Welcome to the Panopticon

Did I ever mention that I have a shitty job? Yes? Well I’m going to mention it again.

I have a shitty job.

It’s laughably shitty. It’s so shitty, in fact, that it makes you question the very nature of humanity. Spending ten minutes in the building would challenge your perception that we are the smartest species on the planet. But that’s beside the point.

There are security cameras everywhere. I’m not bemoaning the fact. With so many idiots in one place, someone needs to be keeping an eye on everything. And most places of employment also have cameras pointed down on its workforce. Are the cameras turned on? Is anyone actually watching us?

I don’t know.

But it doesn’t matter. We know that they are there, and everyone knows that at any moment, someone can be watching us.

Now most assume that no one is watching. This has been demonstrated to be a bad assumption twice in my professional career. Did you know that some of these surveillance systems allows the viewer to listen in? I didn’t! And the other demonstration was today, when THEY (The Dark Green Jersey People) caught a girl napping in a secluded part of the warehouse through the magic of surveillance. I’m just letting you know…sometimes people are watching.

But in the vast majority of instances, no one has time to look through that crap. The cameras are just there for show. So feel free to pick your nose and scratch your ass. But by just knowing that they’re there provides what some call the panoptic effect.

And who calls it that? Well, ME for one. But the idea of the ‘panopticon’ was introduced by Jeremy Bentham and the ‘panoptic effect’ is described in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

The panopticon is a circular, multi-storied prison structure where all the cells are faced inward. An authoritative figure in the central tower would therefore be able to theoretically view any cell, at any time. But the inmates would never know when exactly they would be watched. So they had to act as if they were being watched at all times.

While I’m not sure if a structure of this kind was ever built to Bentham’s EXACT specifications (although I’m sure that similar structures have been built), the idea still permeates everyday society. While we don’t live in a panopticon, we still live in a world where we can be watched at any time. We’ll never know when, but we must always act as if we can be at any moment. This is not only true in our place of employment, but anywhere we can go in public. Do you use any electronic devices? Well the NSA can access those as well. It is extremely likely that ‘privacy’ will one day be a thing of the past.

I really don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist. This is just the direction our society is trending towards.

There are all kinds of doomsday scenarios that we can dream up. This is the shit that George Orwell was writing about. I guess. I dunno, I never read George Orwell. But I won’t go that far as to invoke paranoia. I really just want to talk about conformity. 

Part of this panoptic society involves the standardization of behaviors, if I may invoke Foucault here. Meaning that there are a set of normal and abnormal behaviors that are determined by medical and psychology experts. The criteria of these behaviors are identified to help determine who would best fit into a panoptic and highly regulated society. Anyone that exhibits abnormal behaviors are deemed to have a mental illness or are anti-social.

Therefore, there remains a set criteria, a conception of an ‘ideal citizen’ that all people should strive towards. Any deviation could subject one to isolation, criminalization, or otherwise cast out to the fringes of society. Such standards of behavior, or concept of ‘ideal citizen’, allows for a self-managing citizenry that self-applies pressure to conform.

Individuals may never be watched at any given moment. But it doesn’t matter. Because of their self-regulating behavior, they behave as if they are being watched (or with “integrity”, I suppose). Therefore the State is better able to Discipline and Punish, if I may shoehorn in Foucault here.

Okay, that might be extreme…

The point that I want to make is, that when we consider all of the mental health problems and the proliferation of prescription medication…what may be the cause? Have these problems always existed? So we are just getting better at diagnosing them? OR are we setting aside certain natural behaviors that might not “mesh well” with modern society?

Problems like depression seem to only effect the individual, but to what degree does sociological factors play in exasperating the issue? Depression seems to have an evolutionary utility, but what has caused it to become such a major problem?

I’ve always maintained that a static identity is the source of many mental health issues. Especially depression. Meaning that because we’re assigned a name, sex, and a number of attributes at birth, it becomes increasingly impossible to escape such an identity. Increasing standards within society, notably bureaucratic ones (like SSNs), maintain that an individual will ALWAYS remain who they are. BECAUSE you can’t run from WHO you are, your only choice becomes acceptance. This leads to depression, substance abuse, recidive criminal behavior, and a host of other problems.

I feel like I’m all over the place….

BUT, my point is that they don’t have to be watching you all of the time. And that doesn’t matter. Society has molded you into the person that it needed you to be. It may not have been the person that you WANTED to be, or someone that you would have NATURALLY been. And that’s a lot of pressure. It takes a lot to uphold an identity that has been given to you all of your life. But the State has all the tools it needs to discipline and punish.

Therefore it doesn’t matter if anyone is behind the camera. Society may not possess your body, but it does possess your soul.

Does that sound Orwellian? I don’t know.


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