The snitch next door: when is it OK to dob on your neighbours for breaking lockdown rules? | Eleanor Robertson

, The snitch next door: when is it OK to dob on your neighbours for breaking lockdown rules? | Eleanor Robertson, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

Dear Agony Aunt,

My neighbours had visitors in lockdown and I’m torn about whether to report them to authorities for breaking the rules. When is it OK to dob?

If you’d asked me this at any time before last week I would’ve said “probably never”, because I’m a millennial socialist with dim views of the police and anyone performing a social role adjacent to the police. (This includes “bad, mean pretend cops” like train cops, mall cops, council rangers and the old bloke in my apartment building who yelled at me for losing my key to the entrance door last year; and “good, nice pretend cops” like nurses, social workers, kindergarten teachers and basically anyone who wears both a cardigan and a lanyard to work. I’ve read Foucault, you can’t fool me.)

Anyway, that’s what I would’ve said: probably never. The injunction to dob those around you in to the forces of the state, to take up the role of curtain-twitching Neighbourhood Watch busybody, appeals mostly to people with an already-enlarged Snitch Gland in their brains.

There’s no need for you to sit around trying to reach reflective equilibrium on the precise circumstances in which it’s ethically permissible to dob on people, because if you’ve hesitated long enough to think about it, one of these natural-born snitches will already have sprinted to their phone and dialled 000 while you’re still sat there puzzling it out.

“Hello emergency, police fire or ambulance?”

“Hello? HELLO???? My name is Winifred Teacosy, I live at 69 Grassup Street and I’ve just seen a young person, POSSIBLY A HOOLIGAN, performing BMX stunts in the BP car park opposite the florist, with their mask not covering their nose. Please send all available units immediately!!!”

You snooze, you lose. Winifred already has the ombudsman on the other line, ready to rat the police out to the police police for using inadequate force while arresting a primary school kid popping a wheelie.

The question is not, “When is it all right to dob on people breaking the rules”, the question is, “What is the density of enthusiastic snitches one society can reasonably accomodate before the social trust necessary to raise children from birth to independence disintegrates.”

Sydney could very well be on its way to answering this question during the current lockdown.

Having said that, it’s not actually a Snitch Gland that turns people into snitches: it’s ressentiment, a feeling of rage and shame at one’s own powerlessness or failure that is so overwhelming that it must be assigned to a third party, an imagined enemy: a little scapegoat, if you will.

I know the power of this feeling, because it turned me into a snitch for a spell. Only in my own mind, but still – this is why I mentioned my personal feelings about cops in the intro up there; so you can see how powerful ressentiment is, how it turns us into the opposite of our own ideal selves.

My personal snitch moment was the 13 Dragons players (I hate the Dragons) gathering for a party at Paul Vaughan’s home in Shellharbour. When I read the story, my blood pressure shot up. My Snitch Gland started pulsating like a black hole in space. I immediately had a powerful fantasy of living in Shellharbour (I hate Shellharbour) across the street from Paul Vaughan’s house, of the sweet satisfaction I would’ve gotten from phoning the Lake Illawarra LAC and reporting this illicit little gathering, watching the squad cars roll up, seeing all those Dragons get their $1,000 PINs.

Serves them right, I would say to myself, in a tone so supercilious it would immediately give me insulin resistance. Putting people in danger like that. How could they.

, The snitch next door: when is it OK to dob on your neighbours for breaking lockdown rules? | Eleanor Robertson, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

So now I can’t just say, “It’s probably never OK to dob people in for breaking lockdown restrictions”, because that wouldn’t be honest.

My answer is: it’s never OK to dob people in, unless you really hate them, and they really piss you off, and they’re bad people who deserve to have bad things happen to them. Oh, but shit: that’s exactly what Winifred Teacosy was doing. It’s just that seeing 12-year-olds on bikes is what triggers her impotent rage, whereas for me it’s dickhead NRL players. That, and they were having a good time.

There’s the real ressentiment Snitch Gland trigger event: seeing people you don’t like breaking the rules. If you see people you do like bending a few rules, you generally think to yourself, “Oooooh naughty, bit naughty isn’t it, I guess it will be fine though won’t it, they probably have a good excuse.”

And when you break the rules – when, not if – that’s what you’ll hope people are going to think to themselves, rather than immediately dobbing you in.

So if we’re all snitches now, if snitching is what’s going on, then don’t snitch on your neighbours – you’re going to need them to like you so they don’t snitch on you when your turn comes around.

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