Censorship – The Knot That Binds Power and Knowledge

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Censorship I found this pearl after some research on this topic, and bought it for a bargain at The cover might not be very enticing, but I wouldn’t expect much on a cover of a book published in 1988. Not saying that I judge a book by its cover, but this one wasn’t particularly standing out from the crowd of other books with fancy covers.

The author, Sue Curry Jansen, does an outstanding job for her era, bringing the censorship understanding out of the common sense perception of the word, depicting  some of the much more complex and hard to detect forms of censorship that both governments and even people impose to themselves. Defending no form of government or ruling model, she basically analyses the intrinsic nature and relationship of power and knowledge in the light of the old Aristocracy, the Communism, and the Capitalism.

Although all of this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is pretty clear that the author’s goal isn’t to attribute guilt into one or another government, but to show how power and knowledge dance each of the ruling songs of their times, beginning at the enlightenment age and going all the way to her then current capitalist model with still none or little of the major technological disruption we witness these days.

In the 18th century, it was devised a model for a circular building where monitored people would stay in the outer side of the building, while monitors would stay in the inner side of the building watching the outer side rooms through the use of windows and blinds, removing the ability of monitored people to see the monitors and knowing when they’re been monitored, creating a sense of omnipresence of the watcher.The Panopticon

There were some implementations of this model for prisons, but it was also designed to be used by any kind of organization where the leadership would like to keep a watch on their subordinates or create the omnipresence feeling.

The panopticon was never a practical model for keeping a watch in an entire society, but as society evolved, and Television became mainstream we created the panopticon for ourselves, converting the focus of our living rooms away from family, visiting neighbors, and friends to the television, which is from where the mainstream media modeled most of the modern societal values and imprinted the omnipresence feeling it has in all of us. We were never monitored through our televisions, but as our lives turned its focus and accepted the molding that media gave us for most of life’s matters we created a prototype of panopticon through which the information we consumed was the only information the media would provide. This is a subtle kind of censorship, very different from the active censorship we easily recognize in some authoritarian governments, but still the kind of censorship that shapes society.

The watchtower from inside a Panopticon

Outside of a Panopticon

Then, it shines the fact that the book was written before the internet, and you inevitably think of two things: how much have the internet given people freedom of choice on what kind of information they consume, and how much have it limited.

It is undeniable that information is ever more accessible, through the internet, across regions, languages, and cultures. This accessibility have already promoted deep societal changes and reduced the knowledge gap between the social classes. But what about our focus, and how much noise have it created on our perception of what is signal, and what is not?

We’re proud that finally press isn’t exclusivity of owners of printing presses anymore because that supposedly drove away the money interests out of the equation of news publishing.

How accurate is that assumption? The democratization of press happened because now anyone can publish news on the internet, but finding the signal coming out of a noisy Internet where everyone wants to be heard is very difficult. A lot of work and effort is involved in actually getting your message through to your audience, and that continues to involve time and money, and this new breed of editors that will eventually break through the noise will always need money to support its operations, and in order to make money you have to talk what people wants to listen (or what they think they want to listen) and then you find yourself back to stake zero.

Or almost.

At least now, people have more options to choose from. They can decide what to consume, and can sift through the noise on the internet to find the information that he believes to be relevant, regardless of whether a given blogger or news venue is more famous than another. Previously, one’s best hope to find anything out of the news venues would be to live near a library, that hopefully carries the content he’s looking for and spend some good hours trying to find what he needs.

The difference between access to information 20 years ago and today is gigantic, but people have already been conditioned to shift the living room focus to the screen expecting that sure entertainment will be delivered, and instead of looking for useful information we’ve been mostly looking for funny cat videos and log hundreds of hours watching nyan cat.

“Il n’est pire aveugle que celui qui ne veut pas voir”

The worst blind is the one who doesn’t want to see. I did a little research and couldn’t find the exact origin of this saying, but its origin is most certainly in France, when a blind man received a successful cornea transplant that allowed him to see for the first time. After seeing the world and experiencing vision, he regretted and went to the court to demand his eyes to be removed so that he could be blind again. He won, and got his eyes removed to never see again. Is that what we’re going through right now? Men and women now have unprecedented access to information, but instead of reaping the benefits of this long desired benefit all we wish is to be blind once again?

It is certainly ok to enjoy the new entertainment venues that we now have unprecedented access too, but it is also important to understand how not to create a Panopticon for ourselves by narrowing our focus on things of little importance or on the things that only the big media wants you to pay attention to.

Now, done with my perspective about the subject, my quick review about the book – it is not an easy and quick read, demanding a good deal of thinking and pondering as you read, but it is worth every page. I highly recommend it.


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Adriano Marques
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Censorship - The Knot That Binds Power and Knowledge
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