Saturday, July 2, 2011

sovereign power. . .

simply produces the obedient social subject it needs. Such a notion of the production of the subject by power, the complete alienation of the citizen and the worker, and the total colonization of the lifeworld has been hypothesized since the 1960s by many authors as the defining characteristic of "late capitalism." The Frankfurt School, the Situtationists, and various critics of technology and communication have focused on the fact that power in capitalist societies is becoming totalitarian through the production of docile subjects.

To a certain extent the nightmares of such authors correspond to the the dreams of the strategists of full-spectrum dominance. Just as the capitalist yearns for a labor force of obedient worker-monkeys, military administrators imagine an army of efficient and reliable robot soldiers along with a perfectly controlled, obedient population. These nightmares and dreams, however, are not real. Dominance, no matter how multidimensional, can never be complete and is always contradicted by resistance.

-Multitude, pp 53-54

I wonder, true or false: is "power in capitalist societies becoming totalitarian through the production of docile subjects?"


  1. Ooh, I need to read that book. 'Total colonization of the lifeworld' fits life as I know it (especially if you count Google).

    I tend to think true on the proposition.

  2. I tend to think so too, though it seems important to flesh out the idea more. . . The idea that docile subjects can "simply" be produced bears a lot of debate.

    I'll lend you Multitude when I'm done, if you like, though it'll be awhile.

  3. This is hard to say:
    1) Effective socialization SHOULD induce some degree of acceptance of the existing social order. Effective socialization isn't considered "totalitarian" though unless it has the impact of directly preventing ideas or nullifying basic human characteristics. Effective socialization, is, all else equal, a good thing.

    2) ...I don't know of societies LESS totalitarian than the modern order. I mean, if we look to the European past, we see a social order dominated by adherence to religious dogma, where horrible punishment was considered a proper fate for those who stood against such a dogma. We see an explicitly rigid hierarchy. We see various extremely cruel punishments for infractions that wouldn't warrant this in the modern age. I mean, we can go about in all of these analyses, but the abstractness of it all does bear some criticism.

    3) Does the use of power to control ideas make it more totalitarian? .... Hard to say. Power has always controlled ideas, and it will always seek to.(Note: It may be true that ideas can control power too, but that's outside the scope of my issue) One counter-claim is that capitalism, by having a competition in powers effectively reduces the effective control of a particular one of them. (So, while the Church had holy dogmas, there is a breath of freedom in that individuals now can effectively resist. In fact, the entire ideology presented likely couldn't survive under a past system, it'd be systematically destroyed by very direct actions for it's mere presence, just like any heresy would, not sold in bookstores) Note: That claim doesn't entail the non-existence of a better system, but I am currently skeptical of the highly theoretical criticism that seems to implicitly compare the system to an unreal standard. The cultural evolution has some wisdom, it's actually evolved and improved, which is why our lovely authoress of the note is actually educated enough to be our lovely authoress.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. 1) Only insofar as the existing social order is any good.

    2) You realize that, if anything, you've just suggested that it's possible to have increasingly less totalitarian societies as time passes. . . right?

    3) Capitalism may have a competition of powers, but all of them are capital. Therefore, if there are things that capital structurally encourages or restricts, and one wishes to escape these, the competition of powers within capitalism is irrelevant.

  5. 1) Well, I am not sure that poor socialization would be good regardless. Even if the French government of the time was poor, the French revolution was also horrendous.

    2) It is possible to have increasingly less totalitarian societies? Yes, I suppose so. I mean, if one just looks at societies over time, they do appear to get more tolerant of diversity.

    3) At the same time though, that point could be said about any organizational form. Instead of "capital", just use any other word. The major biases I see are just that capital pushes for efficiency within a capitalist system, but I think that ANY large system with functioning and powerful forces maintaining it's integrity and ability to improve will also push for efficiency and push for all of the issues with efficiency at that. Arguably some of the problems you blame on capitalism are just problems of a technocratic society.(Note: You are really making me regret not purchasing Jacque Ellul's "The Technological Society" as a reference when I was at Half Price books a few hours ago)