Surveillance is a powerful tool to discipline a subject’s actions. Jeremy Bentham recognised this when he proposed a new type of prison in the 18th century. The panopticon design would provide complete visibility of all inmates at all times to a centrally located warden. But Bentham’s real breakthrough wasn’t the importance of surveillance. No, what made Bentham’s idea unique was recognition that actual surveillance wasn’t necessary. The prisoners just needed to think they were being monitored. So long as they couldn’t see whether the warden was watching, they had to assume he was. Though Bentham never managed to get a panopticon built, his ideas remained and have resurfaced in modern times.
I read quite a lot of books. So I’d like to talk about the one which I consider most influential upon my worldview. This wasn’t Smith nor Marx, not the Bible nor Quran. It wasn’t particularly well written, nor did it contain groundbreaking ideas. I don’t even remember the title or author. The book which has remained lodged in my mind is the biography of Saddam Hussein which I read in high school.
Photographical opportunities can be scarcer in Canberra’s chilly winter. I ducked out to the Botanic Gardens to try my luck.
Ideas are one driver of our society, along with material conditions, power dynamics, great men and a swathe of smaller influences. But are they the central pillars, or just of tangential importance? John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization posits that a corporatist ideology is responsible for the ills of society, and that throwing off those intellectual shackles will resolve them.
We spend our days endlessly repeating simple tasks, and even outside of work we refuse to grapple with higher order ideas and concepts. Politics has been reduced to squabbling over petty resentments, a kind of spectator sport. Even our art has given up on the profound, simply packaging up nostalgia and spectacle to be sold back to us. We cannot call ourselves grown men if we act like infants.
Some feathery folks.
At the core of the liberal philosophy which guides our modern societies are two principles – free people and free markets. It has generally been assumed that these are in harmony. But as the populist consequences of the GFC continue to reverberate through our world, establishment liberals are being forced to choose between the two. Time after time, unelected officials have chosen to protect the markets against the consequences of democracy in a way that lays bare their true priorities.