Peep culture, a culture of wanting to know everything about everyone

foucault 4

The 21th century is undeniably characterised by the rise of new technologies, especially those to do with communication. Computers, iPhones, television and radio: these are our main tools which help us to know everything about everyone, from our friends, our families, to the lives of Hollywood celebrities. Our modern culture is somehow based on the will to know everything about everyone. We like spending our lives exchanging data based around ourselves: what we do, what we eat, how we sleep, what we bought yesterday…Throughout a complex network of communications such as: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Skype, and so on. Where does this lack of prudishness come from? It is linked with our democracies, especially the liberal ones?

First of all, in order to better understand these questions, we need to focus here on the main ideology of the 21st century: Liberalism. This famous political theory, born mainly in the United Kingdom, in the 17 th and 18th centuries, concerns human freedom, and its defense, its propagation through the rights given to men: freedom of speech, right to vote, and so forth. Nowadays every citizen who lives in a western democracy has a lot more rights: he or she is free to choose his or her life among many different ways of life, according to laws and the Constitution, and to express his or her own opinions about everything: politics, economy, society, culture, etc. But generally these freedoms are used in such an excessive manner; on one hand individuals like telling everything about themselves, sharing every detail of their lives (including sexual and alcoholic experiences when they are young), because they are afraid of being rejected by society; on the other hand, society and the political system pressures individuals to confess their opinions, or, for example, their sexual practices. Here we can observe the following idea: it is ‘ cool ‘, it is ‘ normal ‘, it is ‘ in fashion ‘ to participate as much as possible in all the social-virtual networks we have mentioned above (ex: Facebook, etc.). It appears that society or social groups (that is to say our friends) are becoming a new sort of priest: men today are not so different from the medieval ages, they like confessions, understood in a religious way. But is this freedom (or the capacity to express everything we know about ourselves) a real freedom, a real liberation, and a real progress?

In western democracies some philosophers were deeply concerned by the so-called freedom on which modern liberalism is based. Michel Foucault (1926-1984), a french thinker (see his photo above) who became famous during the seventies, explained the ambivalence of liberalism through several books, in particular in his last one: ‘ Une histoire de la sexualité, la volonté de savoir ‘ (‘ the history of sexuality, the will to knowledge). This ambivalence comes from the fact that we do have a lot of freedoms and rights, but, at the same time, the political power and the government has to control and regulate them. Here Foucault makes a connection between power and knowledge, a connection we can observe for example during the events of May 68 where there was a sexual liberation. People were allowed to talk more freely about their sexual practices, therefore the political power created a new ‘ discours ‘, a new science – sexology, to control and regulate these new sexual practices. Freedom can sometimes just be pure appearance, and talking about ourselves can be a useful tool for any power to deeply control us.

There is also another thinker who pointed out the most important dangers of our western democracies: Noam Chomsky (see his photo below). In his main philosophical analysis about power and democracy he mostly denounces the common characteristics of democracy and totalitarianism, which is the control of citizens’ opinions and practices, to promote certain ways of life throughout advertisement. Chomsky revealed for example that Nazi propaganda was firstly based on American advertising. In totalitarian regimes political control is more implicit, governments sometimes use the Media and communication technologies in order to better evaluate the way we live.

To sum up, we can think about the religious dimension of our modern democracies, or liberalism. The theory of Liberalism claimed that we are our own God, we have the power and the freedom to create our lives, but meanwhile we have to confess our practices to a new kind of pastor: governments and political power. Liberalism is not the way Adam Smith and Montesquieu had hoped to get rid of the power of the State, but it is another way of controlling people, how they live, their feelings, especially by promoting so-called free social networks, like Facebook or Myspace.


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