Is the U.S. a surveillance society?

Is the U.S. a surveillance society?  Airport computer scans of the body, Internet tracking cookies,  key stroke tracking, data mining of social and entertainment media, electronic eavesdropping, mass collection of phone data, and now, drones to spy on the outdoor space of private property, and continued state intrusion into family life, are all a part of Bentham’s panopticon to regulate human thought, emotion and behavior.  The private individual is no more – only homo publicus (the public human being) remains not knowing whether he or she is under surveillance.

Some established norms are arbitrary and capricious, that is, some group gained power at some point in history to impose its values on others. If we have moved to homo publicus should norms and its legal form, law, be reevaluated to decriminalize and destigmatize bodily expression and behaviors that are, and have been, relatively benign on the fabric of society.  To sustain individual liberty in the surveillance society, what were once private bodily expressions and behavior are now potentially public because there is less and less privacy due to the sophistication of technological surveillance methods by government, corporations and individual citizens.  Will social control of the surveillance society be offset by decriminalizing and destigmatizing bodily expression?

Write a paper exploring this issue.  Focus on a particular bodily behavior that is benignly deviant.  Benign deviance is the gray area  of life where the cultural norms (law) and social norms (what people actually do) is largely symbolic both authority and subjects have low congruence on the issue and conflict is less likely. When authority and subjects largely take opposing views on an issue there is high congruence; conflict is probable.  Social nudism, for example, is sure to pit its practitioners against the values of many religious groups. However, given that surveillance is a breach of privacy, we can hypothesize government and corporations condition nudism in high congruent conflict with religious groups in support of surveillance, a less conscious public.  For those who are endeared to surveillance, including, screenings that depict the nude body, there is low congruence between authority and nudism. You may choose your bodily expression of research interest.  Here are questions you might consider:

  • How would the decriminalization and/or destigmatization of individual behaviors influence social solidarity?
  • What adjustments would Americans have to make to function in a society where some private behavior is normalized as public behavior?
  • If forced, could Americans make such adjustments?
  • What would you personally have to give up and/or change about your lifestyle to live in a surveillance society?
  • If you had to, could you make such adjustments?
  • Finally, in which ways, if any, do think that American society and/or you would be better off without the surveillance society?
  • In which ways, would society and/or you be worse off?
  • How does Europe compare to the United States in terms of homo publicus? Latin America?  South America?  Middle East?  Africa?
  • What variables in each country give homo publicus bodily freedom compared to those countries where homo publicus is constrained by the surveillance society?
  • Evaluate whether the surveillance society as a social force pushes society to offset constraints to privacy by destigmatizing benign deviance in the public square (increasing individual liberty).
  • How could the surveillance society liberate a culture from antiquated norms or push cultural consensus toward a new morality based on actual harm as opposed to group preferences, opinions or traditions?
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