Pick of the Comments


Following on from this morning’s post on the Nonopticon at Tocorón, a couple of Foucault readers note something that was very much on my mind as I wrote the piece: prisons are really just a very small – though very striking – aspect of Venezuela’s comprehensive failure to “get” Power-Knowledge.

Causetoujours goes first:

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish is not only about prison, but about all other 19th century social control institutions, giving power to the State to control every single movement of people, a micro control over bodies far effective than Ancien regime’s one . The main institution for this control is not the prison but the school. These disciplinary institutions were a basic element for industrial revolution, allowing a large mass of people to be able to follow precise instructions in factories or armies. In some way, development came after a massive and successful domestication of peoples. This process wasn’t painless and was imposed by violence.

Venezuela, as other Latin American countries, tried to copy all the disciplinary institutions, without real success. In this sense, prison’s situation is a strong caricature of the failed social control implementation; we are an incompletely ‘domesticated’ people, i.e. unable to massively follow precise instructions. Of course, you can find some cases of strong and well organized social behavior (for instance, ‘smoke free zones’ law, or Caracas’ metro), but my intuition is that it shows some deep social consensus that precede the law and State.

Our relative inability, as society, to act in a disciplined and well organized way implies, of course, several big problems (violence, corruption, low productivity, etc.) but in the same way a (unfounded?) feeling of unrestricted personal freedom could explain why Venezuela is usually well ranked in several ‘happiness index’…

Next comes ElJefe:

This post really highlights the contradictions in modern Venezuela: The country never really went through an Enlightenment a-la Europe and while certain ideologues and leftist intellectuals who support Chavismo espouse radical, deconstructionist theories, the nation and its institutions are stuck very much in a pre-modern, Hobbesian state of nature.

I think Francisco’s critique of Foucault is actually fairly apt, at least in the Venezuelan context simply because Foucault was fighting within a very different set of parameters. France had passed through the Enlightenment, through a series of iron-fisted dictators and endured overwhelming state power in citizens’ daily lives. Venezuela on the other hand put the cart before the horse. The radical laws which PSF’s tout as making Venezuela a progressive nation have no teeth considering the State can’t enforce any of its laws even within its own prisons. A back-to-basics approach is needed whereby the State asserts its dominance and obligates individuals to give up some of their own rights and form part of the social contract. If this all sounds like basic eighteenth century stuff it’s because it is.

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  1. I haven’t heard about Foucault’s discipline until now. In fact I’ve only heard of Michel Foucault because of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kawGakdNoT0.
    So i’m in risk of making a fool of myself, but I always follow the advice of one of my favorite teacher at university: It is better five minutes of shame that a life of ignorance.
    When I read the original article about Tocorón, I started asking myself if venezuelan jails are the only institutions where the state is absent or diminished.
    And then I remembered the way things are going on in Los Andes University.
    Every year, in Mérida city, just before any recess (holy week, carnival, holidays, december) we expect to arise protests, about the most incredible excuses; Well, not until recently, that protesters stopped making excuses at all; but before that was about dining hall, public transport, lack of teachers, et catervas.
    And every year protests have been turning, more and more violent.
    When I started my studies, back in 2006, the traffic stopped, but you could get to your classes easily if you walk all the way. I wasn’t sexy but you didn’t loose class (I’m talking about science faculty). But the last time i tried to walk to class, the protesters throw bottles and stones at me. That was in 2009. And this is getting normal.
    The objective of the protests, beside the excuses that they make, is not a secret only that university authorities neither protesters admit it out loud. Is to get a longer holidays. No more, no less. In the momento that authorities decree te suspension of activities, the protesters just vanish.
    The people is getting angrier every year. I’m getting angrier every year. And I foresee something violent. Last year a professor of chemistry and others took down one of the protesters. Was a student at my faculty, in my departament. Two or three years at university. Still two or three semester.
    What happened? He is a Tupamaro and their fellows recued him before police arrived. Later he came up to the faculty and publicy put a death threat on the professor that I told you. “Usté amanece soyao” (I don’t know how to write it, I don’t know if the word exist or I need a malandro – spanish dictionay). He was screaming this while waving a machete at the faculty yard. I’m not making this up. This hapenned. You may think that authorites inmediatly expeled this guy. Think twice. Tupamaros threatened that if this guy was expeled also has to be the professor. Because he was the one promoting violence when they asked for help to take down the vandal.
    Two years ago, a group of professor and students of Engineering Faculty were so angry that that they started to thrown stones to protesters. Of course they would do it. The protesters were 8 at most, and students were at least 25. What happened? one of the protesters shoot a pair of bullets to the air. What happened? Nothing. Suspension of activities, the police never shown up, zero investigation.
    This year the car of other professor was burned down. Once more. Nothing happened.
    The fact that shock me most is that this is an university. And worst, is the university boast to be the number one in Venezuela. And nothing never happen. They are taking the academy of our hands every time they want, they threaten us, burn cars, shoot in the air. How many time reat for the first dead? And when (note when, not if) that occurs nothing will happend.
    I know is not the same that a jail. But inside university there is no state neither. Is a lot more organizad that a jail, and of course incredible less dangerous but there’s no state.
    This episodes show me the state of our society.

  2. The problem with the Venezuela of Chavez is not the size of the state, but its location. If one thing can describe Chavez administration is their inability to execute. To do.

    The government today is “misplaced” doing things that it shouldn’t do (steel, milk) and not doing things that it should do (enforcing the law and order).

    Venezuela under Chavez’s regime has become a lawless place, gradually, the presence of the state has diminished. But in one place, the airwaves, which is pretty unique for an authoritarian regime. There is no physical violence (from the government), or little, but mental violence. We are hammered with propaganda in every possible form, day and night. It is like we are living in some post-apocalyptic society, some kind of poorly produced hypnocracy.

    I can see the Foucault relation here. So many institutions that their purpose is for something else are being use to exert power, but interestingly enough not the “usual” ones, as the police or armed forces.

  3. Ah so you are living in simulated reality your style. Getting better acquainted with Lacan and Baudrillard enables one to finally “observe” the “floating signs” that act as masks to deny, assert, divert, distract, emphasize what they are masking. In simulated reality nothing is as it seems as you so correctly see it in your last paragraph. Yes they are exerting power as DETERRENCE to keep you from observing something else. and the media of course is complicit without being much aware of exactly how they do it. In the states the recent Kristen Stewart/ Robert Pattinson “scandal” obscured the huge banking scandal making it invisible to masses and masses of everyday people who were far more concerned about the love life of these two celebrities. The erotic scandal is “masking” the banking scandal. Until we can see these things clearly and announce them they will continue to get away with it all. Read Zizek’s Living in the End Times and his new book on Hegel Less Than Nothing to build up your cache of weapons of “intellectual terrorism”.


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