Panopticism

Deb posted on my facebook page – What are your thoughts about panopticism and its application to capitalism ?

Huge topic Deb.

I do not subscribe to many of the principles of Foucault and Bentham, and yet some aspects of the system seem to have utility.

For me, sapient life is the highest value, followed closely by the freedom of sapient individuals to do whatever they responsibly choose.
The use of that word “responsibly” immediately takes us into complex systems, with multiple levels of both understanding and uncertainty.
And there is an essence to the word “responsible” which involves acknowledgement of the physical, biological and social contexts within which individuals find themselves. These things necessarily involve constraints on freedom in one sense, and in a deeper sense it is clear that it is the presence of such constraints that make the possibility of notions like freedom real. So it is a very complex, and very dimensional topic.

And there are some fundamental notions present at all levels.

The systems theory is clear, that at all levels, provided there is sufficient for the needs of all, cooperation always delivers greater benefit than competition. And that changes if there is not enough for all – then competition wins.

And it is clear that we now have the technical capacity to deliver enough for all, and empower cooperation at all levels.

Games theory is also very clear, that cooperatives are vulnerable to “cheating strategies”, so at every level there must be sets of strategies present that search for and remove any benefit from the use of such cheating strategies.
And there has been much theoretical and practical work done on the sorts of parameters associated with such sets of rewards and punishments – particularly by Elinor Ostrom and associates. So it is clear that “the punishment must fit the crime” within quite narrow constraints, if the system is to work for all. The punishment must be enough to remove all benefit from cheating, plus a little bit, but not too much more. It must always be possible for the transgressor to rehabilitate and flourish in the cooperative.

In that sense, it is clear that our existing legal systems, with their upper and lower bounds on punishments, are set up for the benefit of the rich at the expense of the poor.

And part of effective detection of cheating is observation, information.
And that is only stable if it is done in a context that values freedom above following any set of rules.

So a world where universal observation is used to enforce rules is dystopian in my view.
And a world where information is used to inform distributed trust networks, detect and remove cheating, and empower individual life and individual liberty, universally, is where I want to be.

And such a society is a very different sort of thing from the sorts of legal systems that currently exist.

In a very real sense, the current sets of legal, political and economic systems have been taken over by cheating strategies, which strategic systems are using various levels of memes and ideas to keep the vast majority of individuals ignorant of the reality of our current existence.

So I am all for everyone being observant, everyone recording information, sharing that within trust networks.

I am very skeptical of centralised rule based systems – even though I have run a software company for over 30 years, and even though I chair various local and regional committees involved in making such rule based systems for society generally. In the longer term, we must go beyond such rule based systems, and empower the deepest levels of individual freedom, though always in a context of responsibility.

The evidence is clear, the the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, really do behave more responsibly if they know that they are being observed by others, and that there is a reasonable chance of any costs of their actions coming back upon them. So that if someone who thinks about throwing litter out the car window knows that there is a better than even chance that if they do so, they will be spending an hour Saturday morning tidying up their civic centre – then no-one will do it. And it is in that sense only that I go along with that aspect of the idea.

The idea of fining an old couple in an old houses because their effluent system is discharging into waterways isn’t nearly as powerful as taking a group from the community out there and bringing their system up to a useful standard. Same can’t be said for a profitable business doing something similar.

And we have got to get away from thinking about things in terms of money, and start thinking about how can we create systems that support all individuals to live creative responsible lives? And it seems that there may in fact be an infinite set of answers to that question that all have roughly similar utility.

[followed by]
Deb commented “the strategy of panopticism is to almost completely eliminate that “cheating” aspect through extreme surveillance that is utilizing mega computing power”.

Hi Deb,

I distrust any such centralised attempt to do such a thing. Such centralisation is a concentrated failure point in the system, a focus that is far too easily captured by a potentially infinite set of “cheating” strategies, or is simply vulnerable to physical or software failure.
Biological cooperation is characterised by massive redundancy at every level, with recursive overlays of parallel protective systems.

That is why I favour the development of such multi-leveled and distributed redundancy at all levels of the new systems. Some of the research coming out of complexity theory and database theory is really interesting, as to the types of searches and the types of network systems that are most efficient in complex systems. Seems to be infinite room for redundancy and security nested in that work.

[followed by]

Deb comments ” watched some other video recently with Noam Chomsky about terrorism and he makes the case that the USA is one of the worst terrorist states on the planet and it was shocking to realize how violent and brutal this country actually is “.

Hi Deb

For those of us not living in the USA, it is much easier to see how brutal the USA can be. And it is not always brutal, and it is often the case that the interests of money dominate over any sort of social justice in USA foreign policy, however much it might be “spun” to appear otherwise.

A friend of mine just happened to be travelling in Chile in the early 70s, and had a movie camera with him. All of his camera gear and footage was confiscated by US personnel involved in the worst of the atrocities he witnessed. He got out with his life, narrowly. He had no hard evidence, and his stories spread widely.

Since then I have met many people in the special operations, black tech, and intelligence communities. They have not been allowed to tell me anything about specific operations or technologies, and the conceptual and strategic discussions we have had conveyed vast amounts of implicit information.

There are many regimes out there far more brutal than the USA, and the USA has to be able to meet force with force, and there are always margins and boundaries where exploitation is not only possible but dominates. So the USA is not “all bad”, and it is a very long way from being “Lilly white”.

Most of the people I have met and dealt with in those communities have been great individuals, with high ideals, and they were embedded in systems that could easily subvert those ideals to the private interests of small groups.

And I have also met individuals whom I am confident would not experience even a second’s remorse if they were given the order to eliminate me. If those individuals gave me any thought at all after doing such a thing it would only be in the context of improving their technique, learning from mistakes made. Such individuals might only be one in a thousand, and when you have met a couple of hundred thousand people, that still adds up to quite a few. Most such people I have met have been outside all official systems.

So – as always – it’s complex!!!

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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