. . . the rather disingenuous horror which Charles Dickens
expressed after his cursory visit to the Eastern Penitentiary in
Inspired by the Panopticon design of Jeremy Bentham, the Eastern Penitentiary is of radial design, with seven wings extending from a central administrative hub. In Dickens’ time, the “Pennsylvania System” was one of strict and absolute solitary confinement for the duration of the sentence. One hour of exercise in a solitary exercise yard was permitted each day, and soon after the initial incarceration prisoners were allowed to have some means of handicraft – a shoemaker’s last, a small loom.
The rather crude and simplistic device of solitary confinement was designed, of course, to achieve a psychological transformation, and Dickens’ imaginative depiction of the mental state of the prisoners from the onset of their imprisonment is a delight to read. Dickens also sketches a portrait of the facial expression of the typical prisoner:
“It had something of that strained attention which we see upon the faces of the blind and deaf, mingled with a kind of horror, as though they had all been secretly terrified.”
Most helpful for the purposes of the present survey is the description by the jail administrator of the demeanor of prisoners who are about to be released:
“ ‘Well, it’s not so much a trembling,’ was the answer – ‘though they do quiver – as a complete derangement of the nervous system. They can’t sign their names to the book; sometimes can’t even hold the pen; look about ‘em without appearing to know why, or where they are; and sometimes get up and sit down again, twenty times in a minute. This is when they’re in the office, where they are taken with the hood on, as they were brought in.’ ” 
The challenge in the area of social, psychological and neurolinguistic control today is to achieve the same effect without the time and expense of a lifetime of solitary confinement in an expensive institution.
While Foucault’s thesis that the 18th century witnessed a shift from the discipline of the body to the discipline of the mind (a shift epitomized in the Panopticon of Jeremy Bentham) has become axiomatic in the field of Control Studies, what Foucault does not adequately address is the rise of incipient capitalism made abstractly concrete in Bentham’s project. The Panopticon, after all, was not ever built, precisely because it was a proposed private enterprise, and it is perhaps no coincidence that as penal institutions in advanced industrial societies begin to move more rapidly in the direction of privatization the ideal of the Panopticon once more leaps to the fore.
This is due to the belated realization that penning up large quantities of meat bodies for long periods of time, feeding them, and maintaining a certain minimum standard of health, is simply not cost-effective. The desirable trend therefore must be to systems of control which are decentralized and do not depend on large, cumbersome and expensive industrial-age plants and mechanisms.
Of course we see the beginnings of this decentralized approach in the electronic collars which can be tracked remotely and which keep the prisoner on parole or house arrest from straying from a designated geographical radius. Enthusiasts of the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) foresee a time when it will be possible to locate any automobile on the face of the earth which is appropriately equipped, and indeed the whole concept of intelligent highways is predicated on this development.
But it is in the field of psychological rather than physical control that I believe the most effective models are to be found. Certainly the history of “opiates of the people” reflects a mixed success. Such blunt instruments as heroin, crack cocaine and television, while capable of reducing large targeted segments of the population to the degree of bemused derangement described by Dickens’ jailer, are notoriously difficult if not impossible to fine tune. STP-25, which showed such hopeful potential during the 1960s and 70s, at least introduced the possibility of the remote trigger, and the demise of the “counterculture” is attributed by some experts to the subliminal signals broadcast in rock and roll songs via radio, which triggered debilitating psychotic episodes in users especially of Windowpane X.2Z, rendering themselves and their subversive organizations essentially null and void.
It is this basic trajectory that we feel to be most fruitful, promising an increasingly fine-tuned and cost-effective selective derangement whose triggers can be broadcast via television and radio waves or narrowcast via the Internet to targets as small as one individual or to whole classes of society. This approach obviates and obsolesces such outmoded approaches as the prison, the high school, and the ghetto.
See also :
Lorna Rhodes, Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison, 2004.
Erving Goffman, Asylums, 1961.
David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, 1971.