I first asked to what extent the warnings about society implicit in 1984 might actually still apply to our own culture, Students pointed out various ways that Orwell's dystopia is inherent within certain historical and present-day facts:
- the efforts in both Nazi Germany and the United States to influence public opinion through various forms of propaganda. (The two important figures that stand out are Paul Joseph Goebbels in Germany, Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Joseph McCarthy in the United States.
- the nuclear Holocaust, which suggests, as does Goldstein's book in 1984, that war is no longer possible to win, in fact that winning is no longer desirous given the post-apocalyptic consequences.
- the tendency for people to "doublethink" even in our own culture.
- examples of technological surveillance in our own culture: in the workforce through computer programs that allow you to check up on your workers; through computerized devices like the World Wide Web, the Pentium III, and cell phones; the increasing number of surveillance cameras tied to commercial buildings; the new use of police cameras at stop lights, etc.; the new phenomenon of spy stores where private citizens can purchase high-tech surveillance equipment; Watergate; the cesus and the social security number.
I then went over a major change that has occurred in our own culture in our understanding of power and social control; that is, the transition from what Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish calls a culture of spectacle to a carceral culture. Whereas, in the former, punishment is effected on the body in public displays of torture, dismemberment, and obliteration, in the latter punishment and discipline become internalized and directed to the constitution and, when necessary, rehabilitation of social subjects. I also discussed some of the ways that Bentham's theories about penal reform have affected such disparate social formations as the university classroom (constructed on the panoptic model; see right), urban planning (the grid vs. the central piazza), and factory organization. I also discussed some of the inherent benefits and also dangers of the present system and suggested that the current popular fascination with conspiracy-theory narratives (the X-Files being a prominent example) may be a symptom of our inherent fears about certain aspects of our carceral system of social control. (The importance of anonymous denunciations in the Nazi Gestapo system was discussed as an example of when the carceral system goes too far.) Various examples of carceral control in our own society were cited, particularly the fact the the U.S. has the largest per capita number of prisons of any other nation in the world; new uses of video surveillance by traffic police; the camera-and-mirror form of surveillance in most drugstores; the ease by which one's movements can be tracked in our contemporary culture (ATMs, cameras, credit cards, etc.).
Finally, I pointed out some of the effects of this new model of organization:
- the internalization of rules and regulations. (Freud's very model of the human psyche--id, ego, and superego--could be said to come out of this new understanding of the social subject.)
- the resulting emphasis on rehabilitation over cruel and unusual punishment.
- surveillance into ever more private aspects of our lives.
- the new emphasis on information; all of this surveillance and information gathering leads, of course, to huge challenges for the organization and retrieval of data. Perhaps the very move of society into this new mode of social organization made the invention of the computer inevitable since it allows us to organize ever more vast amounts of data.
- bureaucracy. A new white-collar labor force is necessary to set up the procedures for information retrieval and storage.
- efficiency. Value is placed on the most efficient means of organizing data and individuals to effect the mass production and dissemination of more goods and information.
- specialization. Members of the workforce are organized into increasingly specialized fields, so much so that we often must rely on other experts to complete specific operations.
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