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Watching Big Brother: reality politics
Giulio Prisco   Mar 25, 2012   Ethical Technology  

In Orwell’s 1984, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by television cameras. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you”, which is the core “truth” of the propaganda system in this state. Since the publication of 1984, the term “Big Brother” has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance.

Today, Big Brother is better known as a reality show where a group of people live together in a large house, isolated from the outside world, and they are continuously monitored by television cameras and watched by countless viewers. It is the viewers who decide who can stay in the house and who must go.

Big Brother on TV is but one of the many distractions that keep us from watching Orwell’s Big Brother, which is becoming more and more of a problem in today’s world. The passive tolerance that we have developed for the growing 24/7 surveillance of peaceful law-abiding citizens by the government, the endless interference of nanny-state zealots in our personal lives, and the gradual erosion of our personal sphere by regulators and bureaucrats, are among the most serious problems of our Western society. They will not be happy until we become a society of sheeple. I don’t want to be a sheeple, and I don’t want our children and their children to live as sheeple.

This modest reality politics proposal combines the two definitions of Big Brother: complete surveillance must have a place in politics, but it is we-the-people of the 99% who should be watching _our_ government, instead of the other way around. Let’s put all politicians and administrators in a large glasshouse full with television cameras, and let’s watch them 24/7.

There are many good people in the world, and many of them choose to go into politics and administration. But I am afraid the current system weeds them out and leaves only the bad guys, those who have always considered politics as a make-money-fast scheme, in positions of power.

With this new system, as soon as two bad guys exchange votes for bribes or do just one thing that they shouldn’t do, viewers see / share / tweet / youtube everything and kick their ass out. The system will also show us all the bureaucrats who play Sudoku, Angry Birds, watch porn on the web, or polish their nails all day, handsomely paid with our tax money, and we will kick their ass out too.

For the system to work, the surveillance must be really complete: all that they say to each other, and all their communications with the external world, must be watched. Everything they do, everything they say in official meetings and behind the scenes, everything they write, every wink and every smile, every fart and every belch, must be captured by cameras and microphones, streamed to the world, and recorded.

Of course, the devil is in the details: our politicians and administrators will try to fool the system, for example using special codes to exchange secret messages with each other and with their friends outside. But I am sure we can devise appropriate countermeasures, and I believe reality politics would be a very interesting experiment to try.
 

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.



COMMENTS

In a partial way it has been tried. Various “access to information” laws are in place (and to some extent implemented), and some debates are televised or live-streamed.

Obviously in the extreme version nobody would work for a bureaucracy, least of all the “good people” who are supposedly weeded out by the bad guys. Nobody wants to work under such conditions.

@Peter re “some debates are televised or live-streamed”

But you know very well that decision are not made in debates where somebody persuades the others that some course of action is better than others. That is just window dressing. Decisions are made in dirty backroom deals (exchanging votes for bribes etc.). We must watch the backroom too.

If surveillance of politicians is a good way to expose corruption and wrong doing (which I agree it might be) on what basis is the reverse untrue; that surveillance of citizens fails to achieve the same goals?

I’m not sure you can have it both ways; surveillance as both a useful tool and something to be avoided. Marshall Brain recently explored the idea of mass surveillance a bit in his book Manna, and (I think) made a persuasive argument that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I suppose living in Vegas adds to that a bit, though it’s not the government who has a perpetual ‘eye-in-the-sky’ here.

What’s good for the goose..? For sure, transparency and accountability needs to be nutured from the top down and not just used to oppress the peoples.

Although eventually, the only real way to prove and protect your identity and lifestyle from theft, will be to genetically link all of your transactions and movements, from birth to death?

The only real way to protect society and maintain security for all, is for all possibility for crimes to be transparent? what price security?

I oppose any attacks on liberty and freedom of speech, yet we must expect some increased surveillance as commonplace, whilst always challenging the motives and reasons for it?

@Giulio re “We must watch the back room deals too”: I agree, but then how do we deal with my other point.

At the TEDx in Brussels last November there was a lecture called “hiding in plain sight”. It was by an American of Arab origin who, essentially because of his ethnicity, had been subject to highly intrusive scrutiny by the FBI. So he developed a strategy of putting _everything_ in the public domain. Flood people with information, and they will miss the essentials.

This has two implications.

Firstly, there are ways to deal with lack of privacy as citizens. Sometimes I feel a greater sense of privacy writing comments in public here than I would face to face with someone I care about (or am scared of). One question is who can in principle access information, another is who in practice is likely to, and what they are likely to do with it. Common sense needs to be deployed in all cases.

The second point is that, this being the case, in the extreme case of blanket surveillance of bureaucrats, the clever and venal will still find a way to hide their back room deals. The helpless and mediocre will put up with the scrutiny, while the decent, clever, principled ones, those who form the backbone of well-functioning bureaucracies (they do exist Giulio) will leave like rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s already happening.

We need to find another way.

@John - I am not against surveillance of the bad guys as a useful tool, but I prefer no surveillance to complete surveillance of everyone.

I had a similar idea in the past. And I believe it is the only way to maintain a form of representative democracy on the long run. Without a complete annihilation of privacy for legislators and particularly powerful bureaucrats, the only alternative is direct democracy. We have the technology for that already. Thanks to the Internet, parliaments could be dismantled tomorrow. People could vote on any issue with a click, legislations might be proposed thanks to crowdsourcing. I admit this is a bit far-fetched for now, and structurally problematic for a number of reasons. That is why Giulio’s proposal sounds so appealing. If we allow those who have obtained political power to enjoy any form of privacy, of course they will use their privacy to keep valuable informations from their electors. Why shouldn’t they? It has been suggested (see http://www.mit.edu/~jhainm/Paper/Eggmueller_PoliticalCapital.pdf) that politicians are the only investors capable of consistently beating the market. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Obviously Peter’s point is very valid. We risk to select a new political class of incredibly skilled crooks. Back room deals might be made well before candidacies. A secret code could be conceived to bypass public scrutiny. However, I am inclined to believe that a population ready to require such strict standards to their elected representatives should also be able to spot anomalies and weasel out unworthy politicians. Not to mention that a serious annihilation of privacy for politicians and candidates can be extremely effective - and would anyway represent a dramatic improvement from the current situation.

Another point I would like to rise is that - such policies cannot but be enforced globally. You cannot have a country without secret services, while others keep doing dirty, secret business undisturbed. This would create obvious international imbalances. And the most “virtuous” nations - would be an easy prey.

@Andre You make a good point about secret services. And I also agree that more direct forms of democracy seem to be the way forward in the long run. Some of this is already coming with public consultations and the like, but it is still in its infancy. I nevertheless still think we need to take account of the risk that we simply drive good people away from public service with excessive surveillance.

If we are going to spy on politicians, then spy on corporations and crime cartels as well. Spy on the Cosa Nostra, etc.

@Intomorrow re “If we are going to spy on politicians, then spy on corporations and crime cartels as well. Spy on the Cosa Nostra, etc. “

Politicians are supposed to serve the people and are paid with the people’s money, which gives the people the right to watch what they do. Watching corporations and crime cartels is what the government must do—- and we must watch the government.

@Giulio Are you going to address my point about driving good people away from public service (including politics)? Do you not think this is at all relevant?

“Watching corporations and crime cartels is what the government must do”

No, you can’t expect the govt. to do that; we would have to take the initiative and spy on corporations and criminals ourselves. For instance ‘whistleblowers’ occasionally report what is going on at the companies they work for; and anonymous tips concerning criminals are as important as govt. surveillance of criminals.
You can’t expect govt. to be nannies and do everything, Giulio! you’ve got to get off the government addiction and do the job yourself! no more Big Brother Nanny State Pass the Buck Coddling- you gotta grab the bull by the balls and DIY!

@Peter re “Are you going to address my point about driving good people away from public service”

Yes, with the same argument that governments use in support of their BBesque control freakery: “law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from surveillance.”

But the argument is much stronger in this case. Serving the community should be seen as a privilege, not as a make-money-fast scam. Stay one or two years in the glasshouse, with a decent financial compensation to spend later, do good work to serve the community, do your best, and accumulate reputation and whuffie karma points. Many honest people would consider it (I certainly would). It is the scammers that would never consider it.

@Intomorrow re “we would have to take the initiative and spy on corporations and criminals ourselves… you can’t expect the govt. to do that”

I think you are assuming that the government is distinct from and above the community. This is sadly true in today’s world, but it is not as thongs should be. The government should be a tool that the community uses to manage its affairs. In this ideal case, what the government does is what _we_ do, as a community.

Government has to be to some extent distinct from the community in order for us to be able sensibly to talk about “government”. It may indeed be that in the future the social mechanisms (institutions) that we currently refer to as “government” become obsolete and communities find different ways to self-organise, but we are not there yet, and not because we have somehow moved away from a rosier bygone era. It’s because we haven’t yet moved fully away from the traditional agrarian/feudal model where elites oppress the masses. Representative democracy has been an excellent step in the right direction, but it’s only a step. We must go beyond it.

The question is how. Giulio you say you would consider a stint in “the glasshouse”; if so you have more faith than I do in how all this surveillance data would be used. I’m not sure how literally you wanted us to take “every fart, every belch”, but I for one would be worried about some casual remark, some idle moment of relaxation, being blown out of all proportion by some bored and neurotic individuals. Moreover, the five-day-a-week office routine is something I wanted to get away from, not least (though by no means only, admittedly) because I believe I can far better serve the public good outside that kind of cage.

Most of all, what I would object to about this idea would be the lack of trust. Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should just blindly trust our politicians and civil servants,  but (i) we should not require them to be saints, and (ii) we need credible and effective, but preferably non-intrusive, means of ensuring accuntability.

In fact, I think the main reason why we let our politicians and bureaucrats get away with bad behaviour is that we don’t know what we DO want from them. This is why fora such as this one are so important. We need to forge consensus on what we really want, and then try to make it happen, which will include holding politicians and civil servants to account in ensure that they play the role we have allocated to them honestly and effectively. And if they want to enjoy some downtime playing sudoku on the office computer, that’s fine with me.

But please, for heaven’s sake, let’s not waste time and money putting cameras in bureaucrats’ offices. If we’re going to do that we might as well get rid of them altogether.

“@John - I am not against surveillance of the bad guys as a useful tool, but I prefer no surveillance to complete surveillance of everyone.”

I guess I don’t see the relevant difference between citizens and politicians that would cause you to want complete surveillance for one but not the other.

I assume you don’t like the idea of surveillance on citizens because it violates a right to privacy or something similar? If that’s right, then I don’t see how politicians lose that when they become politicians any more than CEOs would lose it when they become CEOs: They, too, are responsible to ‘the people’ (though a limited subgroup which, technically, every politician except the president and VP are too) but they still have a right to privacy.

Politicians might be public servants, but they’re still people. If we take the right to privacy to be fundamental, then it ought to apply to them too. If we take it to be situational, then it’s positive law and we can’t be too upset if the government uses it in situations we don’t like.

Re: Direct democracy: I don’t know that that’s a good idea either; at least until / unless we fix our educational system, poverty problems, and other big issues. California’s voter referendums seem to have put the state in a bad spot, at least according to this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/us/11calif.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=lead judge denounces glut&st=cse and this: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/21calif.html?fta=y

“but it is not as thongs should be.”

Thongs? you must be thinking of Berlusconi;
or Clinton, perhaps?
What would really work?: polygrapgh exams for all govt. and business execs. However the logistics of such obviously wouldn’t be practical.

@Peter

Let us put it this way. Are you familiar with Stiglitz’s works on informational asymmetry? There is the rather famous textbook example of the market of lemons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons). When there is an informational asymmetry, the side who knows more has all the incentives to progressively reduce the quality of its services. In other words, honest sellers get crowded out by dishonest ones - since consumers do not have a quick and practical way to establish the quality of goods by themselves. Typically this theory is quoted to show market failures - and is also supposed to demonstrate the necessity of external regulators.
Anyway, it can be seen from another perspective. The market of lemons is a rather accurate metaphor of representative democracy. Us - the electors - buy something from politicians. We buy laws, regulations, insurances, protection. Even if we were governed by angels, given the extreme complexity of our societies, it would be impossible for any elector to establish weather or not a certain set of laws is good, useless, or damaging. Also politicians cannot know that (that’s the amusing part). Anyway, we know that top public officials have access to many classified documents, keep secret and confidential news for themselves, periodically meet with big economic players. These facts change the picture. Legislators know something we do not, the public cannot possibly have access to those informations. So politicians who sell us lemons (i.e. those who make and vote laws against the interest of their very electors) on the long run must crowd out honest ones - which cannot gather (read: steal) enough resources to boost their honest political agenda.

It is not about supervising lazy bureaucrats. It is about reducing the informational asymmetry.

Andre’, your comment above is good- if only your comments at Peg’s article were as comprehensively thought out.
Truly, the only sure-fire (albeit impractical) way to go would be to administer polygraphs or perhaps put sodium pentathol in the water supply of those in power.
Can’t think of any other way to secure any sort of compliance; you have to go into their minds—as with dictatorship: Big Brother directly manipulated the minds of his subjects.. ‘1984’ described how Winston’s mind was slowly altered so that by the very end of the book he had tears in his eyes as he looked at a poster of Big Brother and realized he loved him.
Compliance, I surmise, can only usually come from intruding into the minds of those in power.

I was never really convinced by the “lemon” theory. It seems to me that there are many ways in which consumers can get around it, such as buying only from reputable dealers.

I’m far more convinced by Marx’s insight that wealth (and power) tends to concentrate, and those with more resources tend to use those resources to get more resources. Information is a resource, of course, so in _that_ sense information asymmetry is a real issue: as a special case of concentration of power.

But it can be compensated by other resources. For example the “expert power” of a technical expert - which is another example of information asymmetry - will often be more than compensated by the Machiavellian instincts, better communication skills and organisational status of his or her boss. Information is only one kind of resource.

So essentially we are back to the issue of centralisation vs decentralisation of power. Power needs to be sufficiently decentralised to ensure justice and governance in the interest of the citizens, but sufficiently centralised to ensure efficient decision-making, especially in times of crisis. The privileged information enjoyed by mandarins and their corporate chums is a factor to be taken into account in that overall context. It is not a reason to bring cameras into the toilets (and make no mistake, if necessary it is there that the back room deals will be done).

“Thongs”? Now I wonder what Freud would make of this talk? Subconscious musings perhaps?

Always use your smell checker!

“It is not a reason to bring cameras into the toilets (and make no mistake, if necessary it is there that the back room deals will be done).”

You got it; in fact they would squeeze into crawlspaces to scheme, if they had to. So what you write of decentralization balanced by enough centralisation “to ensure efficient decision-making, especially in times of crisis” makes sense.
Such is why OWS, etc., is so important: to place maximum pressure at all times on politicians and others in power.

Concerning Lemons - the UK was certainly sold a Lemon by subscribing to a deceiving Tory/Lib Dem coalition govt. Who immediately took axe and hatchet to our social welfare and established healthcare systems. Snake oil salesmen? No just Snakes!

@Peter re “Power needs to be sufficiently decentralised to ensure justice and governance in the interest of the citizens, but sufficiently centralised to ensure efficient decision-making, especially in times of crisis.”

You mean like when politicians and admins steal public money for personal use (holidays in luxury hotels etc.) , and pay their brother-in-law’s companies to build roads that go nowhere (nobody will notice it because they will never be completed anyway) and write useless reports on marginal issues that nobody will ever read?

Very efficient indeed.

@Intomorrow re “they would squeeze into crawlspaces to scheme”

That is why we must have cameras in crawlspaces.

Re “to place maximum pressure at all times on politicians and others in power.”

Yes, and of course this is the point that I am trying to make.

Then we are in substantial agreement as to the what, now the difficulty is the how—and aside from OWS+, can’t think of anything.
Guess I’m cynical due to seeing at close quarters the bottom of society; as for example at the soup kitchens. Even at those places, though, there is a ray of hope: they aren’t nearly as unintelligent as one might suppose them to be at first. They have craftiness and ‘sixth sense’ to compensate for lack of education. OWS has far more of such, they merely need positive guidance from their elders—which up to now they haven’t gotten enough of.

Sounds a tad more promising than putting cameras in toilets and crawlspaces

@Intomorrow

Thanks for the seal of approval this time. Anyway, my comments on Peg’s piece are equally “thought out”, I assure you. Probably there I triggered a stronger, negative emotional response from you -because of your political prejudices against the views I expressed.

@Peter
“Power needs to be sufficiently decentralised to ensure justice and governance in the interest of the citizens, but sufficiently centralised to ensure efficient decision-making, especially in times of crisis.” The point is who decides what is the “right” level of power. It is true. People tend to require more authoritarian governments during times of crisis. But anyway, the level of centralization depends on human choices, it is not a spontaneous, natural phenomenon. Supportive majorities decide how much of their decisional power can be delegated in exchange for something else. something more valuable (like security, prosperity, and so on). The more we pay for our political structure (and we are really paying a lot for it in this historical moment), the more demanding we should become regarding its quality. And Giulio’s proposal, even in its clearly provocative nature, goes right in this direction.

I guess we could all watch each other, constantly - that would be democratic and fair? What type of society would that be like?

@CygnusX1 re “I guess we could all watch each other, constantly - that would be democratic and fair? What type of society would that be like?”

It would be a nightmare society if you ask me. Surveillance should be reserved for extreme cases like dangerous criminals, and those who have the privilege to manage the society. I have said that every fart and every belch that they do should be on cameras and Youtube, but I, as a simple citizen, demand the right to fart and belch freely without surveillance, provided I don’t harm others.

@Peter re “I’m not sure how literally you wanted us to take “every fart, every belch”“

Quite literally, think of Morse code 😉

“Quite literally, think of Morse code”

Now you’re cooking with gas, Giulio- you are putting the issues out there. OWS-types appear to be the best hope; the stereotype of them being 30 year olds in touch with Mommy by cellphone is only partly true—there are all kinds, as you know. Since many are middle class (will get to surveillance at the close) there is a bit more pressure, pressure being one reason revolutionaries of the past gravitated to revolution. It is relatable to the Bell Curve: those at the top have responsibility (Alex can appreciate this) yet they can hire others to do everything for them as long as they can find underlings who can be trusted. Those at the bottom do not have to have any responsibility if they don’t want, they can sign forms social workers put in front of them and they get housing and medical care, etc. Naturally there is prisoner’s dilemma involved.. thus false consciousness prods them to help preserve the status quo of tobacco, alcohol, sports, ‘conservative’ politics, toxic bread.
So that leaves the middle-lower middle classes, who will lead the revolution - small case ‘r’. And there will be revolution, albeit cyclical, as I really think the lure of the status quo/sentimentality is too powerful for now.
It isn’t accurate to say youths have no choice, however the pressures on them to change their environment is strong. So the situation
will change, for better and worse, putting maximum pressure back (i.e. karma) on those who want power:

“Yes, and of course this is the point that I am trying to make”.

We have common ground in this, which seems to offer more than surveillance in ‘loos and cubbyholes!

 

 

...
“my comments on Peg’s piece are equally ‘thought out’, I assure you. Probably there I triggered a stronger, negative emotional response from you -because of your political prejudices against the views I expressed”

No, it’s that it’s been regurgitated so many times before it isn’t heard: pro-life/choice is the ultimate political football.

“Politicians are supposed to serve the people and are paid with the people’s money, which gives the people the right to watch what they do. Watching corporations and crime cartels is what the government must do—- and we must watch the government.”

Andre’s valid point on secret services led to a thought on secret societies, which are commoner than we’d like to know. So rather than the KGB, we’d have the KKK (which might be good for us whites but not for people of color- there’s always a losing ethnicity).
Yet your notion of spying on government is worth attempting in some way; now the hard part of figuring out how!

This thread could go round and round in circles ad infinitum.

Giulio has obviously made his mind up, so no point discussing this issue with him. Andre says surveillance is a step in the right direction, but I’m more inclined to see it as a step in the wrong done, essentially for the reasons cited by CygnusX1. Hold our governments to account, absolutely, break the power of the elites, yes. But let’s not be silly. At least not ad infinitum.

At any rate, it appears surveillance of government is a nonstarter, as the surveill-ees would become more cautious.. after all, if we can be aware of the potentials of spying, so can the surveill-ees.

This is an indication of what happens:

“... detection ability encourages selection for behavior that will avoid detection, setting up an arms race between deceptive behavior and mechanisms for detecting deception…” (John O. McGinnis)

Can’t speak for you, but I don’t want to reject surveillance of government altogether; spying on Nixon was the right thing to do. It would be more accurate to write Nixon and his band spied on themselves and courts eventually gained access to the recordings; nevertheless, the principle of intruding upon private discussions was/is the same- and some outside surveillance was involved in the Watergate investigation—
overall, one could call it self-inflicted surveillance.

@Peter re “And if they want to enjoy some downtime playing sudoku on the office computer, that’s fine with me.”

Come on Peter. You know that I am referring to those who play sudoku all day, you know that many people in the public service play sudoku all day, and you know how much they are paid to play sudoku all day.

@John re “Politicians might be public servants, but they’re still people. If we take the right to privacy to be fundamental, then it ought to apply to them too.”

I am talking of a voluntary and temporary suspension of the right to privacy, that a person can choose freely, like the participants in the Big Brother reality show on TV. They choose it in exchange for opportunities for fame, politicians might choose it in exchange for the privilege of serving the community.

@Giulio So, contrary to Andre’s assertion, we are talking about lazy bureaucrats (inter alia).

Yes, this does happen, and it’s true that information asymmetry is part of the reason why it does. (My guess is it happens in large corporate organisations as well, where information asymmetry vis-a-vis shareholders is also a problem.) Somebody gets demotivated, and rather than dealing effectively with the problem his or her managers just brush it under the carpet, considering that trying to do something about it will be more trouble than it’s worth. Given the way incentive structures work (in practice) in such organisation, and given the terrible lack of leadership skills amongst middle (and senior for that matter) management, they’re usually right.

But after a night’s sleep I think I’ve figured out what I really dislike about this proposal. If there is one thing that is wrong with bureaucracy today it is the extent to which the bureaucrat’s actions are motivated by fear. And again, it’s not only in bureaucracies. Reading about the Stanford prison experiment, which I’ve discussed in my empathy article, was an eye-opener for me not least in the context of understanding office politics. People bring a whole bunch of stresses and anxieties into the office with them, which are not addressed directly but are then expressed through various kinds of sadistic or self-destructive behaviour patterns. It’s all a big role-play experiment, and the effects are often horrifyingly similar to the ones that Zimbardo observed.

My fear is that extreme surveillance, apart from being a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, would merely make this problem worse.

@Intomorrow I don’t think anyone is advocating rejecting government surveillance _altogether_

@Peter re “the bureaucrat’s actions are motivated by fear”

Yes, those who have a job that pays a lot of money for doing nothing, and have lost whatever marketable skill they had after years of doing nothing, are very scared of losing it and will do everything to keep it.

But those who play sudoku all day are not the worse. The worse are, as you acutely observe, those sadists who spend their day victimizing their colleagues just for the fun of it.

These things happen also in corporations of course, especially in large corporations, but not as much as in a bureaucracy. In a corporation, both lazy workers and sadists are kicked out if they threaten productivity (unless they are the buddies of the CEO or the investors of course).

Note that my system would permit uncovering sadists too. As a watcher, perhaps I would whistleblow at an all-day lazy sudoku player, but I would so immediately and with the greatest enthusiasm for a sadist.

There is a subtle difference between government transparency and surveillance.. one of these is beneficial for society as a whole whereas the other goes too far.

As I said in my first comment - there will come a time when all online transactions will require transparency for the protection of personal identity in the face of growing identity theft, as well as for anti-terrorism policies.

Technology = transparency = Accountability (as David Brin also promotes).

To be honest, Giulio, I don’t believe for a minute that you would waste your time obsessively watching surveillance videos of bureaucrats to detect either sadism or laziness. Would you?

Lazy people in large corporations don’t necessarily get kicked out: in many countries (even the US?) they are well protected by employment laws. Even in the private sector it can be more beneficial (or at least perceived as such) to tolerate a degree of laziness than do something about it. Don’t you ever read Dilbert? And as for the sadists…well they are often some of the most valued people in such organisations. I don’t believe for one moment that this is significantly worse in bureaucracies, in fact from what I hear the problem of sadism is actually _worse_ in the private sector, where the Stockholm syndrome (related to the Stanford prison experiment, of course), is even more palpable.

Of course you are right, in principle, to state that your system would permit uncovering sadists and the lazy alike. The question is whether it would have that effect in practice, or whether it would simply aggravate an existing bad situation. My hunch is the latter.

Giulio, what good is it to spy on government if the private sector is confimedly old fashioned (some tree huggers) who want a small state so they can pretend they live in 1776? Americans live in a cardboard Hollywood dream-world. Don’t know about Europe, yet perhaps Europeans have the overall mindset they had in the age of de Gaulle and Adenauer?
Gadgets are modern, but the public is overwhelmingly composed of cornballs.

Too many behaviors are illegal or morally unacceptable for this to end well. Complete surveillance means we all go to hell because we are all sinners, criminals, etc.

So who wins in that scenario? It’s fine to have complete surveillance but we first have to get rid of all the anachronistic laws and the punishment system we call the justice system. If you aren’t prepared to stop judging your fellow man then surveillance is just useful for a high tech witch hunt in which everyone loses similar to what happened in history during the inquisition.

“law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from surveillance.”

The Weimar Republic took a census of its citizens including religious affiliation in its final years. They assured the people that their information would be safe with them. When Hitler took power he had all the information needed to track down every German Jew.

One can imagine a situation of a democratic government using extensive surveillance fairly and reasonably and then some repressive regime or occupation force taking over and using that same technology for very unpleasant purposes.

The problem is that if the laws change (or in the case of Nazi Germany not worth the paper) it doesn’t matter if you are law-abiding. And if the laws are unjust in the first place following them may be difficult or even impossible.

I fear that as usual in human affairs, there is no all-perfect solution that doesn’t have a disease-bearing insect in the ointment.

Taiwanlight re “I fear that as usual in human affairs, there is no all-perfect solution that doesn’t have a disease-bearing insect in the ointment.”

Very true. But this shouldn’t stop us from searching better and better solutions. There is never a perfect solution, but there is always a better solution.

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