Category Archives: phil 449

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : )

Indeed, I must get to the core of what it is that I mean by Intuitive Self.

Foucault alludes to the Greek and Roman’s shaping of the self by the self through philosophical precepts such as Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Now, I sense that today’s Ideal Self (that I’ve elaborated earlier) has grown into an equivalent for the Stoicism and Epicureanism of the time – except first; there isn’t a choice to be made (such as; which philosophies speaks to me the most), and second – the self ideal isn’t fortuitous for the human specie, in that it suppresses our nature and uses it to serve external purposes. Therefore, my argument comes in play, as perhaps optimistic – but questions how Stoicism and Epicureanism came to be in the first place.

Naturally, I must be seeing something in Foucault that does allude to the “Intuitive self,” and what eventually supported my intuition was on page p.136 of HS Vol.3: “… a sort of animalization […] that is, a subordination, as strict as possible, of the soul’s desire to the body’s needs…” Here Foucault aims at the precepts of Stoicism.

So perhaps there is a more accurate term for the “intuitive self” – at least one that doesn’t allude to the same light as the G & R one, because first: we aren’t Greek or Roman, second: we live in B.C. and third: 2000 years or so later. Along that line, there is an acceptance, a certain “facing of” that both F. and N. emphasize in regards to our current situation. They both support the idea that one, we can’t deny our history, nor what has happened, and where it has lead us. And two; everything that’s happen since the G & R isn’t all bad.

Thus, I clarify that the “Intuitive Self” could be, and is better contemporarily defined as a return to the individual. Indeed, Foucault’s ethics for instance, does not consists of a “Walden” adventure (Thoreau) – that is; we should not (nor can we) be independent from the cultural and social ideals inflicted upon the individual through discourses, but simply conscious of them. As he develops on page 142: “ He must address a discourse of Truth to himself.” These discourses of Truth I call Ideals, Nietzsche calls them Abstractions and Metaphors in “On Truth and Lies […]”.

Foucault elucidates how the mechanisms of power have learned to target our most vulnerable sensibilities with such discourses: Sex and morality are examples. And that’s all the more the case today; as the process of socialization occurs at an even earlier age. (Lacan’s Mirror stage)

As a consequence, the ideal self is intensified, and required to be held upon all the more. In this light, I sense that something is being hidden from us, and that could truly be: our intuitive nature. That is, I sense we are entering an age of consciousness in which we realize how far away we’ve been brought, or lead to believe, and a return to our nature is more than necessary, therefore all the more repressed by the authoritative agency. Occurrences of revolts against the ideal are such as the 60’s sexual liberation movement, or today’s mistrust in regards to governments with the whole Edward Snowden scenario.

So if Foucault claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in; could it be that this possibility is this intuitive nature? By such I don’t mean that of animalistic nature, but rather of a human one; a “natural philosophy.”

The point is, Foucault goes on with his metaphor of the “night watchman” and stresses how we must constantly inspect what is, and what is of no value to me. This makes me think of Nietzsche’s “self-criticism” in the light of stripping ourselves down to our true self. So could it be, that without being normative, Foucault’s philosophy supports the qualities of the specie.

What those qualities might be: Subjectivity.

As for how Stoicism and Epicureanism came about? They did so through a single individual who, because what was available did not suffice his personal agenda, consequently had to rely on and trust his subjectivity. With time, certain philosophies became a collectively shared subjectivity; such as Stoicism and Epicureanism.

So without being explicit, could it be that Foucault asks for “a return to the individual.” Because as I’ve understood from N.’s GM – that’s what he seems to be targeting in his viewer, his or her individuality in the light of claiming it sovereign. Could that be the case in Foucault? A return to the individual, a need for a new philosophy, a new subjectivity – and a forsaking of the objective ideals?

The panopticon in modern society

For Foucault, the emergence of the prison system represents society’s transition into a more organized and effective power structure. Much of the reason for this is that the prison system emerged at the same time as other disciplines (the social sciences). These new disciplines gave a new understanding of social relations, which in turn, conditioned society to look at human affairs through the lens of these new fields of study. As a result personal thought/personal opinion became more repressive in the face of experts who began telling society what to think.

The genius of the panopticon as an image of the emerging prison system is the way in which it identifies everything of which Foucault is describing about the structure of power through the organization of bodies.  As described in Discipline and Punish, the modern prison system gave birth to the ‘modern soul’, which subsequently led to a new process of discipline embodied in the  ‘examination’ of the criminal. In my opinion (maybe Foucault’s as well) the purpose of this was to feed the social sciences which in turn operate as beacons of knowledge in society, beacons that not only inform the public but condition they’re perceptions. In the face of experts, people stop thinking for themselves: they are conditioned to believe that if they are not experts, then they should forgo they’re own reasoning on particular subjects because after all the experts know better. This works beautifully in forming docile bodies: people are no longer governed by themselves but by the disciplines that permeate society. Once this division is set up, the public begins to see the disciplines as not only beacons of knowledge, but of ‘truth’. Once this is instilled into the public, the division between normality and abnormality(not only psychological but also social(lized)) is created and power becomes hegemonic: powerful actors no longer have to convince the public of their views because it is done through social conditioning. People begin to pursue the disciplines and as a result conform to its order. The content of this ‘order’ is filled by a set of do’s and don’t(s)that individuals not only abide by but regulate within other citizens. This is how the panopticon manifests in modern society. The image (panopticon) captures a state of surveillance in which the inmates are always aware of being potentially watched and as a result conform to the order of the prison. As discussed by Foucault, as well as the class, the same can be said about society: institutions (hospitals, schools, factories, etc..) condition people to accept the attributed ‘mechanics of operation’ that come with them and as a result conform to that system. This means that the panopticon operates through people; people themselves become the panopticon because they operate as reinforcers of the status quo(as defined through the institutions). This means everybody is constantly being monitored and any deviation from the norm is likely to arouse suspicion.

Punishment as Redemption: Life and Death

I’m curious as to what other cultural elements allowed for this transformation of public executions to the more “humane” forms of punishment. For some reason, suggesting that Western societies were adopting more humane approaches to punishment just seems a little too general. What I find interesting is the notion of redemption through death, as illustrated with Damiens and various others killed by the state. The specific need for a designated role, the “confessors,” surely suggests that apart from the act of punishment, there is a secondary element of punishment that involves God, which comes in the form of a confession. When Damiens cries, “Pardon, Lord,” he somehow appeases the crowd and the executioners with his pleas. While the confessors are there to secure an apology for the state, there is a significant religious portion to the confession itself, hence the crucifixes and priests. So, as the state has already committed to the criminal’s execution, they also have a secondary commitment to unite the criminal with God before they perish. In this sense, redemption comes through death. A perfect example would be Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony where the victim’s crime is inscribed in their body for numerous hours, and right before they die they have a chance to read what their offence was, which allows them to fully conceptualize what their death signifies. Again, redemption through death. We still witness small remnants of these old procedures with the death penalty when inmates are given a prayer and encouraged to confess their sins to both God and the witnesses.

Modern forms of punishment are directed in the here and now: corrective measures by rehabilitating the soul. Redemption does not come with death, but comes with a long sentence isolated from society with the hopes of one day reacquainting themselves with the community. In other words, redemption comes with time. With all this said, why did this transformation occur? A change in values is not really an adequate answer. I’m almost inclined to think that this transformation is linked to the withering away of religious authority as a centralized sovereign power. It would be wrong to suggest that the Enlightenment was just a period of religious critiques–a notion many scholars subscribe to. However, in the case of the transformation of punishment, there is a striking parallel between the disintegration of religious authority and new forms of punishment. The most significant change, however, would seem to be the reappraisal of redemption as a means of restorative peace. Why? 

Foucault’s Chapter “The Body of the Condemned” : Going-in and Getting-out

This chapter is a great read. The way Foucault illustrates the “subsidiary authorities” is what really stands out for me. Foucault illuminates these figures, or machines as such, as extensions of the all powerful judges, whose fate the criminal is normally under. However, as Foucault states:

“Small-scale legal systems and parallel judges have multiplied around the principal judgement: psychiatric or psychological experts, magistrates concerned with the implementation of sentences, educationalists, members of the prison service, all fragment the legal power to punish” (p. 21).

This is very true when examining the criminal justice system and the various degrees of criminal assessments. However, what I found interesting was how this is the “going-in” process. There remains to be a “going-through” and “getting-out” process when understanding legal authority. Im speaking here of parol boards, CO’s, parole officers, probation officers, etc, etc. The “going-through” process has its structure in place, which Foucault brings up with the Panopticon and its instruments. The “getting-out” process, however, is the most difficult of all. Hence, high-rates of recidivism. Yet, at this stage the blame is always directed towards the individual and not the subsidiary judges. If a prisoner violates his or her parole with a positive drug test, breach of curfew, or breach of all the other numerous limitations that are imposed on the parolee, they are immediately reprimanded by one of the most dangerous subsidiary judges of the criminal justice system: the parole officer.

The parole officer makes weekly, sometimes daily, write ups on their new “client,” detailing their behaviour, progress, failures, or degree of motivation in the parolee’s new life on the outside. So much power is in the parole officer’s hands that one phone call and the parolee is arrested, brought up on new charges, and since they are recent parolees, they are essentially left without any form of representation to plead their case as is done in formal courts. This can turn a petty sentence into “hard time.” The stigma of the criminal is their worst nightmare when trying to make it on the outside. This element, I believe, is greatly overlooked, yet falls in the same apparatus Foucault articulates. When I say overlooked I do not necessarily mean by Foucault, for I believe he illustrates these elements quite well (at least well enough for me to make the connection, which by definition reserves all similar functions); I am simply trying to illuminate the differences and hardships between “going-in” and “getting-out.”