Nightwatch: Alive and Well Today?
First Published: 04/09/00
Bob Seay, the former About.com guide for Attention Deficit Disorder wrote an article entitled "A Dangerous WAVE" in which he raises concerns about a program in the North Carolina school system called WAVE - Working Against Violence Everywhere. Student participants in WAVE are encourage to be alert for the signs of potential violence, and they are provided with a toll-free telephone line through which they can report their concerns about classmates anonymously.
Bob's concern is that several of the warning signs that WAVE instructs its members to watch for are also symptoms of ADD, ADHD, or depression. Students can be reported merely for not conforming to some generally accepted "normal" behavior even if they don't do anything illegal or dangerous.
Calls to the WAVE telephone line are taken by a company outside the school sytem. This company then compiles a report and forwards it to school officials. So, in addition to encouraging students to spy on each other and report incidents that are not by themselves dangerous or illegal, the WAVE program takes those reports out of the proper "chain of command" of the school disciplinary system.
Does Life Imitate Art?
After President Clark took over the Earth Alliance on Babylon 5, he established the Ministry of Peace, which in turn set up the Nightwatch. The Nightwatch was a volunteer organization tasked to observe people and identify trouble makers.
Like WAVE, the Nightwatch asked its members to report symptoms that were not dangerous or illegal. One Nightwatch official said, "We are less interested in actions than in attitudes." The Nightwatch also circumvented the chain of command on Babylon 5. Reports from security officers like Zack Allen were sent by the Nightwatch to the Ministry of Peace rather than the Babylon 5 command staff.
Or Does Art Imitate Life?
J. Michael Straczynski does not hold any sort of copyright on groups like the Nightwatch. They have been with us throughout human history. Part of the job of a writer is to make us remember the mistakes of the past and to warn us that they can happen again.
WAVE may not seem as sinister as the Nightwatch or the real-life fascist organizations of the past, but the hallmark of these groups is that they seem innocent at first.
The entire Babylon 5 story arc of the Earth Civil War is a warning to us that a gradual erosion of liberties has led to trouble in the past and will lead to trouble again in the future. Straczynski warns us to be vigilant about those we allow to have control over us.
Is WAVE dangerous? I don't know. While some of their methods may be questionable, I have no insights into their motives.
Is Bob Seay correct to express his concerns about WAVE? Absolutely! Joe Straczynski and Bob Seay are both urging us to examine and think. One does this by showing us the worst case through fiction, and the other points out what is happening already even if it doesn't seem dangerous to everyone yet.
I would like to end with one of my favorite quotes, which warns about the dangers of voluntarily giving up our freedoms:
Those that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Many thanks to Marcia Purse, the About.com Guide to Bipolar Disorder, for pointing out Bob's article to me.