The Surveillance State: Knowing Every Bit About You

By:  Charles Scaliger
05/11/2012
       
The Surveillance State: Knowing Every Bit About You

 No one ever accused Jeremy Bentham of thinking small. The early 18th-century British philosopher, social reformer, and co-founder of the celebrated philosophical school of Utilitarianism, Bentham was known for his unconventional ideas. Like many self-styled progressive thinkers of his age, Bentham expended a considerable amount of energy dreaming up new ways to use the power of the state to protect private citizens from their own alleged follies.

No one ever accused Jeremy Bentham of thinking small. The early 18th-century British philosopher, social reformer, and co-founder of the celebrated philosophical school of Utilitarianism, Bentham was known for his unconventional ideas. Like many self-styled progressive thinkers of his age, Bentham expended a considerable amount of energy dreaming up new ways to use the power of the state to protect private citizens from their own alleged follies.

 
The concept of the Panopticon was probably Bentham’s best-known brainchild. An extravagant idea for its time, it has proven an enduring metaphor in our time and — far more importantly — prefigured our modern obsession with high-tech surveillance. Derived from Greek roots that mean “all-seeing,” Bentham’s Panopticon was a building designed to house many people in close quarters whose rooms were so configured that a central authority, using a system of tubes and mirrors, could keep every inmate under constant surveillance. The Panopticon concept could be applied to prisons, factories, or any place where large numbers of people would live or work in close quarters. “Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens [burdens] lightened — economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the Gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in architecture,” Bentham enthused, proclaiming that his Panopticon represented “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” The energetic Bentham tried to persuade the British government to let him design a Panopticon prison, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Although he managed to persuade Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger of the Panopticon’s potential, Pitt’s successor shut down the project.
 
Click here to read the entire article.
The JBS Weekly Member Update offers activism tips, new educational tools, upcoming events, and JBS perspective. Every Monday this e-newsletter will keep you informed on current action projects and offer insight into news events you won't hear from the mainstream media.
JBS Facebook JBS Twitter JBS YouTube JBS RSS Feed