Private Bodies on a Slow Boil

“Touch my junk and I’ll have you arrested” has become a grassroots battle-cry against the ever-increasing intrusion into our private selves. And with all due respect to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, it is not all about security. It is not about radiation or the potential leaking of images either, although those are important concerns. What it is about is my human and constitutional right not to be manhandled by the government.

We’ve been treated like the frog in the pot of slowly boiling water: with each new violation of privacy we are given no other option but to acclimate to the increasing heat. In the end, we may die, like the frog…or we may become the walking dead.

You must have noticed our collective fascination with zombies, from zombie crawls to movies, television, and even computer games. Zombies are people who have had their humanity ripped from them. Stunned and soulless, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other,  they walk through life. The government’s neglect of us and their willingness to let corporations deliberately assault us body and soul has left us stunned.

Sources of power in America (in the form of government and corporations) have pushed us too far this time. We have already given up too much. In order to get jobs we are asked to provide corporations with immensely personal substances like urine and blood samples or fingerprints, even psychological testing. For decades the government has asked us to pass through increasingly intrusive visual and tactile checks just to get on an airplane. That’s asking too much and we have an obligation to rebel.

In 1785, Benjamin Bentham created the blueprints for a prison which came to be called “The Panopticon.” As its name implies, it was a structure in which jailers could observe all the prisoners all the time without them knowing when they were being watched. In the 1990s, Michel Foucault extended this idea to metaphorically describe the growth of omnipresent social and political surveillance methods. To my mind, the Panopticon is becoming all too actual. Now the government thinks it has the right to observe my naked body through optical technologies or to touch my body in the name of security. It is repugnant and a betrayal of our privacy.

Westerners have long made the mistake of thinking that the body is separate and distinct from the self, mind, spirit, soul or however you conceive of those esoteric beings. But the self (the term I’ll use) does not exist in non-corporeal bliss: body and self are created and exist in tandem. “I exist my body” Sartre once said. The body is the self incarnate. Violate my body and you have violated me. Manhandle my body and you humiliate and terrify me. I’m tired of being spied upon by the government “for the good of all.”  This is an opportunity for us to put a stop to the slow boil and refuse to cooperate in our own demise.

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