The Rise and Sprawl of the Security Industry
I recently saw a presentation that contained a list of the five most common jobs people are being recruited to in York at the moment. Admin and Hospitality & Catering were no surprise, Retail seems to have picked up and I think IT support was on the list, all of which are pretty morally neutral. Half way through the list was “Security”, a worrying if not totally surprising revelation.
One might argue (as a friend did) that being in a recession makes this an inevitability; crime goes up a bit, fear of crime goes up a lot, those with companies that can still afford such people hire security to protect their assets. But it still worries me.
After all, the growth now might be based on some actual foundations to the fear, but we know that industries are self-promoting, and will do so through creating an atmosphere of fear, be that fear of rejection or fear of crime. Essentially, a security firm markets itself through creation of paranoia, through reminding everyone that no one is to be trusted.
Also, they provide a right-wing reactionary non-solution to crime that allows one to absolve oneself of responsibility; you can hire as many security guards as you want during a recession, but that won’t solve the problem of people needing to commit crime to feed and clothe themselves and their family, surely the main reason crime increases in a recession.
And so an introspection, a “look out for number one” attitude, develops. If we are faced by a collapse in societal trust, it is perhaps as much because of security companies trying to generate a market for themselves as it is people turning to crime or even family breakdown. We use security as a means of insulating ourselves from one another and each other’s needs, as if somehow we have a right to say “not my problem” to everything else going on in the world.
Whether “Property is Theft” or not is a moot point; Property as an obsession is harmful to the owners well being, let alone the rest of society’s. My biggest concern is that this is a trend which is unlikely to reverse upon an economic recovery. Its hard to see business owners suddenly deciding to step down their security arrangements once they have become normalised during these hard times, instead viewing outsiders as potential threats, sinking ever more into mindset of “trust no one”.
Added to this, we have the police aims to devolve certain powers to registered security personnel whom they deem to be of use in fighting or preventing crime. But who monitors the use of such powers? Is it OK to set up a private police service, charge the shops in a town to be covered by it, and then get special powers off the police? Or does this massively breach the limits of private power? At the end of the day, isn’t a private security company basically a glorified, sanitised and essentially normalised, mercenary brigade?
In South Africa we see exactly where this paranoia has led, with walled communities that allow domestic servants in and out to work, but perform body searches on them to prevent theft, and then shut everyone except the elite few out. This enforced separation, physical in its set up, becomes a kind of structural violence, an aid to disowning one’s neighbour.
If the security industry is on the rise, then we have few options. One is to challenge new measures designed to hand over law-enforcement powers to private companies. Another is to work to change attitudes, to remind people of the goodness of each other, and our responsibility to look after each other, to show solidarity to those who aren’t as fortunate as ourselves. Either way we cannot allow ourselves as a society to be so completely hemmed in by our concern for our possessions as to live in fear of one another, for that really would be a break down in society.