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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Providence (p. 11)

From chapter "The All-Seeing Eye"

I remember how when I was a kid the backs of dollar bills used to creep me out. To the left of where it says “In God We Trust” (how weird, I thought, to have that phrase on something that is the root of all evil?), there was the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States, with its truncated pyramid and its all-seeing eye. Combine my understanding that money is the root of all evil with my belief that the devil could see my every move, and you might get a sense of why I never put an upside-down dollar bill on my nightstand before I went to sleep.

I’ve since learned that the eye on the back of the dollar bill does not belong to the devil, but, essentially as scary, to God, or in the secular language of the U.S. State Department, to providence. It is there because, as the Latin phrase ANNUIT CŒPTIS written over the eye in this Great Seal means, “the eye of providence has favored our undertakings.” George Washington, whose face, of course, appears on the front of the bill, put it well (if a tad awkwardly) in his inaugural address: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”

Certainly the Revolutionary War came at a providential moment for Washington, one of the richest men in the new United States. His fortune—and of course we can say the same for essentially all fortunes, but this was especially true in his case—was founded on land illegally taken from Indians. In fact, his fortune was so fraudulent that the (British) governor of Virginia declared Washington’s title to these lands null and void. “Providentially” the Revolutionary War broke out the same month as this declaration, saving Washington’s fortune.

I’m not sure whether the Indians, whose lands were being stolen by Washington and many others, would be so quick to ascribe the loss of their lands and their way of life—what is these days called genocide—so much to the Invisible Hand of providence as it was to an entire culture of rapacious people hellbent on taking everything that could be turned into money and destroying everything they did not understand.

Annuit Cœptus. “The eye of providence has favored our undertakings.”

You and I both know who determines what actions are deemed “providential,” that is, ordained by the all-seeing eye of God, and what actions are deemed improvidential, that is, subject to the all-seeing eye of the guard at the center of the Panopticon.

Similarly, when those in power put on the back of the dollar bill “In God We Trust,” we can have a pretty good idea who this we is, and what we can trust this God—as mediated by those in power—to do.

The controller of the Panopticon thus becomes god, or rather God. Omniscient God. Invisible God. God with oversight both omnipossible and unverifiable. God unapproachable and unknowable. God mediated and represented by those in power. God so internalized that we would never even conceive of going against His word. Or is it the word of those in power? Power is God. Control is the way to God. Those in control are God.