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Friday, September 21, 2012

Disempowerment 2


With fascination I have read about Beckham’s Panopticon and Foucault’s study of Beckham’s gruesome design. The Panopticon is a prison, a building in which the inmates cannot see each other but they can be seen constantly by the guards. 
Staying in a Panopticon can deform a person's 'psyche' completely. According to Beckham this can be used in a positive way: to make a useful person out of a good-for-nothing. A criminal, a psychiatric patient, a child.
But who is to be the judge of that, who will throw the first stone?

Gruesome, that’s what it is to me, I have trouble accepting unconditional power of one person over another. Because almost always this power is used without real consideration of the powerless party.  Wantonly or because the one exerting his power is incapable of truly thinking and acting in behalf of the party or individual subjected to his power.

Why would someone long to have power over others? To secure his own happiness? I'm usually happy over little things: moderate possessions, funny challenges and silly 'adventures'  -mere anecdotes.
Actually, my happiness is built upon the happiness of others. Don't you know that exhilarating feeling.... of having a rush of  positive energy washing over you when you exchange furtive winks or someone smiles at you. A  real smile, in which the eyes are in harmony with the mouth?
Thus my fascination was a negative one and it took me some time  - to distance myself from the subject-  before I could write this post.

Divide and Rule. Or: Isolate and Subordinate
<< In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault builds on Jeremy Bentham's conceptualization of a panopticon as he elaborates upon the function of disciplinary mechanisms in the prison and illustrates the function of discipline as an apparatus of power. The "panoptic" style of architecture may be used in other institutions with surveillance needs, such as schools, factories or hospitals. The ever-visible inmate, Foucault suggests, is always “the object of information, never a subject in communication.”.
 He adds that, "He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection"  >>

In other words the inmate adopts the ways of thinking and deciding of his suppressor and loses his own value system, his individuality He becomes a docile body.

Foucault speaks of the Gaze and generally people emphasize the permanent visibility of the inmate of the panopticon as the aspect that makes the Panopticon so effective:
The Panopticon was the ultimate realization of a modern disciplinary institution. It allowed for constant observation characterized by an "unequal gaze"; the constant possibility of observation. Perhaps the most important feature of the panopticon was that it was specifically designed so that the prisoner could never be sure whether they were being observed at any moment. The unequal gaze caused the internalization of disciplinary individuality, and the docile body required of its inmates. This means one is less likely to break rules or laws if they believe they are being watched, even if they are not.

Unless  the Gaze is meant to be seen metaphorically, this is not the aspect that makes the Panopticon so dehumanizing, turning people into docile bodies. Look at the TV hypes like the dutch “Golden Cage” where a group of persons let them selves be 'locked up' in a house or on an island, being filmed day in day out. These people were being watched constantly. They knew and they didn’t care.  The Gaze didn't bother them.
Because there was no 'unequality' in the gaze. They were allowed to express and pursue their own visions, ideas and  opinions. Of course not all they did went by without criticism... but at least the contestants were allowed to explain and defend themselves, to criticise their critics. They had the choice to go on as they liked, if they were willing to accept the consequences like being voted away from the show.

The Panopticon uses the credo 'divide and rule'. It is constructed to isolate the inmates. While the inmate is alone, sees nor hears anyone who can back him up, the guards are obviously part of a group. They communicate and inform one another about the inmate’s transgressions. And the inmate is not allowed to explain his acts, to defend the motivation behind his behavior. Whether and how his doings are to be punished is solely dependent on the what the group(members) decide(s).  Or to quote Foucault: the inmate is “the object of information, never a subject in communication.”

And this is devastating. This is what causes a person to outwardly live a life that is accepted by the rulers, but inside … his soul is wilted, suffocating. Foucault again: the inmate became a “docile body”.
Our souls simply need appreciation and recognition to thrive. Or when you're alone... the possibility to act outwardly in accordance with what lives inside. This is harmony and causes your heart song to well up in you.

How to maintain an abusive system

Funny, didn't we just run into a weak point of the totalitarian-like system described above? I wrote <<dependent on the what the group(members) decide(s).>>   Now here is a weak point: does the group decide or do the group members decide? 
In order to maintain itself, a system based on unequal power [totalitarianism] depends not only on keeping the lower ranking members subordinated, but also on making sure that the leading party, the elite, will be faithful to one another. 
In a way the leaders are each other’s subordinates…. However the Elite's cage is gilded and chances are that they are willing to stay inside.
It's the subordinates in their rotten smelly cages that are willing -or should be willing-  to leave. And therefore they are to be kept under control by ‘discipline’ . As in 'disciplinary action', not as in healthy self control. 
This is done by imposing FEAR…  fear of what might happen if you go by you own ideas.  The frightful thing that might happen can either be a severe punishment, physical or psychological, or your efforts to live your own life turning out to be a flat failure, causing you to end up lost, lonely and poor.

To infuse such a strong fear of failure in a person you must
a)  make it hard for him to communicate with others, especially outsiders. Because others might support ideas of the victim that can cause him to become insubordinate.
b) cultivate very low self esteem.rob people of their ability to act and think creatively, to think for themselves, by my making them feel insecure. 

If the organisation plays it smart, the victim thinks he is being saved while in fact he is being held down. In the Netherlands we have a saying for such people:  <<He is pushing you into the ditch just to get you out and say “I've saved your life!” >>   

It is just that "Ill save your life" credo that attrackts people in the first place, right? An ideology and a charismatic leader... the hallmarks of a totalitarian system.

Why stay in an abusive system?

If your life seemed empty and meaningless at the moment you were being pushed into the ditch, just being noticed and rescued feels so nice, so safe and loving... You'd rather warm yourself in that glow, wearing a blindfold, than open your eyes and see that the flames come from a dragon's mouth, opening wide to swallow you.

Or maybe you are greedy and your rescuer is one who promises you golden mountains, if you just... do this, do that, just hang in there a leeeettle longer...  At one point you realise you're on the wrong train, it'll never take you to the destination you once had in mind. But it's so much more easy to stay on the train than disembark and find the right one. Besides, who'll guarantee you'll hop on the right one after disembarking? 
'Though I think this kind of reasoning fits someone who is higher up in the abusive system, not really suffering -yet-. 

To be continued....


The quotes (italics, blue) are from Wikipedia "Discipline and Punish"

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