Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peter Watts

Via cassiphone's Velvet Threads LJ . Many of you will have heard of the run in Canadian writer, Peter Watts, had with border control officials when trying to leave the US to return to Canada resulting in his being maced and arrested among other things. If not you can hear Watts describing the experience on this Sofanauts podcast. Towards the end Watts raises some interesting points about the reactions of the public to his arrest that I certainly found thought provoking.


Anonymous said...

It is. What thoughts did it provoke in you?

Imagine me said...

Sorry to be so long replying but I've been in hospital.
Watts articulated a lot of what I feel about the way we live in the last few minutes particularly when he was talking about some of the more moderate group who commented on his blog. These are the people who said he was an idiot because 'everybody knows border guards behave this way so you keep your head down and you don't make jokes because that's how you get through the system'. His point was that they recognised the injustice but he didn't play the way the system demanded so it was his fault.

It made me feel very uncomfortable because, of course, there is an implicit assumption that this made his appalling treatment in some way justified when it patently wasn't.

Another aspect is that 'everybody' doesn't know. By getting out of his car Peter Watts acted in a way that is the expected response in many countries while it may not be so in the US. Is it fair or even rational to expect every visitor to any country to know about every local custom? Does it mean that if I go as a tourist to visit any other country I have to spend some years trying to learn every obscure piece of customary behaviour? Of course not. The whole tourist industry would collapse but it seems a strange assumption that 'everybody' who visits the US would know this uniquely US custom.

What makes the whole incident even more bizarre is that he was leaving the US.

Would I have done what Watts did in the same situation? No. Should I? Should we all? It's a good question, isn't it?