700 – Watching The Angels Watch

Keeping watch over the doors traditionally used to be angel’s business, right? Not so any more. Today we watch the angels.

This is the only image that I made today. Fridays, you know? I shot it on the way from work to Underground to train, the same routine as always these Fridays, 500 meters and no time, but when I saw it, I knew I would at least have something to write about. The original had extremely strong contrasts between a dark, brown door and a white wall, all in bright, flat light, but this B&W treatment makes it even acceptable as a photograph, something which I originally did not dare to hope 🙂

Surveillance cameras everywhere. The question is, why do we as a society accept that? Because they don’t immediately hurt? But we do readily give up pieces of freedom, do we? Why? Do we expect to be given them back “in better times”?

And this leads to the core question: What is the perceived value of freedom? It seems to me that it must be extremely low, because it’s given away so easily.

One base assumption seems to be, that you don’t take a risk being kept under surveillance, because decent people don’t have anything to hide. Right?

Plain wrong. Would you readily share the PIN codes of your banking cards? Would you want everybody to know what your sexual preferences are? Would you like everybody to know your health records? Did you never lie? At least a little bit? Is there nothing in your life that you are ashamed of and that you would not like to be brought to everybody’s attention?

The second base assumption is, that those in charge and those having access to such data (i.e. police, the secret services and who ever else) are all decent people, reliable and free of fault.

Now, I really don’t want to stir up mistrust, there is too much mistrust in this world anyway, but it is a matter of principle. All these people are … people. Can we really expect that nobody is going to spy upon their neighbors or former lovers? Can we really expect a group of people to be free of sin, only because it is their profession? How naïve would that be? And why so much naïvety from a society that otherwise mistrusts everyone?

I think it is a deep longing for safety, and safety is what populists promise us, when we only give up some freedom, but has the world become a much safer place during the last years? I suppose not.

On the other hand, our society has indeed become much less free. We are watched by cameras, the traces we leave online are officially available to security forces, there is much less room for privacy now, and according to the the general attitude of those in charge, we all are now guilty until proven innocent. This touches pretty much every democratic constitution in the world. Do we really want that?

Can anyone enlighten me? Now, seven years after 9/11, what is the price you are ready to pay for freedom? What is the price you are ready to pay for safety?

The Song of the Day is “Angels” from David Byrne’s 1994 album “David Byrne“. Hear it on YouTube.

6 thoughts on “700 – Watching The Angels Watch”

  1. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts about this theme! Freedom means risk and safety is always a little (or a great) bit of dying when still alive.

  2. Aren’t the cameras (and online data) really an erosion of (expected) privacy as opposed to liberty?

    I am very much of two minds with respect to these issues. As a private citizen, my viewpoint is similar to yours. People (even if only a select few) will abuse power for a variety of reasons ranging from personal gratification to doing “what is right” in that person’s frame of mind.

    Immediately after 9/11 in the USA there were military at several of the airports that I flew through. I understand that this is the norm in many countries, but I was personally uncomfortable about this. My guess is that most Americans would like to keep the status quo. As such, the erosion of privacy is accepted as it is relatively non-intrusive.

    It’s easier to ignore / accept the background surveillance than the overt show of military in our daily lives. That doesn’t make the surveillance any less subversive to our “ideals.”

    Of course, the counter argument to all of this is that if you believe that our current methods of keeping and protecting the population are not effective (perhaps as demonstrated by attacks daily in the world) what can be done?

    Didn’t the camera system prove useful in the London bombings? At least that is what I was lead to believe through our news media.

    It certainly seems that the pendulum has swung (in the USA) too far for my taste, but I’m sure that one could argue that it needed to at least move.

    Maybe? Food for thought at least….

  3. Is this really a camera over the doors of a church? Yeah, that’s a social comment.

    I live in the heart of a city, smack in the epicenter of its historic district. In our city the police have no cameras. But a private, non-profit group mounts them throughout the city. In every case the cameras have reduced every sort of crime within their circle of vision. We have contributed enough to have one mounted across the street from our home. It is one that joins with three others to sweep our street and completely cover the park which we adjoin. Again, virtually all crime, drug dealing, and even simple fights among kids have disappeared.

    It’s not so much that I have nothing to hide, but that I chose to move into a city where everyone can see me on the streets. If they can see me anyway, why not let them see me on camera? I take candid shots of street people Why is that okay, but neighbors supporting picture taking by a team of people who will report disorder to our public safety people?

    Is it okay if I report something I see out of my window, but not okay if the camera operator makes the report? Would you contact the public safety people should you see someone in distress outside of your home?

    Hmmmm…. I’d rather the additional sets of eyes watching what I cannot watch. I am not paranoid in my skepticism regarding city behavior, but I wonder if those who suspect the motives of the camera operators might not have a mild dose of the disorder?

    Comparing activity monitoring in public places with intrusion into our most private bank accounts, medical records, or papers is a dubious analogy my friend. And it worries me that by natural extension your reasoning would ban my camera from the city streets. 🙂

  4. I’ve thought about your questions, the last view days. And they are really interesting to think over and over.

    The price of freedom, the price of safety. Two terms, where one can think to know that the meaning for everyone is the same. But if you ask, everyone has a different explanation for them.

    Have you seen the movie Manderlay (Larz von Trier)? It’s almost a musthaveseen one. (oké freedom, huh) It shows in a surprising way the multiple meaning of freedom.

    For me is freedom of mind (or spirit), one of the most important ones. You have to give up other kinds of freedom to get the one you desire, I think. It asks offers in a mostly unexpected way.

    Safety? How safe is safe?
    The price? You have to keep the traffic rules, to have a safe journey. (Something like that?)
    I know there are angels watching, 24/7 and it’s for free. 🙂 Safer than safe? It’s not a guarantee that anything can happen. But it gives the freedom, to do the things, I think I’ll have to do.

    (I hope that, it’s a little bit understandable. In Dutch I’m much more trained to give words to this kind of stuff. I will explain further, if necessary) 🙂

  5. Nick asked “Didn’t the camera system prove useful in the London bombings?”

    Hm, did it circumvent the bombings? Nope. I mean, do we really expect people who are prepared to blow themselves up to get scared because their actions are recorded on tape?

    Nope, that solution is not really one, it only provides a false sense of security – at the very least when we’re talking about serious terrorists.

    If there is something that I feel even more uncomfortable with than the authorities’ all-intruding eyes and ears, I guess that it would be private eyes and ears. I would really feel offended if private organisations would start mounting cameras in my neighborhood. In my mind it’s really a societies confession of failure if we think that this would change things for the better in the long run.

    And, as Andreas has discussed it in his original post, it opens the way for all different kinds of abuses. We’ve had too many cases in Germany where the guys behind the security cameras had their ”fun” spying on peoples (usually womens’) life.

    I guess it all boils down to the very personal question on how much freedom and privacy one is willing to sacrifice for a feeling of security.

    Personally, I am really convinced, that our (increasing?) societal problems will not be solved by easy, technological gadgets.

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