The Baying of the Hounds
Headspace: How the state is leading us by the nose
Book extract Today marks the publication of Headspace - Reg contributor Amber Marks's exploration of how the state and private sectors are trying to exploit the science of smell to watch and control citizens.
Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing exclusive extracts from the book, which is published by Virgin Books and available here.
Today we present Chapter 1 "The Baying of the Hounds":
The first time I was sniffed by a dog I was seven. I entered a room full of grown ups and someone's dog headed straight for my crotch, stuck its nose up between my legs and sniffed. It then wrapped its paws around my leg and started to hump me so hard I fell to the floor. It was my first sexual experience. It was un-consensual and took me by surprise. I blamed myself.
Smell has historical associations with sin, which may be why the experience of being sniffed is unnerving. Patrick Süskind sums up its invasiveness in his novel about a freak of nature called Grenouille who hunts down his victims by their scent and murders them to preserve their human essence for his personal perfume collection. The novel begins when Grenouille is a baby. A priest is cradling Grenouille in his arms, when he wrinkles his little nose:
It was establishing his scent! And all at once he felt as if he stank ... The child seemed to be smelling right through his skin, into his innards. His most tender emotions, his filthiest thoughts lay exposed to that greedy little nose...
The first time the police dog penetrated my consciousness was when I was working as a barrister in connection with a liquor licensing application. It was traditional for licensing sessions to begin with an address to the magistrates by a representative of the area's police force on its latest initiatives. I was sitting on the bench waiting for the officer to finish before I could make my application.
"We will be taking police sniffer dogs around pubs and clubs in the area to detect drug users on the premises," he stated proudly.
The announcement of this initiative surprised and unnerved me. The 'British Pub' would take on a different character with police dogs sniffing around the feet of those relaxing with friends after a night of debauchery. Had dope smokers lost the right to drink? I made a note to research this initiative.
I might have forgotten this incident had further encounters not swiftly followed.
Walking into Fulham Broadway underground station, I saw officers holding dogs on leashes, encouraging them to sniff the crotches of passing commuters. I approached one of the policemen and asked him what was the purpose of this operation.
"I can't say."
Luckily, I was wearing a suit and I apologised for my curiosity, explaining that I was a lawyer with a professional interest in crime. He looked at me with something approaching interest.
"Well, you know that most crime is caused by drugs?"
"Yes," I lied and nodded.
Artificial affinity had been achieved.
But surely all laws are essentially arbitrary; regardless of whether or not you buy into any of the various God/Gods theories?
Whilst at any given time there are indeed a number of common legal threads that self-evidently cut across different countries and cultures (perhaps reflecting a universal humanity or our evolutionary roots); there are multitudes of other laws spread throughout the globe, all quite different and utterly culturally idiosyncratic, often dramatically so.
Judging by the numerous Register postings, it seems many here are in favour of decriminalising cannabis and clearly find our existing laws quite incredulous and nonsensical – but don’t forget this view is an entirely cultural perspective and a relatively recent one at that (I’m talking decades here). It does not follow that there is any empirical ‘truth’ in this viewpoint, no more so than abortion is always wrong and that the rich should pay a higher percentage of tax – such is the nature of ‘popular opinion’.
It’s a fair rule of thumb that only liberal democracies tend to resort to consensus in establishing their legal frameworks – at least nominally they do. Much of the world still depends upon scripture and religious dogma for their laws; and in such cases the actual natural occurrence and/or health considerations of many substances are utterly irrelevant. Indeed, there are a good many other natural occurring substances that are quite damaging, fatal even, and they don’t necessarily attract any form of legal classification or control whatsoever.
We know that nothing will ever be said or done to persuade strict Islamic countries to OFFICIALLY condone the use of compound interest or loans for profit (at least for their own people), let alone the use of alcohol or recreational drugs. I have Muslim acquaintances that universally regard the use of cannabis as self-evidently depraved, indefensible and clear evidence of Western moral and cultural bankruptcy. And who’s to say that they’re wrong? …. because they don’t just think they’re right, they absolutely ‘know’ they are - beyond any reasonable doubt!
Yes of course there is a certain hypocrisy in this, but after a little reflection you’ll see that we’re not much better here the West in the hypocrisy stakes. I don’t believe the crime of murder was ever repealed as such under the 3rd Reich yet they didn’t do a bad job at establishing a legal and cultural framework that effectively legitimised murder for certain ‘categories of people’. Similarly, slavery was once a relatively unquestioned and an ecclesiastically endorsed condition in this country. The point is, at different times and from different perspectives, all these viewpoints were regarded as right and proper, such are the shifting sands of cultural givens.
The point I am trying to make is that, in reality, all laws are man made and, as such, can all be regarded as potentially flawed and often unnecessary. It is for each independent legislature to decide if their particular laws are utterly sacrosanct or at least open to the possibility of modification. If they are, and you live in the West, then you at least have the potential for instigating change at your disposal and this is sometimes called politics, another alternative strategy is called anarchy and its for you to choose which path to follow.
In the meantime, laws exists and you have little choice but to accept that whilst you are at liberty to transgress them, you do so at your peril; for the wheels of peaceful change can turn very slowly indeed.
Hmm, once again I appear to have gone off on one ...... it must be this weed!
...the unsupported and unpleasant concept that people of different races smell different, when a rather simpler explanation exists - dogs can see, can't they?
Just finished reading and I have to say I was glad I bought this book.
Some very good points were made about the use of false-positives as a license to search, and also about the character and attitudes of those who push for ever increasing use of surveillance on the general population.
Might I also add (as others have posted above..) that if Amber is ever in the midlands it's safe to say she's pulled! :-)