This op-ed article was originally written for The Rutgers Review and was published on May 10, 2013.
The pervasiveness of so-called big brother is universally recognized and yet remains seemingly unacknowledged. Even here, at our infallible university, red and white signs proudly proclaim the prevailing wisdom of the day – cameras for safety.
This dangerous notion is far from confined to dear, public Rutgers. On the contrary, this poison philosophy has infected every highway and intersection in the land of the free time and home of the depraved.
Keep your eyes peeled and your minds open the next time you take a Sunday drive; perhaps cruising down route 18, or 287. You will quickly notice an abundance of cameras peppered in among the shorter lamp posts. They seem to crop up unassumingly after construction is finished on a segment of highway.
If you don’t believe me then take a little trip to the 18-N exit for Rutgers’ New Brunswick’s Livingston campus. I watched them string the electronic bastard up one day.
Our brilliant leaders assure us that these electric eyes bolster our safety – just as 10 years in Iraq and the Patriot Act did. This implies more trust than I personally care to cede to a dysfunctional and irrational bunch of power hungry greed fiends.
Already our trustworthy public servants (you know, the ones that ride in the tax payers’ generously provided Dodge Challengers) are lobbying the suits in D.C. for broader access to the surveillance grid.
These cameras aren’t confined to the east coast. In March, the municipal council of Seattle, Washington was forced to address public concerns over new ‘security’ cameras:
“The council passed an ordinance Monday in response to concerns over 34 cameras that were installed across the city without public notice. The council says it will review camera operations and data management to protect the publics’ privacy and civil liberties.
An exemption in the new law allows police to use surveillance technology under a search warrant.”- The Associated Press; March 19, 2013. Seattle City Council Restricts Camera, Drone Surveillance
34 cameras installed without notice? Maybe they’re interested in watching those newly sanctioned pot smokers engage in murder and thievery – you know, all the typical nastiness us dope fiends are known for.
The more wired our world becomes, the smaller it gets; and the real question becomes who, if anyone, is watching us? Forget the government, forget the CEO greed heads; forget all of those conspiratorial truths. What is more alarming is the question of who exactly is it that we are paying to sit in the control room? Has it really come to the point where we need someone stationed at a television screen just to watch our mundane daily routines.
Or what if it’s even worse? What if this slob that’s supposedly watching isn’t even there?
You must recognize, friends, that the power of a camera isn’t limited to its ability to record. Humbly enter Panopticon, a freakish mind fuck of psychological control that seeps into its victims’ lives and never leaves them.
The Panopticon is a prison system centered around a pillar, from which a guard may or may not be looking out. Seeing as it was designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, it is only right that I let the architect himself explain it to you:
“The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference – the officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the inspector [is] concealed … from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence – The whole circuit [is] reviewable with little, or if necessary without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell.” – Jeremy Bentham; Architect of Panopticon Prison System, 1798.
Omni-presence. That is the key word of Panopticon; the feeling of always being watched. This omni-presence is not known to dissipate after a prisoner’s release from the Panopticon system.
The rise of surveillance in this country is just another step in a long line of frightening tendencies. In the post 9/11 age it seems that fear has surpassed our reason and the illusion of security has become more dear to America than liberty – and sadly, we as citizens have remained silent.
Be it new cameras, restrictive legislation, or rhetoric aimed at dividing the American public, each repressive measure is put in place in the name of safety and security.
Safety and security? I am not convinced. But power and control? We already know that is what these strange fuckers are after. And if you’re of Foucault’s mind-set you may take it one step further and claim discipline and punishment is the goal. But does it really even matter who or when or why anyone is watching? After all, we’ve finally become a nation of television stars just like we’ve always wanted. These last three paragraphs are my opinion, my thoughts.