March 2, 2023


To think that anyone would listen to me? At least I hope not...

Photo by ev / Unsplash
Satellite dishes at GCHQ Bude. | User: Nilfanion

So I did partially listen to my lectures...

I was reminded of something. A thing that happened many years ago. Every year I have a memory or two that triggers in my head, always on the same day. The day of my birthday.

I remember climbing the stairs up to the ward where my uncle was laying. As I walked up the lino floored steps, sitting there, right in front of me, was the stuffed body of Jeremy Bentham sitting on a chair. His body encased in a glass 'cage' for all to see. The great philosopher. He used to sit in the old wing of University College Hospital, a red brick Victorian edifice, a place which Bentham would have been proud of?

I, later on in life, would have a run in with him again, studying about him in a stuffy lecture theatre. I was trying hard to keep on topic, wishing I was sitting on the beach looking across to the shores of Somerset and Devon. Something I did often. Remembering again that I had once seen the topic of the lecture. Smiling at me through his glass cage, I wondered if anybody in the theatre had seen his stuffed body? Somehow I doubted it.

Bentham was an interesting cove. That statement is an understatement to be sure. He influenced political study, as well as philosophical study, a man whose ideas still have the power to trigger thought in the minds of academic thinking today.

In his writings, he came up with the idea of the Panopticon, a prison where all the prisoners could be observed constantly by one prison guard. The scary part is that the prisoners would not know they are being observed. His drawings and thoughts about this were extensive, but I suspect that he had no idea that his plan would come to fruition centuries later?

Do we not all sit in a Panopticon, encased, stuffed behind a wall of surveillance and control. The glass replaced by the algorithm, a prison of mathematical probability and inestimable lines of computer code. Bentham would have been proud. A connected world, which is a construct of control. Something that Winston Smith would understand. A world where we are all nudged to be compliant. Quiet in our protest. Content with what the algorithm provides us, alone in our prison of the mind. Liking and disliking our 'virtual friends', influenced by those who we will never have the chance to see. Influenced by me? Well, I hope not. You are your own person. You're not just a number. Furthermore, you are a person. When you look in the mirror, you see a buddha staring back at you, polish that mirror to reveal yourself. Seriously. Don't be fed by the algorithm. Go out and see the beautiful world. Find courage to find your own voice. Do not be inert.

Footnote: perhaps he would not be pleased at all?

Jeremy Bentham UCL March 2016 User:Philafrenzy