Between Disciplinary Society and Society of Achievement

We no longer have Michel Foucault’s disciplinary society. This is a bold claim of Byung-Chul Han. With rising digitization, we saw that Gilles Deleuze told us that we have entered societies of control. Even as we are undergoing further digitization, Byung-Chul Han further says that we have already entered society of achievement. Maybe it is important to examine this claim as it can reveal us the changing nature of power. He says we are no longer obedient subjects who could be disciplined and controlled but have become aspirational and achievement-subjects. This is true of the majority in our country. The new Hindu is certainly and aspirational subject. Therefore, to some extend society of achievement has become the domain of the majority under Modi raj. All Indians have not entered this society of achievement as the minority are still subjected to several disciplinary practices as well as mechanisms of control.

Foucault’s analysis of power does account for the psychic and topological changes that have occurred in our country. We have a split society. The majority community appears to have embraced the society of achievement while the minorities are still reeling under disciplinary power and are far from society of achievement enjoyed by the majority. It may be wrong to huddle the entire majority as the inheritor of society of achievement. Dalits, tribals and women are still not out of their subjection to disciplinary power.

Disciplinary or society of control is a society of negativity. Its life line is the negativity of prohibition. Achievement society is in a process of discarding negativity. Increasing deregulation is abolishing negativity. Unlimited belief in the power of ‘ can’ produces the ‘yes we can’ sense of positivity. Prohibitions, commandments and laws Byung-Chul Han says are replaced in such societies by initiatives, projects and motivation. This appears to be working only for the elite. Vast majority of the people , including opposition legislators seem to be subjected to the regulation of the constitutional bodies like the CBI, ED and the like.

If disciplinary societies were governed by No, societies of achievement are government by Yes. Byung-Chul Han tells us that the No oriented disciplinary societies produced criminals and madmen, while the societies of achievement he says are set to produce depressives and losers. The drive to maximize under the society of achievement is fast taking its toll on the achievement-subjects.

The achievement-subject is fast and more productive than the obedient-subject of the disciplinary societies. Alain Ehrenberg says that depression is a hangover of the transition from disciplinary society to society of achievement. The economy of self has changed under society of achievement. The disciplinary societies produced the technology of self-policing as a mode of survival and hence lost its productivity in the process of shielding oneself from the imposed discipline from outside. Societies of achievement on the other hand run on engine of self-motivation and are in danger of becoming the burnout societies. Hence, even as we have a mix of discipline and freedom to achieve subjected to different section of our society, we may have to pay the price of both disciplinary power as well as power of excess positivity.

Societies of achievement lead to increasing atomization of individuals while disciplinary societies work by massify the individual into group, community or a nation. The atomization of the self has only the imperative to belong to oneself and the massification of the individual produces a compulsive need to belong to one’s group, community or a nation. We in India are still living under disciplinary modes of power and are yet to fully taste the freedoms of society of achievement.

The achievement societies make the subject self-responsible and hence can lead to guilt of under achievement and consequently go down the road that leads to depression. Society of achievement produces Nietzsche’s superman or overman. We may enjoy this sense of being majority or Hindu supremist for a while but does has its own consequences. But in the initial stages, the superman or the overman is haunted by the last man in the superman leading to guilt that may pushes one into depression. Excessive positivity has its own costs say Byung-Chul Han in his book, the Burnout society.

One cannot enjoy in the societies of enjoyment by command. Slavoj Zizek tell us that real enjoyment occurs behind the back of law. In the society of enjoyment by command, there is no command that forbids enjoyment and hence there is no law to break and hence one has no enjoyment of breaking the law. The same is true of an achieving-subject. He/she has all the freedom and no constrai. This means achievement subject is subject to no one. This atomization is also boredom of loneliness. Hence, some achievement-selves recoil and become immunological selves. A self that continues to be immunological subject under the society of achievement is more likely to become depressed.

Excessive positivity produces the negativity of depression. We In India are yet to experience fully both positive and negative effects of society of achievement. The analysis of Byung-Chul Han appears to be timely and it may assist us to take steps that will enable us to avert disaster we may have face if do not foresee the dangers that his analysis is forewarning us. This piece is not written in a spirit of cynicism but in a spirit of love that hope to forewarn us about the impeding sword of Damocles hanging on our forehead.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao