Disciplinary Societies and the Anti-Oedipus

Has India become a disciplinary society that Michel Foucault described? Foucault located disciplinary societies in the 18th and the 19th century. He said that they reached their zenith at the beginning of the 20th century. Did it arrive late in India? Is it because we are not coeval with the West? Society of disciple is about control of enclosed spaces and people within them. In fact, individuals keep passing from one enclosed space to another. The first basic enclosure is the family, next is the school, then the factory or workplace, from time to time the hospital and sometimes even the prison. Before, disciplinary societies, we had societies of sovereignty whose objective was to tax production rather than organize production, to rule on death rather than administer life.

Thinkers like Gilles Deleuze and Paul Virilio has indicated that disciplinary societies are fast dying into societies of control. Perhaps, we In India have already arrived in societies of control. But the fact that there is still a digital divide, we cannot accept society of control as fully operative in India. They operate mainly with the internet and the netizens. The way social media is used to influence people may indicate that some sections of our people have already stepped into societies of control. But it is important to understand disciplinary societies in order to discern if we have already landed or are still knocking at the door of societies of control. There is also another way of analyzing our condition. This toolkit is found in the in Byung-Chul Han’s, Burnout Society. Hence, the question is: Has our society reached a breaking point? Have reached a point of fatigue? Our polarization and hate driven politics as well as aspirations nurtured expectations may have pushed us into what Han calls achievement society. An achievement society pushes its people into fatigue and leave them on the verge of depression. Maybe we are fast moving towards this point of breakdown.

Max Weber has also thought about disciplinary societies. His book , Protestant Ethics, shows how a religious beliefs and ethics of protestanism went on to produce what we today know as capitalism. In fact, his position is much wide. He teaches that bureaucracy is an iron cage. He says it operated through rationalization. Rationalization disciplines us. We fall in line to its order. Scholars say the Protestanism removed the authority from the Church and placed it in the factory which then according to Foucault became a panopticon that becomes internalized producing self-policing in each of us. Thus, Foucault takes Weber’s view further. We can also find similar disciplining of the individual in Pavlov’s theory of social conditioning. Foucault takes Weber’s rational legal discipline through the study of discursive practices that construct the physiology of power/ knowledge. Foucault tries to show that enclosures – the family, the school, the factory, the hospital and the prison discipline us into docile bodies and make us subject to biopower. The self is then colonized by modes of discipline. It is not just the individual selves but communities that have become subject of governmentality through the operation of the power of gaze.

Foucault teaches that premodern societies which he names as sovereign societies exercised power over death. These societies punished crimes publicly so as to instill fear of the sovereign in the people. The punishment was corporeal and severe. Modern societies beginning with the seventeenth century began to exercise power of life. It first thought that body was a machine and invested in the optimization of its powers. This developed what is called anatomopolitics of the body. This further developed into biopolitics of the population which was conducted through a series of interventions and regulatory control. Power that is simultaneously present everywhere and nowhere produced docile bodies through enclosed spaces such as factories, prisons and hospitals. This docility does not arise from an outside force but the self that willingly imposes it upon itself though self-policing. Thus a docile labor force was produced in modern societies. Foucault discussed biopower not as individualizing but massifying people. It is directed against man as a member of a ‘species’. It is like a factory producing docile bodies.

India is no longer feudal society and hence is not society of sovereignty. One can find that Indian society certainly matches the coordinates of disciplinary society. It appears that disciplinary form of power operates on Indians today. What we have to be is already coded for us. There seems to a panopticon that is producing a condition of being observed by a big brother. The way dissent is being treated, the way breaking of sacred taboos of a particular religion are being punished, the manner in which the media operates etc., increasingly indicates that we are already pushed into a disciplinary society. We are massified as majority and minorities, loyal citizens and disloyal ones leaving the individual Indians in the oblivion. There is n ot room to be an individual. One has to be a Hindu, Muslims, Sikh , Dalits etc. Somehow the political discourse forgets individuality of the person and treats him or her as a ‘species’. Thus what Foucault called Governmentality and biopower is producing a condition of self-policing by a people who feel that they are increasingly put under the gaze of surveillance that classifies them as loyal or disloyal citizens. Disciplinary power is producing docile bodies of citizens and is also producing new disciplines like medical ayurveda, modified yoga , Sanskrit learning etc, and new sanskari universities

Disciplinary societies shape us into obedient children. They are highly patriarchal in their structure. Being under pressure, we constantly Oedipalize letting the law of the father rule over our life. It simply means that we triangulate between what we love (mother) but have to choose silence and latency to let the father rule and have his way. Thus, the majoritarianism and the ethnic nationalism begin to sway over everyone in our country and we Oedipalize and submit to its power and control. What we perhaps need is the courage to become anti-Oedipus. Such an anti-Oedipus castrates the power of the law of the father that has taken it control over each of us. We have the challenge to let the anti-Oedipus rise in us and refuse to Oedipalize. Only an anti-Oedipus in us can truly free us and our country. Anti-Oedipus can derail the power of gaze. It can dismantle the power governmentality. It can castrate bio-power. A disciplinary society can only be contested by the citizen who are disciplined. We have already done this under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi during the British Raj. Non-corporation and Swaraj are truly anti-Oedipal ways of resistance. They gave us our independence. May be once again we need to resist our tendency to Oedipalize and let the ant-Oedipus awake in us and live our freedom as Indians.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao