There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance
To the point that the idea of freedom, a new and recent idea, is already fading from minds and mores, and liberal globalization is coming about in precisely the opposite form – a police state globalization, a total control, a terror based on ‘law-and-order’ measures. Deregulation ends up in a maximum of constraints and restrictions, akin to a fundamentalist society.
– Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism
Everywhere you turn you see the pulpists screaming conspiracy, paranoia, catastrophe as if the earth were the stage of some horrific cinematic apocalypse. Emerson preached a good tune, the great American Myth of the Self Reliant individual who could revolt against history, against the wisdom of the ages and invent himself whole cloth out of the emptiness of his own being, must mix it up with others in the carnival of life open and free. This was Emerson’s version of The Good Life, a personalist version of the pursuit of happiness in 10 easy lessons. Yet, in the pursuit of self-reliance and happiness we seem to have produced its opposite in less than a two hundred years. We are more dependent and unhappy than ever before in history. In our pursuit of the Liberalist Democratic Utopia we have imposed worldwide intolerance, hate, and unhappiness at the forefront. How did this all come about? Where is the history of this dark world to be found? In our pursuit to understand this are we not in ourselves forging the very links to control that feed the beast? Or, are we actually trying to liberate ourselves from its terrible grasp? Caught in the meshes of this fly-trap that seems to permeate the planet is there an escape valve, a way of withdrawing from its dark trap?
A great many individuals fall into the trap of ‘Conspiracy Theory’ narratives, which as Christopher Hitches recently said “are not just false, but are not even wrong” (2004). That is, they do not reach the threshold of acceptability to even be tested, to be falsifiable. If the mind is that sphere that can distinguish between truth and falsity, then conspiracy theories are beyond that sphere. They are para (beyond or beside) the nous (mind). They are paranoid.1 Richard Hofstadter (1967) in his germinal essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” this term transformed a multiplicity of beliefs in conspiracy into a style of thought. Transposing a clinical psychology term onto the field of politics, Hofstadter not only pathologized conspiracy theories, he gave them formal coherence, historical persistence, and intelligibility as a genre of political knowledge.(ibid.) As one scholar puts it:
Conspiracy theory is thus a bridge term-it links subjugating conceptual strategies (paranoid style, political paranoia, conspiracism) to narratives that investigate conspiracies (conspiratology, conspiracy research, conspiracy account). Conspiracy theory is a condensation of all of the above, a metaconcept signifying the struggles over the meaning of the category. We need to recognize where we are on the bridge when we use the term. (CP Kindle Locations 129-131).
One of the difficulties as one begins to study the ‘Society of Control’ that philosophers such as Michel Focault and Gilles Deleuze in their latter work began to uncover is the temptation to fall into the trap of conspiracy theory oneself. Foucault once remarked:
Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.2 (TP 131)
Foucault himself would be the progenitor of biopolitics which offered a window onto global impact of biopower within the dispersed technologies of control we see in the world today. As another scholar states it Foucaults work enlightened us into the mechanisms of power in the world as the “control of life itself”, and that the underbelly of this power is the destruction of life in the pursuit of preserving it.3
How can we begin to resist such ‘technologies of power’? Deleuze told us that “machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyse the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component” (Negotiations 1995). Maybe a good place to begin is to understand both the history and logic of control as it has insinuated itself within the fabric of our societies since the Cold War. I think its important to understand this alliance between control and subjectivation, how both external and internal control mechanisms have infiltrated our political and individual bodies and modulated the interactions between the two in an abstract theory of normalization and monoculture.
Again I have to thank dmf, Arran James, Edmund and others who have opened my eyes of late to many of the traumatic aspects of our postmodern panic society. Tough times indeed. I’m trying to grasp this history and logic in the light of philosophy. Not sure how well I’ll succeed, but I do think their is a cookie crumb trail to follow in the life and writings of both Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault and their progeny. Hopefully over the next year I’ll gain a better understanding of this within the scope of a theory of resistance to its dark power. It’s made me shift gears in some was, given me a new direction in study and hopefully a book on Control Society: The History and Logic of Biopower. At least that seems to be the tentative title that keeps whacking me over the head. Somehow I always new I’d return to Foucault even it was to argue some more. And, with Deleuze, Badiou, and Zizek I’ll argue even more…. but somewhere in there is something worth discovering, a nugget of pure gold to help us through these dire times.
As a prelude to the control society Foucault uncovered the disciplined society: a society dominated through the economic discipline of profit that forced society to enforce a rigid and continuous regimen of discipline and punishment founded on the Panopticon’s network of permanent observation, which – enforced by experts, examined, defined, categorized, pathologised, improved, trained and, above all, reformed (Foucault). In his political anatomy Foucault described how these technologies of biopower emerged through “a multiplicity of often minor processes, of different origin and scattered location, which overlap, repeat, or imitate one another, support one another, distinguish themselves from one another according to their domain of application, converge, and gradually produce a blueprint of a general method (Foucault Disipline and Punish:182).
Out of this Disciplinary Society and its blueprints Deleuze would discover a further folding operation that would emerge within what he termed Control Societies. The key term within his new conception was ‘dividuality’ which brought about a doubling and intersection of what Deleuze would see as the twin production of the disciplinary machine and the control machine. For Deleuze the dividual is a physically embodied human subject that is endlessly divisible and reducible to data representations via the modern technologies of control, like computer-based systems. Mark Savat argues that dividuality, and both the objectile and the superject, are useful concepts in coming to terms with a potentially new ‘fluid poltics’, which moves us beyond the static conceptions of a self-reliant individual politics.4
There is so much territory to cover or map that I’ll not even attempt it in one post. Any suggestions? Books? Paths to take? So much to think through… mind boggling! Yet, as with all things, it is a worthwhile investigation and will hopefully produce if not solutions, at least some further questions…
1. Jack Z. Bratich. Conspiracy Panics: Political Rationality and Popular Culture (Kindle Locations 92-94). Kindle Edition.
2. Foucault, Michel. (1980a). Truth and power. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Michel Foucault: Power/knowledge (pp. 109-133). New York: Pantheon.
3. Deleuze and New Technology. Editors Mark Poster and David Savat. (Edinburgh University Press 2010).
4. David Savat. Uncoding The Digital: Technology, Subjectivity and Action in Control Society. (Palgrave McMillan 2013)