21 April 2007

Why Someone in the Bush Administration Ought to Read Foucault

Let's start with the 'known knowns' (to paraphrase
the unlamented Don Rumsfeld). Alberto Gonzales is a dead man. His pathetic testimony before the Senate Judicary Committee confirmed that. It is now not a matter of whether he resigns, but when. Bush and his administration simply are demonstrating how delusional they truly are if they actually think, as their official comment insists, that AG acquitted himself well in the hearing. The politics of spin is hard at work here. The Senate Republicans, rather desperately, are trying to divert our attention from the clear politicization of personnel policy at the Justice Department to matters of administrative "competence." Whether they succeed depends on the extent to which the Democrats show that they have the stomach for real hardball politics, whether, that is, they pursue all this to its source which, as everyone knows, is the White House. I am not sanguine.

I actually don't want to talk about any of that. I want to talk about what the Republicans might learn from Disicipline & Punish. My advice is not meant to suggest that they bone up on techniques of surveillance and torture since they hardly need my encouragement on that score. Instead, it seems that they need to think about how public rituals operate and how these often are hijacked by an unruly populace. I've lifted the images here from The New York Times and they show protesters in the audience exploiting the Senate hearings for their own purposes. For instance, the man at right above is keeping track of the number of times AG claimed that he could not recall this or that event or fact (according to npr yesterday morning he did so at least 71 times Thursday, but you should consult this digest at The Nation).

Photographs © Doug Mills for The New York Times

Judging from this second photo at least some of the protesters appear to be affiliated with the feminist peace group CODEPINK (obviously not to be confused with Women in Black). Foucault insisted that disciplinary power - the form he warned readers about - emerged largely because earlier mechanisms too frequently generated opportunities like the ones these protesters are exploiting. Disiciplinary mechanisms operate to undermine and re-arrange just such uncontrolled, plural, critical relations of communication.

“[D]iscipline had to solve a number of problems for which the old economy of power was not sufficiently equipped. ... That is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion; it dissipates compact groupings; it establishes calculated distributions. It must master all the forces that are formed from the very constitution of an organized multiplicity; it must neutralize the effects of counter-power that spring from them and which form a resistance to the power that wishes to dominate it: agitations, revolts, spontaneous organizations, coalitions - anything that might establish horizontal conjunctions.”

But, as Foucault reminds readers, even when successful, disciplinary power cannot wholly eliminate resistance, whether spontaneous or coordinated. That is the lesson BushCo (and their putative opposition, the 'Democrat' party) should learn. While the protests pictured here are mostly theatre (far off, off, off broadway), they demonstrate how resistance and dissent can operate at the interstices of even the most centralized and hierarchal sites of power.

PS: For the truly nerdy out there, you can find my considered views on Foucault here: "Communication, Criticism & the Postmodern Consensus," Political Theory 25(4), 1997, pages 559-83.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why Someone in this Blog Ought to Read Salman Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, and maybe some Emannuel Kant, followed up with South Park.

Your bigoted and propagandist pomposity just gets worse; essentially, just a complex affirmation of a skewed viewpoint, probably resting on psychological reasons going back to adolescence, requiring a Hannibal Lecter-type analysis (remember that moment in Silence of the Lambs?).

You fool no one, except yourself. And maybe some gullible students who know no better.

23 April, 2007 17:24  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Anon: Welcome back! Before preparing to use the delete button again I thought I'd reply to your missive.

Paragraph One: Actually with the exception of Ali (who, from what I can tell, is simply a right wing ideologue) I've read all of those folks. I have watched South Park and even enjoyed the anti-Canadian jokes (despite my own heritage)!

Paragraph Two: I have no idea what you are talking about even though I've seen the movie.

Paragraph Three: I'm not to trying to "fool" anyone, just writing what I think. If you don't like it please feel free to rant & whine elsewhere.

23 April, 2007 20:00  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: By the way, Foucault explicitly locates himself in the Kantian tradition of critical philosophy. And Kant would surely find the Bush administration's wholesale disregard for the rule of law - domestically and internationally - highly distasteful. (And it's Immanuel I not E, double not single m, single not double n.)

23 April, 2007 20:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great visual read on the hearings, Jim. I looked through the photos of the testimony several times, and didn't specifically pick up on these acts of "physical annotation." When you isolate it, of course, it seems obvious. No so, however, when it's just one element in a sea of angles and elements.

25 April, 2007 08:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"While the protests pictured here are mostly theatre (far off, off, off broadway),"

Mostly theatre? Perhaps quick summarizations of the truth of the so called testimony. The proverbial " a picture is worth a thousand words" sums up hours of poor acting by Gonzales. His testimony was far off, off off Broadway.

30 April, 2007 20:49  

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