Thursday, December 5, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Illegitimate Control


The core question of the first four parts of this blog is this: what becomes of an already indoctrinated person when he or she thinks someone is watching?

Monitoring the American Mind

Ideas are far more powerful than guns.  We don't let our people have guns.  Why should we let them have ideas?

Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, speaks to the above question in her new book Spying on Democracy.  In the introduction, she writes "Foucault wrote that modern control over society may be accomplished by watching its members and maintaining routine information about them.  Foucault emphasized that Jeremy Bentham's eighteenth-century panopticon, a continuous surveillance model for prisoners who could not tell if they were being watched, exemplified an institution capable of producing what he called 'docile bodies'."  Constitutional lawyer John W. Whitehead proffers a similar argument in his book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

Warrantless and suspicionless surveillance - if not confronted - will diminish free speech, the free exchange of ideas, and free thought.  Monitoring is itself discipline and punishment; it reflects and strengthens similar forces of illegitimate external control we see increasing in society (discussed below).  In a recent opinion piece, Josh Levy at Free Press, a media and technology advocacy organization, describes the fear and intimidation that an email provider, a blogger, and journalists have experienced in the wake of the NSA story.
*  This PEN American Center study further confirms this idea.

Disciplining and Punishing the American People

The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control and outnumbers both the other classes.

We already see illegitimate external control exhibited by state, local, and federal authorities in the US.  Consider the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness, 'roving' border patrol abuses, warrantless drone surveillance, the militarization of the police - check out this Cato Institute map - post-9/11 police brutality, and other TSA abuses.**  

The mother of all these issues - where ideology patently played a role - was the police break-up of Occupy Wall Street movement which, as public administration professor and researcher Matthew Witt has argued, involved "extensive coordination of police in key Occupy events".  He also argues similar trends in policing began as early as 1999.  The case of Brandon Raub reflects a terrifying case of illegitimate external control.  

NSA domestic surveillance further strengthens illegitimate external control and further attenuates independent, free 
thought.  More generally, synthetic violence, propaganda, and illegitimate control (in all its forms) inhibit our intellectual growth and political potential as men and women.  Our failure to confront this nexus of forces deepens our own ignorantization and infantization.

Part 4, A Nascent Totalitarianism, makes the case that, given the NSA programs in question, we live in a very problematic time - to put it mildly.  

* The first argument above - that surveillance creates 'docile bodies', which strengthens illegitimate external control - has a wrinkle.  Whereas we see an intentionality in corporate propaganda, we cannot as easily attribute intentionality to the NSA in the 'docile bodies' thesis - unless you believe Snowden is a state provocateur, as Naomi Wolf has speculated and John Rappoport has also considered - albeit with a CIA turf war twist.  In other words, you can't say NSA officials explicitly want to control human behavior in a Foucauldian sense unless they somehow wanted us to know they are watching, which seems largely (but not totally) absurd.  Regardless, the Foucauldian dynamic is unfolding.  

The reason I say 'but not totally' is that I do believe people at the highest levels of power sometimes let advantageous trends unfold - free of their explicit intention - and look for opportunities for greater power and control.  In a sense, these people leverage the maelstrom of history itself to advance their aims.

** I am NOT an enemy of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials despite the plethora of abuses that alternative media now showcases.  One does wonder where the country is headed given these abuses.

Among the most important factors in the future political health of the country is the intellectual, ideological, and psychological state of the police and armed forces personnel.  Several cases - with all their ideological differences - gives us hope that 
police and armed forces personnel are thinking very seriously about the Constitution, the state of external control in the US, big-picture questions of economics, politics, and history, or simply being kind. 

Consider the cases of the pro-Snowden Oath Keepersformer US Marine Shamar Thomas, Deputy Sheriff Stan Lenic, Officer Lawrence DePrimo, former US Marine Adam Kokesh, former Navy Seal Ben Smith, the soldiers who protested our involvement in Syria, the US Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned to protested these wars, and even the gun-toting, 'Libtard'-hating former Police Chief Mark Kessler - who in his own way is clearly thinking about the state of our nation and the question of external power.

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