letter to the editor of Green Anarchy

Better late than never, we have seen Green Anarchy #16 (Winter 2004), which contained "Lights, Camera, Action! Destroying Video Surveillance Cameras as an Act of Rewilding." Written by "The Grievous Amalgam" (TGA) this article lays out a strong opposition to the use of surveillance cameras in both public and private places. As a result, we welcome it.

Nevertheless, this article includes a number of very serious mistakes, some of which are practical; others are theoretical. TGA reduces video surveillance cameras down to Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), without seeming to realize that not all video surveillance cameras are part of "closed" systems. Some of them -- the wireless cameras -- are part of Open Circuit Television (OCTV) systems. There are important differences between the two: while CCTV cameras do not add to the growing amounts microwave pollution that is all around us, OCTV cameras do; and while the signals in CCTV systems can only be accessed if someone has access to one of its cables, and thus are fairly "secure," OCTV signals can be accessed by anyone with a certain type of antennae and receiver, and thus are highly "insecure."

TGA also reduces video surveillance systems to the "Panopticon," a term from the 18th century that Michel Foucault tried to popularize in Discipline and Punish, and makes the same mistakes that Foucault makes. According to Foucault, "the major effect of the Panopticon" is "to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power," which can be accomplished by arranging things so that "the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should lead to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers." Foucault goes on to say,

In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmates will constantly have before his [sic] eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.

As we pointed out in an essay on poker, some -- enough -- of the people who know or suspect that they might be watched constantly do not become "anxious," do not voluntarily curtail or cease their criminal behavior, do not get "caught up" in the "power situation." Instead, undeterred, they treat this situation like it was a game, a game of poker: they suspect the other player (the watcher) is bluffing or they engage in bluffs of their own. They constantly experiment: can I get away with it? when did I get away with it? can I get away with it again? And, if no one is watching, they will try to get away with it all the time. Furthermore, even if they are in fact being watched all the time, some will become "players," that is, will perform for the watchers, and thus demonstrate the facts that being watched isn't enough and that, if "Big Brother" truly wants to be a tyrant, he won't be able to do it easily or cheaply; he will have to exert force; he will have to get his hands dirty, even bloody.

This brings us (has already brought us) to our last point. TGA writes that, "For every new strategy of social control on the part of the State, there is a novel and surprising tactic of negation, and for every video surveillance camera installed, there is a complimentary form of resistance, of subversion" (emphasis added). We agree wholeheartedly, and believe that, for the last nine years, we have practiced such a tactic: that is, performing anti-surveillance plays directly in front of these cameras. But there is nothing novel or surprising about the single tactic mentioned by TGA, who is only interested in physically destroying the cameras. "Destroy what destroys you!" TGA proclaims. Quite predictably, even though we are also anarchists, TGA doesn't make any reference to us or our highly publicized actions. The message seems clear: if you do not engage in physical destruction, you are not an anarchist. But we are anarchists who simply see things differently from you: if you destroy what destroy you, you will only destroy yourself; but if you detourn (divert) what destroys you, you will be able to re-create yourself.

the Surveillance Camera Players (New York City)
29 April 2005

(To read some of the responses to this letter, visit the Portland IMC.)

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP@notbored.org

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998