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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Panoptic Sort (p. 112)

From chapter "Rationalization"

In the 1990s, Oscar Gandy took up where Foucault left off by describing the “panoptic sort” as “the complex technology that involves the collection, processing, and sharing of information about individuals and groups that is generated through their daily lives as citizens, employees, and consumers and is used to coordinate and control their access to the goods and services that define life in the modern capitalist economy.”In other words, it’s how those in power manage information that allows them to manage you, both collectively and individually. The more information they have, the more effectively they can manage you.

The basis of the panoptic sort is the remote, invisible, automatic, and comprehensive sensing of personhood and the classification, evaluation, and sorting of individuals into groups for efficient training, rehabilitation, or elimination, based on their value to the economic and political elite who control the sorting.

The most highly valued are the rich and other rulers; they are given the primary fiscal benefits of the sorting system. Also high in the hierarchy are those trusted strategists who can make sense of the vast information apparatus. Below them are technicians who are privy to the data collected by the surveillance machines. Below that are the people of the middle class who enjoy enough benefits so that their sense of privilege outweighs their nagging feeling of never quite reaching the top. (From the point of view of those who run the system, the value of the middle class is to provide the bulk of the surplus value.) Below the middle class are working-class people, who run and maintain the machines that produce the consumer goods. They, too, enjoy enough benefits to keep them at work, to give them the illusion that they are living a good life, and to keep them from looking for a different way to live. And, as Henry Ford saw early on, it is essential in an industrial system to give at least some of the workers enough pay to buy at least some of what they build, or else the system’s inevitable overproduction has no outlet. Toward the bottom of the value scale are those who are “of little substance who carry the sick, bury the dead, clean and do many vile and abject offices.”But even the unemployed and the homeless are of some value to the system. For example, they keep wages low by making the working class fearful of losing their jobs and by making sleeping under a bridge seem the only alternative to the treadmill of rent or mortgage. Below the value scale altogether are those who will not partake of the benefits of the system: the hunter-gatherers, the subsistence farmers who own their own land, the gypsies, the odd free spirit who will not settle for mortgage and salary. These are worse than useless to the system, because they provide the system’s servants with alternative visions and lifestyles. Because the existence of these alternatives cannot be tolerated, lest the servants become restless, those who live these alternatives must be banished from the servants’ view, or destroyed altogether.