[>Htech] Infoshop News: Surveillance and Domestication

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Thu Jun 24 11:37:46 PDT 2004

Surveillance and Domestication
posted by [1]Anon on Monday June 21 2004 @ 03:25AM PDT

   John Connor on the rise of surveillance and our acquiescence in it

   Surveillance is sold to us on the grounds that 'the innocent have
   nothing to hide', but the reluctance of the watchers to also become
   the watched--the police will plead 'operational security' to excuse
   themselves from disclosing even the most trivial points of detail
   about themselves, such as canteen menus, etc--shows this as both a
   transparent excuse to extend surveillance way beyond the point where
   it should be socially acceptable and a disguising of what is in the
   interests of the powerful with reference to what is supposedly 'in the
   interest of all'.


   By way of excusing current levels of surveillance, where there is now
   one camera / four people in UK alone, it is possible to present the
   first band societies 'where everyone knew everyone else's business' as
   the most surveilled societies of all. This totally misses the point,
   however, as people then felt they were 'everyone else's business'.
   Although individual's 'right' to 'do their own thing' in negotiation
   with the band regardless of traditional custom was highly respected,1
   there were not the firm boundaries of selfhood that characterise
   capitalism's atomised individualism, not least because personal and
   societal survival were so intimately interrelated. Part of your
   identity was your relationship to the rest of the band and you would
   not be complete without this, nor think of withholding something from
   them as you would from yourself. These were free, equal societies
   where an unevenness of knowledge, where it was hoarded to advantage
   one over another, was an entirely alien, civilised concept except
   possibly between genders and then not always. In fact, continuous
   sharing of news and skills were as much part of the fabric of daily
   life in hunter-gatherer societies as the sharing of tools (usufruct)
   and resources.

   With the rise of class society, where it became in the interests of
   the labouring majority to conceal resources and information about
   them, work rates etc ,from the non-labouring minority overseeing them,
   it equally became in the interests of the latter to try to find out
   what was being concealed from them. This, in truth, was the birth of
   the surveillance society, it's limited effectiveness still pretty much
   restricted to what could be seen directly by overseers and residual
   'group think' that led people to disclosure information they really
   wouldn't in modern, individualistic societies.

   Alvarez's Centuries of Childhood is very good in pointing this up in
   the Medieval era, when any idea of an 'internal dialogue' was the
   privilege of a literate monastic minority. Others would say what they
   thought, their expression being limited to the presence of others with
   whom it could be shared - possibly getting back to the ears of feudal
   law enforcers and tax collectors. The most radical significance of the
   book in terms of shaping the human psyche was that it allowed private
   thoughts and expression in 'dialogue' (for surely the relationship is
   not mutual in the way conversation is) with the page. The first
   diaries--typically records of spiritual exercises by cloistered
   divines--are thus Medieval.

   The self-enclosure facilitated by writing led, of ruling class
   necessity, to the elaboration of more sophisticated techniques of
   surveillance - the spy networks engendered by Elizabeth I's courtier
   Sir Francis Walsingham, for example, still celebrated as original in
   Establishment spook circles today. They would solicit disloyal comment
   through infiltration techniques, pretending to be who they were not to
   suspects, as well as incidentally engaging pretty comprehensively in
   mail interception and attempting to crack counter-measures such as
   concealment and cipher. They were still largely dependant on the word,
   however, often words procured by duress (torture) and
   misrepresentation (forgery or 'over-reading' of intercepted
   correspondence). Of course, this was also the era of the witch hunts
   with their 'spectral evidence' (the testimony of 'victims of
   witchcraft'), but this dependence reached its apex in the reign of
   Charles II and the baseless conspiricising of the Protestant fanatic
   Titus Oates and his 'Popish Plot'. Simply on the basis of tortured
   'confession' and guilt by association, an anti-Catholic pogrom was
   whipped up, though its only true substance was Oate's own paranoid


   This sort of thing may have been adequate as an instrument of terror
   befitting the majesty of absolute kings, but increased rationalism and
   individualism associated with the ascendance of Protestantism, with
   its claims of the believer's unmediated relationship with the Divine,
   meant consequent increased demands for physical evidence as a break on
   the arbitrary power of courts (both kingly and judicial), especially
   in matters concerning the 'sanctity' of private property.

   Paradoxically, as well as demanding more explicit legislative
   regulation, the bourgeoisie's pet religion also demanded greater
   self-regulation, the self now being bounded by contract- and financial
   relationships rather than intimate, social relationships. Thus we have
   the commonplace appearence2 of the divine 'all-seeing eye', as seen
   miserably decorating Protestant homes and chapels to this day, as well
   as topping the Masonic pyramid Washington and Jefferson incorporated
   into the design of every dollar bill. This idea of 'the Lord sees all'
   meant that even the individualistic Protestant clung on to the vestige
   of community, of public being,, in the sense of being in a community
   of two, s/he and the ever-watchful God, even if real
   community--typically more reciprocal, less judgmental of 'sin' and
   'slackness'--was sacrificed to such an unremitting moralistic code in
   consequence.. As well as insisting that the worshipper be hard-working
   and thrifty, the Protestant faith self-imposed harsh standards of
   personal behaviour when it came to the body and bodily interaction
   with others. As Norbert Elias classic study of the rise of 'good
   manners', The Civilising Process, graphically documents, food became
   problematic, no longer to be indulged in gluttonously or passed from
   mouth to mouth but rather, like sexual or excretory functions, to be
   seen as a shameful concession to physicality to be controlled and
   bounded by taboos, best a private thing the better to avoid public
   shame. Such etiquette was literally domesticating, confined to the
   home, and homes too became more elaborate, with particular concessions
   to the body confined to particular rooms - a dining room for eating, a
   toilet for excretion (the corners of rooms having previously been
   preferred, even at Louis XIV's Versailles!), and the bedroom for sex
   behind curtained, canopied beds. The point of all this specialised
   architecture--of privacy--was that as few people saw it as possible.
   And so lose respect for someone shamefully indulging their body, as if
   we all don't It was mainly something between a wo/man and the
   all-seeing Lord.


   A combination of capital accumulation secured by resultant fixed,
   abstract laws and 18th century innovations in food production and
   transportation made the mega-cities that characterised the Industrial
   Revolution possible. This, then, was when surveillance came of age. On
   one level, faced with cities inhabited by millions, many born and
   raised undocumented or newly immigrated from the countryside and
   forming tight village / ghetto communities closed to casual
   investigation by outsiders, it was impossible to surveil them using
   the old techniques of gossip gathering On the other hand, this
   redoubled the need for self-surveillance as a curb on the spontaneous,
   riotous street mob behaviour of previous centuries as the only
   practical guarantor of social order.

   On a general level, the inculcation of a self-denying moral code into
   the poor was the responsibility of charismatic Methodism--as in the
   ruling class dilemma of the early-1800s, 'Wesleyism or
   revolution?'--and later 'do-gooders' dispensing unwanted advice about
   thrift, temperance and other supposedly good domestic practice. For
   those who wouldn't accept social inequality as a problem to be
   resolved by behaviour adjustment on their part, there was the hero of
   bourgeois rational social calculation, Jeremy Bentham, and his
   panoptican, a prisonhouse designed to do this architecurally.3 It's
   two key features were (1) individual cells, a rule of silence and the
   hooding of inmates outside their cells to enforce complete isolation
   from their community and force them to fall back on the Protestant
   'God and I' 'community' instead and (2) a central tower from which
   guards could watch each cell unobserved, much like the Protestant God.
   Whether actually watched or not, the prisoner had to assume the worst
   for fear of harsher punishment, also inculcating a feeling of
   permanent surveillance and thus self-regulation. Needless to say, in
   practice this brutal, unnatural treatment amounted to sensory
   deprivation and whilst it made some suggestible enough to be
   effectively brainwashed, it broke others entirely, yielding horrifying
   hallucinations and self-harm. As recidivists could expect many more
   years in such a system than first offenders, there was naturally an
   attempt to evade such treatment by increased anonymity and
   impersonation of identities amongst the urban poor.

   Of course, Michel Foucalt dealt with this extensively in his
   Discipline and Punish, but it is often forgotten that the first
   concern of the new generation of surveillants was not to control crime
   but rather to contain disease, a much more widespread and deadly
   threat to the rich living in close geographic proximity to the poor.
   High walls, sturdy footmen in livery and a mastiff would no way keep
   cholera from their doors, so we find as early as the 1830s the first
   epidemiologists descending into the unplumbed depths of 'darkest
   London' o identify sources of disease and its carriers. This was
   rightly seen as social control being imposed on areas that typically
   rioted before admitting even one of Robert Peel's newly-minted 'blue
   devils' (police). The proletariat typically refused to acknowledge the
   reality of epidemic crowd diseases such as cholera (uniquely deadly in
   the early megalopolises and once a key check on their development) and
   to destroy cholera carts intruding into their space as a conspiracy to
   confine the poor to 'houses of death' (as they reckoned hospitals, not
   without justification) for the sadistic amusement of surgeons, during
   and after life.4 And, of course, the poor only had to look to the
   panoptican to see with what degree of humanity they would be treated
   by the new impersonal total institutions we seem so disturbingly
   accepting of today.

   A combination of a bureaucracy not sophisticated enough for individual
   documentation of entire populations before that developed out of
   regimented military practice during the American Civil War, and
   widespread illiteracy and resistance by its intended target population
   meant that the issuing of identification documents to the poor for
   voluntary presentation was not practical. In fact, it was so
   impractical that the threat of epidemic disease wasn't resolved by way
   of identifying and confining individual carriers (typically bourgeois
   moralistic 'blaming the victim') but rather by anonymous sanitation
   measures such as the building of London's sewers in reaction to the
   'Great Stink' of the 1850s, even though the idea of the state assuming
   responsibility for such massive, tax-eating public works would have
   previously been anathema to bourgeois sensibilities.

   The breakthrough came in Paris as late as 1870 when a Surete clerk
   Alphonse Bertillon developed biometrics from a 14th century Chinese
   model. Bertillonage considered of individually identifying anonymous
   individuals by a 20 minute examination when many key features of their
   body--their height, the length of their limbs, the spacing of their
   facial features--were systematically measured and then recorded to
   card indexes. Potential recidivists were typically uncooperative
   during these examinations, later (1903) augmented by 'mug shots', so
   called by the subject 'mugging' (pulling faces) at the camera in an
   (often amusingly successful) effort to make themselves less
   identifiable in future. It should be noted that Bertillon was heavily
   influenced by the imperial anthropology of its day, with its emphasis
   on the physical classification of 'types'. Like the absurd Italian
   criminologist Lombroso, he attributed mental and moral characteristics
   to these physical signs, typically in a classist and racist manner
   than only served to reinforce such ideologies in future.

   Bertillonage finally failed and fell out of police use not because it
   was racist or unwieldy or even because it was felt to be an excessive
   intrusion on individual privacy ('sir, my statistics are my own') but
   rather because it couldn't do it's job. In 1903, a man called Will
   West was confined to Leavenworth jail for murder on the basis of
   biometric measurements actually appropriate to another man,
   coincidentally also called William West, despite a supposed
   243m-to-one chance against this happening (not counting any slips of
   the police tape measure!). Besides, by then they had something quicker
   to collect and easier to file, which didn't require the perp's
   physical presence to identify him. It is probably no surprise that
   fingerprinting arose from a colonial context, that other great
   'submerged mass' that caused the Victorian elite such worry. A chief
   magistrate in Jigupoot, Sir William Herschel first noticed in 1856
   that Indians either illiterate or otherwise unfamiliar with English
   script signed themselves with thumb prints instead of writing, an
   administrative procedure for unique identification he adopted himself.
   From there, it was a short step to Darwin's pal Sir Francis Galton
   writing this up in the scientific journal Nature and a former supremo
   of Bombay's colonial police, Richard Henry introducing fingerprinting
   to Scotland Yard's repertoire of crime detection procedures in 1896.


   Although the state had a technique for distinguishing one anonymous
   individual from another with unerring accuracy,5 this was fairly
   useless if that individual could disappear into the anonymous urban
   mass. As former Resistance fighter Jacques Ellul noted in his
   Technological Society, an immediate consequence of seeking to surveil
   particular individuals is that the whole society in which they might
   conceal themselves has to be surveilled also, the 'innocent' majority
   as intensively as the 'guilty' few.

   Perhaps more surprisingly, by the time fingerprinting was initiated,
   the resolute resistance to classification of the early-19th century
   was crumbling. There were a number for factors accounting for this,
   but key was the inducements offered the majority not to remain
   anonymous. Mass education on a monitor system--much like that adopted
   by Napoleon's Grand Armee, the basis of Bentham's panoptican--not only
   provided a more literate, technically sophisticated workshop with a
   greater chance of individual socio-economic betterment, it also meant
   the young came to accept such treatment as normal--both classification
   by name and number and harsh restrictions on personal behaviour in
   class ('no talking, no fidgeting')--and could be systematically
   documented, generation by generation. This was augmented by the
   centralisation of registers of births, deaths and marriages in places
   like Somerset House instead of scattered through disparate parishes,
   the taking of censuses to facilitate national planning,, and the
   creation of employment-based taxation which meant both bosses and
   workers (unless inclined to fraud) had to declare their identities
   along with their earnings if they were to make a living at all. Even
   systematic mapping, such as carried out initially for military reasons
   by the Ordnance Survey, meant that space in which people could exist
   anonymously evaporated ('everyone in their place'). This process was
   only accelerated by the Liberal welfare reforms of the early-1910s and
   the post-World War 2 creation of the welfare state, both of which had
   disclosure of identity as prerequisite requirements of receiving their
   services. It was a citizen's 'right' (the 'carrot') and 'duty (the
   legislatively-enforced 'stick') to enter into all this, without
   realising that my surrendering their anonymity to the state, they were
   also surrounding a key check on its otherwise unlimited power.

   I could rehearse at great length the elaboration of technological
   means that now exist to strip us of any possibility of anonymity, but
   this is done elsewhere this issue and besides, there is always Privacy
   International to consult. I will note that when a text like The
   Technology of Political Control was written in the supposedly paranoid
   1970s, the suggestion that a comprehensive database could be linked
   with face recognition programmes and cameras blanketing every public
   space in the country was regarded as pure science fiction, something
   out of George Orwell's dystopian 1984. But today this is, of course, a
   reality and augmented by overgrown police and internal security
   agencies, parallel services like social workers and market researchers
   that want to know everything from the value of your home through to
   your children's eating and TV watching habits the better to predict
   and manipulate you, easily surveilled e-communications (ECHELON) and
   card transactions, 'predictive' databases and profiling,, and any
   other amount of technical intelligence. No - the point of this section
   is to explore why people have come to accept that quarter of a century
   ago would've been thought totalitarian ('like Russia') and

   We've already had the homo Economicus version above - that people
   gained in terms of access to education, employment and healthcare by
   bringing themselves to the attention of the state and lost in terms of
   prosecution if they failed to do so. However, I think there is more to
   it than this. A phenomenon like mass observation in the inter-War
   years was popularly and eagerly supported in its detailed
   documentation of everyday life - and what do you make of the dating
   rituals in Chile where, after years of state-orchestrated surveillance
   to the nastiest of ends, courting couples now trail each other round
   with video cameras, 'romantically' building files on each other?

   The point is that with all the mass institutions that came out of
   Bentham's panoptican, the traditional role of the community in
   providing education, employment and neighbourly care has been replaced
   by these. Community has been replaced by institutionalised
   specialisation and so people feel it only natural that such
   specialists look out for them now there is no meaningful community to.
   They have been given no reason to get to know other people and so have
   no reason to trust them. Far from it - as society atomised, anyone can
   be a criminal under the rubric of surveillance and lacking any social
   feeling except fear of punishment under the eye of the camera only
   encourages selfish behaviour. Of course, the cameras are sold on the
   grounds not that we are the criminals, but that they are there to
   protect us from everyone else who potentially is. The old Wesleyans
   were right that give someone a penny in their pocket and the slightest
   whiff of a chance of advancement and they'll see everyone else around
   them as a threat to that, either as potential thieves or as
   temptations to be repudiated with the zeal of the tempted.
   'Terrorists' are currently flavour of the month threat. Before that it
   was 'paedophiles', meaning kids had to be microchipped and cameras
   installed in every family home while a generation of kids turned into
   scared, whiny couch potatoes alongside their parents. Not many years
   ago it was witches, for fucksakes, absurd social workers seeing
   cracking the local coven of 'satanic abusers' as their next step up
   the career ladder. If this doesn't convince you what nonsense it all
   is, it's agreed that now surveillance is so ubiquitous it can't
   displace crime anywhere else (itself surely an exercise in imposed
   policing), it's not actually reducing crime rates. Offences of
   violence people fear most--irrationally, as they're still rare--are
   committed spontaneously by people too drunk or angry to be deterred by
   a camera or too cunning to get filmed by one.

   Why do people still welcome surveillance despite this? Well, the
   reliance on experts and definition of ourselves that comes through
   identification with their institutions and their representations of
   us--qualifications, income, birth and marriage certificates,
   conformity to consumer trends, and all the rest of that inane kit and
   caboodle--continually serves to emphasise our insignificance, an eight
   digit number in their overwhelming megamachine. It is this that leads
   people to love Big Brother, essentially a show where we pass
   tabloid-like judgement on intensively surveilled wannabe nonentities
   undergoing months of sexual frustration in the hope of getting to be
   childrens' TV presenters at the end, Endemol's even more sinister
   Shattered where people were subjected to voluntary sleep deprivation
   in the manner of victims of Stalin's Cheka, and even lower on the
   totem pole, searching for themselves in crowd shots (be it big
   sporting events, pseudo-archaic spectacles typically orchestrated by
   the royals, or futile 'crawl round London' marches) or 5 second slots
   on clip shows using RL footage the police or whoever have cobbled
   together as an extra earner.


   How do we put an end to the reign of surveillance - assuming you don't
   want to lead over-controlled lives like shadows until you die of
   boredom and insignificance, that is?

   Well, firstly don't take advice from me and start thinking for
   yourself, but a few suggestions include:

   * First realising that there is not a quip pro quo between you and
   those surveilling you, that they are not accountable to you, that they
   have no right to do to you what they would not tolerate done to
   themselves, and potentially these voyeuristic parasites have the power
   to make quite a mess of your life from as little motivation as
   boredom-induced whim. They are the enemies of a free society, not its
   guarantors, a further concentration of state power that prevents any
   injustice being righted.

   * Unplugging yourself from all the BS images surrounding you--the
   clowns in the Big Brother house, the endlessly banal biogs of the
   lives of the rich and famous, the five day fashions, all that
   irrelevant crap--and learning to laugh at them and (with consequent
   increased self-confidence) yourself and your past folly

   * Unplugging others through irreverent satire and sheer indifference
   to the manufactured dreams they undoubtedly hold so dear. You'll
   probably start with the people you know best (typically a tiny number
   now people have careers, not friends) but best try to broaden it out a
   bit more than that, as a key factor for sustaining a surveillance
   society is intolerance and fear of anyone at all different. The new /
   old you will have better things to do and talk about, maybe even the
   recreation of authentic, trusting human connections without constant
   manufactured electronic babble and distraction, of baseless paranoia.

   * Disconnection and direct action of a more 'hands on' kind, a refusal
   to fill in tax returns and other official or quasi-official requests
   for information--the census, market research, card applications--.or
   responding to them in absurd, misleading ways to gradually fill their
   databases with (even more) useless shit. Believe me - when up against
   it, you'll find it's really possible to live without that credit card
   and all the form-filling bureaucratic BS, especially with a few mates
   on board with you too. Reformists please note: denying paperwotk and
   opportunities to surveil the public cuts the lifeblood of the dozens
   of agencies that exist principly for that purpose, so they can start
   being laid off as irrelevant too. And the campaign against speed
   cameras is way to go for all intrusive surveillance and related
   records, the creation of genuine unmonitored space (at risk of
   sounding bogus: 'liberated zones') and the return of the lawless,
   deprogrammed 18th century King Mob!

   In conclusion, I'd like to say that I am not arguing for 'privacy', a
   thoroughly bourgeois concept based on self-disgust and shame. No, let
   yourself go and do what comes naturally - fuck in the streets, I say!
   I am arguing for the revolutionary re-creation of original, genuine
   community where there are no secrets, no shame and no surveillance of
   the powerful as a tool to rule over the powerless.


   1 In his Human Cycle (Touchstone, 1983), Colin Turnbull cites a Mbutu
   (Pygmy) lad taking a nanny goat as his 'wife', something his band
   members discourage not with the horror of taboos against inter-species
   sex being violated you might expect in this society (they have none,
   though the situation was unusual) but because, as a domesticated
   village animal, the she-goat could not be expected to cope adequately
   in their beloved forest. The Mbutu typically extend refusal of the
   distinction between self and other to that between human and other. 2
   It had its origins in the early individualism of monasticism, of
   course. We have not missed the irony that though denouncing 'monkery',
   Protestants bought monastic practice outside its traditional confines,
   universalising its body-loathing codes of behaviour. 3 The first such
   panoptican was HMP Pentonville, London, where I was myself confined in
   1988. 3 Ruth Richardson's Death, Dissection and the Destitute
   (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987) is excellent on this. See also my
   forthcoming essay, 'When Doctors Were Hated'. 5 In fact they did not.
   As with Bertillonage, there is an outside statistical chance of
   accidental correlation of fingerprints from otherwise dissimilar
   individuals--and there have been documented miscarriages of 'justice'
   arising from this--and twins always have identical fingerprints. As de
   facto clones, even DNA doesn't distinguish twins, only retinal scans
   as the pattern of blood vessels at the back of the eye develops

   The latest issue of Green Anarchist (UK) #71/72 is out now. Availble
   for #1 from BCM 1715, London, WC1N 3XX. Or in the US from Black and
   Green distribution, P.O. Box 835, Greensburg, PA 15601, USA.

   This issues core focusses on Surveillance and the Big Brother society.


   2. http://www.infoshop.org/inews/stories.php?topic=18

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