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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Surveillance (p. 26)

From chapter "Science"

Surveillance, and this is true for science as well—indeed, this is true for the entire culture, of which surveillance and science are just two holographic parts—is based on unequal relationships. Surveillance—and science—requires a watcher and a watched, a controller and a controlled, one who has the right to surveil or observe—with knowledge, truth, providence, and most of all might on his side—and one who is there for the other to gain knowledge—as power—about.

These unequal relationships require a split, a separation. There can be no real mixing of categories, of participants. The lines between watcher and watched, controller and controlled, must be sharp and inviolable. Humans on one side, nonhumans on the other. Men on one side, women on the other. Those in power on one side, the rest of us on the other. Guards on one side, prisoners on the other. At Pelican Bay State Prison, where I taught creative writing for several years, I once received a chiding letter from my supervisor after I innocently answered an inmate’s friendly question as to what I was doing for Thanksgiving: to even let him know I was spending it with my mom was to make myself too known—too visible—to this other who must always be kept at a distance.

If this sounds a lot like the pornographic relationship, that’s because it is. Pornography—cousin to surveillance, and bastard child of science—requires the same dynamic of watcher and watched, the same dyad of unchanged subject gazing at an object to be explored at an emotional distance, the same relationship of powerful viewer looking at powerless object. (This may explain at least some of the popularity of pornography: people who are powerless in every other aspect of their lives get to feel some power as they look at these pictures and read the attached text.) When I read that we must not “make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners,” I wonder whether I am reading a letter by the father of science Sir Francis Bacon to King James I (describing how the methods of interrogating witches— that is, restraint and torture—must be applied to the natural world), or whether I’m reading a description at www.perfectly-pussy.com. When I read about using the “mechanical arts” (that is, once again, restraint and torture) so that she “betrays her secrets more fully . . . than when in enjoyment of her natural liberty,” am I still reading Bacon’s words on science, or have I landed at www.fetishhotel.com?

These unequal relationships—insofar as we can even call them relationships—must be oppositional. Predator and prey must not be working together for the benefit of both of their communities, and for the benefit of the land. Instead, from this perspective— this perspective based on selves being separate, and knowledge being gained through splitting off—predator and prey (and this applies to humans as well) must be locked in an eternal battle, good against evil, a battle that ends in Armageddon.

As civilization plays out its grim endgame, and as those in power move ever closer to their ultimately unattainable goal of absolute control (through absolute surveillance), converting in their efforts the wild both inside and out to devastated psyches and landscapes, it might be well past time to reconsider the premises that underlie much of this destructive way of being (or not being) and perceiving (or not perceiving). For in many ways, perception shores up the whole bloody farce.