Most everyone is familiar with the concept of the panopticon, which is a type of prison designed by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The system allows all prisoners to be observed by a single security guard, without the inmates being able to tell whether they are being watched. The image that comes to mind is of a single eyeball in the sky that is always scanning for rule breakers. The key is the uncertainty. You never know if you are being watched by the guards of the prison.
This is a powerful image that always comes to mind when people realize that their rulers are spying on them. It is the wrong image. America is not a panopticon, but a synopticon. This is a concept conceived by Norwegian sociologist Thomas Mathiesen that means surveillance of the few by the many. Mathiesen belonged to the prison abolition movement which advocated for the elimination of prisons and prisons systems in favor of anarchist inspired alternatives.
The world in which we live today is one where everyone is spying on everyone, except the rulers, all the time. The local business installs cameras outside the warehouse to prevent vandals from defacing the walls with graffiti. Those cameras record everything and store it on the cloud. The owner is told the video stays on the cloud for seven days, but in reality, it is there forever. It just gets moved to a different database, accessible by the security state whenever they think to use it.
All around us, the vast network of recording devises uploads data to various databases that are harvested by the secret police and stored in their systems. Americans don’t think we have secret police, but Americans also think their votes count. The main feature of liberal democracy is it keeps the people living in a fog of self-delusion about who is really in charge of society. That is what we see with the secret police. They have no name and no location, so they do not exist for most people.
One of those people is not Tucker Carlson, however. His organization was visited by someone claiming to be a whistleblower. This person provided information to them from their texts and e-mails that could only be known by Team Tucker. The claim was that the NSA was using its super-duper spying tools to harvest their data. The idea was to find something they could use to get Tucker fired and then place it in the media. This is something the FBI does when framing people.
Like most Americans, Tucker takes his rulers at face value. If the government is spying on someone, it is in an official capacity from an official office. That is not how the secret police work in the American synopticon. The secret police are instead a loose network of fellow travelers that occupy positions inside the large institutions, both private and public. It is a secret society in which the membership is informal and rooted in shared beliefs and access to information.
In the case of Tucker, it is unlikely that the NSA was using its super-duper listening tools to gather up his e-mails. Whether such a thing exists is debatable. This data exists in databases both private and public. There is no need to sniff every packet on the internet in real time when millions of people volunteer to capture, collate and store the data on private systems. When those systems are maintained by people in the loose network that makes up the secret police, getting access is never difficult.
A good example is the insurrection hoax. The banks and mobile carriers were quick to volunteer their services to the hoaxers in the inner party. They provided mobile phone data and credit card data without being asked. All of a sudden, within hours of the event, the FBI and DOJ were getting waves of information about people who may or may not have been at the event. In the synopticon, the FBI is reduced to errand boys when it comes to framing enemies of the system.
In the case of Tucker, this is probably an operation not aimed at Tucker, but at his fans out there in flyover country. The secret police send this guy to tell Team Tucker that they are spying on him. They probably got some stuff from Google or Apple to use as a prop in this little drama. It is entirely possible the operation is being run out of Silicon Valley and the FBI official they are using is just a fellow traveler. His credentials as a high-ranking government agent adds authenticity to the caper.
Of course, Tucker ran straight to the camera to report on what happened, because that is what you do if you are a journalist in a democracy. There is the value of the self-delusion maintained by liberal democracy. If Tucker saw himself as a subject in an authoritarian surveillance state, he would have evaluated this event from that perspective and kept quiet about it. He would have assumed they were targeting him, hoping he would blab about it on television.
Now, if this operation is not about spying on Tucker in order to get him fired, then what is the point of it? The primary tool of control in both the panopticon and synopticon is psychological, not informational. The theory is that the uncertainty and lack of privacy instills submissiveness. The prisoner, never sure when he is being watched and what is being watched, begins to assume his captors are always watching and know everything about him, even his innermost thoughts.
This has always been a key feature of the secret police. They want their targets to think everyone and anyone could be a spy. Since the ruling class sees every white person in America as a potential threat, the secret police are trying to make sure every white person knows they are being watched. Getting Tucker, a guy who thinks UFOs are real, to play along in this drama is not terribly difficult. Millions of white people who watch Tucker are now thinking they are under surveillance.
In every corrupt regime, the secret police are a symptom of the rot, but they also reflect the nature of the ruling class. The KGB in post-war Russia was highly bureaucratized, reflecting the nature of the regime. They slowly began to ignore organized crime, as that was hard to address, and focused on trivial crime. On the other hand, the Okhrana, which was the Tsars secret police, was a highly personal operation. It was ad hoc and relied on individuals to infiltrate enemies of the Tsar.
In a liberal democracy like America, no one really knows who is actually in charge, so no one knows the nature of the secret police. There are formal institutions, just as we see in politics, but those institutions never do what the people want, which is what you see with elected officials. Just as with elected officials, there always seems to be a hidden agenda with the security forces. It is as if there is an invisible hand on the levers of power that is only known by what it does.
Just as the secret police reflects the nature of the system, it also gives us a sense of the system’s overall health. The more threatened the ruler, the more willing he is to use explicit force to intimidate his opponents. The confident ruler is willing to play cat and mouse, often for his own amusement. We saw this with he Tsar as century ago, where he was willing to be more explicit in the use of violence. The less secure he was in his position, the more willing he was to shoot people.
What we are seeing today is an effort to public intimidate opponents. Torturing political prisoners in secret DC jails and now advertising a domestic spying operation suggest genuine fear in the system. They really do believe that Trump was put in office by a secret conspiracy against them. This paranoia and fear is driving the explicit use of force by the rulers. That invisible hand is moving from the shadows, into the open and becoming more obvious in order to intimidate the enemy.
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