Tuesday, 30 August 2011

I see you and Big Brothers watch nothing





A recent research established that a company will have better results if the face of its CEO was larger than average. Well that was the conclusion of the research and the exception established is if the top management does not see the world in a black and white way. People who have a tendency to not discuss generalization obey better to authority, and a large face is actually a sign of authority in our world. Top management capable of understanding relativity do not abide by their CEO's authority constantly. The idea is that people who feel powerful in some aspect of their life will tend to look at the big picture in that part of their life ( yours truly). 

What is the point of that fact? Well that we do live in a synoptic society and that Foucault might have been seriously wrong. What do I mean by a synoptic society? Well, Foucault had an idea that society worked like a prison invented by Jeremy Bentham ( he actually stole this idea from some one else I cannot place at this moment). Anyway, the prison was in a circle with open rooms and a tower in the middle. The guards were in the tower in the middle, meaning that every prisoners could be seen by the guards. The trick was though that the prisoners could not see if the guards were watching them ( because the guards were behind some kind of tainted windows). So prisoners had to behave constantly because they could not hide, as you can hide only from seers you know. Society worked like that in some institutions said Foucault, and people interpreting him thought the expansion of Closed Circuits Television (CCTV) reflects this articulation of power.
Well, it is a slight misinterpretation of Foucault as Foucault's main idea is that we have to self-disciplined ourselves constantly just in case we get caught. It is among the ways that society regulates itself. High society establish rules, that people will feel they have to copy to look good, even though no one is looking. So panopticon is the idea that everybody get watched, synoptic is the idea that everybody is watching someone. And we are effectively in a synoptic society.

An objection: I thought you just said that we self-disciplined ourselves to look like a high-class society even when we are not watched. Well, yes we do, but not really the high-class society. What we copy is just the class higher than ours, the one we can see and what we see, because we are all trying to enter the club that does not accept us as a member. We do not try though to get into the club that will never accept us as a member. As such, the panoptic self-discipline society is a theory that is not complete enough and I will ask you to see the theories of Bourdieu to understand that the articulation of power are far more complicated than Foucault made it look like.

The synoptic society is though a theory of power that we can all relate to as it is the illusion of responsibility we are all subject to. Not our responsibility, but the responsibility for what is wrong with whatever we see in our world. My first example will be Mr. Mubarak, who's been for more than 20 years head of state of Egypt, as you might have recently learned, and has now been deposed by the army. He was seen as the problem of the country, and his removal seemed like the solution for all the problems. Everything was centered on him. Now, how can a civilian rule a country for so long with the agreement of the army and when some people demonstrate, as they did repeatedly in these decades, suddenly the army drop the arms? Well we don't care. And it is not the news anymore when Mubarak is not head of the country anymore.
Would we have been in a panopticon society, we could observe that the son of Mubarak was building contacts with american companies in the last 5 years and there were talk of him succeeding his father. Of course, the problem were the demands from these American companies. What companies generally ask is for a neoliberal economy, which means that the biggest company just walk over the small companies and establish their monopoly on a market. In the case of Egypt, the market was and is still dominated by companies created or owned by the Egyptian army. Mubarak junior tried to dismantle these companies and this aggravated the Army. So came the Tunisian revolution, the army jumped on the wagon against the Mubarak... A panoptic society, everybody is guilty.

A real panoptic society could exist only in a state of constant guilt and public confession. We are in a synoptic society, were the guilty are always the one person on top we like to see as the master of evil. A synoptic society is also the one were the winner is the one person we think is the genius. If we look at apple, we can see that everybody cares one way or the other about Steve Jobs. Do we care only that he had done nothing directly for the changes in Apple, but the real change was only the change in marketing agency for the company in 1999?

What regulates our daily life is the not the fear of being caught, it is just what the people left and right do. The clearest of examples are my home countries: Belgium and Greece. Both countries vote heavily for socialist parties. The problem is that as much as their political ideology hold the name of socialism, both countries' population have no problems in cheating on their taxes. It is not a taboo at all. The irony is of course that it is the political parties that are seen as the root of the problem, when it is mostly the social norm that is problematic.
Of course, the question is how to change the social norm? Surveillance could work. Surveillance is seen as evil. CCTV in Belgium and in England are soaring, but I know from police source that they are used a posteriori of any crimes, never as preemptive tools. CCTV is evil, as it is really misused, surveillance though does not exist. I do not know. Knowledge and surveillance are not the same and yet there are sometimes intersections. If we could see everything, if we could propose change for everything, be listen and vote on everything we are interested in. It does not work that way.

What I see it is just that we take some individuals as scape-goats, for the worst and the best. The worst though is our fault. It is never one company, it is never one banker. Of course it is hard to judge ourselves and our friends. The solution is to ask for a change, but this goes on the domain of the ethic of consequences, and god knows all the horrors of our world has been done on such ethic ( the greater good). So how to change our bad behavior ? I really do not know anymore. I would just say that when Warren Buffett and rich French people tell you that they should pay more, just ask yourself what they have paid less in the last decade and what percentage of their fortunes it represents compare to what they propose to pay... It is never one person, it is never that person good action that repairs the bad. The only advise I find this time is in the chorus of Dan le sac Vs. Scroobius-Pip


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