We all know the type. Dress a man in a hi-vis vest, armed with a clipboard and a biro, and you’ve just built yourself a mini tyrant. You’ve licensed a tiny authoritarian to impose the rules verbatim, as he sees fit, no matter the context or circumstances. It’s worrying how humans slip into this mode with such ease.
One of the most famous psychological experiments of all time proves the point. You remember. The Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971 divided students into two groups: the guards and the prisoners. The guinea pigs embraced their roles so enthusiastically that after just twenty four hours (of a two week experiment) prisoners were forced to sleep naked on concrete floors and defecate into a communal bucket. On the second day (ffs!) the ‘guards’ volunteered to help attack the barricading ‘prisoners’ with fire extinguishers. Experts reckoned that a third of the ‘guards’ exhibited genuine sadistic tendencies. The two week long experiment was halted after six days.
Or take the equally famous Milgram Experiment where randomly selected subjects willingly administered 450 volt shocks to invisible, loudly squealing victims. Nice work.
So, were these experiments artificially skewed by an unfortunate selection of innate sadists? Were these people plucked from the streets inherently wicked? Probably not. The only realistic conclusion is that there is a mini tyrant in many, if not all, of us.
This pandemic has created the perfect petri dish in which tyrants can flourish. Both Karens and Kevins have been beckoned out from behind their twitching curtains onto the streets to help us lesser mortals toe the line. Finally, they have their moment. They can instruct us to wait behind the yellow line, order us to sanitise appropriately and force us to adjust our masks in accordance with regulations. Karen and Kevin are in charge now, and don’t you forget it. They control who comes in and out, and if you dare engage in any eye-rollery, expect to be turned away sharpish.
This pandemic is not a joke. Millions are dying you cynical, heartless bastard. They are only doing their job, you understand. All is explained at the top of their imaginary license, which reads “for the greater good”. Those key words that unlock so much needless cruelty.
We’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of tyranny in our daily lives. The receptionist at the local council offices, the occasional post office worker and not forgetting the legions that work in airport security. But in a funny sort of way, these traditional MTs represent a kind of charming throwback from simpler times. A hangover from the days of Arthur Scargill, or Peter Sellers in ‘I’m Alright Jack’. The low level hum of authoritarianism was not only limited and manageable, but actually rather reassuring. Today however, with the promise of Covid Marshalls and governments encouraging neighbours to snitch on children’s birthday parties, it’s clear a torrent of totalitarians are about to be unleashed on us. And perhaps most concerning of all, they’ll be at the frontline of retail and hospitality.
It was only a year ago that the hospitality sector was threatened with the prospect of robots taking all their jobs. Now that we’ve seen those off, the last thing we need is humans emulating them.
Have a nice day.
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