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Objectivity and Society

created 2003-07-18 09:37:19

(Up to: Foucault What Is Objectivity Philosophy Society And Control Justiceof Misfits )

This is an idea I picked up from reading Michel Foucault's works; that of the gradual transgression from an order based on subjection, to one that use objectivity as its primary influence. The extreme of the latter is a 1984-style police state, only instead of using violence and the threat of such as a control measure, it is the individual's self-conscious fear of attracting attention that keeps order. The violence becomes an implication, and needs nothing more than to be imagined.

The third definition over on describing objectivity tends towards the meaning of objectivity that is of interest here:

[n] A grammatical constituent that is acted upon

Whilst it concerns itself with grammatical rules, it beautifully epitomises the whole point of objectivity as a social clause - the process of taking what once were subjects, unmonitored individuals under a ruling body, and transforming the infrastructures around them so that a constant level of attention is focused onto them. It is this shift that Foucault describes, and one that interests me in light of the apparent increasing readiness of Western culture to ensure a system of control via individualisation.

Although I understand and try to concern myself with a striving for not just privacy, but a line of trust that runs between those in power and those subjected to it, I have never placed it into a historical context. Instead, the argument against privacy invasion, such as the ubiquity of CCTV cameras, detailed information gathering and other such schemes, has always been presented to me (and indeed, from me) as a trespass onto a level of freedom that we have otherwise enjoyed up til now within our own lifetime.

When considered as part of an ongoing evolution of civilisation, its significance suddenly changes, enlarged in some aspects and withered in opposing others, yet the ends - my ends, anyway - remain justified. The original blasphemy of the installation of CCTV and such prevalent security measures we see today now seems minor in relation to the massive, multi-generational transformation that takes into accounts far greater systems and structures than simply surveillance methods. It now seems too little to simply take offense at minor impeachments without considering the larger scale. Conversely, each of these issues represents one insignificant step towards what is, by legacy, called a "police state" - a world in which every person is made aware of his or her own actions, and the individualisation of data acts as power; where to be different is to be a threat to order.
Foucault deals with abstracts that reveal the nature of the progress, but it is only through a vast number of arbitrarily small steps that real change is brought about. Thus, to prevent the slide into a world of paralysing objectification, the tools and methods used to objectify must be prevented. After this, or rather throughout, it is vital however that we realise the true scale of the matter, and just how far there is to go if we truely want to have control over ourselves.

(See also: Ubiquitous Memory )

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