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Commentary

The regime of social control

12:48 AM May 20, 2015

Modern politics may be described as the business of putting criminals in jail. In the process of doing so, the modern state does not blink in its metamorphosis into a ruthless beast. The kind of violence it uses against criminals is not meant to exact justice where it is due. This violence is only meant to display the monstrous arrogance of the modern state as an apparatus of power. It has all the attributes of a perfect crime. The perpetrators are never obvious. But this modern-day form of terror has thousands of victims. It hides behind an invincible mask. That mask is sovereignty.

Modern-day dictators have become the worst of murderers. This has come to emerge in the political regime in Syria, which has punished its innocent civilian population no end, all in the name of protecting the state. There is no denial that free nations have known for a long time that noncombatants are to be protected during wars and conflicts. Yet, this has been far from the truth. In the end, the whole picture we find in the devastation of the Syrian nation hides a more fundamental truth: the ambivalence of the most powerful nations in the world. The fact that they refuse to do anything has not put a dent on their moral sensibilities. The United States and the rest of our “freedom-loving” world have remained all-too-powerful for having the sole privilege of being able to choose which countries are worth preserving and which lives are worth saving. Indeed, the Syrian people are on the verge of total annihilation.

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The crimes of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime are no more than a manifestation of his heartless display of power. According to Michel Foucault, “the right to punish has been shifted from the vengeance of the sovereign to the defense of society.” Assad hides behind this veil. In the name of preserving law and order, the modern state and its mechanisms of military power kill.

The cruelty perpetrated by abusive regimes is replicated in other places in a more subtle form. This happens when the modern state works behind a panoptic device. The Panopticon appears in the form of disciplinary power, which is present but not visible, cunningly designed to coerce people into submission in a political regime. Close-circuit cameras, ID-capturing machines, bioscanning devices, and many more now act as the wiring of human society. There is only one source of power—the fear of people. And as long as the people fear the power of the state, the state will have control over them. Thus, in the discourse of power relations, the subjugated subjects are a participant to their subjection into mindless bodies. This is the regime of social control.

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The body of the condemned is no longer the domain of torture. In order to control the human mind, one has to target the soul. This is made apparent in man’s absolute obedience to authority—the school, the prison, the bureaucracy, or society as a whole, in which the sovereign exercises full control over his/her subjects. Individuals become participants in their own subjection insofar as they submit themselves to the apparatus of control in the institution. Under the gaze of a panoptic rationality, individuals surrender their freedom, their privacy, and they are automatically a suspect, a guilty party, or an accomplice to a potential crime.

The power of the sovereign over individuals is latent—they are monitored, watched and supervised. Human society, in this regard, is the new “theater of terror.” People are condemned to this regime of power—capitalism, technological rationality and patronage politics. As a consequence, the helplessness of the condemned perpetuates the very essence of power-relations that enthrones undeserving rulers and kings: It is corrupt, banal, iniquitous, evil, wicked and unrepentant.

Foucault summarizes for us the whole point of the panoptic gaze of disciplinary power in “Discipline and Punish”: “Napoleon did not discover this world; but we know that he set out to organize it; and he wished to arrange around him a mechanism of power that would enable him to see the smallest event that occurred in the state he governed; he intended, by means of the rigorous discipline that he imposed, ‘to embrace the whole of this vast machine without the slightest detail escaping his attention.’” This, for Foucault, remains to be the representation in the callous pursuit of absolute domination and the unrelenting exercise of the power of the modern state which disperses into the realm of enterprise over the often derided and characteristically docile populace.

Perhaps, the discourse on justice is nothing but the power of the rich few to manipulate the system. Traditional politicians and dynasts use our brand of democracy to justify their claim of holding on to power. Most likely, they are a special class of mutants who have the nerve to pin the blame on an already suffering masses. One thing is clear. Today’s world is not wanting in terms of modern-day pharaohs, false prophets and self-proclaimed champions who masquerade as saviors of our already embattled nation.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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TAGS: Bashar al-Assad, crimes, dictators, politics, sovereignty, Syria
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