Be silent and obey

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I want to be very clear about this before I begin: I am not criticizing the employees of the NSLC who work at the store level. On the contrary, my personal interactions with them over the years have been positive.

But when I recently dropped by a local NSLC to take an interior photo for a story, I was told I couldn’t by the manager. S/he went to the trouble of trying to track down someone by phone who could greenlight the photo – of an employee doing his or her job – but couldn’t get someone on the phone who could say yes.

Much as I personally would have respected that manager saying yes anyway, I can certainly understand his/her reticence: policy is policy, and most people, even at a management level, will adhere to policy. What’s the upside for him/her to breaking the rules? Some journalist thinks s/he’s a good guy? What’s that worth when s/he’s getting dumped on by his/her bosses?

OK, so thank you to the manager for trying, but a big fat ‘you suck’ to the corporate drones at NSLC HQ – and at too many corporations and government agencies these days – who are so wrapped up in controlling ‘the message’ they no longer trust their employees, even managers, to make simple decisions.

To make matters worse, the NSLC is a government-operated corporation. It would be one thing if a private corporation had these policies. They’re stupid rules, but private companies are allowed to make stupid rules. But the NSLC is supposed to work for us. They shouldn’t have anything to hide from a newspaper. Even in the far-fetched scenario where we somehow managed to take a photo of some outrageous behaviour or incident within an NSLC, what business does that public corporation have concealing things from the public?

I know, I know, it seems like I’m being too hard on the NSLC. And maybe – but only maybe – I am. But this attitude drives me crazy. Make no mistake: in its own, small, petty way, this policy is indicative of a broader smothering of free conversation in free societies. I really believe there is a sense in which, one increment at a time, the world is falling silent. Opinion is quashed, individual judgment is forbidden, decisions are moved up and up to the towering anonymity of HQ, and one rule rules: do not question, do not reason, just obey.

Carried to an extreme, it’s a world vision where the vocal masses batter themselves uselessly against the iron walls of institutional control. All the social media in the world means nothing unless it’s a catalyst for concrete change.

The right to complain is a start, but conversation is ultimately futile if it’s divorced from the reins of power. 

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