Revelations, revelations. How they crystallise. How they shatter… The timely revelations of Edward Snowden gave birth to a cacophony of politico-moral discourse whose ebb and resurgence continues unabated. Rarely do the non-violent actions of one man garner such transnational attention. Rarer still does the volatile matter of conflict seep so promiscuously into the most far flung, hallowed, and ostensibly “protected” realms of social life. Rarest perhaps that this pure and indissoluble controversy makes mockery of the political demarcations of old —right, left, liberal, conservative, capitalist, socialist, big or minimum government— calling for a new form of political typology cognisant of the transversal potential of rhizomatic and thus inherently unpredictable relationships, associations, allegiances, and amities.
Those who for a long time had borne the heavy title of “conspiracy theorist” rejoiced in vindication. Orwell’s dystopian reverie took on the character of the seer, and the epithet “Orwellian” finally began to attain some clarity in the public imagination. A long overdue debate on the value of “national security” and the question of liberty began to take place, and was punctuated by all the bigoted hysteria that is a minority position in any political milieu. Liberal commentators, unequivocal in their indignance, felt satisfied that the proximal concrete had at last provided a much needed and late arriving impetus for a rally against the “mission creep” of state security institutions. And these institutions themselves swung into action, grounding a presidential airplane and subjecting the sacramental boyfriend of a respected journalist to an unprecedented detention and a lengthy interrogation.
Governments reacted more furtively, caught off guard and without opinion polls to lead them, they adopted a position of measured distaste. Whilst some politicians responded with surprise and incredulity, most sucked their fingers garrulously before holding them in the air and waiting patiently for the first gust of popular sentiment. Now, the revelations return with a percussive strike. The leaders of the governments who were excluded from the five eyes club find themselves naked in the crosshairs and do not like it. Terrorism, the tyrant’s plea, and its deformed older brother, national security, are finally uncloaked as nostrum and chimera, laying bare the insatiable lust of Western imperialism and an archipelago of control drunk on power.
The singularity of this quixotic assemblage of events calls for a thought of the outside, beyond the container of ordinary significance and to the structure which defines its foundational terms. It calls for the question “what is government?”, and what does it mean to be governed?
To answer this question, we must firstly break apart the towering unity of the state, forgoing the anthropomorphic agency of an abstracted “I” and approaching the state rather as an agonistic and yet purposive multitude, on the one hand representative and therefore connected with the populous by a family resemblance of similarities, a certain ideal history, an historically established conceptual grammar, by loves, hates, inflexions of character, moods and anxieties —viz., by a form of life, and on other hand disconnected, forming subjectivities in connection with a different group of networks, aligning itself in accordance with different sets of influences, forming different cultures of association, and manifesting different arrangements of knowledge and power. If we understand the state in this way —as meeting point operating on multiple dimensions— we make room for an understanding of the operations of or on behalf of the state, i.e. of government, on multiple planes too.
Government is no longer ossified in the act of governing, and reaches beyond the words we speak, the things we do, the roles we play, the identities we express, the bodies we maintain, the spaces we occupy. Government becomes equally a matter of the questions we pursue, the journeys we travail, and the thoughts we think. The citizen ceases to be, and re-appears as pure dispersion, as algorithm. The steady process of individuation is sharply contained by the mark of risk and demographic profile. Control becomes a matter of typology and checkpoint, and intervention takes place at rupture and alert.
The NSA cache confirmed the status of the agencies of national security as modulators, the basking sharks of the digital seas. We must break apart the concept of government to attune ourselves to this pervasive modulation. We have always carried government inside of us, it is the outside ever penetrating. Our lives online takes the inside out. Do I stop at my mouse, finish with my clicks, stop as I type. What am I? And where do I exist?
In the home, at work, on the street, in the air. Wherever I am. Watching.