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Surveillance, Agnotology, Security

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 17, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  


My article that I started writing in 2007, begun before we had good confirmation of the NSA surveillance programs, could only be finished because of what we now know: The Demands of Agnotology::Surveillance addresses the complex links between surveillance, agnotology, and security:

Surveillance is the logical antithesis of agnotology: it acts to produce certainty rather than uncertainty. 'Security' provides a far-reaching, nebulous justification for a range of actions, from expansions of surveillance (immaterial production) to war and imperialism (primitive accumulation). The periodic crashes of capitalism are a symptom of the overextension inherent in capitalism itself, however, moments of 'systemic failure' are not indicators that capitalism will implode; instead, what occurs is a retrenching that results in an expansion of capitalist processes into new domains.

Because the security assemblage's main purpose is the impossible task of eliminating all "risk," it provides the ideal capitalist product: agnotology hijacks the traditional need to accumulate information (literalized in/by digital technology's storage and databasing of data without reference to its nature, factuality, meaning, or interconnectedness) through its relationship to the state of information: it necessarily introduces equally valid, yet contradictory, information and interpretations.

Thus security necessarily employs ever-increasing monitoring tactics: surveillance, data mining, and "coercive interrogation" (torture) are all part of the same cycle of observation-recording-analysis that defines security. The 'security assemblage' originates with this everyday understanding of "security": a cluster of ideas focused on protection, freedom, and vigilance -- as well as a specific meaning in financial terms: the linkage of legal obligations to specific debts. This assemblage's formulation is coincident with capitalist investment practices generally; this fact emerges when we remember that investments are called "securities." The underlying displacement or postponement of the 'desired' result (the definitional 'goal') -- actually producing "security" -- is required for the security assemblage to function, a symptom-effect of the underlying capitalist dynamic embodied in it: the investment in an expected but nevertheless hypothetical (i.e., the 'risk' of investing in a stock) future 'payoff.'

The rise of agnotology as an affect distinct from 'ignorance,' disinformation, misinformation, lies, or other propaganda leads to disenfranchisement, which is the purpose of the security apparatus, shifting the maintenance of value from the social realm to the reified digital. What has been secured in this process is the future.


  • The Demands of Agnotology::Surveillance
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