You would be silenced. And that’s what the point of NDAs is: to silence people.
It reminds me of the James Bond Secret Services that seem to be multiplying everywhere, in which everything is either Most Secret or Top Secret, and everyone who is a Secret Agent or spy is sworn to complete secrecy. And as these agencies expand, and their habitual secrecy extends outside them, their secret world eats the free world around them, the world they were supposed to protect.
I think we may need legislation that nullifies all Non-Disclosure Agreements (including all those signed in the so-called Secret Services), and requires that future NDAs only be signed if they are first ratified by some authority that agrees that the matter merits secrecy. That is to say that NDAs should be very, very difficult to impose on anyone.
For the world that I want is one in which people have the maximum amount of freedom to say and do what they like. But the world that our enemies in Tobacco Control and elsewhere seem to want is one in which people have the minimum amount of freedom to say and do what they like. And they are always working to take freedoms away, usually in the thinnest of salami slices.
The world they seem to want is a planned world, and a predictable world. And I increasingly think that all planning entails the negation of freedom, particularly when the planning entails making plans about what people will say or do. It seems perfectly okay for people to plan all sorts of things – for example when they design houses or roads or ships or computer programmes. But it seems completely NOT okay to make plans for how people should live inside those houses, or walk along those roads, or steer those ships. For the houses and roads and ships provide them with freedom. And any restraint on people always removes freedom.
I don’t mind if houses and roads and ships and computer programmes are planned, constrained, and predictable. But I don’t want people to be planned, constrained, and predictable as well. For I think that the whole point of having planned, constrained, and predictable houses and roads and ships is to allow people to be as free, spontaneous, and unpredictable as possible.