Further Notes on My Research into Biopolitics
What is the root of biopolitical regulatory control?
How did systems of sovereign power move from being purely judicial to becoming disciplinary upon the transgressive individual and then onto becoming regulatory on whole multitudes of people?
Who, primarily, benefits from biopolitical power?
The evolution from “peasant / artisan / ruling classes” to “working / middle / ruling classes” reveals to us that this evolution was only beneficial to a minority of people, namely, those in the ruling classes. So what was the purpose of changing the method of controlling society from a purely judicial-disciplinary one to that which includes biopolitical regulatory control structures alongside the former methods of control?
Only the ruling class remains stable or static. The working and middle classes remain in a permanent state of flux with upward and downward movement between them. It is a very rare event that someone would move from these two lesser classes into the ruling class, and an even rarer occurrence that one from the ruling class would drop down to the middle or working class. Ergo, society is structured so that the ruling power remains static and in as few hands as possible.
Methodology of Biopolitical Regulatory Control:
Indoctrination – the training of children within their social class to believe in certain things through education and repetition.
Propaganda – the regulation of information and ideas en masse through printed and electronic media.
Morality – the societal discourse on acceptable behaviour and self-regulation reinforced through both indoctrination and propaganda.
Policy – set by the ruling class in order to govern how society should function for their benefit primarily.
Law – the judicial interpretation of the body of law handed down from the ruling class in order to govern society when the ‘moral code’ fails to regulate behaviour.
Discipline – the system of forced control over transgressive bodies which starts from police intervention and winds up in the prison, probation or mental health systems.
Note: the above list is in no particular order of relevance, preference or chronology.
Indoctrination is basically education with a purpose other than purely passing on knowledge, but is also concerned with passing on the morality codes and beliefs of the society and class that the student finds oneself within – either by birth or by migration, it does not matter which at this point. Indoctrination also sets limits on what the student can achieve according to his class, which is why education is stratified between classes. It is interesting to note just how many of the ruling class have attended the best private schools and universities – the education and indoctrination they receive prepares them to rule rather than to be ruled. Even in middle-class education establishments, clear limits are placed as to what level the student can aspire to – and as for working class educational establishments, well, they are designed to keep people firmly in their place at the bottom of the social ladder.
This area needs far more study as few would admit that education plays a pivotal role in the indoctrination of students despite the evidence of this plainly being the case.
All media is propaganda. To think otherwise is to lead into an intellectual cul de sac whereby one can easily be deceived by what one reads in the papers or views on the television. With the birth and rise of new forms of electronic media – from the internet to smart phones to electronic advertising hoardings and so forth – the ability to avoid propaganda is becoming increasingly harder than ever before.
Note that the BBC was formed at the end of World War One out of the propaganda methods and technicians of Wellington House (the primary propaganda unit of the British Empire’s war effort). When I state that “all media is propaganda” I am being quite literal.
Two great resources on propaganda have been the books “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays (1928) and “Manufacturing Consent” by Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988).
Beyond the basic ideas of do not murder, steal, rape, lie, etcetera, morality plays a far larger role in the self-regulation of society beyond the basic need for people to be able to live together peacefully. Therefore, morality has transgressed this original role to one of reinforcing conformity of behaviour beyond that which is necessary for society to function, and has become a biopolitical regulatory method of outlawing mere difference or dissent. Therefore, any questioning of ‘morality’ at this point should not seek to tackle questions of absolute right and wrong, but seek to understand how public morality goes beyond its rightful authority in regulating behaviour that is not intrinsically wrong but merely outside of what is considered ‘normal’ in a society that is heavily indoctrinated and propagandized to dislike the ‘other’.
The policies set by the ruling class are designed primarily to benefit the few within the ruling class. Power naturally gravitates towards a state whereby it is in as few hands as possible and is then jealously guarded by these same few hands.Therefore, any government policy designed by the ruling class will, invariably, benefit the ruling class above any other. This is best demonstrated on how policies are set to make court sentencing more grievous upon those transgressive bodies from the working and middle classes than upon the ruling class.
A recent example of the above is from the UK, in as much as how quick the courts were to give punitive sentences to working and middle class rioters – an act of policy from the ruling class executed through the courts to send a message to the lower classes that dared to riot and loot. Conversely, one would also notice how sentences were unduly lenient upon the few members of the ruling class who got prosecuted for expenses fraud in Parliament, sentences which were far lower than what the working or middle classes would have received for similar offences.
“The strength, the vigor, and the penetrative and disruptive power of expert medico-legal opinion with regard to the legality of the judicial institution, and the normativity of medical knowledge, is due precisely to the fact that it offers them different concepts, addresses itself to a different object, and introduces different techniques that form a sort of third, insidious, and hidden term, carefully cloaked on all sides and at every point by the legal notions of “delinquency,” “recidivism,” et cetera, and the medical concepts of “illness,” et cetera. Expert medico-legal opinion offers in fact a third term, that is to say, I want to show that probably it does not derive from a power that is either judicial or medical, but from a different type of power that for the moment I will provisionally call the power of normalization.”
(Michel Foucault, Abnormal, p 42)
The Latin phrase Homo Sacer can be both translated as the “sacred body” or the “accursed body” – both translations are perfectly valid here. Homo Sacer exists in a state of exception whereby it may neither be killed nor sacrificed – the transgressive body is removed from both political and sacred life, becoming ‘bare life’ which may be dispensed with as sovereign power pleases – the killing of the transgressive body is neither a sacrifice, nor is it homicide. The transgressive body has no religious or legal rights and can be disposed of how sovereign power wishes it to be disposed without the breaking of any religious or secular laws. Should the transgressive body be executed, it is neither a sacrifice nor a homicide. It is just the removal or killing of ‘bare life’.
This is how sovereign power is able to kill the transgressive body without breaking the biblical ban against killing – “thou shalt not murder” – and the secular ban against homicide. Executions under sovereign power in the 18th century were still carried out in public as both spectacles and as warnings to everyone else. Michel Foucault describes one such execution in “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison” (pages 3 to 8), that of Robert Francois Damien in 1757. I am not going to quote the whole passage here as it is rather long, but it suffices to say that his execution – and you can look it up in the historical record – was particularly nasty, drawn-out, excruciatingly painful, and very, very public. He was tortured and mutilated before being drawn and quartered by horses, and was made a public example of. The priest offered him no consolation because he was at that point outside of sacred law as well as secular law.
With the event of biopolitical regulatory controls in the late 18th century, the methods of punishment changed dramatically even though the person of Homo Sacer remained the same. The disciplinary methods used on transgressive bodies were changing, just as sovereign power was shifting from the Sovereign to the Nation State, but still, these transgressive bodies still existed in a state of exception in the eyes of the law. They could still be executed, but these executions happened in private, not as public spectacles but as the mere disposal of an unwanted bare life through the gallows or the guillotine. Within the panopticon of the prison systems built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the execution chamber became a small room of mechanical death, a hidden courtyard surrounded by cells segregated from the rest of the prison for the condemned.
The above four paragraphs, including the quote of Michel Foucault’s “Abnormal”, is from a paper I am writing called “Both Sacred and Accursed: The Disciplinary Nonperson of Homo Sacer within the Regulatory Matrix”. Consider the above an introduction into how disciplinary methods are used within a biopolitical regulatory system. Within the paper I will go into far more detail, drawing on the writings of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, but for now, this should give you a taster of where my thoughts on this matter are heading.
Conclusion to these notes:
So far I have only touched upon question one and three – question two is being answered in parts by the various articles I am writing and posting online. Biopolitics is such a wide field of study that you cannot just write one definitive paper on it and then state “This is biopolitics in a nutshell” – it does not work like that. The study of biopolitics is a whole field of study in its own right, with its own field of disciplines, lexicons, concepts, and philologies. What I do aim to illustrate in my writing is how biopolitics permeates every sector of our society and its governance, and to provide rabbit holes for further research and study.
I hope to encourage other writers in the field of philosophy, sociology, law, history, and political science to start examining biopolitics further, and to disseminate knowledge of its means and powers to all, but especially, to those who are concerned with activism and revolutionary discourse.