I’ve been pondering the Arizona law and I’ve identified the part of it that bothers me the most, even over and above the inevitable racial profiling problem and the predictable identity-theft issue with requiring everyone to carry all their identifying documents with them at all times. Simply put, I think that when one has the right to do something or be somewhere, one has the corollary right to do so without harassment and without being constantly forced to prove the legitimacy of one’s actions. It is difficult to imagine how one could achieve life, liberty, or happiness otherwise.
An interesting concept I learned about as a freshman in college is the flaneur, a French term referring to the unseen observer. The flaneur and its feminine equivalent, the flaneuse, wandered through the urban landscapes of Paris anonymously, accompanied by no one, going nowhere in particular. We liked the idea and used to flaneuse around campus in groups of two or three (bending the rules slightly) until we knew it so intimately that we could no longer lose ourselves.
Conservatives and especially libertarians should appreciate this. There can be joy in anonymity. If one wants to be in a publicly accessible place, one should be able to be there without needing to prove either identity or purpose, especially not to the government. The government should stay out of peoples’ lives, right?
Time-wise, the intrusion may be insignificant, but challenges to the legitimacy of one’s rights are always unduly frustrating. I work at a museum, but I hardly ever visit the galleries, because the guards always harass me. Although my badge is plainly visible, they want to scrutinize it, as though I might have stolen someone else’s badge, and then they want an account of what I’m doing in the gallery, even though my badge grants me free admission and I don’t need a conservation-related reason for being there. I find that being accosted this way completely overshadows the pleasure of the gallery; indeed, even if no one stops me, I’m still antsy and defensive because I’m constantly expecting it. If I’m allowed to be in the galleries, I should be allowed to be in the galleries, no questions asked.
If I feel this way in a museum, which charges admission and is therefore available to a relatively select part of the population, how much more does it apply in public places, and particularly in the city, the flaneur‘s home territory. In the city, everyone is a stranger. Everyone has the right to anonymity–to walking alone with no ID, no destination, and no explanation for oneself because there is no need for one.
Arizona’s entire population has given up this right, and that is the part of the law that disturbs me the most.
Image from this lovely Flickr gallery.