Q: I have a neighbor who just sends her three and five year old girls out to play whenever I’m out with my kids. She never talks to me to tell me her kids are coming over, she just lets them come over unsupervised assuming I or other neighbors would be willing to watch them. What should I do because I’m not a free babysitter and the favor is never returned?
A: Your neighbor is creating a panopticonic system of power relations in your neighborhood. If you think that she releases her children “unsupervised,” you are woefully naïve about the power of surveillance in today’s society. Even if left alone, constant monitoring has already created an inchoate watchdog in her children’s minds, telling them what is and is not acceptable behavior. Moreover, the culture of confession that has slowly infected Western society since the Renaissance has primed her children to give her detailed reports of anything they witness. I’m sure that readings of “Goodnight Moon” have long been replaced by extended interrogations in your neighbor’s household, where every detail of your life is laid out for dissection on the operating table.
What I am trying to say is that you are not supervising these children; your neighbor is supervising you through her impish doppelgangers. Protected from view behind her lush velvet curtains, this woman subtly observes your every move while concealing her own actions and desires, especially from the petite informants she wisely sends out in her stead. In effect, her absence has already transformed into an overwhelming presence in your neighborhood, dictating your own actions (ie, care for her youth, subtle shifts in the way you care for your own children, conversations you have in public, etc).
Since you are already complicit in the technology of your own subjugation, the only recourse is to acquiesce to your new, faceless overlord. Change will only occur when a new discourse enters society, displacing our old morality and upending our lives.