Sunday, May 14, 2006

The correct response

I live in London, where there is presently a hosepipe ban. Today, and yesterday, my immediate neighbour has spent a total of about four hours using a spray power cleaner on his garden paving. This is connected to a hosepipe. That’s right, about four hours’ worth of hosepipe usage.

What is objectively the correct response to this?

On the one hand I am of the view that state ownership/control of water resources is morally wrong and unhelpful from a purely utilitarian perspective. So why should I give enough of a damn about my neighbour’s hosepipe usage to call the hosepipe hotline?

On the other hand, the schoolboy or prison convict’s mentality of Not Being A Grass is one that instinctively I feel should be anathema to a responsible adult. And I have to concede that, since the water resources are controlled by the government – the water companies are merely proxies – we are all in the same boat and so the government has a point when, as it does with welfare cheats, it encourages us in Soviet style to denounce those who cheat us all. For on the logic of things as they are, people such as my neighbour are indeed cheating me.

Therefore, if I am a responsible adult, what is restraining me from calling the ‘authorities’ and denouncing him? Probably not the fear that he would know it was either me or his other immediate neighbour. Is it that objectively my wish to see water resources taken out of collective state control is best served by seeing that system abused? Am I indolent, insufficiently fired up by the People’s righteous anger at the abuse of their collective rights?

Is there an answer to the moral question of denouncing a neighbour, which exists independently of questions about the rectitude of state control of resources?

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