Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Progressive Panopticon of Political Correctness

Around the time that the United States Constitution had been hammered out, across the way in the UK, social theorist Jeremy Bentham was coming up with the Panopticon.

Bentham had denounced the ideas of the Declaration of Independence as "subversive of every actual or imaginable kind of Government". He demanded that force be used to "teach this rebellious people" that "there is no peace with them, but the peace of the King".

After the "Peace of the King" failed in the United States, Bentham turned to his obsession with the Panopticon. The Panopticon would be a prison in which all the prisoners could be watched all the time to achieve, in Bentham's words, "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example."

Bentham's Panopticon never worked, but the internet has made the Panopticon and its ability to obtain "power over mind" a reality. In a "quantity hitherto without example".

Social media has made private discourse public. In the Wilson days of WWI, when hysteria was at its peak, people could be arrested for private conversations. But that was the exception, not the rule. It was only in the worst Communist societies that informants were so rife that private discourse was almost completely stifled. But the internet shreds the line between public and private.

The new informer doesn't file a report at the local KGB office. He participates in a social media collective which among its hobbies plucks some obscure "problematic" remark out of the social stream and turns its speaker into a target for a mob. A lynch hashtag is born and someone loses their job. All of this is done with the self-pitying catastrophic crybullying so typical of social justice warriors who scream that they're the victims even while they're gleefully destroying someone else's life.

It's no coincidence that this foul habit emerged out of Communist China where morality mobs targeted petty offenders on the internet in collective shaming rituals that sometimes escalated into violence or suicide. The Communist dictatorship that gave us the Cultural Revolution helped give birth to its hideous CyberStalinist offspring which enforces political correctness through bullying.

Social media made the surveillance society possible. Even in the early days of the internet, the metaphor of the Panopticon was revived to predict its future. Art students still continue to churn out laboriously pretentious projects involving surveillance cameras and faceless mannequins. But it's the voluntary participation in social media that provided material for surveillance.

The old internet was anonymous. The new internet was data hungry. Nearly every major dot com is built on collecting and making use of information about people. Google, Facebook and a hundred other companies offer free products in exchange for personal data. Free apps for smartphones are built on gaining access to your address book. Everyone is trying to build the biggest and most comprehensive database for selling ads and manipulating user behavior.

That is where the Panopticon really begins. Surveillance without intervention is voyeurism. Surveillance with intervention is tyranny. The awareness of surveillance changes behavior. That was the fundamental idea of the Panopticon. Surveillance alone was power. To rephrase Focault, "we become the principle of our own subjection." The awareness of surveillance changes how we live.

All tyrannies understood that to control people they had to follow the Panopticon's model in which the people were to always perceive themselves as being potentially under surveillance. It was the perception that mattered more than the reality, eliminated the difference between private and personal, transformed Homo Sapiens into Homo Sovieticus (or Homosos in the dissident jargon), a self-righteous hypocrite, a politically correct criminal to whom Doublethink was natural.

Social media makes it easy to impose collectivist virtue signaling behaviors. Get a rainbow avatar to celebrate gay marriage. Retweet this social justice clickbait to show you're outraged at the thing that "the internet" is outraged by. Demonstrate that you engage in goodthinkful social justice thoughts and are guiltfree of crimethink.

The echo chamber, the political bubble, is also a Panopticon. Herd behaviors are rewarded. Dissent is punished. No one is quite sure who on their friend list might turn on them, denounce them for some "problematic" remark or lack of enthusiasm for a cause, cripple their social networking, their careers and their social life. Panic in the herd is routine. A social justice social media message is somehow wrong. A joke turns out to be offensive. The 21st century Winston Smith begins to breathe hard, apologizes for his political error and vows to educate himself on proper intersectionality principles.

He edges closer to the telescreen which is always watching him and always shouting at him to pay attention. It's the "paying attention" that matters more than the message.

The less you think, the safer you are. In a politically correct society, every idea is potentially "problematic". The safest attitude is to pass on approved ideas in exactly the terms which they were uttered. Any independent thinking or deviation even in support of the cause is dangerous. It may be "Problematic". It may be "Doubleplusungood Crimethink". It's safer just to retweet. To express ambiguous outrage and support for whatever is on the timeline Telescreen. To just appear to be part of the collective "outrage of the internet", to shame someone else for Social Justice Crimethink.

Instead of being shamed yourself for some problematic social justice offense.

Orwell's 1984 envisioned the Telescreen as a Panopticon erasing the privacy of the home.

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork." But social media and social justice warriors make for a much more efficient erasure of not only personal space, but mental space.

Thought Policing is the goal of Political Correctness. Crowdsourcing it makes it possible for a small number of angry activists and their amateur imitators to terrorize a large population.

The left has always understood the supreme value of controlling discourse. The media manufactured a consensus, shaping public opinion by creating the illusion that its view was public opinion. When Obama says that X "is not who we are", he is manufacturing our consensus and imposing his value system as our own. Push polls, personal perspective and man-on-the-street stories help reinforce this artificial consensus by personalizing it. But the media was always a basically crude tool.

Most Americans get their news from the media, but distrust its biases. Jon Stewart and his imitators radicalized the media by making bias into the news and eliminating the line between entertainment, editorial commentary and information, even while castigating the media for exactly these habits. The media eagerly embraced Stewart's savaging by turning up the bias and virtue signaling to eleven.

But in a Panopticon, the guards are meant to see all the prisoners, but never to be seen. The media is always seen, but can never see in. The media could speak through its Telescreen, but its Big Brothers couldn't listen in. It could not force the public to participate in its discourse. Often the public just tuned out the more bothersome media agendas.

Social media can see in. It avoids the problems that the NSA and any government surveillance program faces trying to sift through a ton of data by crowdsourcing it to the activist informer. Everyone can be the KGB now. Everyone can not only love Big Brother, but be Big Brother.

At least for 15 minutes or so.

The left's ultimate goal is the total politicization of society by eliminating personal space. The USSR originally did not want to build kitchens in homes, because it wanted workers eating in cafeterias. The kitchen is a private family space. A cafeteria is a public space that could be controlled. Even when the cafeterias failed, families were kept in collective apartments where dozens of people lived together in mutual hostility and distrust. In such a space, nothing is private or personal.

To totally control the individual, it is necessary to completely eliminate his personal spaces, his capacity for authenticity and individuality. In such an environment, every man becomes a convict, a prisoner of a social collective, a drone in a hive and a cringing beast in a frightened herd.

That is the Panopticon. It's the world that political correctness is building for us. It's made possible by technology and the eagerness of the crybully to put up a new iron curtain for his safe space.

Political correctness politicizes every area of life from food to literature to entertainment to clothes. Nothing is apolitical and therefore nothing is personal. The individual cannot be allowed to exist. He must join the collective. No government has made the Panopticon work perfectly, but the collective can.

The left is simply the war of an ideological collective against the individual. It is the war of the political against the personal. It is the war of power against freedom. It is the war of the progressive Panopticon against the mind of man.


Edward Cline said...

This is another marvelous essay by Greenfield. It is a word of wisdom and warning to all those hooked on or obsessed by being on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, which, on one hand, can bring together like-minded people, but, on the other, lay the seeds of conformity and even betrayal to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, who runs Facebook and is not to be trusted to keep his collectivist fingers out of your business. It's Zuckerberg who heeded Muslim Mother Merkel's wish to have suspended or erased the Facebook accounts of vocal opponents of her orchestrated invasion of Germany by Muslim hordes.

Y. Ben-David said...

Obama's arrogation of the right to determine "what we are and what we stand for" is also reflected in his infamous comment repeated ad nauseum "X is on the wrong side of history". Of course we know that Marx came up with this in is claim that he was a "prophet" who had finally discerned the iron laws of history which move on inexorably to the ultimate triumph of Communism. Obama has now claimed that same role in deciding who is on that 'right side' and those who aren't (including Israel in his eyes) must be eradicated.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! The war in heaven was based on the same idea, namely Satan would force us all as one mass back to Him without a choice, while God's plan would leave it up to the individual, and let us individually decide who's side we would choose in the end.

This required freedom and liberty, which we have been fighting for ever since. That war is being played out each day on earth. May we continue to fight the good fight.

Robin said...

The Panopticon reference is so pertinent, especially with the Behavioral Sciences and Nudging research Bloomberg and Cass Sunstein are so fond of being incorporated into what will constitute Learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act signed by Obama last week. Talk about invisibly observing. That's the essence of formative assessment and adaptive digital learning software embedded into class activities.

When the human mind, what it has internalized, and how it is likely to respond are what now counts as student assessment required under federal law for K-12 funding, there truly are no longer personal spaces. Yet who knows to look behingd seemingly innocuous terms like Competency to recognize citizen sculpting for a fundamentally transformed America and global community?

george t said...

I read a dozen articles every day. This is the most disturbing and thought provoking information I have come across in recent memory. All hail SK!

epochehusserl said...

At what point do you see this ending? I dont see it lasting forever.

Anonymous said...

"The left's ultimate goal is the total politicization of society by eliminating personal space."

I think they'd settle for a lesser goal just now - that being domination of "The Internet."

Their MO? Drive all people of good conscience, who do not want to participate in the shaming rallies, off of social media, the Cloud, and comments boards - all of it.

The effect of all this scolding is, of course, honorable people with civil ethics are shunning social media altogether, and, in doing so, they are ceding the globe's social media soap-box to the raucous Turks.

D.D.Mao said...

This herd think mentality has unfortunately seeped into the comment sections of many right wing internet sights as well. I'm not referring to any offensive comments posted but to merely voicing opposition to the group think of the website. On Breitbart for instance you will be banned for voicing opposition to Donald Trump and on NRO you can be banned for expressing an opposing view on the Republican party. This limiting of exchanging ideas and views isn't necessarily done by the sight itself but by the self appointed participants who either "flag" you or report you as a "@troll".This is supposedly done with the intent of keeping trolls from ruining the site but the end results is all you hear is the echo of your own voice.

While Mr. Wm.Buckley built his "Firing Line" television show on the premise of exchanging ideas with people of all faiths, nationalities and political persuasions for 20+ years the Conservative wing has now seemed to accept to take the same low road the left has used for years by shutting down any avenue of open public discussion. We then question why we wind up with unqualified demagogues who get elected solely on sound bites from low information voters.

Rudyard Kipling said...

All of you are on report.

RAM said...

We're always under Divine surveillance, and He has absolute power to act on this, which ought to prompt us obey His law, as opposed to the twisted directives of our twisted society.

Gus Gianello said...

The lovely left. Lets call it what it is. Collectivism, the herd mentality. The safe harbor of the failed, the failures, the animals who choose not to think. You can also call them metrosexuals, gender-queer, etc. It is very odd that they claim to be unique and yet are uniquely like every one else. When you use a rainbow emblem because everyone else uses a rainbow emblem, how does that make you an individualist? Individualism is refusing to see what the herd sees. Hate what you choose to hate, love what you choose to love. No, we are not all in it together. We are only together if I freely choose to associate with you. There is no community in a prison, but we are all so very alone. Collectivism is a prison, because it prevents the real community of an association of like-minded and free people.

Bruce Hanify said...

One of the things I've seen very clearly from my Facebook usage is that my left-leaning nieces and nephews won't have any trouble turning me into the thought police when that day comes. I have lived long enough to see this country lose its ability to speak clearly and fearlessly. It is quite disturbing. I recently wrote a piece on it called 'Political Shaming.'

exnjute said...

To echo previous posters, this is indeed a brilliant, thought provoking in depth look at history and society today. Thank you for this great essay Daniel.

Brooks Imperial said...

Yes, but this essay, albeit perhaps the finest example of its type, joins a chorus of internet-enabled writers and multimedia speakers who extol liberty and seriously critique, 24/7, every Leftist manifestation in the world. They're the ones everyone reads and follows.

Orwell forecast a scenario under the control of Big Brother, but this fear of "power over mind," regardless of whether such controlling forces exist, appears to be impotent. Turns out all those self-interested citizens using their free access to the online totality of mankind's intellectual currency, aren't much controlled by Big Brother.

The ability of the Force to influence behavior only works on the weak minded. ;-)

Anonymous said...

You could always delete your social media accounts.

careyrowland said...

Thank you, Mr. Knish and commenters for this heads up. It explains a lot.

Anonymous said...

So here it is, the ultimate description of good vs evil. Evil always devising ways to enslave while good seeking only to break all forms of bondage. Evil is determined to make everyone conform to its standards. But, historically speaking, evil dynasties do die out and new forms of society rise up for short periods because the one thing that can NEVER be altered is human nature which is egocentric enough to finally rebel against oppression.

Unfortunately the flaws in human nature are also the seeds that the predator class know how to use to birth new evil dynasties. Reminds me of lyrics by Leonard Cohen

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

jdf said...

Or you could simply say I don't give a shit. And actually mean it. At which point, you would begin walking upright.

Soothsayer said...

Socialism and Islam have much in common; ruthlessness and a desire to govern every aspect of the individuals life.

Anonymous said...

‘That´s not who we are’ El-husseino
um… so after all there is a good ‘we’ for the western Judeo-christian-mostly-white world or ‘we’ is a partition only including the fundamentally transformed acolytes?
Billy-Hilly answer.
Depends what you mean by ‘we’ (Billy), What difference does it make at this point (Hilly).
Good grief, leftist speech really needs hermeneutics.

Michael Brahier said...

It's not just the left.

procon said...

Thank you for explaining to me why I do not listen to T.V. newscasts or very many shows, why I do not own a cell phone, why I would never go onto Facebook or Twitter, and why Orwell's "1984" was written as a warning rather than entertainment!

A masterful piece you've written!

Tim Gilley said...

The SJW's are Stalin and Mao without the millions dead.

David Foster said...

A related post (by me)...Freedom, the Village, and the Internet

Anonymous said...

THE internet/social media is the most perfect on line real time surveillance mechanism ever devised.

Are you surprised it was developed by DARPA?

Now think about this. When was the last time a truly revolutionary technology was unveiled?

Jet engines really haven't had a quantum leap in decades.

My guess is there are technologies in use today we cannot even imagine.

Jack Parker said...

As long as these people who control the PC dialogue remain in Cyberspace, this will continue to grow. They are all just avatars in everyone's minds. They will never be held accountable for their actions by any real mob because they are invisible as are their sycophant suck up followers. When their home addresses get published in the same media they use, then it gets quite different. Then, real repercussions can occur while they are maybe walking their dog or reading a book or sleeping. It's all of a sudden not some fantasy land game anymore when the mob of angry knuckle draggers hunts you down and confronts you while walking your dog or shopping. Nothing will get their attention until the people's whose lives they've ruined show up for some retribution, up close and personal. Even the evil know it is a just world.

Didact said...

The only thing missing from this is that there is already a fightback underway against the SJWs. Vox Day's superb book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police needs to be read and understood by every real conservative.

Above all, when under attack by SJWs, the first thing to remember us: never apologise! Doing that will be the worst mistake you ever make, and they'll use that to destroy you.

Svoboda said...

Yes, Brilliant! The personal antidote, might I suggest, is to psychologically individuate. Interestingly, even the so-called out-groups will at times try to pressure individuals to concur with whatever the group consensus is. This issue is part of the nature of being human, although taken to a hugely exaggerated degree in our nearly completely politicized world - a world so largely politicized only due to the degree of power and control the political world has over the lives of citizenry in at this point whatever country they live.

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