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Lab Rats a go-go

You have only one question to ask yourself: do I give good data-set?


Even automatic doors don’t notice us

The security camera is slotted into the space left by an omniscient god. But this is a deity that’s had to downgrade its ambitions and if god is love, this one has a corner of a shopping centre as the object of its unrelenting devotion. Surveillance is the maintenance of the mundane, of business as usual: of flow control and correct deportment.
Theocracy downloaded into an array of automatic or acolyte-attended devices becomes politics as stock control: the movement and distribution of goods, services and bodies – supply and command. Travellers must be stopped moving or kept in perpetual motion by the denial of anywhere to park up: whilst the undead commodities of the veal trade must get through – at all costs. The new mythology has become one of communications, distribution systems, gates, circuits, switches, ports, timetables and schedules. Rational procedures and devices for managing material flows, all dedicated to getting the job done and doing it well.
Monological totem of this right-mindedness is the barcode – the sign that can only refer to one thing.

Contemporary rationalism is of course founded in Descartes famous vision of 1619. As Simon Penny points out “The irony of rationalism is that it arose from a dream.” If rationality is another form of mass consensual and self-induced hallucination, what happens when the technology of control develops unprogrammed relations? When this robot god of love gets smitten?
In the real world, according to such films as The Bodyguard, Someone to Watch Over Me, Stake Out and so on, cops just can’t help falling in love with the people that they are there to monitor and protect. But then, they’re pretty much all of them just oozing with total niceness, so it’s to be expected. According to Norbert Wiener, “the structure of the machine or of the organism is an index of the performance that may be expected from it”. This is technology that just aches for someone to take care of and to pay attention to. This is an endoscope that wants to know what you had for breakfast, makes sure that it contained the right balance of nutrients and tasted just like MummyDaddy used to make. This is an ankle tag that wants to keep you at home, nice and safe and warm. This is a humane killer.

Meat Counter

Question: What do paranoid leftists and apocalyptic slaves of The Nazarene toting the groovily psychedelic Book of Revelations both agree on?

Answer: That the cops want to tattoo you with a bar-code: either the number of the beast, or the number of the National Insurance.

But that’s silly. They don’t want to tattoo you with a bar code. Firm believers in self-representation, they simply want to turn you into your own bar code. The sections of the Criminal Justice Act and of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that allow the police to take ‘intimate’ and ‘non-intimate’ body samples are recent additions to a line of mechanisms including phrenology, the science of the recognition of criminal facial types and fingerprinting (notably the troubled systems of electronic fingerprint recognition), that induct the citizen into performing physically within the techno-juridical framework. The Queen’s family of dogs and thousands of other pets might have recently had chips implanted in their necks, but as far as her human livestock goes control is seeking to abolish all mediating and alienating technology in its pursuit of the authentic: located for now, in DNA. Just as abolishing the right to silence makes you produce speech – to become the perfect mirror to control – by drawing genetic evidence directly from criminalised meat, they can make it perform as traitor to itself: without even having to look despotic. Here the deciding essence of humanity wavers uncertainly between the Turing test and a urine test
Criminality has always been thoroughly located in flesh. Dysfunctional units off the production line of the universalised subject, the criminalised are the tokens of exchange through which the cop sub-economy runs. You don’t know where your body ends and discipline begins. Municipal body invaders such as Southwark Council in London are doing random blood tests on childcare staff, checking for drugs and booze. What you did the night before is not your own business as work discipline extends as the metric for all areas of life. The new Jobseekers Allowance measures for people receiving income support or unemployment benefit will even include a dress code for people in receipt of the state’s bounteous crumbs.
You are required to produce yourself as a screen upon which Control can be seen to do the right thing. Sub-dermal video running slo-mo through the Home Shopping Network, Brookside, the News at Ten: the Identity Channel. But, if the state is (rather outdatedly) after your body, the supermarkets are after your soul, or at least that major part of it dedicated to snack food purchase control. As the Critical Art Ensemble point out in Addictionmania:
“Data bases are overflowing with information about consumers, both in terms of aggregates based on racial and social categories, and in terms of personal portfolios tracing the spending habits of individual consumers. (Information is kept that ranges from the useful to the useless: People with dogs tend to purchase Ragu spaghetti sauce, while people with cats tend to buy Prego). The status of the consumer as a being in the world is removed from an organic centre and is decentered in the circulation of the electronic file. Spending patterns and credit history become the being of the individual in the marketplace.”

Home and derangement

There is a great fashion for those who do nothing that is subject to overt regulation or criminalisation to moan about these processes more vociferously and more delightedly with every new piece of legislation or other attack than any others. So much satisfaction too, can be had by ferventsoixante-retards stricken by regret and nostalgia, (the intellectual’s “will to powerlessness: a constitutive sense of inferiority to the mediascape”)8, in competing to tell of the latest toothsome incursions against freedom. Taking control’s front at face value . Awe of Control puts you in your place more effectively and more comfortingly than any other mechanism, and it is those who continually trumpet the omnipotence of power that perpetuate it as much as any cop.
Whilst crippling – and most often voluntary, this awe is not necessarily suprising. Control is presented as a Black Box. We know some of what goes in, and some of what comes out. But what goes on in there is a mystery. As Foucault illustrates, “Behind the disciplinary mechanisms can be read the haunting memory of ‘contagions’, of the plague, of rebellions, crimes, vagabondage, desertions, people who appear and disappear, live and die in disorder.” Behind the disciplinary mechanisms in the other direction from the one Foucault intended is an equal amount of weird shit. From orange sucking MPs to the decidedly fruity Orange Men what appears in rationalist, traditional, common sense drag is as seriously deranged as the rest of us.

Control is caught between its urge to become the solar eye – seeking oblivion and escape from worry by knowing everything – and its insatiable nervous hunger for stimulation. Either way it wants to see things from a perspective that no organic eye can ever enjoy.
On the one hand, the urge to totalisation, to become god, on the other: the vision addict that even when it has data streaming through it at terabits a second still feels like it’s padlocked inside a floatation tank, desperate for stimulation. You can never know enough.
The tendency to oblivion becomes micro-fascism: blanking out and realising itself through the Branch Davidians or the Royal Enclosure at the Henley Regatta. A relatively self-sustaining, simple and closed pattern that replicates through the intake of new material, or that programmes itself into an inevitable cataclysm.
In order to feed, Control has to develop eyes like a fly, to create more borders than it can watch over, to string itself out into night patrols, laboratories, customer surveys, data mines, always afraid of dissolving into the white noise of what it watches. As a god that demands good works to get into heaven Control spends its time slapping its arms under a blue light: desperate for any new vein. This hunger inevitably changes Control, reconfigures it. It may even cut itself open to implant prosthetics that will do things better.

Technologies Impacting on Control

“…technological webs can undergo bursts of evolutionary creativity and massive extinction events, just like biological ecosystems. Say a new technology like the automobile comes in and replaces an older technology, the horse. Along with the horse go… the whole subnetwork of technologies that depended on the horse that suddenly collapse in what the economist Jospeh Schumpeter once called ‘a gale of destruction’. But along with the car… a whole new network of goods and services begins to grow, each one filling a niche opened up by the goods and services that came before it.”

The laws against drinking in town centres, spearheaded by safety fetishist Coventry in the mid-eighties, were only feasible if large scale video-surveillance was available – it was a crime almost created by the possibility of its detection. For instance, where I live there is no law against drinking in the central area – in fact, it’s pretty much essential to be clutching your Tennants. The cops only carry out harrying missions on the covens of pissheads when they start to convene in too large a number. The council has recently tidied the place up by uprooting a couple of chairs people used to sit and drink on so that they have had to move on to empty bread crates, but that’s something else – just plain old positional warfare. What happens in places where the opportunity for surveillance is introduced on a large scale is that Control gets the itch, and gets it bad, so much so that it starts to invent new forms of crime to satisfy its craving. Rapturously dreaming of itself as a perfect gleaming lattice of domination that expands into the future through migration into technology, the techno-juridical system engineers new definitions of criminality according to what it is newly able to sense.

Q: How do you control an area in which an angry, unpredictable crowd is moving?
A: Expand your definition of that area into time. Get the cameras out. Let the riot happen, but get it on camera and store it. Examine every malignant pixel.

The police, almost by definition, are there to be the most reactionary body in society. Cop-structure has historical programming, tradition, institutional memory, heuristics – it is used to certain situations. But, as Control is increasingly reconfigured by its migration into technology as an alienated series of switches, gates and relays with cops and judges becoming a soft interface to the legal machine, it is likely that the impact of high-technologies on the rigid cop-structure has, far from making them more powerful, sometimes disrupted their ability to maintain business as usual.

Anyone who has attended a demonstration or football match in the last couple of years will have noticed that the cops are at least as interested in making visual records of the events as much as in policing them as they happen. Surveillance is becoming a branch of forensics, rather than merely a mechanism for continuously monitoring situations that might require immediate intervention. Photographs and video are used as devices for the postponement of intervention. The criminal has already been caught, on screen, so there’s no hurry to catch them.
Whilst this increasing use of imaging technology is undoubtedly extending the cop-structure, it is also changing it. In many ways the type of policing that we are now seeing at these events and generalised through town centres and round elite areas, is the result of the old responding to the crisis of a new medium. Surveillance as forensics is the inevitable result of the information implosion on a hierarchical system. The will to control, means that the structure can’t resist the chance to mainline so much data but the top-down rigidity of the cop-structure means that the parallel distributed intelligence necessary to deal with vast amounts of events happening simultaneously – the mob form – is entirely alien to it.
In the co-evolution of surveillance systems and their prey technologised time is control’s escape hatch. But by taking it, it becomes even more inhuman. In tightening up the logistic chain, lessening the importance of the intermediary layers of such sharecroppers in the fields of power as grasses and neighbourhood watch schemes, control may be adopting good contemporary management practice, but its organs are feeding into an overloaded and numbed centre.
This can translate into people devolving responsibility to the cop-structure: when the vision of the cops is wired into every street, station platform or shopping centre promising response, why bother to intervene in a situation? The grim video images of James Bulger being dragged to his death by two other boys that were almost pointlessly recorded show that it is worth bothering. As the Institute of Social Disengineering point out, “To install cameras is to act, but not to act well.”
One can argue as to what extent the impact of data mining technologies on control and their consequent reconfiguration of the will to control is something exogenous or endogenous to that process – and hence how much of a crisis this causes. But, it is essential to recognise that control subjects itself to disruption even as it attempts to intensify domination – and that as a result, we should not be afraid of challenging it. Caught up in its perpetually scanned image of its switching systems, our bodies, as its actualisers domination is always subject to ransom.

control and decontrol

Fields of control are also caught up in fields of decontrol. Part of those are machinic, deranged rationality’s self-induced blind-spots – others come through different ways of occupying space (the criminal justice act’s response to squatters, travellers and hunt sabs is obviously relevant here) or might have to do with the way we use our bodies, re-invent language, produce anti-economics and so on. Figuring the half-life of control and out-dancing it isn’t just a question of masking up. It isn’t just a question of moving faster and coming from unexpected angles, but also one of producing disconnection in the tendency to control as a side-effect of motion. Black economies of movement escaping the remote sensing devices of power, through illicit choreographies such as shoplifting, direct action, public sex, or in the lycanthropic space of digital technology.
Often this is something that you only find out about as an achingly missed opportunity. Perhaps in the news. A few month’s ago in London, the Queen’s jewellers, Garrard’s on Regent St was robbed by a gang who effectively disapeared into thin air. When the cops arrived, they staked out the empty building for six hours. That made me feel good for quite a few days. Other times, by its very entry into public awareness something can disappear: one thinks of the publication of books on scamming and living for free that effectively seal up the cracks that they reveal. Unfortunately for the purposes of this kind of talk, but perhaps the more powerful for it, these illicit choreographies are typical of complex behaviour: the only way they can be described is by participation.

It’s not then, that we’re not always being gorged by TV – but that in going out to ‘Do Crime’, we can remember: the most controlled space imaginable to all of science is that of the nuclear reactor. They leak.

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