When it Comes to Security, There is No Normality (EN)
Gideon Boie and Matthias Pauwels
A clinical approach to contemporary security and surveillance culture
Security technology is related to pathology in an ambiguous way. On the one hand, technology has a therapeutic aspect: it accommodates the patient’s condition. It enables him to relate to himself and to his environment in a relatively normal manner. On the other hand, technology can also work towards stabilizing and intensifying the symptoms of the individual’s disorder. Sometimes security technology even creates or provokes the symptom, resulting in possible self-destructive and asocial behaviour.
This ambivalent position occupied by security and surveillance technology is analogous to that occupied by the symptom in psychoanalysis. There the symptom is seen as an act of compromise. It is an attempt on the part of the patient to make his condition bearable. Accordingly, the symptom functions as a defence mechanism against the disorder. On the other hand, the symptom also hampers the patient’s recovery. However, these compromise formations are also responsible for determining the individual’s identity. Which is why psychoanalysis regards total recovery not only as impossible, but also as undesirable. The symptoms only become truly pathological when they exceed a certain limit. To gaze at a stranger and to derive a certain degree of pleasure from this, is no problem as such: each one of us is, to a certain extent, a voyeur. To correct or to eliminate this minimal voyeuristic tendency in therapy would not only be to do away with a certain gratification, but would also endanger the person’s individuality.
This lexicon is an exploration of such compromise formations in relation to the present-day security and surveillance culture. It takes the form of eight pathological syndromes: schizophrenia, paranoia, fetishism, voyeurism, phobia, hysteria, obsession and borderline syndrome. The lexicon aims to be both critical and affirmative: it elucidates the problematic nature of security technology, but simultaneously calls for the enjoyment of security syndromes. Enjoy your symptom.
THE FIRST PLACE TO START IS AT THE BOUNDARY OF YOUR PROPERTY
It is generally assumed that the schizophrenic has no imagination: the threat of the other is an immediate physical tension. The security mechanisms of the schizophrenic are therefore the most primitive of the syndromes dealt with in this series. Whereas the paranoiac has a cogent theory concerning the other who threatens him, it is not at all clear to the schizophrenic who his aggressors are or what they want from him. He is equally incapable of imagining the possible cruelties perpetrated by the intruders. He feels like a plaything delivered into the hands of others, without knowing the rules of the game.
This lack of imagination manifests itself in the way the schizophrenic experiences himself: he has barely any notion of his own identity, nor any grasp on his own territory. Even in his own home he feels estranged, as if he is not the one who lives there. His personal territory has been delivered to an anonymous, all-consuming public sphere. The schizophrenic experiences this as an internal, physical tension: the feeling that his territory is threatening to burst apart at the seams and to dissolve into an undifferentiated, public realm.
This tension drives the schizophrenic to desperate attempts to give his territory at least some structure. This is spatially manifested in the endless proliferation of boundaries whereby he attempts a primary ordering of his territory. Everywhere the logic of accumulation holds sway. Even on the original enclosure other systems are continually being mounted: everywhere barbed wire is being put up and, inversely, fences are being dug deep into the ground or have steel bars reaching deep into the soil. These mutilations of his own territory exceed every functional or aesthetic consideration.
GET PROTECTED FROM AN ALL-INTRUSIVE OTHER
A typical example of a paranoid delusion is the conviction that a wire-less, silent witness* is controlling one’s body, transmitting crystal-clear video and audio signals through one’s skin, through the walls, the floors and between the rooms in buildings. Yet this is not just a pathological condition: the security market is awash with systems that reinforce the belief in an omnipotent other. An other who even has access to the sensations and feelings emanating from the depths of one’s body.
Even the long arm of the law is unable to protect the paranoiac from an all-intrusive other. After all, the law is on the same side as security technology. Systems involving sensitive microphones which, when triggered by an intrusion of the territory under surveillance, open a telephone path that allows the central station to listen in, only serve to exacerbate the paranoiac’s delusion.
The dream of the paranoiac paradoxically corresponds to the present-day utopia of total security. The paranoiac dreams of a state of total peace of mind, like a child striving after total fusion with its mother. With the aid of present-day security technology this is within easy reach: ‘simply plug in and play’. The realization of the fusion striven after by the paranoiac simultaneously implies the realization of her delusion: the terror of an all-intrusive agency.
*SILENT WITNESS Phone recorder, http://www.eaprotection.com/eguipment/tel-surv.htm
THE RIGHT PRECAUTIONS CAN MAKE A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
Security fetishism is an unusual form of perversion in which the individual’s sense of security is entirely dependent on a particular object or system: heat-sensitive binoculars, infra-red security, et cetera. A crucial aspect of security fetishism is that the individual acknowledges that total security is unattainable. At the same time, he gives the lie to this by zealously setting up ingenious security arrangements and acquiring the very latest technological equipment.
A fetishized safeguarding is generally understood as an aestheticization of the security measures taken. However, for the fetishist the security measures do not even have to look like a security system at first sight. Neither does the functionality or effectivity of the system actually contribute towards his sense of security. For this, the fetishist gets off on gadgets too much: the higher the gadget-value of the security system, the greater the certainty concerning its efficiency.
There are numerous systems available which accommodate the fetishistic condition, like the systems that process every possible danger and translate it into data, for example. The data is then concisely displayed on a control panel, a television screen or on the digital display of a mobile phone. Similarly, there is a security system available that detects the unknown visitor through an infra-red filter and transforms him into a fluctuating red blot on the computer screen.* The reduction of the other to a blot gives the fetishist the feeling of having the other completely in his power.
* INFRARED ILLUMINATOR WITH CAMERA, http://www.eaprotection.com/eguipment/infrared.htm
WHETHER IT’S THE BOARDROOM OR THE BABY’S ROOM, FIND OUT HOW OTHERS BEHAVE WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
Security voyeurism is a form of perversion in which the individual’s sense of security depends entirely upon being able to see any possible intruder. The voyeur only feels safe when she knows that she can record every movement in and around her house or that these are indeed being recorded.* There are many systems that continuously save camera images in digital format, irrespective of the resident’s presence. The mere fact that this is happening gives the voyeur a feeling of control and safety. Even an actual intrusion cannot dent the voyeur’s sense of safety, as long as the images are captured on film.
The worst that can befall the voyeur is to be seen by those she watches – for someone to look back into the camera – for then the roles are reversed. Even if this looking back is in reality impossible … the voyeur nevertheless feels that she is being watched. At that moment she is reduced to an object by the gaze of the other, a situation that fills her with anxiety. The ultimate nightmare of the voyeur thus amounts to finding herself in the position of the exhibitionist.
The technological extensions of the gaze (video apparatus, miniature cameras, et cetera) make the voyeur feel more comfortable in this regard. A confrontation with a visitor who looks into the surveillance camera, is avoided by the video recorder, which has taken over the task of ‘watching’. The voyeur no longer has to observe reality ‘live’: that compulsion has been entrusted to the video memory.
* VOXPHONE REMOTELY MONITORING, http://www.voxphone.com/products/monitor.htm
BE WARNED OF A POSSIBLE INTRUDER FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR LIVING ROOM OR SIMPLY BY DIALING UP A SITE
According to the security industry, it is better to keep an eye on strangers even if they are merely going about their own business. The phobiac too, is determined to put the most negative construction on the facts. He tends to attribute the most malevolent intentions and almost absolute power to the unknown object. Which is why the object inspires such a mortal fear in him.
The phobiac’s interpretation is inexplicable, since his suspicion that all strangers are criminals has absolutely no basis in reality. According to psychoanalysis, the phobic object alleviates the infantile anxiety of being consumed by an omnipotent mother. By according the phobic object excessive powers, the phobiac attempts to curb the omnipotence of the mother. The phobia is a desperate attempt to escape the mother’s tyranny.
Present-day security technology offers the most advanced means of simulating the presence of the phobic object: as soon as someone – anyone – enters the house, the phobiac is alerted by the system’s ‘beeping’.* For the phobiac this is ideal: it leaves the question of the visitor’s legitimacy unresolved. It could be his wife, the cat or an intruder. The possibility of it being an intruder is left open and the phobiac’s belief that there is indeed something more powerful than his mother is reinforced.
The phobiac’s actual problem is thus not fear of being attacked by the phobic object, but precisely the fact that the object is of vital importance to him. The phobiac is actually excessively fascinated by the phobic object, but is mortally afraid of satisfying his desire: here fascination and anxiety collide. Once again we find a multitude of security devices that cater to this discordant situation. To view the phobic object without any risk, from the safety of your own living room (or even safer: on the display of your mobile telephone or pager) has never been easier!
* MOTION DETECTOR / AUTO DIALER, http://www.eaprotection.com/
OBSESSIONAL SECURITY NEUROSIS
A SERIES OF SMALL, BUT USEFUL ROUTINES ENSURE THAT YOUR OVERALL SECURITY IS THE BEST IT CAN BE*
Obsessional security neurosis is characterized not so much by the type of security systems being used, as by the manner in which safeguarding routines are executed. With regards to her safety, the neurotic acts decisively and is perfectly convinced that her measures are effective. She thinks she has everything under control and cannot conceive of any danger escaping her precautionary measures. If small defects do occur, she minimizes the trauma by attributing it to technological failure.
Seen from an objective point of view, the obsessional neurotic usually has everything pretty much under control. For her, the actual problem resides in the fundamental impossibility of absolute security: the mere possibility of intrusion renders her complacency unwarranted. For this reason, the neurotic will do her utmost to avoid possible danger by way of meticulously executed rituals: patrolling the house several times before going to bed, leaving the lights on when not at home, et cetera.
Since the imperative to execute these rituals is at variance with her supposed self-sufficiency, the neurotic always justifies her security rituals in terms of something else: ‘it isn’t good for the car to be always parked out in the open’, ‘the gate must be kept closed, otherwise the incessant wind might blow it to pieces’. This ambivalence is characteristic of the obsessional neurotic. On the one hand, she denies any vulnerability vis à vis a possible intruder: everything is under control. On the other hand, each one of her actions and rituals testifies to the possibility of a violation of her autonomy. This makes of the obsessional neurotic a living symbol of the possible intruder. As such, the worst that can befall the obsessional neurotic is to be utterly dependent upon the other.
KNOWING INSIDE INFORMATION ABOUT THE FIRM THAT KEEPS TABS ON YOUR HOME COULD HELP YOU MAKE SURE YOUR FAMILY IS PROPERLY PROTECTED
Security hysteria is characterized by the quest for perfection. No single system can ever be good enough for the safeguarding of the hysteric’s person and his family. Even though he knows that his security is watertight, the hysteric will continue to check on his own security system. The security business understands this need: it is marketed as counter surveillance. * The term covers a range of phenomena, from the urge to keep an eye on things yourself despite the surveillance cameras already in place, to hiring a second security firm to spy upon or check up on your original security firm, et cetera.
The security systems of the hysteric are generally clandestine, concealed or invisible safeguarding measures, which are nevertheless extremely accurate. These security techniques cater to the hysteric’s delusion in which he first conjures up the intruder’s desire and then fantasizes about the intruder’s detection by the system and their inevitable retreat. In other words, the hysteric imagines his territory as the object of a potential intruder’s desire, but does not permit the intruder to derive any gratification from this object.
If things do end up going awry and an intrusion occurs, the hysteric will experience this as an unacceptable violation that has occurred despite all his precautionary measures. Here the hysteric’s ambivalence is manifested once again: on the one hand, he wants to banish the danger completely, and no price is too high to ensure a safe home; on the other hand, he also wants to maintain the [sense of?] danger. The hysteric’s worst nightmare is to realize that the intruder has no interest in him at all.
PERFECT FOR ANY APPLICATION
In practice, it is often difficult to describe security measures from a single (pathological) perspective. Safeguarding actions are often characterized by a heterogeneous amalgamation of diverse symptoms. Nevertheless, such marginal cases are presently classified in one clinical category: borderline syndrome. Of all the security pathologies, borderline syndrome is the least transparent precisely because of its heterogeneous character.
At first sight, the borderliner does not appear in the least pathological. Furthermore, she appears to have an astute insight into the psychoanalytical complexities behind the security mania. Accordingly, she is quite capable of explaining how technology – and the various marketing strategies of security firms – only serves to evoke and stimulate the feeling of insecurity of the man on the street. On other occasions, however, she will defend the necessity and indeed the indispensability of such security systems.
The borderliner is not aware of this inconsistency in her own opinions: an openly critical attitude and continued investment in security exist side by side without contradiction. The most trivial detail, like forgetting to double-lock a door, can cause the borderliner to lose her self-possession completely. The fact that such extreme anxiety exists unchecked alongside her normal and rational behaviour is indicative of the borderliner’s split nature.
Even though the borderliner does not experience this alternation between contradictory behaviours and opinions as problematic, she is sometimes beset by an inner crisis. This happens when she realizes that neither rational insight into the problem, nor participation in the consumption of security commodities can safeguard her completely. During these moments of crisis, the borderliner touches upon the crux of the security problem: the feeling of insecurity is essentially driven by the virtual presence of the violator. In her moment of crisis, the borderliner realizes that this virtuality can never be resolved by any specific security object or objectifying discourse. Ultimately, only a real intrusion can truly eliminate this indeterminate feeling of insecurity. It is precisely in this that the opportunism inherent to the security syndromes is located: by postponing the real, an obscure pleasure is secured.
Published by Archis #3, March 2002, pp. 36-42 (now Volume): https://archis.org/volume/when-it-comes-to-security-there-is-no-normality-a-clinical-approach-to-security-and-surveillance-systems/