Big Brother Gets a Brain

The Pentagon's Simple Plant to Track Everything That Moves

[...] Putting people under electronic watch induces a kind of split personality, said Bill Brown, who leads tours of Manhattan's spy cams as part of his duties with the Surveillance Camera Players. The authorities want people to obey the law, to behave rationally. But video surveillance does the exact opposite. It makes people feel -- correctly -- like they're constantly being watched, like they're paranoid.

"And that's a not a rational state at all," Brown said. "It's a mental condition." [...]

(Written by Noah Shachtman and published in the 9-15 July 2003 issue of The Village Voice.)

Perhaps readers would be interested to know what Bill Brown really said to Noah Shachtman, who rather inaccurately paraphrased and quoted his remarks.

Putting people under electronic watch induces a kind of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The cameras are almost impossible to ignore: they are usually large, very ugly, and stuck right in our faces. And so it's inevitable that we change our behavior on account of them. And yet, we try to ignore the cameras, because taking notice of them (even the slightest change of gait or facial expression) might indicate that we are hiding or are guilty of something. One can't notice something and ignore it at the same time -- that is, without becoming insane.

As for paranoia, it is slightly less complicated. The camera operators want us to notice the cameras and, based upon a series of rational decisions, change our behavior on account of them. But, since we are not sure of when or where we are being watched, we act as if we are being watched all the time, even if we are not. This "mental condition" is called paranoia. But paranoia is not a "rational" mental condition; it is in fact a form of irrationality. And so we have a double-bind similar to the one highlighted above: irrational people simply cannot be expected to make rational decisions.

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