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Breaking the Chains that We Forge: What is this Thing called the Prison Planet?

The ruins of a Benthamite Panopticon prison built in Cuba in the 19th century
Breaking the Chains that We Forge. What is this Thing called the Prison Planet?

Breaking the Chains that We Forge: What is this Thing called the Prison Planet?
By Kevin D. Annett

Breaking the Chains that We Forge: What is this Thing called the Prison Planet?

By Kevin D. Annett

Those who know neither themselves nor their enemy will lose every battle.– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The unmitigated insanity of today’s global COVID police state has made clear to many people that our society has all the features of a prison, including the attitude of we, the inmates. None of us think we are guilty. Instead, we see ourselves as unwitting victims of a malevolent and oppressive power for which we bear no responsibility. Injustice is done to us, not with us. People born and raised in servitude think like that because they have never learned to be responsible for themselves or their condition. They cannot see how they continually build the brick and mortar of their own captivity.

“After all, don’t we all still vote and pay our taxes and rely on the internet?” I recently asked a group of “awake” people. “How can we fight what we are part of?”

Ever since the late 18th century, we have been bred to think and live as inmates in the prison called western civilization. That is when the ruling class of a rising urban industrial society created the model in which its worker-slaves would live and die. One of their hired philosophers named Jeremy Bentham came up with the model. It was called the Panopticon: the ultimate, self-regulating prison.

Bentham founded the British school of philosophy called Utilitarianism, which has shaped the modern world. Utilitarianism says that nothing has any innate value or meaning unless it serves a practical and usable purpose. That includes human beings. If a worker cannot produce enough profit for an employer, he is fired. He has no worth in himself, but only as a means to someone else’s end, like a cog in a machine. Look around and you will see Utilitarianism and its corporate culture triumphant everywhere in the world.

But the question remains: How are the masses of people kept mentally chained to such an inhuman system as loyal industrial serfs? The Panopticon was Jeremy Bentham’s answer. The word means “All-Seeing Eye”, like the one on the American dollar bill. The Panopticon was the model not only for British prisons but all of society.

Bentham first presented his idea in a book he wrote in 1791 called “Panopticon, or The Inspection House, Applicable to any Establishment in which Persons are to be Kept Under Inspection”.

Bentham’s basic concept is that all the inmates of a prison (or society) are kept under observation by a single guard, or authority, without the inmates being able to know whether they are being watched. Even if they are not being monitored continually, the inmates cannot know when they are being watched by the “Inspectors”, and so they are compelled to regulate their own behavior lest they “get into trouble”. In effect, people become their own policeman and jail guard. One authority figure can thereby compel many people to keep themselves imprisoned and self-regulating.

The Panopticon prison was designed as a circular building at the center of which was an Inspection House that looked out on all the cells. From there the Inspectors would seem to continually watch the inmates: an impossible feat but a convincing illusion to one trapped in their individual cell. The system worked so well that Bentham insisted that his model be used in schools, hospitals, asylums, and every public facility. He certainly got his wish. Think of the cluster of CCTV cameras on every street corner today or the requirement to “self-isolate” from an alleged virus and you can see how successful the Panopticon has become.

The brilliance of the Panopticon, from a managerial point of view, is that the inmates of the system do not feel themselves to be imprisoned and regulated. They can observe the Inspection House and feel on equal terms with the Inspectors, even when the inmates are the ones behind bars. Bentham was a strong advocate for the universal right to vote and other progressive social reforms, since “to remain manageable, the ones in captivity must believe they are the masters of their lives.”

Today we live in a completely managed corporatized society made so by none other than we the people. The dictates from a few unaccountable and invisible people to stand apart, muzzle ourselves, isolate in our homes and be injected with unknown substances are made real and enforced by no-one but ourselves. The enemy is not a few unelected bureaucrats and policemen but our own compulsion to comply and imprison ourselves because of the policing Panopticon in our head. Are not we all continually concerned and watching for the “All-Seeing Eye”?

The Flaw in the System and a Way Out

Bentham spotted a problem in his Panopticon model near the end of his life. He recognized that the system’s success rested on maintaining in each inmate the sense that he was monitored by a central authority and isolated from everyone else. The Inspection House at the heart of the Panopticon had to dominate the daily lives and attention of the inmates. If that focus was lost and the prisoners became more mindful of themselves and the others incarcerated around them, the All-Seeing Eye would lose its hold and coercion over their thoughts and they would have no need to regulate and police themselves. Instead, their thoughts would turn to escape and freedom.

In Bentham’s commentary on his book he observes,

I venture to add that the Russian model failed to achieve a durable success because of the free intercourse of the inmates with each other and the rather unimposing construction of the Inspection House, to say nothing of the failure to impose corrective measures on the prison population. Confined in one of these cells, every motion of the limbs, and every muscle of the face exposed to view, indulged with perfect liberty within the space allotted to him, each prisoner learns a natural compliance and in time contentment. Noise, the only offence by which a man thus engaged could render himself troublesome by making his presence known to the other prisoners, might, if found otherwise incorrigible, be subdued by gagging - a most natural and efficacious mode of prevention, as well as punishment. It must be remembered that silence is the necessary medium of the imprisoned.

I find Bentham’s prescribed punishment of “gagging” especially relevant to our situation today, especially the masking requirement of our modern-day Panopticon. Now or then, a controlled populace must be maintained as faceless, voiceless numbers, separated from one another and forever dominated by the fear of a central authority. Restore peoples’ natural voice, identity and connection, and their own authority will replace that of the Panopticon. Then tyranny will crumble as the prison cells are opened, from the inside out.

In our common law Republic movement, we speak a lot about such liberation and self-governance, and of how our local Assemblies are replacing the present tyranny. But the minds and words of far too many of us are still fixated on the Inspection House called the Corporate State and its internet, and of what its All-Seeing Eye may “do” to us if we step out of line. It is time to turn away from the Inspectors and recover our own thoughts and voices in the company of all the other inmates.

That is easier said than done, of course. But the example must be set today and tomorrow by those few of us who have recovered ourselves, with the understanding of my old buddy Joe Hendsbee, the blacklisted Vancouver longshoreman, who once observed,

“Free your mind and your ass will follow”.


The ruins of a Benthamite Panopticon prison built in Cuba in the 19th century