Sunday, November 1, 2009

Order maintained by discipline or punishment?

I see Foucault’s observation of how knowledge can result in power, how knowledge is accessible to those who are privileged, and how knowledge, power, and control can be used for good or evil. I see how power was adopted as a method to maintain and control the masses during the plague that resulted in a pandemic pandemonium. And I see how power, submission, and control can result in a dronish apathy of the masses. Again, I hate to repeat this example but it resembles Blade Runner, replicates like citizens, and domination by surveillance and force. People are counted, tracked, and observed by those who hold the knowledge and power.

Those who are deviant in any way, are singled out, hunted down, separated and isolated from the group. They, in turn, group together to form like groups. In the article, Foucault’s examples are those who are lepers or those who contracted the plague. And the idea of a person identifying with or aligning with anyone other than the established norm is discouraged.

You see this in today’s society. Deviation results in punishment and isolation. And I believe isolation is the one of the worst punishments that can be inflicted on an individual. Sure, it is nice to have privacy, but if a person is isolated without human interaction, the person could die. Look at Christopher McCandless, the subject of, Into the Wild as a case in point. He was an individual who resisted consumerism and capitalism to the point of isolation and error which led to his untimely death...but that is another story.

I wonder if ideas surrounding the Panopticon led to the systems and processes implemented by the industrial engineers of the past. I see similar concepts of routine steps, repetition, the watcher and the watched, isolating tasks, process standardization, and controls implemented in institutions of today like schools, hospitals, prisons, business, and government. Although I embrace the idea of the unique, I don't really know how to work in an organization that is linear and doesn't contain a hierarchy. This concept is embedded in almost every area of our society. It is present in our homes, society, and culture. Our world revolves around the idea of these patriarchal systems which are the backbone of our institutions.

On a final note, I do find it interesting that Foucault uses discipline synonymous with the word punishment. I think these two words have a very different meaning.
Discipline, to me, infers an accepted relationship of trust between the one who is the receiver and the one who is the barer of the act. When discipline is applied and received, the act of submission for correction often produces benefits, learning results, and a better way is found. Discipline is accepted and is helpful for growth, improvement, and maturity.

Punishment, on the other hand, equals an unwarranted beating that is not deserved and does nothing but harm. Punishment is usually forced on another to gain power and control. Punishment does not result in improvement. It often results in permanent physical, mental, and psychological scars. Unlike discipline, that guides a person to do the right thing, and produces a healthy respect for others; punishment suggests control and power and is used to abuse and inflict pain over another. Often when the act of punishment is repeatedly performed the recipient often repeats and adopts this behavior and inflicts punishment on others in order to gain power and control.

Now some may say that rules made by powers of authority such as the police, can result in punishment. But if the authorities fairly apply rules of behavior for the benefit of the masses for protection (to serve and protect), then this use of power is more aligned with discipline. There is a fine line between maintaining order and harmony and the abuse of the "police apparatus". I don't find it odd that there is such wide appeal for television programs with subject matter representing control, power, and surveillance...examples include: CSI, Law and Order, NYPD Blues, and The Closer, to name a few.

When you use an analogy of the body, pathology, and the plague to discuss an over extension of power of those who are privileged, possess knowledge, have wealth, and have access to use surveillance to control others unknowingly, then you have a interesting argument for rebellion and revolution resulting from a much more insidious cultural disease.

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