The Panopticon: Lessons from the election of Donald Trump

Near Doe Libary from my instagram: @ali_wetrill

I want to take a second for us to stop panicking about the fact that we have a President Trump. Instead let’s think about how we have such partisan vitriol throughout our country, and not just in Washington. How did we get here? Why is it so hard for us to accept this reality (yes — sadly it is a reality) and how did no-one see this coming.

When I first came to campus last year I had just read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, in which he talks about the ultimate manifestation of power in a prison model that had been in lost in history — known as the panopticon. Commissioned, but never actually built, it was designed by the philosopher, jurist and social reformer Jeremy Bentham. It was as much about social engineering to force rehabilitation as it was a place to house criminals.

The panopticon was a circular building with all the cells facing inward so everyone could see everyone. In the center was a tower with tinted windows, housing a guard that no-one could see.

Bentham’s Panopticon

Because you perceived that you were constantly being watched, you were forced to correct your behavior. Even if there was no guard at all in the tower, your perception that there could be would force you to change.

Besides lack of public funds (insert Dirks meme here @UCBerkeleyMemesforEdgyTeens), the project failed because although they would act as if they were changed in the presence of society, criminals would continue their activity when they were alone or among other criminals. They would be presentable to society, but amongst themselves they were angry that they had to act in such a way.

This is unfortunately one of the many lessons of this election. There are two Americas that act in a certain way among their friends and social media circles. Research has shown that within these social media echo chambers, people feel obligated to take a hardline stance and reveal themselves as more partisan as to define their personality and make themselves more known through attempting to show that they are more committed to the shared ideals of their peers (regardless of whether they really are). In liberal and conservative America, that’s the reality we face.

When the liberal media (and again, it is pretty much a fact that the media is largely liberal and elite when it comes to TV — see research sources) asks conservative America if they’re voting for Trump — you will probably get a no. But in private, there might be a resounding yes. When the two societies encounter each other there is respect, but amongst themselves they are fundamentally different.

The problem we face now is that someone from one of those sides governs us all. Let’s see what happens.