Saturday 31st of July 2021

surveillance and the panopticon...


The panopticon is a disciplinary concept brought to life in the form of a central observation tower placed within a circle of prison cells.

From the tower, a guard can see every cell and inmate but the inmates can’t see into the tower. Prisoners will never know whether or not they are being watched.

This was introduced by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. It was a manifestation of his belief that power should be visible and unverifiable. Through this seemingly constant surveillance, Bentham believed all groups of society could be altered. Morals would be reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, and so on – they were all subject to observation.

Think of the last time you were at work and your boss walked in the room. Did you straighten up and work harder in their presence? Now imagine they were always in the room. They wouldn’t be watching you all the time, but you’d know they were there. This is the power of constant surveillance – and the power of the panopticon.


French philosopher, Michel Foucault, was an outspoken critic of the panopticon.  He argued the panopticon’s ultimate goal is to induce in the inmates a state of conscious visibility. This assures the automatic functioning of power. To him, this form of incarceration is a “cruel, ingenious cage”.

Foucault also compares this disciplinary observation to a medieval village under quarantine. In order to stamp out the plague, officials must strictly separate everyone and patrol the streets to ensure villagers don’t leave their homes and become sick. If villagers are caught outside, the punishment is death.

In Foucault’s village, constant surveillance – or the idea of constant surveillance – creates regulation in even the smallest details of everyday life. Foucault calls this a “discipline blockade”. Similar to a dungeon where each inmate is sequestered, administered discipline can be absolute in matters of life or death.

On the other hand, Bentham highlights the panopticon’s power as being a “new mode of obtaining mind over mind”. By discarding this isolation within a blockade, the discipline becomes a self-propagating mental mechanism through visibility.

The panopticon today: data

Today, we are more likely to identify panopticism in new technologies than in prison towers. Philosopher and psychologist Shoshanna Zuboff highlights what she calls “surveillance capitalism”. Foucault argued the “ingenious” panoptic method of surveillance can be used for disciplinary methods, and Zuboff suggests it can also be used for marketing.

Concerns over this sort of monitoring date back to the beginning of the rise of personal computers in the late 80s. Zuboff outlined the PC’s role as an “information panopticon” which can monitor the amount of work being completed by an individual.

Today this seems more applicable. Employers can get programs to covertly track keystrokes of staff working from home to make sure they really are putting in their hours. Parents can get software to monitor their children’s mobile phone use. Governments around the world are passing laws so they can collect internet data on people suspected of planning terror attacks. Even public transport cards can be used to monitor physical movements of citizens.

This sort of monitoring and data collection is particularly analogous with the panopticon because it’s a one-way information avenue. When you’re sitting in front of your computer, browsing the web, scrolling down your newsfeed and watching videos, information is being compiled and sent off to your ISP.

In this scenario, the computer is Bentham’s panopticon tower. And you are the subject of which information is being extracted. On the other end of the line, nothing is being communicated, no information divulged. Your online behaviour and actions can always be seen but you never see the observer.

The European Union has responded to this with a new regulation, known as “the right to an explanation”. It states users are entitled to ask for an explanation about how algorithms make decisions. This way, they can challenge the decision made or make an informed choice to opt out.

In these new ways, Bentham’s panopticon continues to operate and influence our society. Lack of transparency and one-way communication is often disconcerting, especially when thought about through a lens of control.

Then again, you might also argue to ensure a society functions, it’s useful to monitor and influence people to do what is deemed good and right.


Jeremy Bentham

First published Tue Mar 17, 2015; substantive revision Mon Jan 28, 2019

Jeremy Bentham, jurist and political reformer, is the philosopher whose name is most closely associated with the foundational era of the modern utilitarian tradition. Earlier moralists had enunciated several of the core ideas and characteristic terminology of utilitarian philosophy, most notably John Gay, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Claude-Adrien Helvétius and Cesare Beccaria, but it was Bentham who rendered the theory in its recognisably secular and systematic form and made it a critical tool of moral and legal philosophy and political and social improvement.

In 1776, he first announced himself to the world as a proponent of utility as the guiding principle of conduct and law in A Fragment on Government. In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (printed 1780, published 1789), as a preliminary to developing a theory of penal law he detailed the basic elements of classical utilitarian theory. The penal code was to be the first in a collection of codes that would constitute the utilitarian pannomion, a complete body of law based on the utility principle, the development of which was to engage Bentham in a lifetime’s work and was to include civil, procedural, and constitutional law. 

As a by-product, and in the interstices between the sub-codes of this vast legislative edifice, Bentham’s writings ranged across ethics, ontology, logic, political economy, judicial administration, poor law, prison reform, international law, education, religious beliefs and institutions, democratic theory, government, and administration. In all these areas he made major contributions that continue to feature in discussions of utilitarianism, notably its moral, legal, economic and political forms. Upon this rests Bentham’s reputation as one of the great thinkers in modern philosophy.


Are you paranoid yet?

fighting the conspiracy denialists...

How conspiracy theorizing may soon get you labelled a ‘Domestic Terrorist’

Conspiracies for good and for evil do exist now, as they have from time immemorial. The only question is which intention do you want to devote your life towards?

by Matthew Ehret



If you are starting to feel like forces controlling the governments of the west are out to get you, then it is likely that you are either a paranoid nut job, or a stubborn realist.

Either way, it means that you have some major problems on your hands.

If you don’t happen to find yourself among the tinfoil hat-wearing strata of conspiracy theorists waiting in a bunker for aliens to either strike down or save society from the shape shifting lizard people, but are rather contemplating how, in the 1960s, a shadow government took control of society over the dead bodies of many assassinated patriots, then certain conclusions tend to arise.



The first conclusion you would likely arrive at is that the United States government was just put through the first coup in over 58 years (yes, what happened in 1963 was a coup). 

Although it is becoming a bit prohibitive to speak such words aloud in polite society, Nancy Pelosi’s official biographer Molly Ball, recently penned a scandalous Time Magazine article entitled ‘The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign that Saved the 2020 Elections’ which admitted to this conspiracy saying:


Even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream- a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.”


(Lest you think that this was a subversion of democracy, Ball informs us that “they were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it.”)

Another conclusion you might come to is that many of the political figures whom you believed were serving those who elected them into office, actually serve the interests of a clique of technocrats and billionaires lusting over the deconstruction of western civilization under something called “a Great Reset”. 

Where this was brushed off as an unfounded conspiracy theory not long ago, even Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister (and neo-Nazi supporting Rhodes Scholar) Chrystia Freeland decided to become a Trustee of the World Economic Forum just weeks ago. In this role, Freeland joins fellow Oxford technocrat Mark Carney in their mutual endeavor to be a part of the new movement to decarbonize civilization and make feudalism cool again.

Lastly, you might notice that your having arrived at these conclusions is itself increasingly becoming a form of thought-crime punishable in a variety of distasteful ways, elaborated by a series of unprecedented new emergency regulations that propose extending the definition of “terrorism”. 

Those implicated under the new definition will be those broad swaths of citizens of western nations who don’t agree with the operating beliefs of the ruling oligarchy.

Already a 60 day review of the US military is underway to purge the armed forces of all such “thought criminals” while McCarthyite legislation has been drafted to cleanse all government jobs of “conspiracy theorists”.

Another startling announcement from the National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin that domestic terrorists include:


ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority [and] perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”


While not yet fully codified into law (though it will be if not nipped in the bud soon), you can be sure that things are certainly moving fast as, before our very eyes, the right to free speech is being torn to shreds by means of censorship across social media and the internet, cancelling all opinions deemed unacceptable to the ruling class.



This should not come as a surprise, as Biden’s new addition to the Department of Homeland Security is a bizarre figure named Cass Sunstein who famously described exactly what this was going to look like in his infamous 2008 report ‘Conspiracy Theories’ (co-authored with Harvard Law School’s Adrien Vermeule). 

In this under-appreciated study, the duo foresaw the greatest threat to the ruling elite took the form of “conspiracy theorizing” within the American population using as examples of this delusion: the idea that the government had anything to do with the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, or the planning and execution of 9-11.

Just to be clear, conspiracy literally means ‘two or more people acting together in accord with an agreed-upon idea and intention’.

The fact that Vermeule has made a legal career arguing that laws should be interpreted not by the “intentions” of lawgivers, but rather according to cost-benefit analysis gives us a useful insight into the deranged mind of a technocrat and the delusional reasoning that denies the very thing which has shaped literally ALL of human history.

In their “scholarly” essay, the authors wrote:


…the existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.”


After establishing his case for the threat of conspiracies, Sunstein says that “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”.

Not one to simply draw criticisms, the pro-active Sunstein laid out five possible strategies which the social engineers managing the population could deploy to defuse this growing threat saying:

  1. “Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.”
  2. “Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.”
  3. “Government might itself engage in counter speech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories.”
  4. “Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter speech.
  5. “Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help”.

(I’ll let you think about which of these prescriptions were put into action over the ensuing 12 years.)

Cass Sunstein was particularly sensitive to this danger largely because: 1) he was a part of a very ugly conspiracy himself and 2) he is a world-renowned behaviorist.


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