It’s that time of year again. Elf on a Shelf season. If there is any question whether we are living in a surveillance state, it is answered by creepy eyed dolls lurking in houses across the country.
These dolls would normally scare the piss out of any child young enough to believe their backstory about Santa’s little helpers who came from the North Pole, specifically to appear in the stalkiest places in your house and keep a behavior log. The kids are not scared because of what those elves mean. They mean Santa is near. They mean presents.
Kids don’t care that their every move is being catalogued, their intimate moments stored in an invisible file to determine how many presents they receive. We didn’t care as kids either. There were no elves in the 80’s. Santa Claus watched us year round. He saw me steal those M&M’s from the convenience store. He saw me walk into my parent’s bedroom without knocking and catch them wras’lin on the bed. He saw me stand in front of a television tuned to a channel we didn’t have to catch a glimpse of a nipple through a screen of wavy, colored lines. I still got presents. Santa must have been hard of seeing.
When Santa wasn’t watching, God was. God was the worst watcher of all. He saw everything. All those lies about being sick and fantasies about me beating up Keith and Ebe so I could be with Thelma. Keith put up a fight but Ebe caught these hands. God still took care of me.
Growing up comfortable being surveilled taught me an important lesson. Humans are terrible when no one is watching.
That’s the only explanation for why parents worldwide drill into the minds of their children the idea of an omnipresent voyeur. We simply cannot be trusted.
This persistent presence is something we have all grown to accept. We also subconsciously reject it. We look for opportunities to act covertly. It excites us! The very basic act of doing something unseen is exhilarating. Whether you’re enjoying the solitude of a car ride where you can sing that song you can’t sing in public, locking the door so you can have a dance break, or just showing yourself a good time, we all love to hide. Is it because we’re conditioned to believe we are never alone?
I often hear that someone who has done some bad thing and got caught is only sorry because they were caught. It seems to suggest that the person enjoyed doing that thing and would probably still be doing it had they not been interrupted. I believe we are all this way. We all are awful human beings when left alone. Who gets a moment to themselves and thinks “I’m about to donate all my money to save abused kittens and spend this rare moment alone writing outstanding Yelp reviews for every business I know”? The only people who do things like that believe they’re getting special God points for doing good. They are not. There is no such currency or store where it can be spent.
The elves are not alive, Santa is not real and God has bigger things to worry about than your browser history. This is the scariest fact of all. Who are we when we believe we aren’t being watched? That’s when you get to see how depraved you are. You will indulge in that privacy. It won’t be until these moments where you will discover your real self and be forced to make decisions about who you want to be. Your character is not the person you present when you’re being watched. If we are always being watched we will never know ourselves. You are not being watched, at least not in the ways you were trained to believe. You are a human with an endless parade of choices to make. Make the choices you believe in. Not to please gift givers or celestials constantly minding your business. Wouldn’t it be nice to meet the real you? That ‘you’ may sometimes leave you vomiting outside of a bar. At other times, you will be helping a stranger eat that day. Over time, the real you will choose which choice they like best between the two. If you choose good, you will know it isn’t because someone is watching you. It will be because you know you prefer goodness. The only way to be sure is to live like no one is watching.