The eight-year-old me looked up from her exercise book. All the children’s eyes, and now mine too, had turned towards the adult at the front of the class.
“WHO FARTED?” the teacher repeated. “Own up.” At the ensuing silence, he added, “If nobody owns up, then you will ALL stay in during playtime.”
On that sunny day in 1972, I learned a valuable lesson of human existence. No matter how much of a goody-two-shoes you personally are, one bad apple can spoil the societal barrel. Losing fifteen minutes of precious freedom because of a boy’s stinky bum, made my own cheeks burn with injustice.
I often think about that loose-bottomed, yet tight-lipped, classmate. How, in order to mitigate for society’s bad apples, we’ve created punitive systems bristling with legislation by which we all have to abide. We’ve adopted conventions and structures to guide; yet also to control and monitor. Laws are added to, never relaxed or deleted. Inciting the grip of authoritarianism to tighten, those rotten fruit spoil it for everyone.
Take, for example, bollards. They only exist because somewhen someone parked somewhere they shouldn’t. Adjacent to Newport’s Quay Arts is a tiny triangle of concrete. I like to imagine that it was once a valuable patch of urban wildlife; maybe a scrap of grass or even municipal floral planting. And then someone parked on it. In response, it was paved; criss-crossed with prohibiting yellow paint. Cars continued to roost there, so bollards sprung up to prevent incursion from ever happening again. That micro-habitat disappeared; the triangle is sterile – and we are all losers.
To wildly extrapolate my point, what if instead of blowing off, the boy was blowing up. It’s been over twenty years since the Twin Towers collapsed as the result of an airborne terrorist attack – with the needless violent deaths of over two thousand people – yet still airport security systems process travellers as if the risk of mid-flight sabotage has never been higher.
One (thankfully) unsuccessful shoe bomber results in two decades worth of holidaymakers having to present their footwear for inspection. In 2006, plotters primed soft drinks bottles as bombs. They were arrested following surveillance, not via airport security – yet subsequently, all our toiletries must be bagged and visible for scrutiny; any liquids over 100ml, ‘surrendered’.
Instead of a pleasant and relaxed start to a flight, travellers are corralled; shuffling in untidy lines towards an undignified search and potential evisceration of their neatly-packed suitcases. X-rayed, scanned, examined – all in stockinged feet. It is horribly reductive. Any aberration and you fail the selection; waved to the other line for a bonus electronic pat-down.
If it’s subjugation attackers were hoping to achieve, it has been delivered with the help of our own counter-terrorism legislation. Surely this wretched process is a disproportionate sledgehammer to crack a nutter. Airport security has to be the ultimate example of how a miniscule minority spoil things for the rest of us.
A boy farts in class and we all get punished.