Panopticon

Sometimes I see you alone. You frown at your stack of notebooks, look back at your laptop, punch out a few keys. You heave great sighs that you think no one can hear because you have headphones in.

Sometimes I see you with someone else. You never look terribly comfortable, or happy. I never see you with that person again.

You don’t see me.

 

People don’t know how much we are watching them. They don’t see the cameras or the microphones. They remember us when a crime has been committed, when we “review the tapes” and go out on a warrant. We bring in the perpetrator without hassle, generally, and we are lauded as heroes. Then we fade into the background again. That is how it should be.

I am in charge of watching certain tapes, looking for people who are planning to break the rules, or incite dangerous thoughts, or engage in risky conversations. I zoom in on your phones and computers and notebooks. I run the words through programs that make them easy to read. I watch you because you are on the watch list.

It has been months now. I have done good work. I am in charge of your file. Today you wrote “I feel that our blindness to the panopticon in which we leave is perhaps less innocuous than we would like to believe. I feel that we are being distracted from the truth: that our very thoughts are not under our control.”

I need to turn you in.

I feel you are right, even though I am the panopticon. I am the jailor inside the dark tower. I watch you and I report you and you never know.

You are beautiful, and intelligent, and you are so lonely. So, so lonely.

I feel we have so much in common.

My supervisor has asked for a report. I know there are cameras on me. I know those cameras see the things I am working on, that someone may or may not be observing me to see if I will do my duty or follow my heart. I do not know when they will strike.

I tell my supervisor that you have been writing incendiary things, that you are threat. They ask if you need to be rehabilitated or removed. I don’t know. If I give the wrong answer, I will be removed. I do not want to be removed. So I give the answer I must, and this terrible world, this controlled, sterile, unloving, uncreative world is allowed to carry on.

I ask you on a date. You wait for me at the restaurant, polishing your glasses. I have watched you for so long that I know you are both pessimistic and hopeful. I am led over to your table by the waitress. You see me, and the hope rises in your eyes. We have a lovely dinner. We both enjoy ourselves.

When we are done, the black car is waiting outside. I open the door for you. You get in. I close the door. There is a second black car, and this time the door opens for me.

I did my duty, but my feelings betrayed me.

 

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