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Biopolitics

Reforms in surveillance practices work to normalize corporate surveillance by playing off the fear individualist capitalism creates—this allows for corporations to manipulate populations through the state’s panoptic gaze


Giroux 14 [Henry A., Global TV Network Chair Professor at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University, “Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State,” Truthout, 10 February 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/21656-totalitarian-paranoia-in-the-post-orwellian-surveillance-state]

In his videotaped Christmas message, Snowden references Orwell's warning of "the dangers of microphones, video cameras and TVs that watch us,"2 allowing the state to regulate subjects within the most intimate spaces of private life. But these older modes of surveillance, Snowden elaborates, however, are nothing compared to what is used to infringe on our personal privacy today. For Snowden, the threat posed by the new surveillance state can be measured by its reach and use of technologies that far outdate anything Orwell envisioned and pose a much greater threat to the privacy rights of citizens and the reach of sovereign powers. He reiterates this point by reminding his viewers that "a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all - they will never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought."3 Snowden is right about the danger to privacy rights but his analysis fails to go far enough in linking together the question of surveillance with the rise of "networked societies," global flows of power and the emergence of the totalitarian state.4 The democratic ideal rooted in the right to privacy under the modernist state in which Orwell lived out his political imagination has been transformed and mutilated, almost beyond recognition. Just as Orwell's fable has morphed over time into a comwbination of "realistic novel," real-life documentary and a form of reality TV, privacy has been altered radically in an age of permanent, 'nonstop' global exchange and circulation. So, too, and in the current period of historical amnesia, privacy has been redefined through the material and ideological registers of a neoliberal order in which the right to privacy has succumbed to the seductions of a narcissistic culture and casino capitalism's unending necessity to turn every relationship into an act of commerce and to make all aspects of daily life visible and subject to data manipulation.5 In a world devoid of care, compassion and protection, privacy is no longer connected and resuscitated through its connection to public life, the common good or a vulnerability born of the recognition of the frailty of human life. In a world in which the worst excesses of capitalism are unchecked, privacy is nurtured in a zone of historical amnesia, indifferent to its transformation and demise under a "broad set of panoptic practices."6 Consequently, culture loses its power as the bearer of public memory in a social order where a consumerist-driven ethic "makes impossible any shared recognition of common interests or goals" and furthers the collective indifference to the growth of the surveillance state.7 Surveillance has become a growing feature of daily life. In fact, it is more appropriate to analyze the culture of surveillance, rather than address exclusively the violations committed by the corporate-surveillance state. In this instance, the surveillance and security state is one that not only listens, watches and gathers massive amounts of information through data mining necessary for identifying consumer populations but also acculturates the public into accepting the intrusion of surveillance technologies and privatized commodified values into all aspects of their lives. Personal information is willingly given over to social media and other corporate-based websites and gathered daily as people move from one targeted web site to the next across multiple screens and digital apparatuses. As Ariel Dorfman points out, “social media users gladly give up their liberty and privacy, invariably for the most benevolent of platitudes and reasons,” all the while endlessly shopping online and texting.7A This collecting of information might be most evident in the video cameras that inhabit every public space from the streets, commercial establishments and workplaces to the schools our children attend as well as in the myriad scanners placed at the entry points of airports, stores, sporting events and the like. Yet the most important transgression may not only be happening through the unwarranted watching, listening and collecting of information but also in a culture that normalizes surveillance by upping the pleasure quotient and enticements for consumers who use the new digital technologies and social networks to simulate false notions of community and to socialize young people into a culture of security and commodification in which their identities, values and desires are inextricably tied to a culture of private addictions, self-help and commodification. Surveillance feeds on the related notions of fear and delusion. Authoritarianism in its contemporary manifestations, as evidenced so grippingly in Orwell's text, no longer depends on the raw displays of power but instead has become omniscient in a culture of control in which the most cherished notions of agency collapse into unabashed narcissistic exhibitions and confessions of the self, serving as willing fodder for the spying state. The self has become not simply the subject of surveillance but a willing participant and object. Operating off the assumption that some individuals will not willingly turn their private lives over to the spying state and corporations, the NSA and other intelligence agencies work hard to create a turnkey authoritarian state in which the "electronic self" becomes public property. Every space is now enclosed within the purview of an authoritarian society that attempts to govern the entirety of social life. As Jonathan Schell points out: Thanks to Snowden, we also know that unknown volumes of like information are being extracted from Internet and computer companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. The first thing to note about these data is that a mere generation ago, they did not exist. They are a new power in our midst, flowing from new technology, waiting to be picked up; and power, as always, creates temptation, especially for the already powerful. Our cellphones track our whereabouts. Our communications pass through centralized servers and are saved and kept for a potential eternity in storage banks, from which they can be recovered and examined. Our purchases and contacts and illnesses and entertainments are tracked and agglomerated. If we are arrested, even our DNA can be taken and stored by the state. Today, alongside each one of us, there exists a second, electronic self, created in part by us, in part by others. This other self has become de facto public property, owned chiefly by immense data-crunching corporations, which use it for commercial purposes. Now government is reaching its hand into those corporations for its own purposes, creating a brand-new domain of the state-corporate complex.8 Social cynicism and societal indifference accelerate a broken culture in which reason has been replaced by consumer-fed hallucinatory hopes.9 Surveillance and its accompanying culture of fear now produce subjects that revel in being watched, turning the practice if not the threat posed by surveillance into just another condition for performing the self. Every human act and behavior is now potential fodder for YouTube, Facebook or some other social network. Privacy has become a curse, an impediment that subverts the endless public display of the self. Zygmunt Bauman echoes this sentiment in arguing that: These days, it is not so much the possibility of a betrayal or violation of privacy that frightens us, but the opposite: shutting down the exits. The area of privacy turns into a site of incarceration, the owner of private space being condemned and doomed to stew in his or her own juice; forced into a condition marked by an absence of avid listeners eager to wring out and tear away the secrets from behind the ramparts of privacy, to put them on public display and make them everybody's shared property and a property everybody wishes to share.10
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