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Le Societé pour l'Abolition d'Isolation was founded in 1967 with a mission, as their manifesto put it, to "...help humanity to finally put behind it the root of all its dirty habits - privacy". To quote further -
A policeman beats a suspect. A politician accepts dirty money. A wife murders her adulterous husband. What causes all this to be? Privacy. Secrets and lies. The "right" of a citizen to keep from her fellows that which shames her. This is the curse of modern society.

The three founders - Jean-Philippe Gauche, Florise Maurice and Jacques Vrooce - students at the time of the Leger School of Art, a Parisienne art school, modelled themselves on the Surrealists and similar groups, harking back to the early 1900's when groups of intellectuals would pursue their abstract aims through public art and manifesto. Guerilla art-politic was their chosen method of attack -

If society is to advance, it must see the darkness at its core. And if society is to see what ails it, it must be shown it. It must be forced to open its collective eyes, its vision dragged towards that from which it instinctively recoils. Mere words are insufficient for the task. We need action.

"Action" came in the form of a series of public stunts and demonstrations. Their first, to announce their existence to the world, came in September 1967. Climbing a tree in Arago Square in Paris with a camera and a projector, they filmed those below and projected the images onto the side of a building. Picking individual members of the crowd and following them in close-up, their reactions on seeing themselves magnified before hundreds of eyes varying from amusement to outrage. Many were intrigued, this predating the rise of CCTV by many years, and stayed to watch as they turned the camera to focus through the windows of nearby buildings - and helped them escape when one resident called the police.

The stunt made the (rear end of the) papers (see, for example, Le Figaro 19/09/67), to mixed reception. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the civil libertarians were not amused. However, the SAI insisted they were on the same side -

The partial abolition of privacy, wherein They have the ability to take by force our secrets whilst protecting Their own, is a terrible thing. But to go one step further, and see the absolute abolition, is quite another. The day we can watch them as they can watch us, the day the powerful are monitored by the powerless as much as vice-versa, is the day that there is no "Them" and that none are more powerful than any other. This is not Big Brother. This is 3 billion Little Brothers.

Soon after this statement, made in their pamphlet "The Camera and the Veil - Democracy Unshuttered" (1968), the SAI began to join forces with local anarchist groups to further pursue their aims of stealing privacy from those who would steal ours. This culminated in another live filming and public projection, this time of the private residence of one Mr. Jerrine, the head of the French Secret Police at the time. By a brilliant fluke, the recording devices they had planted inside the house picked up Jerrine's discussions with oil magnate Monsieur Opek concerning the best way to deal with the protestors who were just beginning to gain ground at the time. Their daring caper brought them nation-wide fame, and 10 years incarceration a piece.

During this period, despite its original members being unavailable, the SAI swelled in numbers to some hundreds of activists, who along with many other lone copycats continued in the spirit of the original manifesto. Along with further and increaingly inventive use of the camera, a new trend which emphasised the more general goals of the manifesto emerged. Becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of Paris, the followers of the SAI would erect small cages which they would encourage members of the public to enter after stripping naked, telling them to "be as a natural human being, without shame or fear of the eyes of others". These met with surprising success, with many getting so into the spirit that charges of lewd behaviour were frequently levelled.

This was also a time when they began to dream of a technological solution.

Imagine being able, at any time at any whim, to be able to view any location in the world. Imagine everyone having such a capability. To what would this lead? A world of peeping Toms? Or the final irradication of our collective sexual hang-ups? Constant fear of being caught doing the illegal or taboo? Or a loosening of society's concept of that which is to be considered such? The tightening of the grip of the state? Or a state fully pliant to the wishes of its citizens? A military tool providing complete and deadly intelligence? Or the ending of all but the most necessary of conflict, once its effects can be seen without mediation or the filter of propaganda? The destruction of society? Or its development into a new and better form?

However, despite the best efforts of numerous hopeful amateur inventors, a device capable of remote viewing of an arbitrary location yet seems as distant as one capable of perpetual motion. Nonetheless, the dream perpetuated the organisation, and in the coming years the SAI grew and expanded to encompass most of Europe. Although few of the national subsidiaries had as much success as the original, and though indeed their influence everywhere began to diminish, swamped by the multidudinous voices campaigning against the intrusions into individual privacy which were everywhere increasingly becoming a part of public life, there were nonetheless occasional successes.

British readers may recall the brief equivocal fame handed to our branch of the SAI in the 80's, when they announced that they had successfully planted one morning and retrieved that night a recording device on the person of one Margaret Thatcher, and were distributing tapes free of charge throughout the nation. Copying of the tapes between friends quickly broke all records to become the most widespread act of civil disobedience in the history of the nation, and soon choice parts of the tape had become very much imprinted on the national consciousness. Who can forget the Prodigy's underground hit "I Won the Falklands/La La La La La" or one-hit wonder Dave's Nuclear Wastepaper Basket's promptly banned "Denis, Not Now", both based on samples from the tapes?

But since that, little has been heard. The SAI still exist, and still publish the odd pamphlet and attempt the odd stunt, but rarely manage to make any but local papers. Still, rumours are beginning to grow of a resurgence, and of some surprise they plan for the world. And if one examines the lists of proscribed organisations many nations drew up in the aftermath of the extreme reckless flying of the 11th September 2001, more often than not can be found - a sure sign that they are not completely irrelevent - the name, hidden amongst so many others, of Le Societé pour l'Abolition d'Isolement.

Sources -

  • None. All fabricated.


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