Are drones such a menace because of their weapons? Or because of their surveillance? Or is it even bigger? Ask Foucault . . . .
|More: "Why focus on drone attacks?"|
The article is an important counterpoint to the headline-grabbing drone strikes by the CIA in Pakistan, and is worth reading online. What you miss by looking at the online version of the story, however, is the graphs of month-by-month activity, which show several striking trends. Strikes by missiles and bombs from drones were up sharply in the first half of the year; the second half of the year, by and large, showed a slight tapering off. (This was consistent with the overall trend in attacks by aircraft and drones.) At the same time, the number of drone sorties -- that is, missions of all types, including "just surveillance" -- showed a very steady upward trend month by month throughout the year. As the article reports:
"Predators and Reapers [are] now supplying more than 400 hours of video a day to troops in Afghanistan . . . Some of the Reapers will soon carry 10 cameras instead of just one, and 30 by 2011, adding to the profusion of video."
Up until now, when I have thought about drones, I have thought about the ethics of drones as a weapon in general, including the specific problem of whether drone strikes constitute extrajudicial executions under the Geneva Conventions.
I have always also had a nagging sense that there is something wrong with the surveillance aspects of drones, as well. But I didn't become so focused on it until confronted with the numbers.
|Science fiction? 15 Ways George Orwell Was Right . . .|
While popular culture makes frequent explicit references to "Orwellian" situations that involve doublethink, Newspeak, the Thought Police, and the other ideological nightmares of 1984, I wonder if the real nightmare isn't simply the constant surveillance. I, for one, have always thought that lack of privacy is not an absolute evil, but can only be evaluated in the context of what happens as a result of loss of privacy. I'm beginning to rethink that view.
The French philospher Michel Foucault, in his groundbreaking work Discipline and Punish, reviewed the history of society's efforts to isolate and control elements that caused it problems. Ultimately, Foucault zeroed in on the efforts of Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarians to apply analysis and scientific thinking to prisons. The result was the panopticon.
|Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" (drafted by Willey Reveley)|
|Presidio Modelo prison, Cuba (2005),|
followed the panopticon design.
At the end of the day, is surveillance bad if no harm comes of it? Or is it even possible to separate the two? Consider this quote from the New York Times article. Speaking of Stephen P. Mueller, top air commander in Afghanistan, the article stated:
He said the strikes typically came when troops were caught in firefights or the drones came across people who appeared to be planting homemade bombs, the biggest source of allied casualties. The counterinsurgency strategy "isn't about going out and finding those," he said. "But when we do find them, we obviously do what's necessary."Obviously.
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