The Fourth Eye

Looking into the future: surveillance, globalization and the totalitarian potential

Los, M., in Lyon, D. and I. ebrary (2006). Theorizing surveillance: the panopticon and beyond. Cullompton, Devon, Willan Publishing.

Once the hollowed-out self becomes virtually a mirror for surveillance, the social is consumed by whatever system rationality shapes and fuels that surveillance.


From studying Stalinist and Nazi regimes (see her 2004 work), Los has established conditions necessary, crucial for the success and implementation of scientific totalitarianism

  1. monistic centralization of control
  2. social uprooting, atomization and obligation of the social
  3. negation (or eradication) of such notions as liberty, truth, ethics


‘…albeit through different means – the late modern epistemologies, surveillance and globalization have contributed to detraditionalization, desocialization and atomization of society and a displacement of the Self. These processes have been accompanied by a hollowing out of both the epistemological and ethical normativity through the refutation of relevance of such notions of truth and morality, which in turn, made room for a new version of extreme, surveillance-driven positivism.” YES!


  • New globalizing surveillance technologies mimic some effects of centralization
  • Arendt 1958 – totalitarianism is by nature (or rather by definition) a global project that cannot be fully accomplished in just one community or one country. Being fuelled by the need to suppress any alternative orders and ideas, it knows no natural limits and is bound to aim at totally dominating everything and everyone.
  • The notion of exit is meaningless
  • Questions of totalitarianism in the 21st century inevitably take us beyond the nation state as the site of total rule
  • Centralization – yes, but not a mono-centric police state, we tend to underestimate the importance of incoherence and maze like structures.
  • To pursue total monistic domination, the structure cannot be monolithic and coherent, but it must generate a belief in a menacing deeper unity, hidden underneath and perpetuated behind the scenes. BUT WHAT ABOUT A DEMOCRACTIC DISTORTION PEDAL HERE, to portray control as non menacing
  • Arendt notes that even the secret services are multiplied and set against each other, mutual supervision, surveillance and vigilance
  • Haggerty and Ericson refer to the assemblage – that lacks a clear centre, boundaries of gov authorization. Yes, but while there are different flows of information databases make them more comprehensive, with huge capacity for coverage. They also refer to the diversity of motives for surveillance, control, governance, security, profit and entertainment, and effectively use the rhizome metaphor borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari – image of surveillance as an ingrained, multidirectional maze that expands and regenerates itself continuously.
  • This rhizome metaphor suggests a hidden deeper structure, which echoes Arendt on totalitarian control – rhizomatic may also be totalizing, especially if there is a growing sense of being helpless in the face of the omnipresent interconnected internationalized surveillance
  • The file – at the centre of the last century’s totalitarian mechanism – assumed but almost never encountered, resulting in conformity-projecting strategies, habitual pursuit of invisibility – the image of a compressive, secret, centralized, political surveillance seems to be of greater importance than the actual information collected. OR DOUBT ABOUT IT BEING DONE IN A DEMOCRACY?? Compare this to databases which are mostly relatively open and consensual, shared with others and decentralized and linked through horizontal rather than vertical connections
  • “For Bentham , however, the omnipresent watchful eye was to assist individual to internalize the norm, while in the totalitarian scheme, the systems’ eyes operate as an instrument of negating individual subjectivity and agency. The totalitarian gave, which is arbitrary and predicated on fear, aims not at normalization but at infinite malleability and obedience. P. 76
  • “It seems that there is a high degree of passive acquiescence to some forms of technological surveillance, astounding ignorance about other forms and a good deal of creative engagement with its selected types. P 77 YES
  • Surveillance is not an abstract feature of environment or culture but has tangible personal consequences that need to be reckoned with.
  • David Risman’s 1953 study of conformity = Renaissance people were tradition directed. Reformation people became increasingly inner directed. Implanted in early life by elders church etc. Advanced capitalist, industrialized and urbanized cultures became other-directed – exceptional sensitivity ot the actions and wishes of others. Children socialized to not follow tradition or inner compass but to observe others, including people they don’t know from the media. Other directed people are driven by the need for approval. Are people now SURVEILLANCE-DIRECTED? Attentive to camera surveillance, scanners, data readers, audio monitoring, without visualizing a human presence If so what does this mean? Is it a reaction to tech or is it more systematic, more profoundly related to the changing nature of social organisation and how does this compare to totalitarian surveillance. Iti s a habit of second guessing the impact of our behavior, interactions, appearance of speech on our DATA DOUBLE
  • Surveillance plays an ever growing role in the perception of
  • “…our subjectivity at least to some extent is being shaped, or manufactured, through our concentration on fulfilling external conditions of our freedom. Surveillance plays an ever-growing role in the perception of these conditions.” P. 82
  • “One significant difference between the logic of surveillance in the totalitarian and late-modern democratic regimes is that the former is predicated on an explicit refutation of the “free individual” as an agent of social order and change, while late-modern surveillance principles are linked to the systemic imperative of both cultivating and policing individual agency.” YES YES YES p. 83
  • Individual resistance becomes very precarious
  • Social atomization – separation through infiltration, ideological obliteration of tradition, criminalization of association, and deliberate uprooting schemes such as forced population movements, mass arrests and grandiose industrial or military projects’ p. 83 a
  • radical destruction of trust. Every member of society is a police surrogate. A MAJOR BARRIER TO RESISTANCE IS LACK OF TRUST When social organising and cooperation based on trad criteria are rendered suspect, the impetus for grassroots associations and ‘natural’ social niches is lost. i.e. War on Terror makes it a citizens duty to mistrust and report on each other. New forms of mistrust and suspicion. Recasting citizens as spies and suspects
  • Lianos claims that institutionalized surveillance/control is deeply desocializing as it disengages its subjects (users) from social belonging (2003) p. 84
  • “Finally, the relocation of sociality into the Internet and other global arenas is being accompanied and shaped by new awareness of being under a virtually infinite, culturally unbound, worldwide surveillance. p. 86
  • Totalitarian when the regime’s omnipotence is validated when people can be made to say whatever the ruler wants them to say. ..By instilling indifference to truth and falsehood, it certifies a make-believe reality of the moment as the only thinkable and sable reference. P 88 (referring to her 2044 work)
  • The data double – often being wrong – makes the confession and testimony negligible appendage – WHEREAS STALIN GOT A CONFESSION THAT MADE EVIDENCE IRRELEVANT.
  • ‘There is a noticeable tendency in current modes of social control to displace morality to the margins of evolving technologies and rationalities of government. ….By displacing morality, surveillance makes itself indispensable”.
  • “While under these conditions, deliberate totalitarian technologies that break the integrity of individuals become worthless, this unwitting dissolution of integrity mimics the outcomes of more sinister, totalitarian practices” YEEEEES p. 89
  • “It may therefore be argued that under very different conditions and through far less brutal means, late modernity produces effects akin to those pursued by the totalitarian technology of control, which strived to purge the Self and nullify the meaning of individual resistance. Unlike the latter, however contemporary strategies of institutional regulation seemingly leave the decision making processes in the hands of individuals and are fuelled by the rationality of mutually beneficial consensual exchanges.” P.90
  • The totalitarian experience of the 20th century created a normative vacuum, in which a new, extreme form of positivistic truth, generated by surveillance, has found a receptive ground. ..These truncated, dehumanized and de-socialized scripts appear as ‘given’ and acquire a very positivistic air. … while anti-positivistic (relativistic ) epistemologies have aspired to counter the totalitarian potential of our thoughts, they might have in the end contributed to the rise of an extreme form of technologically enhanced positivism.

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