why porn may be the safety valve the surveillance state needs

Yesterday I curiously compared one of my favourite activities, proofreading, to what I described as “good sex” – ie voyeuristic sex:

But if truth be told, proofreading is like good sex – or voyeuristic sex, anyway. Unlike the role of writer, when everything unspools, when a handle on the work’s direction does not entirely belong to the author, when the characters themselves take on lives of their own … unlike the writer or the thinker or the salesperson, the proofreader sees everything – but everything – at a single glance.

Two things I’d observe with these lines: one, I never realised I might personally define good sex as voyeurism – though living in a world where everyone watches everyone, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that this has become the case.  From the state and its intelligence arms to neighbours on Facebook, taking in readers and their journalists along the way, all of us are fascinated by everything the rest of us do.

My second observation focusses, however, specifically on the question of the state.  In yesterday’s post, I go on to say the following (the bold is mine today):

Networks are popular things these days: everything, as you can see, can be interpreted as a network.  There is, of course, in all our lives a real place for love and attachment, with all its happy and sad complications.  But surely there is also a place for where we can feel in charge: something which briefly reassures our sense of being; of emotion; of character; of simple existence.

I wonder, then, in a society and civilisation where the levels of permanent, dragnet surveillance are increasing frighteningly, exponentially, in most anti-liberal ways, whether it’s an altogether intelligent thing to pursue – as the British do at least – those who consume online porn.  I would argue, at least today, and in the absence of any feedback which indicates otherwise, that the purpose of online porn – politically incorrectly of course, and something my inner sense and sensibility will automatically (maybe knee-jerkingly!) disagree with – is primarily to feed its users’ desire to be in sexually charge of the landscape they view.

This is probably a definition of bad sex in most people’s books.  So why do I think I may have described the instinct as good?  Maybe, for starters, I’m a bad person.  Maybe that’s the reality out there.  I don’t think it is: I think I’m just a normal person.  But the possibility must always be contemplated.

There is another explanation we could consider, however: as our inability to control our lives spreads to all parts of our existences, as large companies track and stalk our every online expression using big data, as governments watch our every intimacy, as even our friends and family gather in chat rooms, so our need (as I suggest above) to “feel in charge”, to have “something which briefly reassures our sense of being; of emotion; of character; of simple existence” … this all becomes so very important – and yet, simultaneously beyond us.

I’m not saying the surveillance state makes porn a physical necessity.  I’m being rather more complex (as is my wont) than that: rather, I would suggest that it – or something analogous – is needed to allow us to feel we still control our destinies.

There is nothing worse, nor more final for a thinking psyche, than to wonder if life is a set of aggressively trammelled tracks, out of which no being can step.

We need the tracks; of course we do.  Society needs structure to survive.  But as human beings, as social beings, we also thirst for freedom of choice.

And an intelligent society and civilisation, which doesn’t want to see itself self-consumed, should understand that before it’s too late.

I don’t think it is yet.

But one day it may be.

So just to make it clear and ultimately manifest: I’m not saying we need online porn to stick together as a species.  I am, however, suggesting that the temporary sense of control over what we are that online porn clearly provides is an instinct and impulse that any government worth its people would be well advised to study, assess and comprehend.

Finally, I’d be interested on your thoughts on this one.  Anything I’ve missed out, or got wrong, in particular.

Until the next time …

(in a way) total surveillance could equal liberty – here’s how (don’t hold your breath tho’)

There’s a fairly dumb contradiction being promoted at the moment.

On the one hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance was never more total nor complete in human history than now.

On the other hand, we’re told – by those who do the surveilling – that surveillance strategies, tools and orgs were never in need of more resources than today, and in the future.

Why?

Because the baddies are getting even worse.

The logical conclusion, as the baddies get so bad, and even total surveillance isn’t infinite enough, will be that no human rights will remain for us to enjoy.

As I suggested yesterday:

We don’t need this. We really don’t. We don’t need a state which perceives the condition-at-birth of every future citizen as being a potential criminal within the people.

Something else, however, in yesterday’s thoughts, continues to gnaw away at me.  In particular, this section from the Huffington Post piece I quoted, which in turn quotes from government documents:

The report also notes that “online networks and communities” could provide a “pathway into serious and organised crime”.

The underlying assumption – I presume, anyway – is that if you go with corporate-based social-networking, you’re OK as far as the government is concerned.  Corporate for them is good: you only need one meeting with one CEO to command the attention of 100,000 cascaded workers – and, also presumably, billions of end-users.  (It’s manifestly not true, as the various banking scandals demonstrate – but, hey-ho, when did the truth need to get in the way?)

Meanwhile, little micro-biz needs to be battered into submission, as the attention you’d need to give it would far outweigh the time centralised governance cares to fork out and spend on those millions of little people.

No.  I’m not trying to get you to shed tears for small people.  In a sense, I can understand government’s thinking here.  Unfortunately for them, and for us too, top-down communication of the minister-to-CEO sort we’re discussing is very 19th century; very kings and queens; very demonstrably inefficient as far as the goals in question are concerned.

So we do need another way.

Back to total surveillance.

If it could be made to work as they claim it already does (something I’m not absolutely sure events are proving to be currently true), we could all have the freedom to set up in perfect transparency any number of local community websites, wikis and communication tools that we’d like.

Yes.

Total surveillance, once the original shock of the new was overcome, could quite logically lead to a set of greater liberties – different from those previously enjoyed, but just as real all the same.

The liberties would be, at the very least, twofold:

  1. Freedom not to have to communicate via exclusively corporate means.
  2. The right to choose any size or structure of local communication networks.

Coupled with the manifest aim of democratic constitutions for such local organisations and infrastructures, we could actually use the concept of total surveillance to our benefit.

One problem.

I don’t believe those who run total surveillance believe in making it easy for micro-biz to do its thing, nor difficult for large corporate orgs to be in more or less complete control.  Those who run total surveillance are, themselves, working in corporate orgs.  It’s natural, then, that they should find it easy to discard corporate corruption and crime as occasional exceptions to the rule of broad corporate probity and see micro-orgs as generally threatening.

Is this problem insoluble – or does it require a process of education?

Education, after all, has allowed much of the good in the world to continue its steady march.

We’ll see.

I, myself, have to be hopeful.

Without hope, where would we be?

does government now want to punish you for being intelligent?

This, from Huffington Post yesterday, disconcerts me a tad:

Young people with highly technical computer skills could become targets — or instigators — of organised crime, the government has warned.

[…]

A new Home Office “prevent” guide to identifying those “at risk” of falling into crime, spotted by Techno Guido, says that “specialist knowledge and skills in IT and communications” could be a gateway to potential criminality.

And:

“Early behaviours could include modifications to games or software and sharing online. Recent evidence suggests that the number of frauds committed by young adults are increasing.”

The report also notes that “online networks and communities” could provide a “pathway into serious and organised crime”.

So people who only have menial skills are out of the frame, whereas people who want to get actively involved in adding value to their communities and economies – precisely by using their brains, learning and self-learning to do this – are at risk of being typed and followed by the state as subversive individuals.

There is almost a double-whammy approach here: on the one hand, we create and propagate the conditions of job-market insecurity which allow those with wealth to continue pressuring those without – and what’s more, we then justify the process by blaming the so-called scrounging poor for the parlous state of the wider economy; whilst, on the other, we argue that anyone who does want to be ambitious enough to raise themselves from poverty via an intelligent self-learning – or even through institutional training – is potentially ambitious enough to want to commit crime.

No matter that most of the truly heinous crimes I’ve got the feeling have been committed prior to and after the credit crunch of 2008 appear to have far more to do with middle-aged males, carrying out loosely controlled executive functions, than the down-at-heel young now apparently under the microscope of the security establishment.

I can only sigh at all the above.

I prefer to believe it’s unintentional – maybe just another manifestation of a broader inability to carry out proper analyses, end-to-end.

But it does, also, seem hard to resist the impression they’re deliberately looking to punish intelligent people – exactly for exhibiting even their constructive intelligences – somewhere down the shabby and shoddy line.

We don’t need this.  We really don’t.  We don’t need a state which perceives the condition-at-birth of every future citizen as being a potential criminal within the people.

That it now appears to be happening can only be symptomatic of the following circumstance: the state knows something so terrible about the relationship between itself and its citizens that, once revealed, if ever revealed, would lead to shocked reaction.

Honestly.  The psychology of it all seems that: the psychology of the abuser – maybe the abused too (who knows?) – who, hidden all these years, can only see the bad in others.

How can an intelligent government like ours want to track, follow and permanently pursue precisely those people and citizens who, given half a chance, would be able to make our communities, societies, economies and politics work so much better than the current levels of dysfunctionality allow?

Almost as if those in charge don’t want things to improve.

And taken to its logical conclusion, anyone who didn’t wilfully choose to be a poor, put-upon, skiving, scrounging, illiterately TV-dinner-consuming commoner would offer quite enough reasons to be put on the ever-increasing watchlist which – I’m pretty sure – already exists.

Really sad stuff going down here.

With this definition of austerity’s purpose, you’re neither allowed to get the end of the month on the back of the state nor aspire to getting there out of your own volition and clevernesses.

So what the hell is this all about?  Anyone any idea?

Does no one trust us any more?  Is that what we must conclude?