How Do I Celebrate Christmas in the Age of Surveillance?

Christmas and surveillance

Here is yet another Christmas. I roam around the down town of the city. Yes, the mood of festivity is obvious. With positive vibrations I begin to contemplate, and one thing that comes to my mind immediately is that Jesus spoke of love and forgiveness, and Jesus was the embodiment of compassion. 

From the Sermon on the Mount to the CCTV Camera

Yet, at that very moment, my ‘rational’ mind reminds me of a harsh reality: even though the Churches would look remarkably beautiful, gift industry (and these days through the ‘magical’ Amazon) would flourish,  the imageries of Santa Claus would charm innocent children, and some of us would enjoy Christmas Cake, the fact is that we have betrayed Jesus because far from celebrating love, we seem to have become the champions of the Freudian Thanatos, we kill and destroy, and we have mastered the technology of surveillance because of our belief that as potential ‘sinners’ we have to be perpetually observed and controlled.

No wonder, as I roam around the city, and enter the famous Janpath market, I hear yet another language–not what Jesus would have loved to speak, not the Sermon on the Mount, but exactly its anti-thesis. The cops–the ‘legitimate’ representatives of the modern state– remind us that the CCTV Camera is observing us; and we are asked not to forget that any stranger walking in front of us can prove to be a dangerous terrorist. Not solely that. Be alert. Suspect everybody, be it a tenant or a domestic help or a cab driver.

 To love is to trust. But then, as the cops remind us, love is a fantasy, and surveillance is the need of the hour. The militarization of consciousness is a token of new citizenship.

From the spiritual music of love to the noise of surveillance: is it the way human civilization is supposed to progress? Is Jesus listening?  I stop at the Janpath market. And I am perplexed.

Christmas Carol and a Song of Resistance

Yes, even amid the festivity and the vibrancy of shopping, the normalization of surveillance in our times makes me think and worry. The music of religiosity, I feel, is about love and connectedness. True, the seeds of aggression or narcissism exist within us. But then, unlike Hobbes or Machiavelli, Nietzsche or Freud, a seeker like Jesus sought to show us the lamp within–the potential of love, not the instinct of war.

Is it that we eventually forgot it, and surrendered everything–including the longing for the divine, before the mighty priest-craft and tremendously powerful Churches? Was it the beginning of the replacement of love by the burden of sin, and associated fear? Fear, believe it, leads to surveillance, and surveillance means the harshness of ‘disciplining’ the body, the mind and the soul. Even ‘confessions’ became a matter of scrutiny for professional psychiatrists.  Was it that we began to look at one another not through the eyes of compassion, but through the lens of either the science of psychoanalysis or the sophistication of surveillance machinery ?

I know it is Christmas. Yet, I find it difficult to forget the logic of surveillance. Well, the Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century gave us a grand dream of some sort of secular salvation–modernity with reason and science would eventually take us to the realm of freedom. But then, where is that freedom? Instead, we are seeing the speedy growth of the surveillance machinery.

One need not be a Foucaudian to see and feel it.  From railway stations to airports, from the school Principal’s chamber to the lift in a high rise building–the all-pervading presence of the CCTV camera reminds us that there is a gaze that observes us without being observed. And the modern state has a wonderful logic for legitimizing it.

We ought to be subject to these technologies of surveillance because of peace, safety, order and above all national security. Any of us can prove to be a terrorist or an anti-national conspirator; and to trust people is to be naive; what is important is to scrutinize, and if neceassaty, punish. It is a trap. We have begun to look at one another through the logic of surveillance. In fact, these days, we like to be surveilled. The ‘repressive state apparatus’ merges with the ‘ideological apparatus’.

Fear is infectious. Fear grows cumulatively. There is no end to it. Hence the CCTV camera alone is not sufficient. Who knows that you are not sending a ‘dangerous’ email to somebody for creating disorder in society? Or why should one think that you are necessarily innocent, you might be using Facebook and WatsApp for ‘unlawful’ activities? So we must allow the state to take record of every email we send or receive, or every message that flows through our smart phones. And yes, we must accept that it is for the good of the nation!

What sort of Christmas then  I celebrate in an age in which surveillance replaces love, suspicion is seen to be more natural than trust, and police raid, detention and encounter killings are regarded as  more important than forgiveness?  I keep reflecting.

And then, I ask myself a question: Is it possible to tap the life-affirming power of love into a mode of resistance against this worship of the Thanatos, this death wish, this reckless aggression, violence and surveillance? Was Christ himself one of the finest revolutionaries humankind has ever seen? Or was it the reason that Gandhi – yet another revolutionary of our times – could not escape the appeal of Jesus to resist the politics of colonial violence perpetuated by the supposedly ‘Christian’ nations of the world

Yes, it is Christmas. It does remind me of the musical rhythm of the enchanting Carol. However, as I feel the intimate Christ, I begin to imagine yet another song– a song of prayer, a song of collective healing, a song of resistance against a culture that normalizes surveillance, invites authoritarianism, and corrupts our souls.  

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