Eye In The Sky

In “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace“, Sarah Wanenchak waxes philosophical about what exactly constitutes a “drone,” as something different from other robots or surveillance mechanisms, like the Mars rover. Drones, Wanenchak thinks, are flying (distanced) robots that watch just for the sake of watching—which, in turn, is done just for the sake of reinforcing power structures. Drones, in this manner, establish a sort of omnipresent and ethereal Panopticon; you’re not being watched all the time but you could be watched at any time. The possibility of being watched itself is like a prison, self-enforced.

With the element of being watched also of course comes the element of violence (as State power and violence are inseparable), as there’s always an underlying threat of action behind the perceived passivity of a faraway lens. The unstated but very intentional assumption is that if you can be watched at any time, you can also be violated at any time. (Hence the term “Predador Drone.”) Wanenchak writes:

If the source of drone violence is its Gaze, we need to understand that Gaze as existing within the context of all the other implications of the Gaze. Watching in that way enables sexual violence, of the flesh and the heart both together; the surveillance state is an element of rape culture in that – among other things – certain people are more vulnerable to being watched and to being violated. Drone culture is about the production and reproduction of social power, domination, and oppression. It can’t be understood apart from these things, no matter how benign it appears, no matter how separate from the state it looks. But drone culture is also about doing critical battle with these things, about resistance to them.

And speaking of resistance, check out this story about a man who was recently arrested by officers who used a Predator Drone to locate him, and then found guilty for “terrorizing police” (you can’t make this shit up). The author of said article then writes something that I’ll have to end this post with, since I need way more time to think about it before commenting:

Yet for all the sinister mystique of drones, and the uncomfortable feeling that being shadowed by a drone might create (many people in the Middle East feel your pain), the drones themselves are not the real issue. Had a manned police helicopter with a pilot at the controls helped to apprehend Brossart, the outcome would have been the same.

Here’s an Idea: Drone Hunting

Deer Trail, Colorado is considering passing an ordinance that will encourage people to shoot down drones, according to this report (which I first read yesterday morning in the Austin American-Statesman). The title of the first article I read was, in complete Orwellian splendor: “FAA warns people against firing weapons at drones.”

The Statesman article begins, “People who fire guns at drones are endangering the public and property and could be prosecuted or fined, the Federal Aviation Administration warned Friday.”

The suggested ordinance would allow Deer Trail to grant hunting permits to shoot drones, and would encourage drone hunting with a $100 award to anyone with a valid license who proves to have shot one down. The citizen who authored the proposal and got the necessary petition signatures commented: “I don’t want to live in a surveillance society. I don’t feel like being in a virtual prison. This is a pre-emptive strike.”

While filing the petition, which forces the town council to consider a bill, is mostly a performance piece aimed at highlighting the hierarchy, getting such an overblown and hypocritical reaction from a federal agency must surely be counted as a success (the introduction of the phrase “drone hunting” alone is something of a victory). This little episode is happening against the backdrop of Obama administration lawyers claiming that US courts can’t second-guess drone strikes carried out on US citizens in foreign countries. Violence can travel down the hierarchy, but never up it.