Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jeremy Bentham, Michel Foucault, and the T.S.A.

"Peepshow scanners may not catch terrorists, but who says they’re supposed to?" writes The American Conservative's Brian Doherty — Dignity Doesn’t Fly. Suggesting that "the principles behind the TSA’s new strategies are very old," the author continues:
    Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon is being built in miniature, but with an even wider angle of view. While the 19th-century utilitarian philosopher Bentham dreamed of a system that could keep watch at all times over particular classes in need of surveillance—he was thinking of prisoners, students, and workhouse denizens—the American Panopticon gazes upon any air traveler without regard to criminal background or mental history.

    A second philosopher who saw this coming was Michel Foucault. What Foucault wrote about the insane asylum’s effect upon its inmates applies eerily and equally well to what the TSA does to everyone who passes through its screen: “The problem is to impose, in a universal form, a morality that will prevail from within upon those who are strangers to it.” Sadly, given the number of Americans who reacted to November’s anti-TSA furor with a hearty “who cares if you have to be watched or grabbed in order to travel? The experts say it’s needed,” the TSA appears to have succeeded in constructing a new morality.

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