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Analysis Of The Link Between Fear And Power Through Foucault’s Theory Of Panopticism And Marx’s Theory Of Capitalism

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Power, at its essence, is about establishing fear and dominance. During the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, when the Church was in power and control of the state, in order to preserve that control, they had to spread fear among the citizens. If they were lenient, things would not have gotten done their way. Similarly, now, in the Contemporary era, leaders around the world maintain their regime by creating the fear of punishment among the citizens. Moreover, depending on how power is used, its influence over the populace can be both good and bad. Looking at Michael Foucault’s theory of Panopticism, along with Karl Marx’s theory of capitalism and the class struggle, it is determined that the fear generated from political leaders and thinkers establishes power and discipline over the public.

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Foucault’s theory of Panopticism had the notion that fear is spread to enforce power and maintain discipline. The purpose of the Panopticon was to observe the behavior of prisoners by having an observation tower in the centre with an authoritative figure and cells all around. It is in human nature to be alert and aware of everything around. Humans always examine each other’s actions and behaviour. They understand the societal norms and enforce them onto others, for instance, by judging and profiling people. Foucault discovered that with power comes to discipline. Westergaard and Resler expanded on this by stating “power is visible only through its consequences”. For instance, if an authoritative figure is stood ahead of a being, they will be much more disciplined with that fear of punishment. For example, when a police car is observed on the road, everyone who is not completely following the rules and regulations of the road, conform to them immediately in fear of being ticketed. Since police officers have the legitimacy to ticket a person if they break a law. It leads to consequences of being fined with heavy charges, while they may be unaware of being watched or not, the fear, however, is still ever-present inside them. Furthermore, humans do not think about their options as they believe that they are being watched and surveyed all the time. Hence, with this fear of being watched, humans are always disciplined to prevent being punished by the ones who hold power. Moreover, the ones who hold power in politics and society are the wealthy capitalists.

Capitalism was one of the factors that Marx emphasized on. Karl Marx was a German theorist who had touched upon many social and political factors on how society worked. A person has to earn for their daily essentials and for that they have to accept the working conditions. According to Marx, capitalism is an economic system where the capitalists, or private companies, hold the power and the capital gains by any means necessary, such as keeping workers on a low wage or by high pricing of products. To emphasize, Marx had portrayed capitalism as a major issue in the world that needs change. Marx declared that society is organized by rank: the proletariats and the bourgeoisie. Proletariat, or the working class, sells its labour power to survive. They are helpless and dependent on the pay they receive by providing labour for the companies and corporations, whereas, the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, own the companies, productions and lands. The bourgeoisie exercises their power over the working class and depends on their labour power to maintain their position. If labourers stopped working, the organizations would crumble. Thus, to maintain order, the capitalist bourgeoisie establishes a setting where the working class has no choice but to follow them. It has been fashioned into the society that the rich hold the power over the rest of the classes and only they benefit from it as their gains and assets continue to increase. Moreover, this is why high-class billionaires sit on the world thrones and exercise their control and power. Labour workers do not have the entitlement overproduction, products and the capital gains from the sales of those products. Labourers only have rights over the minimum wage they work for. Due to this unbalanced arrangement, capitalists employ their power and exploit the working class.

Furthermore, the exchange value of a commodity in the market and the worker receives for their labour power, is called surplus power. For example, retail stores sell denim jeans at nineteen dollars per pair and a worker producing those denim jeans would be paid four dollars per hour; creating a surplus of fifteen dollars for the company. The workers receive less than a fraction of the value of the merchandise they are producing, while the capitalist earns triple the amount of the labour. If the labour stopped, the capitalist corporations would not earn the millions of dollars they have been making through history. Thus, labour power has a huge impact on the profit and loss of these businesses. In order to maintain that control and power over the working class, they exploit them with fear and phrases like “work harder”, “not enough work is being completed”, “you will be fired if the production and sales are not met”. In the fear of losing the job and following repercussions, the workers work harder, faster and try to produce more. These workers make the rich capitalist richer. Society allows their wealth to give them legitimacy and allows them to reign their power over the poor.

Political power refers to the ability of an individual or an administration to influence the behaviour and actions of others. The influence on the conducts of society is controlled by developing fear in the public. Michel Foucault emphasized this by using the panopticon as a tool for developing fear among inmates. The idea of being surveyed by authoritative figures creates discipline and order in society. From the Renaissance Era to the Modern Age, humans have evolved greatly. However, the fear humans have for their leaders has continued to conform and discipline them. During the Renaissance, citizens were afraid to raise voices against their political leaders out of fear as the State had absolute control. Only orders were given out and the voices of the citizens were suppressed. As time advanced into the Modern Age, society continued to be disciplined when authoritative figures stand before them. Furthermore, Karl Marx’s thoughts on capitalism show how corporations and the wealthy maintain their power and political influence by manipulating the working class and holding all the profits. That is when workers are not paid adequately for their hard work and the power that is employed upon them is unethical as they exploit their minds with fear. Marx’s message was that the world should change the concept of capitalism to make it a better world with equality and fairness for everyone in society. The idea of power is that a society can be structured well if power is used appropriately. Humans are well disciplined by a feared leader. They are less likely to break the law as they subconsciously think they are being watched. It is the level of power and how it is used that makes a human civilized or uncivilized, regardless of their status. 

09 March 2021

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