Preface to 'The Battle Roar of Silence - Foucault and The Carceral System' - Meinrad Calleja Faraxa Publishing
At the end of his ‘Discipline and Punish – The Birth of the Prison’ Foucault alerts ‘in this central and centralised humanity, the effect and instruments of complex power relations, bodies and forces subjected by multiple mechanisms of ‘incarceration’, objects for discourses that are in themselves elements for this strategy, we must hear the distant roar of battle’. This essay is primarily concerned with illustrating the complex power relations and their strategies for the silencing of this roar, as well the political articulation of the roar of silence and its battle for radical freedom.
Foucault’s afore-cited text opens with a gruelling description of the torture of Damiens the regicide that occurred in March 1757 as reported in the Gazette d’Amsterdam. Nearly three centuries later, consumers of ‘statist’ democracies are to some extent still being acquainted with the imagery of inhuman and degrading forms of punishment. The spectacle of people who are publicly beheaded, stoned to death, flogged, have their hands amputated, shot by firing squads, hung from cranes, electrocuted, administered lethal injections, kept in concentration camps, chained, gagged and caged, is widely disseminated. Less spectacular unjust punishment is also perpetuated by governments who claim to champion human rights, promote democracy, set standards of justice, and uphold doctrines of global policing. Guantanamo Bay prison, for example, appears to have been hastily set up for assumed terrorists after the 2001 9/11 attacks on the United States of America. This prison presents globally disseminated imagery of degrading, inhuman, harsh and cruel punishment of offenders who have been arbitrarily detained without recourse to adequate justice. It is also symbolic of an alliance of regimes deploying unlimited resources to apprehend anyone they label as worthy of punishment, wherever they may be, without any legal constraints. If this is how democratic governments operate, we can begin to imagine how inhumane punishment must be in traditionally despotic jurisdictions.
To answer the question why unjust and cruel punishment is tolerated, we need to look at some recent historical landmarks that seem to have changed public opinion dramatically, while actually always having existed as a possibility. Since 9/11, consumers of political discourses seem to have experienced a form of anxiety, if not paranoia, that exposed both their vulnerability to assumed transnational terrorism and their impotence in the face of domestic tyranny inflicted by their own immediate political regimes. Again, a domestic tyranny not exclusively restricted to the regimes Westerners traditionally accepted as ‘despotic’ and expect no better of. Now, the label ‘despotic tyranny’ may apply just as appropriately to the seemingly freely-elected ‘democratic’ parliamentary governments.
The predictable four suicide attacks carried out in the United States of America, including attacks on the New York ‘Twin Towers’ and Washington’s ‘Pentagon’, shocking, ruthless, and spectacular as they were, followed by attacks on other urban centres elsewhere, spell out a number of obvious conclusions. Far too many political economies are characterised by uneven development, ruthless dictatorships, unequal exchange, lack of basic freedoms, inhuman depravations, and virtually no hope or prospects beyond subsistence. Burning effigies of empire and chanting militant slogans were to be taken to their logical conclusion. The writing had been on the wall for ages. It had been dismissed in a state of denial as mere ‘graffiti’ – an inconvenient fact of life we simply had to put up with given the wide disparities in development and standards of living, and within a context of seemingly unrestricted freedom.
The images of the ‘Twin Towers’ collapsing amidst shock and panic disseminated in real-time were unprecedented both in their force of violence and in the fact that they were not the act of war of a legitimate state against another. State centric and super-power security was given yet another colossal blow by a group of adherents committed to a contestatory ideology, Islam. Led by a figure of relative humility and deviously innovative courage and determination, Bin Laden appeared to be articulating the battle roars of the disillusioned and disenfranchised irrespective of whether they adhered to the same religious faith. The vulnerability of state security in the West was compounded by the fact that many potential terrorists are willing and able to die for their cause. This required an exponentially greater counter-initiative to both reassure law-abiding citizens and dissuade potential terrorists, while also temporarily silencing the ever-approaching and rapidly intensifying battle roar.
The unfolding of events also displayed the inherent dangers of Eurocentric ‘democracy’ and statist ‘parliamentarism’, and the myths of freedom and justice that sustain them, particularly the ability of statist interests to recruit consent, or simply by-pass it. In the aftermath of 9/11, Saddam Hussein was incapacitated on false pretences when consumers of discourse were led to believe Iraq had ‘Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction’, which it clearly did not. The initial ‘axis of evil’ singled out by the Americans responsible for harbouring, aiding and abetting international terrorism included North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya. These were subsequently all given the generous benefit of doubt much to the chagrin of their respective populations. These despotic regimes were not only rehabilitated, but engaged in international dialogue and in some cases allegedly covertly assisted to retain power and eliminate opposition, reportedly using inhuman torture and punishment to quash dissent through ‘rendition’. All forms of potential Islamic militancy had to be swiftly eradicated, giving many totalitarian states a convenient pretext to eliminate all opposition in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’. This event thus also illustrated that governments can pursue any agenda, no matter how sinister, if they manage to recruit sufficient consent and foist a plausible ‘security’ scenario alarm-card.
The subsequent outbursts of sporadic violence generated by the very citizens of so called ‘democratic’ states (in Europe, for example) illustrate that people not only need outlets to vent off their accrued frustrations, but new modes of politics beyond the discourse of representative parliamentary statist democracy. These forms of popular protest are actually the results of ‘democracy’ in real terms as a despotic form of parliamentary governance that reduces participation to mere symbolic representation of indifference and complacency with no real ‘political’ value or any affirmative or secure freedom. However, they also seem to infer that so called ‘democratic’ countries can tolerate and encapsulate a degree of rebellion without any serious challenge to the apparent legitimacy of their institutions.
The ‘thematic’ of the non-religious protests vary considerably from economic respite to racism or abuse of police power. The ‘narrative’ within which the contextual features are framed usually portray the protestors as violent hooligans or rebels without a cause. This tends to reduce the intrinsic metapolitical features to their extrinsic socio-economic and cultural mode of expression without ever posing any serious challenge to the mode of production of politics and statist democracy. This singles out the glaring lack of any articulation of a political ‘contestatory’ ideology that can challenge neo-liberalism. The corollary of this seems to infer forceful and affirmative ‘contestatory’ ideologies are only subsumed by the illicit as an act of ‘transgression’ or ‘aggression’. Legal ‘compliance’ infers a harmonisation of the flattened and pacified, even if apparently nuanced, ‘political’ within the exclusive institutional framework of parliamentary democracy or tolerated dynastic oligarchies (that also serve to make parliamentary democracies appear more humane and pluralistic). Thus construed, parliamentary democracy appears to accentuate its ‘consensus’ feature, while intransigently ignoring at its peril the ever approaching battle roars that it manages to silence by divesting of political articulation and encapsulation, but not sufficiently address, quash, extinguish or permanently exterminate. Consensus may appear to simply mean surrendering, even if only partially and temporarily, one’s convictions, while backing one’s convictions appears always more intransigently irrational. The spectre of violent protest is lurking with intent in silence.
The accumulated suffering in certain Arab jurisdictions, for example, reached its tipping-point in 2011 after entire regions realised they would not be saved by anyone but themselves. The globally disseminated Jasmine Revolution and the Arab Spring quixotically seemed to offer some degree of temporary gratification. The dramatic and relatively accelerated fall of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan leadership offered respite, if not hope. Some intermediary dominos were quickly pulled out to save others from also falling. However, as one model of dictatorship reaches its expiry date on the shelves of political discourses, a new model replaces it. The new product, as Chomsky and Kellner have often alerted, may indeed be more subtle and sophisticated in design. There can be no doubt that the Tunisian and Egyptian power shifts were hijacked by ‘internal’ coups secured by the military establishment, subsequently endorsed by popular vote in a form of parliamentary democracy engineered to appease consumers, while also guaranteeing the status quo for the international establishment. The de facto United Nations’ sanctioning of the Libyan regime, and its secured vote to allow NATO military intervention, ensured the West would enjoy all the credit for this supplanting of a former foe turned ally, and again, turned foe. Other despots were tolerated to dissuade further rebellion fuelled by the apparent victories of the ‘popular masses’. The fact that other dictators were not so easily dethroned illustrates the crude reality that popular revolt and social networks have their limits.
We seem to have ushered in a ruthless international ‘franchise’ of autocratic despots that care little about human life. The international elite seem to be teaming-up to augment the privileges of a select caste, bound only by their insatiable urge to retain power and pursue profit, while consumers mortgage the future of humanity. This alliance of regimes hides behind a façade of meaningless democratic rhetoric while actually perpetrating and facilitating more violence and injustice than it claims to oppose. In advocating urgent interventions to reduce despotism, it claims to be bound by democratic constraints and international conventions that inhibit efficacious solutions. However, when convenient it simply ignores or by-passes these political and juridical obligations. Recent events have illustrated clearly that in some cases the international power elite tolerate despotism and violence by default of adequate intervention, (or simply convenient complacency and procrastination), while in yet other scenarios it foists what it would like consumers to believe is forceful intervention. Syria is a clear example.
How is punishment configurated in such scenarios? One of the very conditions of possibility of abuse of power is a readiness of brutally enforcing one’s will and defiantly getting away with it. What better way to express such absolute power than through inhuman punishment that cannot be restrained by the international and domestic institutions of democracy. Allegations related to torture in Guantanamo Bay and other allegedly notorious detention centres presumed to exist in covert jurisdictions, for example, continue to feed images of a new ruthless and omnipotent despotism of democracy with allegedly multi-national stockholding. These cabalistic manoeuvres would not be possible without a notion of punishment, indeed arbitrarily enforceable harsh and cruel punishment – ‘tellishment’, lurking in the consciousness of consumers of these political discourses. Indeed, these forms of ‘tellishment’ are actually allocated space (of possibility/ actualisation/as practises) by democracy itself. Western governments and their satellites use the logic of ‘tax-evasion’ or ‘tax-avoidance’ to by-pass human rights issues through the use of customised ‘offshore-punishment’ and ‘offshore-law-enforcement’. In ‘rendition’ this includes torture, and inhuman and degrading punishment, illustrating the difference between the ‘letter’ of the law and its assumed ‘spirit’, which is the very expression of ‘power’. The great loss of human life and lack of fundamental human rights appears to simply be a ‘moral-overhead’ consumers need to rationalise and fatalistically accept as a consequence of potential dangers lurking in their midst. They are rendered plausible to citizens by the very discourse citizens of democracy have consumed, including a plausible ‘blameworthiness’ catalogue and ‘criminogenic’ narrative.
Punishment is rarely grounded on any consistent moral or ethical values. Quite frankly, punishment seeks to veil an oppressive ideology embedded in law that we repress. These atrocious abuses are possible because the contemporary political culture has initiated consumers of carefully articulated political discourses to be passive observers at the very best, if not totally disinterested, complacent, and apathetic, to all forms of injustice and human rights abuse, of which ‘tellishment’ is one example. The dissemination of hegemonic ideological content through various fonts has created a model of citizenship and indeed an ontological abstraction of humanity that is devoid of active political literacy simply because indoctrinated consumers fatalistically accept the disciplinary boundaries they have been confined within. This essay seeks to explore these dynamics which to some extent are codified and articulated through ‘punishment’ and carceral system discourses that feed this plausibility structuring.
The essay is not concerned with any single polity, any particular mode of legal justice, or any specific context or temporalization. While trying to avoid being reductive, I have been obliged to make certain generalisations. Punishment, for example, simply refers to coercive punishment, particularly its actualisation as ‘incarceration’. States and society refer to Euro/ State-centric models based on industrialised democracy – ‘democracy’ that is upheld by institutions, rules, and social practises, that are based on an alleged consensus, usually of a majority, that is tested, usually though not necessarily, through elections, in which consent is recruited through information dissemination relays and exchange, and then takes the form of a representative parliament. An essay about ‘punishment’ is intrinsically linked to the values a group agree upon, the goals of this group, the legitimacy of ‘authority’ they bestow on decision-makers acting on their behalf agreed upon by consensus, the ‘rules’ that they agree ought to regulate the desired behaviour and normative order, and the relations of power and subordination that come into existence or play. Put differently, ‘punishment’ may ensure the preservation of ‘values’, the achievement of ‘goals’, the legitimacy of ‘authority’, the compliance to ‘rules’, and the delineation of ‘power’. It is essential to any mode of state-centric power exchange based on a notion of consensus.
Contemporary Euro/ State-centric models of industrialised democracy are governed by a political culture which combines knowledge, information, science, and technology. This political culture imposes forms of vigilance and discipline we are often oblivious to. These ‘strategies’ are upheld by institutions and the social practices they encourage. Consent is recruited through subtle and not so subtle forms of socialisation that shape public opinion and achieve consensus. Multi-national media industries and academia extend their sphere of influence on a global scale. This essay situates these forms of discipline and vigilance within an institutional power structure that is an integral feature of a specific mode of production based upon an ideology of unequal distribution and exchange causing a number of social antagonisms. What is being ‘antagonised’ is actually an unfair or unequal distribution of resources, particularly intangibles like ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, but also tangible material welfare. This then appears to consumers to be consonant with the contemporary crisis of modernity, a crisis of ‘meaning’, ‘values’, and ‘certainty’. The combination of the lack of access to these resources and constant legitimacy deficits currently being experienced in areas as far apart as ‘welfare’, ‘peace’, ‘environment’, ‘human rights’, ‘civil liberties’, and ‘cultural tolerance’, make this a ‘metapolitical’ project.
Punishment is seen as the corrective mechanism to restore legitimacy and order, confer meaning, repress antagonisms, and eliminate negotiation. This buttresses a conception of ‘the social’ understood as a ‘totality’ in which every actor imagines a degree of autonomy and participation in ‘the political culture’, together with a rather simplistic notion of ‘justice’. Punishment appears necessary, beneficial, and above all rational. Contemporary problems like organised crime and international terrorism make ‘punishment’ appear to be an urgent imperative that people need and are prepared to pay a social cost for.
Punishment is a tool that is used to sustain a particular narrative and deter or repress all forms of subversion and contestation. Its actualisation often justifies coercion as a form of ‘deterrence’, ‘incapacitation’, and ‘rehabilitation’ or ‘reform’. What are also being deterred and incapacitated are all forms of subversion of meaning, and what are also being reformed are the strategies of efficient modes of dominance, discipline, vigilance, and subordination that shape political consensus. The urgency of ‘punishment’ allows notions like ‘governmentality’, ‘encapsulation of conflict’, ‘domestic colonisation’, ‘domestic mission’, and ‘the logic of emergency’ (all of which will be discussed in the text) to pave the way to a ruthless global politics of incarceration.
In short, people are pacified, domesticated, and massified into a more manageable and coherent ‘totality’ when they accept coercive punishment without critically assessing its ethical, metapolitical and logical ramifications. They are dissuaded from being seduced by ‘other’ possibilities beyond those suggested by ‘legitimate’ authorities. Punishment has a conservatising effect on people. While the hold of ‘traditional’ institutions like the ‘Nation-state’, ‘family’ and ‘religions’ may have diminished, other contemporary ‘institutions’ attached to ‘knowledge’, ‘science’, ‘technology’, and ‘information’, and the political culture they produce, are adamant that their ‘verities’, ‘certainties’, and ‘meaning’ ought to be dogmatised, when necessary by sustaining coercive punishment. Modern panopticons ensure constant vigilance, but a notion of ‘punishment’ in itself helps achieve a degree of compliance.
Such a narrative of punishment discourse within a political culture could not be complete without some sort of pseudo-scientific status being conferred on a professional, academic, collegiality of ‘service-providers’ endowed with authority to confer and restore ‘meaning’ through the very knowledge it creates. This collegiality has been designated with the task of justifying or legitimising ‘punishment’, while using punishment to legitimise their authority. Their pseudo-science is assembled by collating allegedly ‘positivist’ data drawn from empirical correspondences as far apart as psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology, physiology, neurology, biology, and the economy, using punishment as their ‘object’. At stake is the reproduction of a caste of sectoral interests who monopolise intervention while enhancing the premium on their own cultural capital. These dominant discourses attempt to sustain a notion of ‘responsibility’ expressed as ‘rationality’, denying ‘determinism’ in favour of an inflated and over-determined ontology. This essay shall critically discuss this ‘hyper-scientization’ and ‘professional impairment’ and will argue in favour of a ‘post-positivist’ approach, dismissing much of the epistemological basis of this knowledge as ideologically value-laden and socially constructed to sustain the despotism of democracy.
One question seems to frequently resurrect – why should law-abiding citizens care about those that have chosen to transgress against the law? Punishment affects those that are never actually exposed to its material concretisation in practise, but are nevertheless exposed to its force through ‘deterrence’. Their ultimate compliance and subordination is an indicator of this efficiency. Thus punishment coerces those that do not transgress or subvert by their very reluctance to refuse consent, repress alternatives, and their mechanistic contribution to social order expressed as ‘democracy’ and actualised by symbolic concessions. How does this impinge on notions of ‘freedom’? Is the notion of ‘freedom’ contradictory, metaphorical, and polysemic? This essay seeks to explore these facets of the production of ‘meaning’.
This essay is indirectly about phenomena like xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentricity, racism, eco-imperialism, war, aggressive economic conquest, and widespread inequality and intolerance, all symptomatic of modernity’s failures. This essay provokes a politically-charged radical critique of the dominant rationality sustaining these prejudices, upheld, albeit partially and indirectly, by punishment discourses. Punishment is often the irrational response to misinformed and misguided policy that in turn feeds other prejudices. The sum total of these strategies feeds a particular configuration of power ‘structured-in-dominance’, while ‘punishment’ is their crude and vulgar expression of subjectivity.
I feel I am bound to a strictly ‘political’ agenda. This essay seeks to critically reflect on the role of an emancipatory and empowering conception of political participation from a notion or position of ‘metapoltics’ (in line with Badiou’s use of the term) that deters inequality, incapacitates oppression, and reforms political culture to secure radical freedom. The text itself is ironically a result of a perspective transformation brought about by prolonged and intense punishment, systematically punctuated by various human right violations this author suffered. So the corollary of this experience is the thrust of the argumentation and the accompanying choice of bibliography that expresses the formation of this author’s bias. These are in fact the actual sources of solace this author found in the solitude of a prison cell while these injustices were being perpetuated that in turn garnered the energy to see this project through to publication.
A literature review of the literature cited will establish that this text is predominantly shaped by philosophy. Why philosophy? A philosophy lecturer once told me that she enjoys reading fiction to relax from philosophy; perhaps I read philosophy to relax from fiction! Philosophy can be empowering. It can help those being punished reflect and establish a critique of their reality. This is how this text was initiated. Authors that have contributed significantly to the formation of this text’s philosophy apart from Foucault (d.1984) include Deleuze (d.1995), Gauattari (d.1992), Baudrillard (d.2007), Lyotard (d.1998), Derrida (d.2004), Althusser (d.1990), Canguilhem (d.1995), Marx (d.1883), Wittgenstein(d.1951), Kant (d.1804), Russel (d.1970), Bourdieu, Laclau, Mouffe, and Badiou.
This text may appear to be dedicated to Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish – The Birth of the Prison’. Indeed, his text was a major influence on the ideas gathered here, however, all his texts contributed significantly. I draw heavily on the works of Foucault, particularly his work on institutions, and primarily his methodologies. I should like to declare my main bias; I have privileged Foucault’s works and believe his work is essential to any critical study of contemporary modes of rationality. Without harbouring any pretensions, this essay is Foucauldian in scope. I attempt to reveal aspects of the irrationality of punishment by critically assessing the dominant modes of rationality sustaining these foundations in a format that relies of an archaeological and genealogical approach to the dissemination and consumption of contemporary discourse. This text specifically deals with the philosophy of Foucault.
The essay modestly seeks to examine ‘punishment discourses’ as part of a configuration of power, expressed in a specific ‘scientific’ language, within a political culture. Having been exposed to first-hand experience of punishment within this political culture, Foucault helped me along with this project in no uncertain terms. We are all part of this political culture, and we are all exposed to the scrutiny of this scientific language, and dominated by its power-structure. We are both ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’ of this mode of rationality that imposes constraints we may be oblivious to. Foucault raises our awareness to these concerns.
By examining the flaws in pseudo-scientific epistemological discourses that shape the rationality of punishment, both philosophical and sociological, I intend exposing the archaic, ephemeral, arbitrary, and subjective nature of punishment rationales. The rationality governing punishment discourse is not as ‘rational’ as it claims. It certainly lacks an intuitive perspective. I shall illustrate that often ‘punishment’ is shaped by mere ‘opinion’; it is a pseudo-science based on conjecture, necessary illusions, constant-conjoins, and logical fictions that together form ‘consensus’. Punishment is merely a passionate response fuelled by emotive instincts whose irrationality is masquerading as ‘public opinion’, ‘common sense’, and ‘collectivity’. It is a form of ‘repression’. It is also an ideological weapon deployed to accommodate contemporary prejudices and institutional ‘functional-imperatives’. It is a defeatist tool deployed to restore legitimacy in crisis. It is a prop in a specific political culture and ‘power-game’. It sustains modern slavery.
The bottom line is that this text is quite simply about the coercive aspects of punishment many people overlook, deny, repress, or are indifferent towards. People convince themselves they are safe in the knowledge they will never be liable to punishment themselves through their own compliance. They suffer in silence. This essay is primarily focused on illuminating the fact that we are all victims of coercive punishment. I hope the text will serve to enlighten whoever reads it. It may also allow us to hear the battle roar of silence Foucault alerted us to.