What’s the meaning of this fine totalising of the group’s compo
sition and of everyone’s activities, without gap or exception? It
means this, which is a lot: that the virtuous citizen’s knowledge
and his constant occupation consist of knowing in real time what
the other citizens are doing, and of making it his own business.
Everybody knows everything about everyone, and everybody is
busy with everything that everyone is thinking, saying, and doing. This is absolute knowledge, or rather absolute information, total commitment, a contractual obligation or a complete system of cords and chains, the total transparency that is the aim of those who write and read newspapers, whether they’re printed or spoken or in images: this is the ideal of the social sciences. Hegel was only off by a little: the philosopher reading the newspaper is indeed praying, but to the idol of absolute information: nothing, in principle, escapes him. This universality founded the city-state of antiquity and expresses its ideal. Those, like Rousseau, who describe it as something to be regretted, are concealing, or are unaware of, the colossal price at which it is purchased. Let’s make a distinction, by the way: the information given by social science remains banal, for it repeats what everybody knows about everybody; the information given by natural science, on the other hand, can be calculated and is proportional to rarity, and we call it knowledge.
When everyone knows everything right now about everybody
and lives by this knowledge, you have antiquity’s notion of free
dom and the ideal city, and also the ideal of modern philosophers since Rousseau, the ideal of the media and social science, of the police and bureaucracy: poll, clarify, inform, make known, expose, report. A terrifying nightmare, one that, if you’ve lived in small villages or large tribes, you’ll want to avoid all your life, for it is the height of enslavement. Freedom begins with the ignorance I have and wish to preserve of the activities and thoughts of my neighbors, and with the relative indifference that I hope they harbor for mine, for want of information. Our life in enormous metropolises makes us dream, as if of a lost paradise, of these appalling Athenses where continuous and total information made everybody the slave of everyone else. An astronomer, Anaxagoras, or any other physicist, conquers freedom in nature’s space.
The city-state of antiquity knew no police. It needed none, since
everybody’s information sufficed to monitor everyone’s conduct