Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ruminations I: The All Seeing Eyes

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)

This is the first of what I hope to be a month long series of quasi-aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it. The hope is that, built up on each other, the series will provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions.

All conduct is now moral, in the sense that it is measured and judged. The new moral conduct is the outward expression of an inner fear--of exposure, of being recorded, observed, of the fear of the consequences of being caught failing to confess, to report to expose oneself. Technology is the divine apparatus of this new morality--the camera; the journalist; the record preserved of transactions, DNA and other interactions; the recording device; the Internet. It is the eye that never blinks, the memory that never fails, the image that never fades. Technology is the outward manifestation of the inner fear that is the new morality. It is Logos made manifest in the image of its makers. Technology reduces memory to a collection of recordings made manifest in machine. Life infinitely reproduction (and self-replication) at the touch of a button and the evocation of a mechanical device.

But it is not moral. Yet there are those who are. Those who serve this new divinity made in humanity's image, reproduced with an exactitude that permits no challenge, those who now can access this reproducible memory, can undertake a morality. It is as simple as accessing those portions of the collective memory that serves. Consider the forms of the judgment possible through invocation of the techno-memory of modern times, the morality of the camera, of the journalist, of the object of the photograph, of the value of contrition, of the function of morality through the lens of observation whose context is illusion if only because it is so partial and so manipulative.
Swimming superstar Michael Phelps has admitted to "regrettable behaviour", after a UK newspaper published a photo of him apparently smoking cannabis. Mr Phelps, 23, who won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last year, was pictured by the News of the World inhaling from a glass pipe. The picture was taken in November at a party in the University of South Carolina, the newspaper said. Mr Phelps apologised to fans and said the incident would not be repeated. In a statement sent to the Associated Press news agency, the swimmer acknowledged the photo was authentic. "I engaged in behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," he said. "I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. "For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Swimmer Phelps Regrets Pot Pipe, BBC News Online, Feb. 1, 2009.

Thus morality of the recording device. And the punishment molded to suit the offense: "Cereal and snack firm Kellogg has also reportedly said it will not renew a sponsorship contract with Phelps, on the grounds his behaviour is 'not consistent with the image of Kellogg'." Phelps Accepts 'Fair' Punishment, BBC News Sport Homepage, Feb., 6, 2009 (the swimmer to receive a three month suspension from his national swim community, USA Swimming, who proclaimed "But we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero.").

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