One of the most offensive (to individual human liberty) means of social control today is the way nation states legally require you to do all of the leg work associated with them keeping you under surveillance.
I've spent dozens of hours over the last last few months dealing with seemingly endless shitty administrative tasks required by two bureaucratic state systems in Britain and Portugal.
Despite living in a neoliberal world order, the above two states still seem to require the man on the street to jump through all sorts of self-surveillance hoops in order to reside under one of their regimes.
And none of this has been helped by Brexit!
I've spent at least one full day a week for the last month negotiating the various administrative requirements dictated by the Portuguese and British governments and it absolutely sucks!
If I break it down - these tasks come under four main categories......
- Portuguese residency requirements
- Additional Brexit transition requirements
- UK Tax returns
- Car matriculation
The process for this looks something like:
- Ge your NIF number - in person interview, requiring passport, proof of UK address
- Go to your local town hall, get a residency certificate (pay 3EU), go the next level up municipal centre, pay 15 EU - this involved 4 trips in total because of people not being in!
- I'll add on to this getting a Portuguese bank account, as I need it to buy land, and 3 trips to the post office to pick up my various documents and cash card.
OK, that wasn't too bad, but I got lucky with number one (I got a nice guy!) and it gets worse.....
Additional Brexit requirements
- Exchanging one's UK driving licence for a Portuguese one - unbelievable hassle - upload a shed load of documents (you're supposed to upload a paper copy certifying your UK licence from the DVLA sent by mail as part of this, I got away with out it), wait 1 month for an email, pay 30 EU, send your UK licence off and a printed copy of a couple of documents, involving a 90 round trip to my nearest printer, and then hopefully get yer Portuguese license back some point soon.
- Oh before the above - get a health number, involving three trips to three health centres and then pay 60 EU for a medical certificate - which basically involves some bloke ticking boxes on a sheet for you.
- Get a biometric residency card - fill in a form online and download a certificate so you can back in the country if you leave after 2020, wait to get an appointment for a photo.
UK Tax returns
Urggh, you know it. This took me the best part of two days...
- Go through every transaction you've made relevant to work and put it all in a spreadsheet. This is the only time you cringe at how much you've earned and wish you earned less!
- Find and file all your receipts
- Fill in that hideous form online and submit it, get the fear that you've made an error somewhere.
Begrudge paying any tax to a government that's giving you zero assistance during Coronavirus.
- Have a 3 month debate with yourself about whether you can be arsed given how much hassle it is.
- Finally approach an agent, upload various ID and car related photos
- Have an interview online with the British consulate certifying you intend to live in Portugal, pay 100 EU for the privilege.
- Go back through all your correspondence for 6 months as proof that you held your car at the same address you lived at, file it all.
- And that's just the beginning - next is getting it tested.
- Generally have an ongoing whinge about how utterly ridiculously unnecessary this all is when my car is PERFECTLY LEGAL on UK roads and they've broadly got the same (MOT) safety standards as any other European country.
This is way beyond the Panopticon
You've no doubt heard of Michel Foucault, the guy famous for suggesting in the 1980s that social control is achieved by people thinking they are under surveillance, rather than the over threat of violence.
It's grim to realise how far we've come from that model - where the idea of state surveillance of our basic affairs (the above areas cover property and residency, income and transport, or movement) is so normalised that nation states can call on us to put so much effort into surveilling ourselves.
And some people actually revel in this!
I won't link to the Facebook groups 'British in Portugal' or 'British Expats in Portugal' - but trust me, the two people who run those groups 'revel' in helping people through the maze of self-surveillance, it's as if part of their status is tied up with it.
The same goes for 'doing your tax returns' - there are a fair few people out there who revel in the process, get a sense of achievement out of 'getting their ducks in a row'.
There are a lot of people moaning about it too, but also a lot of people who are quite confused by it all and thankful for the help and quite happy to go along with it.
Creating confusion and criminals
The downside of the above self-surveillance requirements is that millions of people end up just being confused by the processes and millions (probably) are likely to get some aspect of filling in some bit of some form wrong, which effectively makes them liable to criminal prosecution for providing false information, when in reality mistakes are made just because of people getting fed up with the whole process of surveilling themselves and doing a slap-dash job of recording the state required data.
Final thoughts - Neoliberalism was never meant to help the little guy!
All the above at the same time as living in a neoliberalising world order - as Nation States the world over gradually reduce regulation on businesses and capital flows, they still require an ENORMOUS amount of leg work by individuals to pass on information about themselves so the state can regulate their personal lives.
The last few months of moving to a new country should have been more fun, but many days have been ruined by having some kind of odious administrative chore hanging over me, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this.
I've never been a fan of anonymity, but my experiences above warm me to the pros of just going off grid entirely as far as identity is concerned - if that's even possible, and it's probably too late for me anyway!
Certainly I think we might be better of with a little less self-regulation and a little more chaos.
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