There is psychological evidence that people tend to behave more morally when they know, or when they believe, someone is watching them. When observers are present, people’s worst antisocial tendencies tend to be mitigated to some degree. There is also evidence from religious studies, that show belief in a moral god who has infinite access to your deepest motives enhances the effect from more “secular” oversight from experiences like instinctively braking when you see a cop on the highway.
On the other end, there is a lot of benefit to all manner of people and organizations being able to have oversight — from a boss supervising an employee, to a client evaluating an agency, to law enforcement surveilling suspects and surveillance more broadly. Observation is the key to experimentation under the scientific method, and a surveyor prepares land for development. The feedback loops that result from being able to see how a plan, theory, or hypothesis work out in the real world allow the original assumptions to be validated or adjusted, accordingly.
The government is an organization that operates largely in an oversight capacity. The executive branch runs departments that broadly oversee the nation’s transportation, military, national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, justice system, budget, economy and fiscal policy, education policy, energy grid, and stockpile of nuclear weapons — among much else. In a federalized system of 50 states under a larger national banner, many regional and local differences add to the complexity of the policy and enforcement concerns, and the difficulty of managing both a large population and vast land mass.
Conversely, if you believe no one is watching, you are more likely to commit corruption or crime. If someone thinks they can get away with it, they are much more likely to try and grab an opportunity. The growing scale and speed of modern society tends to exacerbate the feeling that “no one is watching,” making it seem like it matters less if small rules are broken here or there — an effect which can continue to snowball into crimes of greater and greater severity.
- the watchful eye — annuit coeptis
- the Oversight Committee
- the rule of law / spirit of laws
- the Panopticon
- surveillance capitalism
- night watchman state
- police brutality
- “Hell is other people”
- Eye of Sauron
- the peanut gallery
- hall monitors
- vantage points
- command view
- crow’s nest