The High Priests of the Digital Age
Just as 18th century priests enforced total surveillance measures on masturbators, the new priests of the digital age are listening to your confessions and forcing you into puritanical repentance. Who doesn’t have a relative, a friend, a colleague, who broke up because of an iMessage showing up on the wrong device, fooled by the iCloud, by a suspicious Facebook like, or a Pokemon caught in the wrong neighborhood? I want to make the claim that a new system of surveillance, organized by the new priests of our digital age, are slyly acting behind our back to make us conform to a new form of puritan morality. At the beginning of the 18th century, masturbation suddenly became a topic of intense reflection. In the Enlightenment Encyclopedia it is described as the new disease of a wounded conscience and a heinous sin. Surprisingly, the Christian Church was not responsible. It had, until then, never regarded masturbation as anything other than a marginal problem for adult men (and especially monks). The people responsible for making masturbation a sin were economists, who worried about the consequences of masturbation for productivity in an economy that depended on the endless desire for more. The condemnation of masturbation spread, and in no time, doctors were making scientific claims to prove the dangers of masturbation, while priests made it their new obsession. In the confessional, the sinners had to avow everything, not only their reprehensible actions, but their reprehensible dreams, the languorous images that crossed their consciousness, the birth of desire in their troubled mind. The priests demanded to know it all, the most inner thoughts of the masturbators. The sinner was meant to keep his own mind under surveillance. Today, we believe that we have overcome this obscure period. Masturbation is widely accepted as a healthy sexual practice. But most importantly, our liberal democracies strongly posit that public ethics should remain neutral regarding sexuality, and that each one of us is free to have the sexuality that we prefer, enjoy, and that no institution is authorized to morally judge us for our sexual activities. Yet, I want to make the claim that a new system of surveillance, organized by the new priests of our digital age, are slyly acting behind our back to make us conform to a new form of puritan morality. Just as the 18th century priests did in their Churches, the high priests of the digital age listen to our confessions, record them, and eventually make us repent. Who doesn’t have a relative, a friend, a colleague, who broke up because of an iMessage showing up on the wrong device, fooled by the iCloud, by a suspicious Facebook like, or a Pokemon caught in the wrong neighborhood? The economic interests of having us behave morally are numerous: the best customer is predictable, and who is more predictable than an obedient child, or a pious wife or husband? From the pithy history of masturbation to real life break-ups, I will demonstrate the dark connections between digital surveillance, neoliberal economics and morality. I am a researcher at Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris in political philosophy. I am an expert of the Snowden case and digital surveillance. This will be my first talk on masturbation.