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Response On “Foucault: Discipline And Punish”

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A punishment, to be just, should have only that degree of severity which is sufficient to deter others. Now there is no man who upon the least reflection, would put in competition the total and perpetual loss of his liberty, with the greatest advantages he could possibly obtain in consequence of a crime. Perpetual slavery, then, has in it all that is necessary to deter the most hardened and determined, as much as the punishment of death (Beccaria, 1764).

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The work of Beccaria instilled, for the first time, the doubt that perpetual detention could be a more rational punishment than the capital one. Consequently, many figures of that epoch tried to realize an ideal correctional facility to this end; hence, Bentham’s Panopticon depicted best the qualities such structure ought to have. Indeed, the panopticon was a rational facility structured in order that the sentries could perpetually surveil the prisoners from an omnituens central tower; thus, it creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as the only necessary form of power for suppressing any wish of insurgence (Allmer, 2012, p. 22). Therefore, Foucault (1975), in his analysis of the panopticon, advocates that this model of surveillance can be find in every hierarchical structure of the society. Herewith, it is proposed to elucidate why the panopticon is not solely a dystopian model of imprisonment, but a dramatic mechanism of unconscious coercion applied nowadays nonetheless, through institutions and media.

The panoptic model, established as a non-violent method of human correction, it is not to be solely ascribed to the facilities that Goffman (1961) described as total institutions; although, even to the society’s influence in everyday life. Heretofore, it would be simplistic from us to think that only in correctional facilities is applied the panoptic model of biopolitical discipline, albeit, such reductive thought, is comprehensible since the society baits us into this, when we ask protection from such miscreants; thus, luring us into surrender our human capital in the name of safety. Therefore, in order to protect ourselves from thieves, and terrorists we ought to give up a private part of the self: biodatas, biometrics, geodata, and every kind of information that could better inform the institutions which attitude, tendency, or location we had, have, or will have. In the western world post 9/11, it is not hard to illustrate examples of a panoptic society devoted to total control, disguised as protection, of its inhabitants.

Withal, this biopolitical process is based on a mass-consensus that closed-circuit television (CCTV), wiretapping, and other devices of information control are necessary for disciplining “deviant” individuals. Hence, this social manipulation can be identified in the words of Chomsky (1988) describing the media as a fictitious benefactor that bestows “painful and necessary” solutions upon masses for their safety. Besides society’s biopolitical discipline, this machine of sociopolitical dominion, imperceptible and omniscient, is reinforced with other invisible organs of control: social networks and e-commerce. Han (2014) juxtaposes Foucault’s concept of biopolitics with the one of psychopolitics. Thus, the aforementioned concept suggests that the society encourages us to “freely” divulge our personal life, to continuously share opinions and desires. Consequently, with the smartphones and internet, the individual and its psyche become producers of “big data” that are constantly monetized and commercialized.

For instance, the 2018 scandal, that involved Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, partially revealed how the social network of Zuckerberg could employ the sensitive data of 50 million Americans in a political key. In fact, Facebook was accused to have sold that information to the society of Bennon, who strategized Trump’s presidential campaign on the base of the data gathered about the American electors. Likewise, as a result of providing our big data to the e-panopticon, it ought not to surprise that the customer relationship management (CRM), the concept of how loyal a customer is, constantly grows stronger in relation with the main e-commerce companies. Thus, as a result of merely browsing a desired product, many advertisements and offers, concerning the aforementioned product, will appear; not only in the home page of the e-commerce site, but equally in not (apparently) related sites and emails. Therefore, this subtle process called segmentation appears to be a robust mechanism of compulsive purchasing induction that strengthens the CRM betwixt the individual and e-commerce companies. Notwithstanding the evidence heretofore presented, many researchers are opposed to this modern panopticon. Among them, Thompson (1995) advocates that this supposed modern panopticon, actually, has the reverse effect compared to what proposed Foucault: mass media thin the distance between audience and hegemons’ private life. Therewith, he asserts that Foucault’s panopticon ought to be a model of control employed by the sentries observing, non-mutually, the inmates. Contrarily, according to Thompson, today’s media restore the mutuality of this observation, enabling the population to see and gather information about leaders and institutions through the television or the internet. Nevertheless, also in accordance with ‘Manufacturing Consent’, it could be implied that the images and information individuals obtain via media are easy to be manipulated by the hegemons (Chomsky & Herman, 1988).

Withal, it is represented that Thompson’s attempt to reverse the panoptic model does not consider the possibility that what the media allow is nothing more than a structured voyeurism; thus, permitting individuals to observe others, inures them to be observed as well. In conclusion, in light of the evidence presented hereto, it is possible to imply that the panopticon, an hyperrational prison, has never ceased to exist even in contemporary society; it only transformed in an internalized consenting mechanism. Ergo, can we say that, in patronizing biopolitical security measures, and social networks and media’s tacit voyeurism, is not a reflection of this hyperrational imprisonment?

15 July 2020

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