If the aforementioned ‘disciplines’ are the junior actors in a culture and a system defined by ‘panoptic malveillance’ and mistrust, then social media companies, tech companies, and ‘Information Technology’ (IT) firms are the giants in this culture and system. And these giants of panoptic malveillance have essentially re-defined the concept or notion of ‘freedom’ through their advent and creation. As Byung-Chul Han wrote:
“Every age has a different definition of freedom. In antiquity, freedom meant that you were a free man, not a slave. In modernity, freedom was turned inwards and became the autonomy of the subject. It was the freedom in acting. Today, the freedom to act has been reduced to the freedom of choice and consumption.”
This type of freedom – namely, the freedom of choice and consumption – turns out to be an “illusion” of freedom which aims at subduing the ability to freely act and criticize in a political and social sense, as Han argued. All of it amounts to a novel manifestation of the “bread and circuses” or panem et circenses that existed during the Roman age which is aimed at subduing political and social action. As Han argued:
“A form of rule in which human beings did nothing but play would be perfect domination. Juvenal coined the phrase panem et circenses (bread and circuses) to characterize a Roman society in which political action had become impossible. People were sedated with free food and spectacular games. Universal basic income and computer games would be the modern panem et circenses.”
Foucault, at one point during his intellectual journey, took up an interest in the relationship between the Greek terms Episteme and Techne. Whereas Episteme stood for “knowledge,” the term Techne stood for “craft, skill, or to weave.” Yet, the two terms were interconnected and interrelated, in the sense that Episteme was the basis or the source of the Techne that enabled people to craft or skillfully “weave together” a socially constructed reality that was based on the right kind of knowledge and the right kind of ideas.
Freedom is the idea that many activists and great thinkers have had in mind, but the attainment of true freedom and the efforts at crafting or “weaving together” a better reality based on the idea of freedom have long been thwarted by people with economic and political power. The aforementioned tools of “panoptic malveillance” are merely tools which are inert at their core and can be used either in the way of greater freedom and liberty or greater control and confinement. But as Noam Chomsky argued, it has always been the case that “the idea that people could be free is extremely frightening to anybody with power.” Chomsky pointed out the 1960’s counterculture era in the United States, when professors and teachers “were just traumatized by the idea that students were suddenly asking questions and not just copying things down.”
Freedom means that “every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified – it has no prior justification” to borrow from Chomsky. In essence, and as Chomsky right argued, authority structures “have no justification” and “they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else – they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.” In turn, the “burden of justifying” authority is on those who claim authority, as Chomsky noted. Otherwise, those who claim authority over others and those in power end up with a credibility and legitimacy crisis due to the restrictions they have placed on people’s economic, political, and social freedoms and liberties which in turn cannot be legitimized or justified in any way whatsoever.