Saturday, 2 June 2012

Obama on technological represssion

Back in April, on Holocaust Memorial Day, President Obama made an halting speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In the video below, at 1:33, Obama makes a slip regarding technological surveillance and repression. He's  talking about his administration's intent to 'institutionalise the focus' on the issue of potential genocides today. In particular, Obama talks about the current crisis in Syria, and announces new sanctions on those who 'abet' Syria 'for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence'. A finger wag comes in at 1:20, as Obama says the word 'today'. Then, as he begins to talk about the new sanctions, his hand makes a pincer gesture, as if to dramatise sanctions closing around the Assad regime, but the gesture continues, to emphasise the monitoring, tracking and targeting of citizens for violence. Then comes the Freudian slip: raising his finger once more, to emphasise the point, Obama states 'these technologies should not be used to empower...' and then he stumbles as he realises his mistake. As he moves to correct the statement, his hand once more makes the encircling gesture, as he says 'technologies should be in place to empower citizens not to repress them'.

 What are we to make of this? I want to hear your views. Is this a revealing slip, a politician stating his real, if unconscious view, on the era of technological surveillance Internet-based technologies have brought to bear? In particular, does the body language add a particular layer of interpretation to this parapraxis?


 We can possibly detect a little suppressed smile as Obama corrects his slip, almost as if the accidental meaning of his statement triggers a brief moment of amusement for him. Here's an animated gif showing the moment he realises his mistake and corrects his statement.

One final point: earlier on in the speech, Obama mentions new technologies, stating 'we will strengthen our tools across the board...and create new ones'. He states that they will work with technology companies to this end. He states 'alert channels will ensure information about unfolding crises, and dissenting opinions, quickly reach decision makers - including me'. In other words, technology will be used to funnel information to the government. I'm interested in theories as to why Obama feels the need to add 'dissenting opinions', which he does rather quickly, to this stipulation. Dissenting from who? Presumably, the President is expressing the need for a diversity of information about 'unfolding crises' to reach his ears, not just the standard view. It's a fine point, but why could it not be implicit in the phrase 'information about unfolding crises'? In other words, maybe the purpose of these new technologies will be to monitor 'dissenting opinions' in general? Here's the video capturing that moment, so you can judge for yourself.

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