Spying and control

A brief thought on the NSA’s monitoring of civilian phone calls:

At the Long Sunday discussion, Jodi Dean asks, “Where is the outrage?” There is no outrage, it seems to me, because everyone already knew they were being listened in on. The so-called revelations and leaks only confirmed what everyone already assumed. Indeed, the public acknowledgement is a necessary part of an effective spying program: Surveillance in itself is only partially efficacious; to be truly successful, the observed subjects must know they are being watched.

Consequently, the lack of outrage indicates to me a crisis not in the subjects of but for the society of control itself. This crisis seems to be now reaching a crescendo, but it didn’t just begin. Usually benchmarked to September 11 for convenience’s sake, it actually reaches further back, to the profitability crisis of the late 90s and the contemporaneous emergence of visible anticapitalist movements. In short, the crisis in the society of control is also the crisis of neoliberalism. As George Caffentzis has said, the problem with the demise of neoliberalism is that there is no heir apparent, no social-economic order waiting to take its place, as, for example, neoliberalism stepped in for Keynesianism. Society of control/neoliberalism’s insufficiency to the task means that the only mechanisms of control available are the instruments of disciplinary society, which explains the Bushist (not to mention Blairist, Chiracist, Howardian, etc.) reversion to old institutions: permawar, the family, the nation. The state’s reactionary reaction signals its desperation and dire need for a new set of tools.

None of this is meant to diminish the horrible consequences of the crisis. As Deleuze and Guattari said in a different context, a discredited idea is more dangerous than an article of faith, because the priests are replaced by the police.


3 thoughts on “Spying and control

  1. Great post. “The Power of Nightmares” documentary makes a similiar, Derridian argument (blasting Fukuyama-triumphalism, et cetera), as you may well know.

  2. Thanks, Matt. I did not know about “The Power of NIghtmares,” but thanks for the heads up. Maybe it need to find a place in my Netflix cue.

  3. A friend and I used to joke that we should start making terms that trip the listening sensors into standard hellos and goodbyes, try to up the noise-to-signal ratio such that it makes the spying less attractive to them. Or maybe that would just provide more arguments for them to increase their budgets.

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