surveillance and privacy under patriarchy or why (some) feminists are right

when Twitter became more abuzz with concerns of the “surveillance state” a few years ago, i noticed how concentrated this was among males of a left-ish variety, including libertarian, anarchist, and progressive types. as i like to do, i made some snide remarks toward this trend. first of all i find “surveillance state” to be a fetishization itself of what the state actually encompasses as well as somewhat limited historically. the state’s ability to carry out and reliance on gathering information has been institutionalized for quite some time thinking in terms of surveillance and infiltration of radical groups (eg COINTELPRO); as far as competition for capital goes, dealing in the trade of it has probably been more of a focus since the 70s.

in a cultural sense, it is interesting to observe those who are “participating in the spectacle” of what some may think of as “meta-conspiracy”. who, who is watching, what what must we do to protect ourselves? not so surprisingly i personally observed men having a harder time of coming to terms with the fact that nothing of theirs may be sacred or could escape the watchful eye of “big brother”. and some simple youtube searches around these issues bring up men with individual broadcasts that they feel are necessary to combat this, but i posit that they also feel more entitled to this right to begin with and therefore find a sort of “responsibility” in speaking out against it. what they end up proving without boldly aligning themselves with are the feminist critiques of how society at large addresses sexual harassment, assault, and rape including those criticizing liberal feminist rhetoric around consent.

my aforementioned snide remarks point to the fact that white men largely, the people who are dominating this discussion, are completely unable to understand what constant performative expectation does to people socially conditioned to accept this as part of their daily lives, namely women. surveillance is part of women’s lives whether explicitly mandated by the set of apparatuses known as the state or not. men as individuals grant each other the right to make judgments about women’s presentations, roles in production (labor), and sexuality. [mandatory explanation of “women do it too!” for cultural reasons because talking about men’s performative gender roles alone are never enough. ‘scuse my scorn and exhaustion.] i could spend a lot of time going on about where this originates from (and i will go into brief explanation later as far as where circular reasoning gets us), but the most important thing to highlight at the moment is that these patriarchal practices are capitalized on to prop up the mode of production as well as how human reproduction works in society, and men regularly grant each other this right of surveillance over women’s bodies because of the material advantages they have.

it is fairly simple for men to stop participating in these rituals, but those who stand against the crowd, against their gendered expectations, are few and far between. it is simple even if it means standing out because in a very interpersonal, one on one sense between men, each can readily recognize why it is wrong while still being able to maintain a better share of economic advantage over most the women in the entire world. it is the very least a man can do who claims radical politics let alone one who believes it’s important to practice some sort of ethics toward others.

thinking of male perspective on NSA spying and the Snowden spectacle, every now and then i dip into James Corbett’s commentary. he does good work of analyzing news of all sorts even though i can’t quite identify with his politics, and i outright reject some of his claims. i really don’t understand the “glue” that holds all these 9/11 truth claims together and having tried to verify some of his ideas on vaccinations, his own evidence is very lacking. in any case his forthrightness in providing his own independent read of events as well as his invitation to do just what i have, check things out for oneself, is the goal of his work, and he occasionally comes up with a brilliant class analysis without seemingly meaning to do so.

recently he started a new discussion series with Guillermo Jimenez and Tom Secker (don’t know the latter, but his commentary was a good counter to Corbett’s) called nothing other than “Beard World Order”. groooan, whatever. i bet you can imagine how much feminist theory is regularly considered. at any rate, this episode interested me as they floated hypotheses about “meta-conspiratorial” efforts by the NSA. it is over an hour long, but the points of discussion i found most interesting were about abolishing these agencies versus reform in the sense of “watching the watchmen” or going to painstaking efforts to conceal oneself online.

i have no interest in offering up a lengthy analysis on Snowden’s motivations or how the documents he gathered should be leaked from my peon’s vantage point. instead, i will point readers in the direction of some views i agree with. Arthur Silber has been doing extensive coverage of how this has been playing out and points out the facts about Snowden’s views on spying (he views it more or less as a necessary evil for “national security”) and makes a strong case for the leaks themselves being state-sanctioned. Patrick Higgins, whom i have quoted and linked to before, has been clearly mapping out what imperialism looks like in the states and abroad and, using Greenwald as a prime example, has shredded his flimsy cover for “not knowing or caring” about Omidyar’s motivations along with the celebrity left’s penchant for pathologization of any of their critics.

Corbett and company are also critical of Snowden, and in the podcast i linked to above, they mention Snowden’s presentation at SXSW with special attention paid to his opinions on what the public should be doing to protect themselves:

While tech geeks may have no problem using encryption tools to scramble their messages or accessing the more-private “deep Web” via clients like Tor, Snowden said the average Web user should be able to access similar protections.

“This is something that people have to be able to interact with, and the way we interact with it now is not that good,” he said.

Snowden took questions from two moderators — the ACLU’s Chris Sogohian and Ben Wizner, his legal counsel — from the audience, and from Twitter. The first, fittingly, came from Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web 25 years ago this week. Berners-Lee asked Snowden what he would change about the nation’s surveillance system.

“We need public oversight … some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we’re not informed, we can’t consent to these (government) policies.”

i can, and i assume readers are able to, see how absurd this reasoning is. instead of steering people toward demands of abolition, he poses it as a problem of access to those who haven’t been able to successfully stave off spying and encryption breaks. i wonder what Snowden’s opinions are on newer electronics that are vulnerable from the point of production? not holding my breath.

“This is something that people have to be able to interact with, and the way we interact with it now is not that good.” 

does this sound familiar to anyone? now my point is not that the absence of online (and even offline) privacy are equal to assault or rape, but to contrast this with what media has been telling women since it started “reaching out” to them and being “inclusive” of their supposed desires and needs as a demographic: you are going to have to live with how things are as a fact of life and you had better be prepared to handle it yourself. media of course is capitalizing on a patriarchal mode of production which has held women captive as property and at fault if they are harmed by men. that the capitalist state expects a similar form of capitulation from all its subjects should come as no surprise.

i think that men do know what is required of them as they struggle within the larger working class and that is one reason behind their taking their assumed shortcomings that are also fed by media expectations out on women in their lives, in one form or another, even if it’s simply not listening to their concerns or downplaying their views on politics because they are women and are not as “broad minded” as they are. why might they assume this — could have something to do with men’s greater access to information in all fields of capitalist production.

men’s actions and behavior toward women do not reproduce themselves simply because patriarchy, because patriarchy, because because; nor is it inherent to their makeup as males — this much is obvious. but when we don’t attach the belief system to a patriarchal society that inculcates men as more powerful, deserving, and entitled, we’re often just circularly stating that it happens because it happens. and trust, women’s exasperation with men in their lives over seemingly “trifling” matters leads them down this road as they try to figure out how to interact with them and society at large so they can lead some semblance of an autonomous life — it happens because it happens, and men won’t change.

decidedly, the state is not going to change. Snowden reveals as much, and even if it did, these things are still necessary according to his logic. and this is exactly why feminists who have thrown out the liberalized gloss of its much more diverse tradition and thought know that the state will never address violence against women seriously; it not only thrives on their subordination for power, it is methodologically necessary to maintain its own reasons for existence.

Snowden also alluded to “informed consent” in the quote above. that he assumes there was any type of democratized social contract is similar to the reasoning among liberal feminists who have popularized “consent is sexy” and its derivative memes. to borrow from a post written by tanacetum-vulgare on tumblr:

The concept of consent depends on a few basic assumptions that are pretty questionable. It begins with a certain understanding of what individuals are, and how they enter into relationships with one another and the world around them. It assumes that relationships between individuals are based on something called the “social contract.” The idea of the social contract presumes that individual subjects are completely free agents who agree to certain rules of conduct for the sake of mutual benefit, and it assumes that what an individual subject desires is completely transparent to themselves, that individual desires unproblematically “belong” to the individual, and doesn’t account for how desires are actually formed in relation to history and to other people. There are at least two key problems with this way of understanding the relationship between individuals and others:

1.) It doesn’t take into account that subjectivity and individual desires are actually formed through relationships, through pre-existing realities that they could never have consented to.

2.) It presumes that individuals are fundamentally driven by calculating self-interest, and that we enter into the social contract consensually because it maximizes potential well-being, wealth, and security.

To make a long story short, these assumptions are the basis of the liberal capitalist worldview. […] We can all “consent” to just about anything, but that doesn’t account for where desires come from and how they’re formed. By uncritically adopting this framework, feminists reproduce capitalist social relationships instead of challenging them.

the reproduction that Snowden implicitly believes is a right for the state to enact is part of this same framework that liberal feminism operates from. in short, its methods are in line with preserving a patriarchal society that doesn’t challenge its core assumptions and beliefs. in whole it ends up reinforcing a class society with justice for some women (in Snowden’s case, justice for those who accepts the state’s vast spying apparatuses as long as they don’t go too far) with a constant reminder to watch your back. how could you do anything else but watch out if damaging belief systems are allowed to thrive without examination and subsequent collective action taken against them is simply out of the question? and to reiterate, here’s more from tanacetum-vulgare:

If we want to challenge structures of oppression we need a more incisive understanding of the relationship between individuals, and the formation of subjectivity. Consent isn’t good enough. Of course that doesn’t mean we should just throw it out the window (no still means no,) but it’s just not the golden ticket to developing non-oppressive relationships. We have to go deeper than that. 

to be clear, i don’t think women are simply ignoring the recent “revelations”. but i think men of the left have been ignoring feminist analyses in how they approach this. listening to the Beardcore group was maddening to a degree because they were aping feminist thought without acknowledging the women who have been trying to make their theories and methods well known that work in all facets of analyzing society. it’s not all because because, it’s all part of a system which has its own rational logic that rewards a few and offers others phantoms of such advantage. it also works with women’s words being taken out of their mouths, summarily tossed aside, and then regurgitated in a fashion that conforms to the segmented form the neoliberal, capitalist state presents as “revelation” in chasing the spectacle. meanwhile, those considered lowest in society have known, viscerally or otherwise, such functions have existed all along.


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