Note: The regular Monday post Taki post is up. This week is a look at the vulgar circus we call Washington and the carny trash running it. There’s also some new content up behind the green door. This week I review the 1951 classic, A Place In The Sun.
When one takes a look at what is happening in the West, particularly the English speaking nations, the first thing to notice is the lack of vocabulary. Is this a civil war we are seeing or is it just cultural unrest? How should the sides be labeled? The people in charge of the institutions call themselves the resistance and their declared enemies are people devoid of any power, beyond numbers. Those people call themselves the silent majority, despite not being silent or a majority.
Just as the labels make little sense, the comparisons to fictional and historical examples do not hold up either. Is what we are experiencing like Orwell’s 1984? Not in any meaningful way. It may be closer to Huxley’s Brave New World, but our managerial class is nothing like the World State, in terms of intelligence and purpose. There is no Mustafa Mond in our ruling class. Similarly, the comparisons to authoritarian states of the past are nothing more than superficial.
While there is nothing new in this age with regards to the human condition and human relations, we live in a new age. Technological progress brought about by the microprocessor is changing the nature of human society. While Orwell could imagine a world where everyone is watched by the state, he could not imagine a world where everyone is watched by everyone. Huxley could imagine a highly ordered society controlled by a few; he could not imagine artificial intelligence.
That is the first bit of language that needs defining. The panopticon is a concept most know, as it is a trope in many movies. This is the world where a few watches the many, like in a prison. The guards use cameras, search lights and electronic detection devices to monitor the prisoners. The idea behind it is that the prisoners never really know if they are being watched at any moment, but they know that they could be watched at any moment, no matter where they are in the system.
America is now a synopticon. This is a term coined by Norwegian sociologist Thomas Mathiesen to describe a society in which the few are watched by many. While the panopticon is a one-to-many relationship, with the one being the controlling authority, the synopticon is a many-to-many relationship. Any one person can be watched by many, but also part of the many watching another. It is a world where everyone is an input devise, feeding what they hear and see into the system.
This is an important concept. It is a system. The people holding up their mobile phones and posting the results to their social media page are not operating as conscious agents of the state or any particular interest. They are just nodes on the system. The same is true of the various devices deployed to monitor behavior. The people installing them may have a reason, but that reason exists within the system itself. That surveillance video posted to the cloud is consumed by the synopticon as data.
Take a second to consider how many eyes are on you at any moment. If you own a modern automobile, it is tracking and reporting your driving habits. Your phone, of course, is tracking your whereabouts and the people you meet. CCTV cameras silently record your activity. Your web browser tracks your reading habits. The smart TV monitors your viewing habits. If you have one of the security devices or a smart home device, it is keeping tabs on you inside your home.
If you wanted to get a visual image of what your life is like in the synopticon, imagine a world where everyone is naked, lives in glass houses and can see that everyone is looking at everyone else. Now, imagine yourself observing that world and noticing that everyone is sure they are not, in fact, naked, living in a glass house and being watched all the time. In the panopticon, everyone knows they are being watched and by whom, but in the synopticon, people sense it, but do not see it.
Unlike the panopticon, where humans are looking for unacceptable behavior, in the synopticon the system does this on its own. For example, the system can examine the data coming in to model communities within society. Community detection algorithms can discover relationships within the complex nature of human societies. Further, it can begin to model those communities and predict behavior of the community, as well as the members of that community, from the data stream.
If you are at the top of the synopticon, this is useful technology as it allows you to reverse engineer social behavior that you wish to suppress. The vast database of human activity that is the synopticon can be used to analyze and understand the attachment members of a subculture have to one another. What commitment level exists among and between members. The value system that holds the group together and how it shapes their activity. This is called Social Bond Theory.
Another key concept to this new world is the social war. In agrarian and industrial societies, civil unrest leads to civil war or possibly revolution. A civil war is when factions within the elite draft the population into their dispute. A revolution is when a new elite rises up outside the old elite and attempts to overthrow them. A social war is one in which all participant groups can be at war with one another, but also in league with one another, for reasons they do not necessarily understand.
An example of this in the modern age is the Antifa phenomenon. They claim to be the heirs of Marxist anti-fascists, but they are not Marxists. They have no coherent ideology, beyond a juvenile form of anarchism. Their opposition is equally ephemeral, as there are no actual fascists in this age. Similarly, their sponsors are in a constant state of agitation, despite control of the institutions. The more they seem to control, the less control they feel they have and the greater their agitation.
What we are experiencing is a social war. Everyone in the system sense they are losing control of the social code that shapes behavior. They seek to regain control of that social code through the conventional means, but winning and losing those fights has no impact on their control of the culture. The imposition of bizarre new moral codes by the elite, for example, are a reaction to their sense of powerlessness. The growing bourgeois radicalism is also a reaction to the perceived loss of control.
That is the key here. A civil war is about control of the state. A revolution is about the same thing, with the added aspect of ideological conflict. A social war is about control of the social code, the invisible set of rules that govern human behavior. As the synopticon takes greater control of that code, the people inside find themselves at war with an invisible enemy, the system itself. This manifests as something like prison gang fights, where frustrations are directed at the visible, rather than the system.
The evolution of the synopticon appears to be a process, perhaps a runaway process, that has escaped the control of the creator. As the friction within society increases, as people are increasingly constrained by the social control systems, the synopticon evolves greater control. Modern society is looking like a boiling pot. The more it boils, the tighter the lid is drawn down. Inside, the increasingly aggressive and antagonistic conflict is causing the pot to boil more violently.
This is where we are now. It is not a Hobbesian war of all against all, but rather an increasing friction between members of society. This friction arises from their increasingly confined social space. It turns out that the old axiom about familiarity breeding contempt is true. Instead of a society becoming more cooperative as it becomes more integrated, it is becoming increasingly hostile. Meanwhile, the synopticon jams us all closer together, in all our hostile ugliness.
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