Mass surveillance may seem eerily futuristic, but it marks a return to a time when we were watched by an omniscient authority. We called it God.
Amanda Power writes: Humanity, according to the most influential origin story of Western culture, was created naked, unashamed, wholly willing to submit to the scrutiny of the god who made the world and its rules. Through an act of defiance urged on humans by an enemy of their happy state, “their eyes were opened”—they realized their own nakedness and sought to hide from view.
“Nothing is hidden from the eyes of the observing world.”
— Aleksandr Pushkin, 1837
The god was so angered by this that he threw them out of paradise to suffer and die. This was the original sin, the disobedience for which humans deserved to be punished through generations, centuries, and until the world ends. It was, quite simply, the pursuit of knowledge not sanctioned by the one who ruled them, and the hunger for privacy from surveillance. Or so the ruling elite, through its rabbis and priests, has told the population for thousands of years, through the brief and vivid story of the Fall.
Nor did variants on this god—depending on the teller: murderous or tender, wild with wrath or soberly judging, immediate or remote, but consistently male—cease watching after humanity’s expulsion from Eden. The resulting observations were the basis for a highly interventionist treatment of those he called his chosen people. When they obeyed him, he gave them, in his hot and possessive love, pleasant places to live, and he slaughtered their enemies. When they looked to other gods, he rained devastating punishments on them until they submitted once again.
He could see into their hearts and enter their dreams. Much of this remained the same in his Christian incarnation, but the dazzling promise that immortality could be regained through Christ’s death was yoked to the demand for a particular kind of self-scrutiny: the constant examination and exposure of one’s inner self. He knew us but also insisted we know ourselves and share our knowledge with him. Participation in our own surveillance was the price of entry into heaven.
For centuries the history of Western nations was traced from these beginnings, and so for centuries this god was part of how we legitimized our forms of government and those individuals who governed us. The flawed nature of societies characterized by inequality and injustice was simply another aspect of life in the unsatisfactory world created by mankind’s original sin. Around 1159 John of Salisbury, discussing governance in his Policraticus, observed that even tyrants of the worst kind were “ministers of God, who by His just judgment has willed them to be preeminent over both soul and body.
“The mass surveillance of the global population by corporations and government bureaucracies that has transcended all pretense of democratic accountability. The technologies that enable it are sophisticated, sleek, and silent. A sort of cyborg omniscience is obtained by those who control the information.”
By means of tyrants, the evil are punished and the good are corrected and trained.” All this, he believed, was a result of humans reaching a “rash and reckless hand toward the forbidden tree of knowledge,” and thereby plunging themselves into misery and death. The only remedy lay in submission to God; the only comfort in hard times was His watchful eye. So useful a tool did the idea of God prove to be—to ruler and ruled alike—that it has been carried, through the teeth of the so-called Enlightenment, into the social imagination of many republics and democracies. And it would not be surprising if these ideas, reiterated so consistently over the centuries, informed our attitudes toward the sort of surveillance we now experience as a novel aspect of modern life.
“If we have drifted into the dystopia of which George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned, then surely, we are inclined to think, we have entered a terrifying new world.”
For it seems to be such a contemporary issue: the mass surveillance of the global population by corporations and government bureaucracies that has transcended all pretense of democratic accountability. The technologies that enable it are sophisticated, sleek, and silent. A sort of cyborg omniscience is obtained by those who control the information. If we have drifted into the dystopia of which George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned, then surely, we are inclined to think, we have entered a terrifying new world.
But those who see in all this something eerily futuristic may have it backward. In our modern surveillance state, it’s possible we have in some perverse and unexpected fashion actually regained something of the comforts of being known by a higher authority—something that the modern West had largely lost, and for which we have perhaps unconsciously longed.
“But those who see in all this something eerily futuristic may have it backward. In our modern surveillance state, it’s possible we have in some perverse and unexpected fashion actually regained something of the comforts of being known by a higher authority—something that the modern West had largely lost, and for which we have perhaps unconsciously longed.”
At its most essential level, the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, interested, judging God was translated into our inherited forms of governance through the Roman Catholic interpretation of Christ’s words to Peter, in the Gospel According to Matthew. “Upon this rock I will build my church,” Christ says to his apostle, “and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Church alleged that this authority had been transmitted through the succession of the bishops of Rome, and flowed from pope on down through the clerical hierarchy, so that every priest shared in the power to bind and loose on earth, in the knowledge that their decisions would be upheld by God.
“At its most essential level, the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, interested, judging God was translated into our inherited forms of governance through the Roman Catholic interpretation of Christ’s words to Peter, in the Gospel According to Matthew.”
Through the priests, God’s power to watch and judge had a human embodiment. They were not to shed blood, but there were circumstances in which they were to hand over obdurate individuals to secular authorities for execution. God’s dispersed authority was thus delegated even to laypeople whose individual jurisdiction extended no further than towns and villages. At the top of the secular hierarchy, monarchs were anointed by priests, thus symbolizing their religious legitimacy. As in John of Salisbury’s “ministers of God,” these monarchs’ worst abuses were sanctioned by the assertion of the elites that governments always operated with the backing of watchful divine will. Read the rest of this entry »
— Eylon Aslan-Levy (@EylonALevy) January 9, 2015
I’ve been saying it for at least 10 years – the US should offer refugee status to French Jews. And UK Jews too, come to think of it.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) January 9, 2015
The modern economy is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role—but women were not its author
Camille Paglia writes: If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct—unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where females will clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks, and pit vipers.
A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment. Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.
Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.
From my long observation, which predates the sexual revolution, this remains a serious problem afflicting Anglo-American society, with its Puritan residue. InFrance, Italy, Spain, Latin America, and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamor. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences. In today’s punitive atmosphere of sentimental propaganda about gender, the sexual imagination has understandably fled into the alternate world of online pornography, where the rude but exhilarating forces of primitive nature rollick unconstrained by religious or feminist moralism.
Orwell thought we’d be destroyed by the things we fear. Huxley thought we’d be undone by the things we crave. Huxley was right
John Naughton writes: On 22 November 1963 the world was too preoccupied with the Kennedy assassination to pay much attention to the passing of two writers from the other side of the Atlantic: CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Fifty years on, Lewis is being honoured with a plaque in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, to be unveiled in a ceremony on Friday. The fanfare for Huxley has been more muted.
There are various reasons for this: The Chronicles of Narnia propelled their author into the Tolkien league; Shadowlands, the film about his life starring Anthony Hopkins, moved millions; and his writings on religious topics made him a global figure in more spiritual circles. There is a CS Lewis Society of California, for example; plus a CS Lewis Review and a Centre for the Study of CS Lewis & Friend sat a university in Indiana.
Aldous Huxley never attracted that kind of attention. And yet there are good reasons for regarding him as the more visionary of the two. For one of the ironies of history is that visions of our networked future can be bracketed by the imaginative nightmares of Huxley and his fellow Etonian George Orwell. Orwell feared that we would be destroyed by the things we fear – the state surveillance apparatus so vividly evoked in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley’s nightmare, set out in Brave New World, his great dystopian novel, was that we would be undone by the things that delight us.