WE ALL PRISONERS OF THE POLICE STATE'S PANOPTICON VILLAGE
"We're run by the Pentagon, we're run by Madison
Avenue, we're run by television, and as long as
we accept those things and don't revolt we'll
have to go along with the stream to the eventual
avalanche.... As long as we go out and buy
stuff, we're at their mercy…
We all live in a little Village. Your Village
may be different from other people's Villages,
but we are all prisoners.”—
broadcast in Great Britain 50 years ago, The
Prisoner—a dystopian television series
described as “James Bond meets George Orwell
filtered through Franz Kafka”—confronted
societal themes that are still relevant today: the
rise of a police state, the freedom of the
individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the
corruption of government, totalitarianism,
weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the
tendency of humankind to meekly accept their lot in
life as a prisoner in a prison of their own making.
best visual debate ever on individuality and
freedom, The Prisoner (17 episodes in all)
centers around a British secret agent who abruptly
resigns only to find himself imprisoned, monitored
by militarized drones, and interrogated in a
mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly
tranquil retirement community known only as the
Village. The Village is an idyllic setting with
parks and green fields, recreational activities and
even a butler.
luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual
prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its
inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave
the Village, they are under constant surveillance,
their movements are tracked by surveillance drones,
and they are stripped of their individuality and
identified only by numbers.
protagonist, played by Patrick McGoohan, is Number
the Village administrator, acts as an agent for the
unseen and all-powerful Number One, whose identity
is not revealed until the final episode.
“I am not a
number. I am a free man,” was the mantra chanted on
each episode of The Prisoner, which was
largely written and directed by McGoohan.
opening episode (“The Arrival”), Number Six meets
Number Two, who explains to him that he is in The
Village because information stored “inside” his head
has made him too valuable to be allowed to roam free
the series, Number Six is subjected to interrogation
tactics, torture, hallucinogenic drugs, identity
theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various
forms of social indoctrination and physical coercion
in order to “persuade” him to comply, give up, give
in and subjugate himself to the will of the
refuses to comply.
episode, Number Six resists the Village’s
indoctrination methods, struggles to maintain his
own identity, and attempts to escape his captors. “I
will not make any deals with you,” he pointedly
remarks to Number Two. “I’ve resigned. I will not be
pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, debriefed or
numbered. My life is my own.”
matter how far Number Six manages to get in his
efforts to escape, it’s never far enough.
surveillance cameras and other devices, Number Six’s
getaways are continuously thwarted by ominous white
balloon-like spheres known as “rovers.” Still, he
refuses to give up. “Unlike me,” he says to his
fellow prisoners, “many of you have accepted the
situation of your imprisonment, and will die here
like rotten cabbages.”
Six’s escapes become a surreal exercise in futility,
each episode an unfunny, unsettling Groundhog’s
Day that builds to the same frustrating
denouement: there is no escape.
journalist Scott Thill concludes for Wired,
always comes at a price.
During the acclaimed run of The Prisoner,
Number Six is tortured, battered and even
body-snatched: In the episode ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh
My Darling,’ his mind is transplanted to another
man's body. Number Six repeatedly escapes The
Village only to be returned to it in the end,
trapped like an animal, overcome by a restless
energy he cannot expend, and betrayed by nearly
everyone around him.”
is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to
gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison
walls are disguised within the trappings of
technological and scientific progress, national
security and so-called democracy.
Thill noted when McGoohan died in 2009, “The
Prisoner was an allegory of the individual,
aiming to find peace and freedom in a
dystopia masquerading as a utopia.”
The Prisoner’s Village is
also an apt allegory for the American Police State:
it gives the illusion of freedom while functioning
all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful,
inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.
American Police State, much like The Prisoner’s
Village, is a metaphorical
circular prison in which the inmates are monitored
by a single watchman situated in a central tower.
Because the inmates cannot see the watchman, they
are unable to tell whether or not they are being
watched at any given time and must proceed under the
assumption that they are always being watched.
Eighteenth century social theorist
envisioned the panopticon prison to be a cheaper and
more effective means of “obtaining power of mind
over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”
panopticon, in which the prisoners are used as a
source of cheap, menial labor, has become a model
for the modern surveillance state in which the
populace is constantly being watched, controlled and
managed by the powers-that-be and funding its
run and nowhere to hide: this is the new mantra of
the architects of the police state and their
corporate collaborators (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix,
Google, Instagram, etc.).
eyes are watching you.
your every move: what you read, how much you spend,
where you go, with whom you interact, when you wake
up in the morning, what you’re watching on
television and reading on the internet.
move you make is being monitored, mined for
data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a
picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and
how best to control you when and if it becomes
necessary to bring you in line.
government sees all and knows all and has an
abundance of laws to render even the most seemingly
upstanding citizen a criminal and lawbreaker, then
the old adage that you’ve got nothing to worry about
if you’ve got nothing to hide no longer applies.
the obvious dangers posed by a government that feels
justified and empowered to spy on its people and use
its ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and technology
to monitor and control them, we’re approaching a
time in which we will be forced to choose between
obeying the dictates of the government—i.e., the
law, or whatever a government official deems the law
to be—and maintaining our individuality, integrity
talk about privacy, they mistakenly assume it
protects only that which is hidden behind a wall or
under one’s clothing. The courts have fostered this
misunderstanding with their constantly shifting
delineation of what constitutes an “expectation of
privacy.” And technology has furthered muddied the
privacy is so much more than what you do or say
behind locked doors. It is a way of living one’s
life firm in the belief that you are the master of
your life, and barring any immediate danger to
another person (which is far different from the
carefully crafted threats to national security the
government uses to justify its actions), it’s no
one’s business what you read, what you say, where
you go, whom you spend your time with, and how you
spend your money.
Unfortunately, George Orwell’s 1984—where
“you had to live—did live, from habit that became
instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made
was overheard, and, except in darkness, every
movement scrutinized”—has now become our reality.
now find ourselves in the unenviable position of
monitored, managed and controlled by our technology,
which answers not to us but to our government and
that on any given day, the average American going
about his daily business will be monitored,
surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20
different ways, by both government and corporate
eyes and ears.
of this new age in which we live, whether you’re
walking through a store, driving your car, checking
email, or talking to friends and family on the
phone, you can be sure that some government agency,
whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening
in and tracking your behavior.
doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate
trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing,
Facebook posts and other activities taking place in
the cyber sphere.
mounted on police cars to warrantlessly track cell
Doppler radar devices
that can detect human breathing and movement within
in a home, license plate readers that can
record up to 1800 license plates per minute,
sidewalk and “public space” cameras
coupled with facial recognition and behavior-sensing
technology that lay the groundwork for police
police body cameras
that turn police officers into roving surveillance
internet of things:
all of these technologies add up to a society in
which there’s little room for indiscretions,
imperfections, or acts of independence—especially
not when the government can listen in on your phone
calls, monitor your driving habits, track your
movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer
through the walls of your home.
French philosopher Michel Foucault concluded in his
Discipline and Punish,
is a trap.”
This is the
electronic concentration camp—the panopticon
prison—the Village—in which we are now caged.
It is a
prison from which there will be no escape if the
government gets it way.
“The way things are supposed to work is that
we’re supposed to know virtually everything
about what [government officials] do: that’s why
they’re called public servants. They’re
supposed to know virtually nothing about what we
do: that’s why we’re called private
individuals. This dynamic - the hallmark of a
healthy and free society - has been radically
Now, they know everything about what we do, and
are constantly building systems to know more.
Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they
do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which
they function. That’s the imbalance that needs
to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy
and functional if the most consequential acts of
those who wield political power are completely
unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be
the Trump Administration is working to make some of
the National Security Agency’s vast spying powers
fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is
pushing for Congress to permanently renew Section
702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,
which allows government snoops to warrantlessly comb
through and harvest vast quantities of our
like that, we’re back in the Village, our escape
plans foiled, our future bleak.
is no surprise ending: for those who haven’t been
taking the escapist blue pill, who haven’t fallen
for the Deep State’s phony rhetoric, who haven’t
been lured in by the promise of a political savior,
we never stopped being prisoners.
So how do
we break out?
starters, wake up. Resist the urge to comply.
struggle to remain “oneself in a society
increasingly obsessed with conformity to mass
consumerism,” writes Steven Paul Davies, means that
superficiality and image trump truth and the
individual. The result is the group mind and the
tyranny of mob-think.
for yourself. Be an individual. As McGoohan
commented in 1968, “At this moment individuals are
being drained of their personalities and being
brainwashed into slaves… As long as people feel
something, that's the great thing. It's when they
are walking around not thinking and not feeling,
When you get a mob like that, you can turn them into
the sort of gang that Hitler had.”
media-dominated age in which the lines between
entertainment, politics and news reporting are
blurred, it is extremely difficult to distinguish
fact from fiction. We are so bombarded with images,
dictates, rules and punishments and stamped with
numbers from the day we are born that it is a wonder
we ever ponder a concept such as freedom. As
McGoohan declared, “Freedom
is a myth.”
the end, as I make clear in my book
Battlefield America: The War on the American
People, we are
all prisoners of our own mind.
In fact, it
is in the mind that prisons are created for us. And
in the lockdown of political correctness, it becomes
extremely difficult to speak or act individually
without being ostracized. Thus, so often we are
forced to retreat inwardly into our minds, a prison
without bars from which we cannot escape, and into
the world of video games and television and the
have come full circle from Bentham’s Panopticon to
McGoohan’s Village to Huxley’s
Brave New World.
theorist Neil Postman observed:
Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no
reason to ban a book, for there would be no one
who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who
would deprive us of information. Huxley feared
those who would give us so much that we would be
reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared
we would become a captive audience. Huxley
feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of
irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become
a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become
a trivial culture, preoccupied with some
equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and
the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked
in Brave New World Revisited, the civil
libertarians and rationalists who are ever on
the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into
account man’s almost infinite appetite for
distractions.” In Brave New World, they
are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short,
Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
You want to
be free? Break out of the circle.
By John W.
20, 2017 "Information
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead
is founder and president of The
His new book Battlefield
America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks,
2015) is available online at www.amazon.com.
Whitehead can be contacted at email@example.com.