“Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men – as a whole – experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure… or nothing” – (Helen Keller)

Here’s a thought:

Fear + Stupid Rules = Systems that steal life rather than save it.

There’s a trend in our society and it started a few years ago.  Due to the high crime rate, entire neighbourhoods decided to close themselves in and create small, sub-communities or pockets of relative safety.

Myriads of streets that once offered access to a particular suburb were closed off and fenced in, leaving only one road open as an “access” road.  Wooden guard huts and boom gates were erected.  Electric palisade fencing and security systems were installed.  Poorly paid security guards manned the booms 24/7 and signed visitors in.

Visiting a friend who lived in a closed-off neighbourhood began to get more than just a little bit irksome.  You now had to enter through a security checkpoint.  You had to sign a visitors book – detailing the times and reasons for your visit.  Sometimes, security cameras would be installed and you’d need to press a button that would snap a mug-shot – before you were allowed to access the neighbourhood.

“Small price to pay for security”, many would say.

“We’d rather have the inconvenience than the security risk”, said others.

Ah.  Okay.  So that makes it alright, then.

Another (yawn-worthy) trend are the constant crops of newly built townhouse complexes that operate on the same system:  a single entrance.  A security guard.  A boom gate.  Security cameras… and a complex system where visitors are required to present everything short of a urine sample and a vile of blood to the guards manning the gate.

Sometimes, they have fingerprint scanners.

Other places employ different tactics.

A case in point:  I can no longer just ‘pop in’ for a visit with my dad. The security company that manages the massive housing complex where my father lives, will not allow me access to my father unless I agree to abide by a complex system of rules.

(smacks of prison to me).

If I want to visit Dad, I first have to phone him and book a date and time.  Then Dad needs to phone the security company and convey the details of who I am, when I’m visiting and how long I plan to visit.

The security company then enters the information on to their special security database and then they sms a special access code to my Dad.  He then sms’s the access code to me (each visitor gets a new code – every time they visit).  When I arrive at the enormous, gated entrance (with lots of cameras and lots of uniformed security guards)… I have to drive in to the visitor’s entrance, present my ID (which they scan along with the car’s registration sticker) and pin in my access code. If everything runs smoothly, they let me in.

(Did I mention that this smacks of prison?)

On the gasp of horror! occasion when I popped in to visit Dad without proper “security clearance” – I quickly realised that I was going to be having a very bad day.

They simply refused to let me in.

No code:  no entry.

Me:  “Listen… it’s my father.  His house is right over there.  I can SEE his house from here.  See that house with the big curved window?  That’s his house!  Please just phone him and he’ll arrange with you guys to let me in”.

Stony-faced guard:  “No.  The System doesn’t work like that.  We can’t phone.  YOU need to phone him and HE needs to phone US to arrange the access codes”.

Me:  “I don’t have my phone with me.  I can’t phone him.  I will give you his number.  Please just phone him.  I’m not a criminal!  I’m just here to visit my father!”

Stony-faced guard:  “Unfortunately Ma’am,  The System requires that you follow the rules”.

Me (getting flustered):  “Bugger The System!  I’m not a criminal and my father is not a prisoner!  I have been in this car for over an hour – and I am not driving all the way back home because you refuse to let me see my father!  Just phone the resident and he will tick all the boxes to make you guys happy!  Just contact the resident!”

Guard:  “Ma’am, I cannot do that.  The System requires…..”

(prison?  anyone…?)

Any System that is so hell-bent on following-the-rules that it prohibits any kind of common sense… logic… initiative… or plain old human decency is not helping us… it’s hurting us.

On Sunday, I endured a similar scenario that put me in the vilest of moods.

I had decided, on a whim, to visit Imagine (a group of thinkers who gather every Sunday morning to discuss everything from God… to life… to purpose… etc).  Imagine is hosted at Marcus and Emily’s home and I was in the mood for a meaty discussion.

Marcus and Emily also live in a gated complex (something similar to the one my father lives in).  Usually, this hasn’t posed too much of a problem.  Usually, we are stopped at the boom by the security guard.   He asks us for the house number of the resident we want to visit and he asks us to fill in a visitor’s form…  car registration number… cell phone number… our names… who we’re visiting… purpose of visit… time in… that kind of thing.

Once the form has been filled in, the guard then telephones Marcus and Emily and asks their permission to let us in.

Once permission has been granted, we are given a security access card (we will not be able to leave the property without handing the access card back to the guards).

The boom is lifted and we have permission to enter.

On Sunday – however – I arrived to find that a “New System” had been implemented.

“Drivers’ licence, please”, says the guard (who is carrying a spanking new wireless fingerprint scanner)

“I don’t have my drivers’ licence”, I say, already feeling my blood rising.  I absolutely loathe being assumed guilty and treated like a potential criminal – just because I want to be social.  I’m here to visit a friend – not here to be profiled and printed!

(and I wonder – is it even legal for any random citizen to demand to see my drivers’ licence in the first place?  Isn’t it only government law officials or border patrol people who are allowed to do this?  Do randomly employed security companies even have the right to demand official identity documents – or anything of that nature – from me?)

“No drivers’ licence, no entry” dead-pans the guard.

“Since when?”  I demand, “I have visited this place on many, many occasions and I have always entered without a hassle.  Now all of a sudden, you refuse to let me in?  Because of some new rule?”

“We have implemented a New System”, replies the guard, “We now require a drivers’ licence and a fingerprint scan”.

“Well, I don’t have my drivers’ licence with me and I’m not driving all the way back home!  It’s a 30 minute drive away and I’m already late for our meeting.  I’ve not wasted my time and come here for nothing”.

(I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I usually do everything in my power to avoid conflict.  But there is a… rage… inside of me that boils to the surface in situations like these).

The guard disappears back in to the guard house to consult with another guard.  Eventually, he returns.

“We will accept an ID book if you don’t have your driver’s licence”.

“I don’t have my ID book with me either.  I don’t have anything with me.  I don’t have my bag, my phone, my ID documents.  It was a spur of the moment decision to come.  I have my car… and I have myself.  Now, please let me in, I’m already late”.

The guard is unmoved.

“Then we can’t let you in”, he says.

“Well, then I’m not moving from this spot”, I announce (my car has blocked the single Visitor’s Entrance).  “Any other visitor to this complex will have to wait for my issue to be resolved before it’s possible for them to enter”.

(I have quite a stubborn streak – and especially when I’m angry).

The guard seems unsure of what to do next.

“Why don’t you phone the owner of the house and tell him that you have his guest sitting outside of the gate and that you’re refusing to let me in”, I suggest.

“All residents were made aware of the New System”, he answers defensively.

“I’m sure they were.  But I – as a regular visitor – was not made aware of the New System.  Phone the resident and tell him that I’m here.  Your New System is designed to prevent criminals from entering the property.  I can assure you that I’m not a criminal.  The resident will be able to confirm this with you”.

The guard disappears into the guard house again, and returns.

“We are not allowed to phone the resident at 1040”, he says.

“Yes – because he’s having a meeting!  The meeting that I am now late for! Trust me, the resident at 1040 will want to be informed of this situation”

Again, the guard goes off to consult with his colleagues.  He returns after a few minutes.  By now, I am steaming with irritation.

“We tried to phone the resident, but his phone is on voice-mail”, says the guard (clearly tiring of me as much as I’m tiring of him).

“Okay.  Then I will wait.  Right here”, I announce stubbornly.

The guard is starting to get a bit flustered himself.  He disappears inside and returns about 5 minutes later.

“We have contacted the resident.  She is coming to let you in”.

A few minutes later, Emily drives up (from the inside of the complex) in her car.  She chats to the guard.  He tells her that The System will not allow her to let me in with her key – she needs to return to her house and collect the spare key and let me in with that.

Emily drives away and returns a couple of minutes later with the spare key (containing a magnetic access thingy).  Finally – I can get in.

Emily and Marcus are terribly apologetic about The New System.  Apparently, there had been a lot of theft (inside the guarded, electrified property) in SPITE of all the security measures in place.  People were still gasp! being robbed!

Hence… The New System being employed as a means to (hopefully) eradicate the crime for once and for all.

Nice one.

Except for a couple of things.

It’s a community of people!  Lots of people!  In lots of homes… inside one, big, electric-fenced property.  The home-owners come and go… their children come and go… their friends and their children’s friends come and go… their tenants come and go… their staff come and go… their building contractors and pool repair men and plumbers and electricians come and go…  how – on earth – do you “control” all of those people?

If someone is intent on stealing – they’re going to steal.  Short of installing a tracking device on every single person (home-owners included) who enter and exit the property – how on earth do you plan to ‘control’ everyone?

US vs THEM

I also take issue with this “us” and “them” idea…  the thought that the “us” (the Residents of this Gated Community) are the “good guys”… the law abiding citizens who don’t steal other people’s stuff or do bad things.  It’s the “them” – out there – on the outside – who are the baddies… who want to break in to our “safe” complex and do bad things to us.

But the fact is… until humanity (in general) learns to play nice and not take stuff that doesn’t belong to them… you will always have crime (yes!  even IN your “secure”, gated neighbourhood!).   As long as any country has an unacceptably high level of poverty or unemployment – there will be crime.  As long as there’s drugs and alcohol – there will be crime.

Gated communities don’t make “safe” communities… they just make… GATED communities.  You can’t simply assume that the 2000 people you share a neighbourhood with are “the good guys” because you all live in the same gated complex.  For all you know…  your tenant could have stolen the microwave oven out of the garage…  and your pool repair guy could have lifted your laptop…. and your drug-addicted son could have broken in to your elderly neighbour’s home and stolen her pearls… and the wealthy guy in the mansion next door could be a drug lord.

The idea that the hundreds of residents INSIDE the gated community are all innocent, law-abiding citizens – and that it’s the criminals OUTSIDE that one needs to worry about – is just… silly.

Another case in point:

In spite of employing a gestapo security unit (who do a great job at pissing off visiting family members)… my father reports that there’s still a fair amount of thieving and criminal behaviour going on inside his housing complex.  There were a few cases of addicts (stealing from the neighbours in order to get their hands on more drugs)… and also a number of staff thefts, building contractor thefts… domestic violence… drunken people beating up other people… you know – the usual stuff that happens outside the complex too!

I’m still surprised at how shocked and surprised people are when this happens.  If something is stolen, or someone is hurt – they usually say:  “Oh, it must be an inside job”.

Meaning what?

That one of the “good guys” from the “inside” turned bad and invited one of the “bad guys” from the “outside” in to the inside?

Because… heavens, no!  The rapist… the addict… the crime boss… don’t live in OUR safe, gated communities…  they live “out there”…

sigh

Good friends of ours live in a closed-in suburb.  Just the other day, they had someone trying to crow-bar the back door open.  Closing in the suburb has clearly not closed-out the criminals.

And I’m genuinely surprised as to how many people assume that it will.

Nick’s parents also live in a closed-in suburb.  Ironically, they’ve experienced more theft (since the suburb has been closed in) than before (when it wasn’t).  Nick’s dad had his camera, cell phone and GPS stolen out of his car while it was parked in the driveway.  A few months ago, someone broke in to their living room and swiped the laptop too (while Nick’s parents were napping upstairs).

Clearly… the supposedly “secure” suburb – with the electric fencing, the boomed entrance, the guards and the security cameras – isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

Or maybe it’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do.

It’s designed to calm our fears.  It makes the residents “feel” secure.  It gives residents that warm and fuzzy safe feeling… and allows them to sleep better at night.

And isn’t that what we pay for?

The “feeling” of safeness…  that “sense” of security?

It’s nice to feel safe and secure.  It’s a lovely feeling.  I won’t deny it.  But the truth is… it’s just a FEELING.

This crazy, beautiful life is full of risks.  Every time you get in to your car – you risk dying or getting maimed in an accident.  In fact, the probability of you dying in your car… on your way home from work… is far higher than having a random criminal knife you in the back (but most of us don’t even think twice before we get in the car).

But we fear… the criminals… we fear… the crime… we fear, we fear, we fear!

And we segregate ourselves… we wall ourselves in – like prisoners in our own homes.  We separate ourselves from “the other”… from “the outsiders”.

We implement systems designed to protect us – but what they really do is isolate us.

And for what?

A “sense” of security?  A “feeling” of being safe?  A “hope” that we won’t be knifed to death while we sleep?

What a miserable way to live.

Life is a beautiful, precious gift.  Relationships are precious.  People are precious… and most people are good.

We don’t need to be building more walls… we need to be tearing them down!  

We need to be reaching out to neighbours, family, friends (and communities that are different to ours) – not isolating ourselves from them!

To coin a phase from the Free-Range Kids movement:  “All the fear in the world doesn’t prevent death.  It prevents life”.

Disclaimer:

No offence intended to anyone living in a gated community of any kind.  I understand that it’s become a large part of our South African culture – and most people live that way now.  I just find it a pity….