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View Diary: The Surveillance State As Foucault's Panopticon (327 comments)

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  •  I disagree. It's a very apt metaphor, and you (0+ / 0-)

    go on to describe pretty well.

    •  I'm pointing out (20+ / 0-)

      that Mason thoroughly misinterprets what Foucault is up to with his idea of the panopticon and power/knowledge, not disputing that the panopticon, correctly understood, might not be relevant to contemporary issues (though Foucault thought we had moved on to a new structure of power: biopower).  The Baconian thesis that "knowledge is power" was the simple idea that if we know nature then we can control it.  Foucault is saying something entirely different.  Foucault is saying that power creates forms of subjectivity and that the structures of knowledge that arise in different historical settings contribute to the formation of these different forms of subjectivity.  Crucially, in Foucault, power is not something that anyone has or possesses.  Rather, it pervades the entire social field in an anonymous fashion, structuring both sovereigns and subjected.  In Foucault, everyone is subjected to this power.  Under a Foucaultian analysis the observers having "knowledge" would make no difference whatsoever.  

      What's important from the standpoint of power is that we MIGHT be being watched and therefore act accordingly, not that we ARE being watched.  For example, cameras in a convenient store don't even need to be hooked up to exercise this effect of power so long as they're visible to customers.  With regard to the docility of Americans on the NSA issue, this might actually arise from the panopticon encountering its limits.  I suspect that many aren't very worked up by this issue not because they think they're being watched and are therefore in danger of punishment if they speak out, but because they imagine that the number of people being watched is so huge that it's incredibly unlikely that they would be noticed by the eye of Sauron.  At any rate, as someone deeply influenced by Foucault who has studied his work carefully, I had to speak up about just how awful Moya's explanation is.  It's truly odious and does a disservice to his important work.

      •  This is not a dissertation about philosophy. (0+ / 0-)

        Here's a more straightforward view:

        Normalization is the process by which we accept and take for granted ideas and actions that previously may have been considered shocking or taboo. Michel 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.”

        -- Here's how Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild / "Spying on Democracy" author

        •  Man, you keep citing poor (26+ / 0-)

          sourcespoor sources. Cite sources from those who actually do scholarship on Foucault.  There's a fine entry on the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for example.  Moya was a freelance writer and had a degree of library science.  She was no scholar of Foucault.  Likewise with an executive director of the lawyer's guild.  

          This isn't simply nitpicking, Ray (your remark about philosophy dissertations). Getting Foucault right has an impact on how we understand these issues, what's going on with the surveillance state, and how and where to intervene through activism.  This is why it pains me to see Foucault so poorly represented; it's because what he says is so important to where we find ourselves in the world today.  Your diary gives the impression that what's problematic about surveillance is that the NSA is gathering knowledge about us.  But from a Foucaultian perspective that's not the problem, nor how this surveillance produces docility.  From a Foucaultian perspective the problem is that we internalize that gaze and begin to modify and regulate or own behavior on the chance we might be watched, eg, we don't send emails or texts we once would or do searches for certain things.  For Foucault it doesn't matter whether we really are being watched.  The political question, from a Foucaultian point of view, then becomes not that of getting rid of the NSA-- though that'd be good too --but of resisting this internalization of power or refusing to become our own prison guards.  Te problem with your discussion here is that it places the accent on the NSA knowing, whereas for Foucault the issue is one of how we react to this belief that we know.  In a certain sense, for Foucault your diary would be an instance of strengthening the power of the surveillance state through cultivation of the belief that the gaze is omnipotent and really does see everything.  That beliefs helps to cultivate docile subjects.

          •  I see your outrage, how pained you are because of (0+ / 0-)

            the importance of being truth and accurate to the subject of philosophy.  How dare I cross such a line!

            I don't buy it... I wrote a diary, put forward my points, and I stand by them 100 percent.  

            You purportedly disagree (and may even be offended) with my conclusions and the way I presented the information.

            Not of my concern... Carry on.

            •  where did you stand by your points? (16+ / 0-)

              Shouldn't that entail a substantive response to substantive rebuttals?

              "I am not sure how we got here, but then, I am not really sure where we are." -Susan from 29

              by HudsonValleyMark on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 02:14:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The point JosephK74 is making is that: (0+ / 0-)
                Your diary gives the impression that what's problematic about surveillance is that the NSA is gathering knowledge about us.  But from a Foucaultian perspective that's not the problem, nor how this surveillance produces docility.  From a Foucaultian perspective the problem is that we internalize that gaze and begin to modify and regulate or own behavior on the chance we might be watched...
                And:
                Te problem with your discussion here is that it places the accent on the NSA knowing, whereas for Foucault the issue is one of how we react to this belief that we know.  In a certain sense, for Foucault your diary would be an instance of strengthening the power of the surveillance state through cultivation of the belief that the gaze is omnipotent and really does see everything.
                Okay, this one is easy... First the arguments set up a straw man by pointing out the "outrage" of not really getting Foucult's argument right...

                The "outrage" about the discrepancy then is used to question the entire premise of the diary, and then it goes so are as to say, that because of that straw man outrage, my diary ends up actually strengthening the case for NSA surveillance.

                That is an absurdity, but I understand the use of it in that it seeks to discredit the overall theme, point, thesis of the diary.

                Whether people alter their behavior because they think they may being watched, regardless of that being true or not is totally irrelevant to the main theme of this diary...

                I used the Foucault's reference in the same light, in the same context as Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild:

                Normalization is the process by which we accept and take for granted ideas and actions that previously may have been considered shocking or taboo. Michel 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.”
                But in reality pointing out the obvious doesn't matter because the argument is not being done in good faith, IMHO.

                Again, by creating the fallacious argument focused on the so-called discrepancy regarding Foucault's intention, then the focus moves away from the central issue which is the illegal and unconstitutional spying by the corporate-controlled NSA, and the danger that represents to our freedom, to our security.

                Also by observing you peppering this entire diary's thread with the same sort of innuendo, straw men, and fallacious arguments, you appear to be doing the same...

                Then the whole thing gets into a circular argument with each response asking for "PROOF."

                •  You seem to (27+ / 0-)

                  be under the impression that I'm a defender of NSA spying.  My sole reason for commenting in this diary is to correct the misrepresentation of Foucault that it's based on.  This is important to me as his work is among the core areas of my scholarship.  Given that a number of people are reading this diary who have never read Foucault I believed that it's important for them to understand what he's really claiming.

                  I am not sure where you're seeing the strawman in my remarks.  There's nothing reductive or simplifying in the passages that you blockquote.  You should also notice that the analysis that I present in my comments in this thread also point out why things like the NSA are so noxious.  What differs is the account of that noxiousness and how the NSA exercises power.  

                  Accuracy matters, Ray.  If you're going to cite various social theorists to make your argument, it's important that you get them right and understand what, in fact, their arguments are.  You simply are not right in the claims you're attributing to Foucault, nor is Moya, nor is Heidi Boghosian.  None of this comes as a surprise, because neither Moya nor Boghosian are scholars of these things.  As a consequence, they're liable to misinterpretation.  I referred you to an accurate reading of Foucault at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Gary Gutting who is an outstanding scholar of both French philosophy and Foucault.  That is a credible source.  It also says exactly what I've been saying throughout my comments.

                  At any rate, nowhere in these comments has my intention been to diminish the seriousness of NSA surveillance.  I've been on the outraged side of this issue from the beginning.  What I tried to point out in the comment you're responding to here is that in treating the NSA as an all seeing eye you're actually contributing to the normalizing power surveillance is able to exercise because you're cultivating the attitude that the NSA sees all and that therefore we better regulate our actions so as not to bring the government's wrath down upon us.  This is what Foucault calls the "subjectivization" of power and is one way it exercises itself.  A key political question is how to resist that subjectivization or that form of normalization that leads us to do the government's work for it.

                  •  Congrats JosephK74! (7+ / 0-)

                    You have officially joined the ranks of Ray-certified Fallacious Disruptors. However, you are allowed to retain your right of Rational Analysis.

                    As the most recent member, I welcome you to our hallowed tribe.

                    •  This is truly confounding. (8+ / 0-)

                      erratic, I know you gave it your best shot, but you can clearly see now that Ray simply cannot engage in a rational way with those who present cogent counter arguments to his posts.

                      Ray really doesn't belong here with his constant charges of "Ad hominem!" against those who simply present arguments that don't agree with what he has written.

                      Calling other DKos members "weenies" is a personal insult and therefore against site rules.

                      by Bob Johnson on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 05:07:12 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Hi Bob! (7+ / 0-)

                        You warned me, but I just had to learn it for myself.

                      •  Bob, just to make sure that these unfounded (0+ / 0-)

                        attacks don't go unanswered... I clearly described the type of argument used by JosephK74.  It is right here in black and white.  And the innuendo:

                        What I tried to point out in the comment you're responding to here is that in treating the NSA as an all seeing eye you're actually contributing to the normalizing power surveillance is able to exercise because you're cultivating the attitude that the NSA sees all and that therefore we better regulate our actions so as not to bring the government's wrath down upon us.  
                        Bob, this is maligning.  I have no such power.  I'm reporting on the NSA issue, and this user turns it around and attacks me; and he engages in "philosophy" outrage.

                        I'm calling it out, and everybody can see it.  Now you're trying to incite people to engage in a clear violation of the HR rule:

                        Inappropriate Hide Rates (HR) and uprates.
                        Our new reporting tools make it easier to track hidden comments and who HR'd them. If we determine that a comment should not have been hidden, those dropping the Hide Ratings will lose their ratings ability for a period of time, progressively longer for each infraction until that ability is removed forever. Uprating personal insults is as bad if not worse than making the insult itself because this rewards the insulters and encourages them to continue the same behavior. Doing so will likewise cost users their ratings privileges for a period, with long penalties for repeat infractions. In baseball, a tie goes to the runner. At Daily Kos, any gray area will be decided in favor of the commenter. So if you're not sure that something should be HR'd, then don't. Because if the situation is that iffy, chances are that it'll be you who gets burned. HRs are for clear and obvious violations.
                        Yes, all this is clear for people to see...
                        •  Your tired use of "everybody can see it" is quite (6+ / 0-)

                          ... comical.

                          What "everybody is seeing" is you acting in bad faith and accusing those who counter your writing with rational and reasoned arguments of using ad hominems when none are present.

                          You're way off, Ray. It's been your consistent pattern here from day one.

                          Calling other DKos members "weenies" is a personal insult and therefore against site rules.

                          by Bob Johnson on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 06:07:08 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                        •  There was no attack (22+ / 0-)

                          and no "philosophy outrage".

                          I saw a commenter with full mastery and knowledge of his/her subject.

                          Actually, Joseph's comments were quite frankly a thing of beauty.

                          Ron Reagan: "Sarah Palin's constituency are people who wear red rubber noses and bells on their shoes."

                          by AnnetteK on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 06:07:55 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Totally agree. Fantastic comments in here! (4+ / 0-)

                            As dumb as this thread is in one way (to me, people taking RP seriously and even bothering to respond to him is a weird phenomena. I tried it once... haha)

                            But in this case, the amazing commentary here by JosephK74 is beyond anything I'd expect to find here in the DailyKos gold mine, especially in an RP diary.

                            So I thank Joseph for his comments, and I also have to thank Ray for bringing this subject here to be discussed. I had read one of the other linked articles a week or two ago, about this theory and the panopticon -- which I had never heard of and didn't know anything about. It sounded like a plausible theory and I found it interesting, at least as a metaphor.  

                            I could not appreciate more this incredible expanding on those thoughts, and the opportunity to really understand a lot more about this philosopher and the relationship to today's world.

                            I found this especially on the mark:

                            With regard to the docility of Americans on the NSA issue, this might actually arise from the panopticon encountering its limits.  I suspect that many aren't very worked up by this issue not because they think they're being watched and are therefore in danger of punishment if they speak out, but because they imagine that the number of people being watched is so huge that it's incredibly unlikely that they would be noticed by the eye of Sauron.
                            Yes, exactly. Nailed it.
                        •  How is this (16+ / 0-)

                          "maligning"?  I make no claims about your intentions because in a Foucaultian universe it's not what people intend that defines how power functions.  We are, after all, talking about the theorist that proclaimed the death of man or the psychological individual in The Order of Things.  Instead, I was making a point about the functional effect of believing some entity like the NSA is constantly watching you and how that normalizes your action and subjectivity by leading you to restrict your info consumption, deeds, and thoughts.

                          In case this point about intentions versus functional effects isn't clear, allow me to draw a parallel to composition studies at the university level.  Nearly every composition professor you talk to will tell you that they're promoting a radical pedagogy to get their students to challenge the system.  This is their intentions and just as I have no doubt of your intentions to challenge power, I have no doubt of their intentions.  Nonetheless, despite their intentions, and for a variety of reasons, at the functional level much of their pedagogical practice is merely producing good neoliberal subjects playing the corporate communications game.  The content of what the composition professor is teaching doesn't affect the form of neoliberal communicative codes and so they're not really challenging that system despite having every intention of doing so.  The case is similar here.  In promoting the idea that the NSA is actually watching you, you are functionally reinforcing the very diagram of panopticon power despite your intentions to do otherwise.  What you miss in your attacks on me is that we're actually on the same side in wishing to challenge this panopticon power.  I merely disagree with your understanding of how that power works.

                          •  I think your points are (0+ / 0-)

                            very substantive and critical to the debate, JosephK, and I am am sorry if I lumped you in with others here who are latching onto your comments as a way to "get" to Ray.

                            I am trying to figure out what his problem with your reply would be, and I am taking a guess that perhaps it is a statement such as this:

                            The case is similar here.  In promoting the idea that the NSA is actually watching you, you are functionally reinforcing the very diagram of panopticon power despite your intentions to do otherwise.
                            Where he finds issue. Perhaps one may take that statement to mean "ignore the issue and it will go away" or that by acknowledging the problem we are somehow empowering the NSA?

                            As I said, I am just guessing. I think your debate with Ray -- if fleshed out without sniping from both sides -- could be very interesting.

                        •  Climb down off of your cross. (0+ / 0-)

                          No one attacked you. You lost an argument. Get over it.

                          ....no longer in SF.... -9.00, -7.38

                          by TFinSF on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 03:31:48 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                    •  I confess I'm (15+ / 0-)

                      thoroughly perplexed as to why he accused me of making ad hominem arguments (I wasn't attacking his character nor making an argument based on his circumstances), nor why he suggested that I was lobbing a straw man or making a circular argument.  As someone who does research based on these things and who also teaches, I admit I have a bit of a tick in responding to things that are thoroughgoing distortions of a thinker's positions, but that's not ad hominem.  If anything I'm guilty of being a pedant, but sometimes pedantry is important.  I do think it's revealing that he never addresses the interpretive points about Foucault (beyond talking about "sacrosanct interpretations), but instead immediately jumps to speculations about my motives and character, despite all evidence to the contrary given my diary history and comment history.  

                      •  We're similar this way (5+ / 0-)

                        My research is in a similar area, it sounds like. Moreover, so was my reception. Ah well. I see what I see with the eyes in my head. What more can you do?

                        Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                        by mahakali overdrive on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 10:09:21 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  I'm no scholar on the subject (10+ / 0-)

                        but I suspect what you're running into is the tendency for theory to be bent to personal, subjective need. That is, the tendency of individuals to be attracted to theories, not on their intrinsic merits but on the basis of perceived utility in servicing such needs, whether political, social or psychological.

                        In such instances, theory isn't a method of intellectual inquiry or analysis so much as it is a reified instrumentality, valued only to the degree that it can be used to validate pre-existing assumptions, opinions and attitudes.

                        A logical consequence of this is an intensely personal identification with a particular understanding or misunderstanding of a theory. In such instances, any challenge to the reified conception of the theory will likely be subjectively experienced as a challenge to the individual's sense of their own identity, producing an instinctive, emotional, defensive reaction.

                        All ideological constructs are subject to this sort of thing but ideologies that recognize no objective standards of proof are particularly prone to it.

                        Nothing human is alien to me.

                        by WB Reeves on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:09:15 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  but if your motives and character are left on (0+ / 0-)

                        their own for everyone to plainly see, there might be no argument against you whatsoever

                        Righteousness is a wide path. Self-righteousness is a bullhorn and a blindfold.

                        by Murphoney on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 03:05:31 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  Hey ... I got a mention :) (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Onomastic, serendipityisabitch

                      Do we have a secret handshake?

                      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
                      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

                      Who is twigg?

                      by twigg on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 05:34:29 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Yes, but you're not supposed to (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        twigg, serendipityisabitch

                        mention that, or the playbook!

                        They're top, top, secret. Remember?

                        Well, except for Ray knowing everything of course.

                        What would mere mortals do without him?

                        There is something in us that refuses to be regarded as less than human. We are created for freedom - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

                        by Onomastic on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 06:53:46 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                  •  I nearly made the same line of contentions (5+ / 0-)

                    but then I had to teach my courses. My work has not solely dwelled upon Foucault, per se, but I think it's darned hard to be involved in Literary Theory in a credible way without at least acknowledging Foucault's work and its resonance.

                    I tend to be more of a Derridean, however. But I share your reservations and for the same reasons.

                    I am not clear how, beyond through lose analogy and base extrapolation, a parallel could be drawn with the surveillance culture of the NSA (which I reject - out of hand) and Panopticonism.

                    Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                    by mahakali overdrive on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 09:59:55 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  This is a fascinating observation (3+ / 0-)
                    in treating the NSA as an all seeing eye you're actually contributing to the normalizing power surveillance is able to exercise because you're cultivating the attitude that the NSA sees all and that therefore we better regulate our actions so as not to bring the government's wrath down upon us
                    Omg, Ray himself might be an NSA paid shill or willing propagandist! Mind, blown.

                    More seriously, it's a very provocative observation, part of a great series of informative comments. Thanks, K., for sharing.

          •  This is actually key to understanding (9+ / 0-)

            what has been going on for quite some time, and for gaining insight into what to do about it, if anything can be done.

            Resisting the internalization of power can take many forms, including developing critical thinking skills and continuing skepticism of what passes for "news," among many, many other big and little actions.

            No police/surveillance state is objectively omnipotent, of course, but the stories told about them and that we often tell ourselves is that they are, and that -- apart from complaining once in a while -- we can do nothing about their god-like powers.

            Thanks for putting it so clearly.

            Blogging as Ché Pasa since 2007.

            by felix19 on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 11:33:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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