Let’s talk about panopticism and the panopticon. So, panopticism, to me, (and stay with me here don’t go anywhere) is like communism. Let me explain. Communism, how I’ve heard it described by some, looks good on paper but is, to put it very lightly, lacking in practice. Very much like how Russia was called a “paper tiger” in World War 1; on paper, they looked ferocious in number and assumed skill but in reality, they were a train wreck waiting to happen. Or like those “deals” you see on sketchy shopping sites, but you just can’t help yourself; who cares if it’s not really a good deal, it looks like it is…and then you get a lower quality product. But I digress. The point is, the idea of a panopticon looks good on paper, but in practice, you may get some moral and/or ethical issues which, you know, isn’t great.
Throughout Foucault’s Panopticism, Foucault mentions the different varieties in which a panopticon could be employed. He mentions prisons, hospitals, asylums, workhouses, and even schools. Now, again, on paper, the idea of having contained areas where there is no room for cheating, physical harm, contagion, rioting, and a boatload of other “bad” things, is a good thing. Having the surveyor be able to actually survey everyone at the same time in a separate area from the rest of the subjects in the panopticon, seems a good thing. There’s no immediate danger for the watcher or any distractions to keep them from their task of watching.
Where for me this becomes gross in a sense is the absolute removal of any privacy. Foucault states, in a perfect panopticon, that just anyone should be able to come in and take a look at the subjects of the panopticon, as if it’s working perfectly there will be no danger. A “human zoo.” I have my own qualms with many animal zoos, but I think as a human there’s this innate disgust and bias against the very idea of a “human zoo.” The phrasing even makes me think in the vein of work camps. Of course, one could make the claim that prisons are like that now (human zoos) but the separation of the general public from the inmates, as well as allowing inmates to go outside and interact with other inmates, changes the ethical implication in my mind.
The idea that the panopticon is “more humane” is a joke. It shouldn’t have to be said that it is a basic human right to privacy. The constant fear and anxiety that would be employed by the use of the panopticon with the separation of subjects and veiled surveyor (or maybe not apparently) are inhumane. One should not have to fear being watched in their own home. One should not have to worry about their computer or cell phone or whatever being used to surveil them.
Big brother is indeed watching.