Between practices of Disciplining and practices of Discipling

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Michel Foucault has dealt with the penal, academic and medical in his books, Discipline and Punish and Birth of Clinic. They deal with the power of surveillance which has grown exponentially with the rise of communication technology and AI. I have dealt with its impact in my book, Being Human in a World of Artificial intelligence. Here, I wish to open the question of disciplinary power or the effect of surveillance in the field of priestly and religious formation. The mechanisms and the apparatus of surveillance are both subtle and glaringly manifested in these fields yet they have often remained unthought by several of us engaged in this noble task of formation. What is also startling is that we are unable to discern how we have allowed surveillance techniques to vampirise our formative spaces where fear becomes the highest power to sustain motivation while it only produces what Freud may have called the game of substitutions. This means disciplining techniques though often produce genuine results have become hiding places and somehow hypocrisy seems to have become the order of the day. Thus, behind the rituals of disciplining practices something beautiful is steadily dying in several spaces of formation.

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This is why we may have to revisit our uncritical reliance on disciplining practices. This means the disciplinary practices that came from the military and judiciary platforms have to be revisited without necessarily doing away with or overturning everything that is reigning for the present. This means we have to try to understand how our holy spaces like the churches and chapels as well as sacraments like the holy Eucharist have become instrumentalized as disciplinary practices using surveillance techniques to evaluate candidates under formation. These disciplinary techniques have limited power. They can discipline only the body and not the mind and far less the soul. This is why the formative spaces often fail to form as they concentrate mainly on the surveillance of the body and therefore become hiding spaces where only bodies manifest submission and minds go on a flight of freedoms. Foucault has shown with amplification how disciplinary techniques become an operation of power for those that enforce them. But these enforcing agents can only discipline the body. They often fail to form the mind. This is why when surveillance is taken away, even the body of the candidate aligns with the mind, displaying how sometimes all formative energies, structures, institutions and agents have gone down the drain. 

The penal grind that is operating like a sword of Damocles does make it feel that things are in the right place while the agents of formation enjoy a sense of power to make or break the lives of candidates under formation. But this order of things may not produce genuine results. Fear is used by markets and politics today. Fear sells and we can see this with work of insurance companies as well as the covid-19 pandemic. Fear also assists to milk votes. The fear of Pakistan, China, or the minorities can harvest votes for the ruling BJP in our country. This is why we have to scrutinize the power of fear and the damage it does in our noble ventures of formation. This does not mean that there is no place of fear in formative spaces and forming communities. Reverential fear has its place and is a positive force in formations. But we have the challenge to examine how unhealthy fear has come to inhabit techniques and processes that merely operate as ‘eyes that see’ over the life of the candidates subjected to the processes of formation. Maybe it is urgent to explore how our formative processes have become sites where microphysics of power is in full swing. It might demonstrate to us how fear of being confined as an outcast or dismissed operates and has hydra-like heads over the entire project of formation. 

Fear is a technology of power. It is always adored by those who are above it and are in a position of authority. Unfortunately, it has also become the mainstay of pastoral practice in several pastoral arenas. In formation spaces, paradoxically, fear does convert the candidates as first agents of formation. But it has a dark side. It enables the individual to resist the technology of power in operation and pushes him/ her to withdraw into realms of freedoms outside the reach of the eye of the formator who can only see the body while the mind and soul remain opaque to the panopticon of the process of formation. Hence, it appears that the dialectics of the matrix of fear has diminishing returns. Fear invisibles freedoms. This means the individual subjected to fear often goes under-ground and hides under a mask. The examination of the veil of fear might open us several ways our projects of formation have often deformed our candidates. It is indeed a huge challenge to understand how fear informs formation and castrates it effectiveness. 

Fear therefore, cannot become the full form of formation. We have a great challenge to find alternate modes of motivation and disciplining to discipleship. To walk this path we have to unveil how it operates and corrupts our processes and procedures of formation. The fear that inhabits our processes of formation operates only as a panoptical fiction. This is why it is urgent to expel its sway over formative space as well as formative agents. There are no easy alternatives available. Opening of freedoms in our formative spaces may allow the sun of freedom to shine on all ( the good and the ‘evil’). For this to occur we have to allow inductive processes to enter in rather than have blind faith in the deductive processes that are in operation for ages. This means new modes of formation have to be employed and scrutinized for their effectiveness rather than stay passive and confident with processes and disciplining practices that have been used for a long time. The real test is to discern whether our disciplining practices are truly becoming discipling practices. We need to convert all disciplining practices into discipling practices and this is no easy task.

 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao