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February 16, 2022 3 min read

society-of-control-panopticon

 

The Panopticon (from Greek παν pān, 'everything', and οπτικό optikó, 'belonging to sight'), Latinized also Panopticon, is a concept originating from the British philosopher and founder of classical utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham for the construction of prisons and similar institutions, but also of factories, which allows the simultaneous surveillance of many people by a single supervisor. The whole thing was therefore conceived well before our technical age and its possibilities. In his work Gilles Deleuze articulates the way in which we are/were moving from what Michel Foucault described as a Disciplinary Society and toward a Society of Control. Deleuze articulates the way in which we are/were moving from what Michel Foucault described as a Disciplinary Society and toward a Society of Control.

One could also say that it has come to the point that we no longer need punishment when we "upgrade" our inner censor itself as the warden of our own prison. It is also not at all about the fact that we actually monitor ourselves, as this would be in the concrete case of a to-do list or also the alarm clock in the morning, but that we constantly give ourselves over to the feeling alone that we are monitored. The "big other" has thus been raised in ourselves and multiplies in interaction with society from which there is no escape, just as this should not actually be possible with the concept of the prison. The critical question would now be: are there perhaps fewer criminals in such a society, but all the more neurotics? Do we sacrifice our actual - lived - freedom to the greater purpose for society?

An important aspect of the control society is that we are allowed to do "what we want" or that we can at least indulge in the feeling that through further acceleration mankind is successively freed more and more, even if in dialectical reflection the opposite also happens. An example would be "the freedom to work at home or remotely." Theoretically, we could be freed from the need to be present in terms of time and place (but not for every activity), but - as everyone knows - we are expected to do something in return, namely to always be available or to respond as quickly as possible. So by always being promised and partially redeemed the release from prison, we gratefully accept what the power structure offers us, because it still seems better than the previous status quo. But this is only because we have not yet tested the new one as a society. The fact that we do all this voluntarily and believe ourselves to be free in our decisions is the difference to the disciplinary society: here there was "chastisement" if we did not show up on time for work, but we also had actual free time when the clock signaled the end of the workday.

Now we monitor ourselves, reading emails on the drive to work or even on vacation. We have become our own boss and since everyone is now responsible, no one is really in charge. Where this will lead, I cannot say, but we should examine ourselves for our behavior in this regard, in order to at least make conscious decisions, even if these contradict the already normalized standards of everyday life. What else should philosophers do?


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