Means Without End: A Paroxysm of Praxis

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. Nietzsche

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Homeland Security and Societies of Control

''I reminded them [House Republicans] that the most important job of government is to protect the homeland." -- George W. Bush, Thursday Sept. 14th

We need to begin asking questions about the origins of such questions protecting homelands, since what is ultimately at stake is the militarization of space. It should go without saying what that sort of militarization would mean for the prospects of radical democracy.

The discourse of security that is in circulation today has a long history based in liberal thought. The liberal notion of security can most succinctly be traced back to Jeremy Bentham. Liberalism in Bentham's time was a reaction to sovereign power: it contested the extent to which a sovereign could understand/manage social processes that were argued to be opaque to the sovereign gaze. These social processes (the economy, the bureaucracy, the family, the reasoning individual, etc.) were understood by liberals to be natural social phenomena outside the realm of sovereign power (who sought to make such processes transparent). Thus, the various disciplines of political-economics, political science, public administration, sociology, etc. were established to investigate and reflect upon these processes that were understood to be operative outside (though internally to) the transcendent state.

But, the question was eventually posed as to how to manage such processes within a territorially bound space, and how to make them productive for economic and state growth (hence the title of Adam Smith's " An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations").

As Michael Dean discusses in his book "Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society," Bentham sought to articulate four 'subordinate ends' for state legislation in order to fulfill the utilitarian end of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." The ends, according to Bentham, were to provide subsistence, to produce abundance, to favor equality, and to maintain security.

According to Dean, "security, including security of person, honour, property and condition, was lifted to the top of the hierarchy of government for it is the 'foundation of life' on which everything depends." Of course, this had to due with the economic relation between security and subsistence. Thus, security was first and foremost a disciplining mechanism: a mechanism to produce liberal subjects that exercised a particular type of freedom. In other words, the service of security had to be structured in such a way as to "lead indigent and other troublesome groups to exercise a responsible and disciplined freedom in the market and in the family (Dean)." Bentham's liberty, argues Dean, is reduced to a branch of security. The detailed regulation of "men and things" thus involves "governmental interventions in the name of security [in order to] to produce forms of liberty appropriate to the participation in the market (Dean)."

How can we trace this liberal notion of security put forward by Bentham to the current predicaments of security that have risen in the aftermath of 9/11?

I think we have to think of the disciplining effects of the purposeful use of the word "homeland" prior to the word "security" when the Bush Administration speaks on the subject. The word "homeland" is a control mechanism that seeks to create what Hardt and Negri call a "differential unity" that must be managed. What do I mean by "control," and further, what do I mean by "differential unity?"

My use of the important term "control" is borrowed both from the so-called "governmentality" literature, and from the essay "Postscript on control societies" by Gilles Deleuze, whereby a shift has occured from the society that disciplines subjects through institutions (factories, schools, barracks, etc.) outlined by Foucault, to a society where "one is always in continuous training, lifelong learning, perpetual assessment, continual incitement to buy, to improve oneself, constant monitoring of health and never-ending risk managment. Control is not centralized but dispersed; it flows through a network of open circuits that are rhizomatic and not hierarchical (from Nicholas Rose's "Powers of Freedom")."

To quote Rose at length:

"IN such a regime of control, Deleuze suggests, we are not dealing with 'individuals' but with dividuals: not with subjects with a unique personality that is the expression of some inner quality, but with elements, capacities, potentialities. These are plugged into multiple orbits, identified by unique codes, identification numbers, profiles of preferences, security ratings and so forth: a 'record' containing a whole variety of bits of information on our credentials, activities, qualifications for entry into this or that network. In our societies of control, it is not a question of socializing and disciplining the subject ab initio. It is not a question of instituting a regime in which each person is permanently under the alien gaze of the eye of power exercising individualizing surveillance. It is not a matter of apprehending and normalizing the offender ex post facto. Conduct is continually monitored and reshaped by logics immanent within all networks of practice. Surveillance is 'designed in' to the flows of everyday existence. The calculated modulation of conduct according to principles of optimization of benign impulses and minimization of malign impulses is dispersed across the time and space of ordinary life."

Of course, this everyday existence with multifarious networks of practice should not be understood as a homogeneous existence. Quite the contrary. Operative power within the everyday should be understood as seeking to manage difference towards unifying ends. This is why we cannot understand power today as a return of fascistic tendencies. Fascism requires a homogeneous society with top-down control--a society with a hammer over its head. Indeed, this kind of power that assumes homogenous populations certainly still exists (e.g., in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, China, etc.). But, there is a marked difference between a fascistic sort of power, and the power operative today in the United States.

Instead of a homogeneous society where power is based on top-down fascist violence, power in the United States (and Europe) seeks security through a general economy of command: a management of the flows and networks of everyday existence that Deleuze identified above. This sort of neo-liberal operative power Hardt and Negri identify as "the management and hierarchization of differences;" in other words, it is a power operative through freedom: a subjective freedom that should be understood as participating in markets, taking care of the self, dividualizing, molecular, atomistic.

So when the Bush Administration speaks of "homeland security," the word "homeland" needs to be understood as a unifying signifier: a signifier that seeks to unify differential and multiple networks into a productive hegemonic acquiescence. The goal is to have the effect of a subject saying "Yes, let us protect that territorially-bounded abstraction (the homeland), while I participate in my everyday over here." In other words, let them take care of that over there, while I do this over here. The accumulation of the latter sorts of practices ("taking care of this, my own everyday, here") is what needs to be understood as security. It is the detailed regulation of "men and things" identified above: the "governmental interventions in the name of security [in order to] to produce forms of liberty appropriate to the participation in the market." That is the meaning of protecting the homeland. The act of articulation on the part of George Bush is a productive managing discourse.

This is a productive power operative through subjects, not on subjects (as in fascism).

Of course, I am here only dealing with subjects that imagine themselves to be participating in the abstract "homeland" of the United States. I want to discuss next what I believe to be the productive significance of establishing military tribunals for those who have been understood to be acting against "the homeland."


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