Foucault for Chance Against a Transparent Civil Society

Foucault famously suggested a historical movement from spectacular punishment to disciplinary punishment. he was referring to the transition from public humiliation, torture and execution to the hidden routine of prison For Foucault that transition from one mode of punishment to another was the indicator of a general historical movement to institutions based on the visibility of everyone in the institution, the apparent depersonalisation of power and the movement of discipline in society as a whole from moments of excessive cruelty to long periods of routinised petty cruelty.

The vision of a society dominated by the disciplinary was modified soon afterwards in a move which becomes on of the dominant issues of Foucault’s work up to his death in 1984. He became interested in the security pursued by sovereign power which is not the detailed planning of society from above. In the disciplinary, we can see power trying to dominate chance and eradicate it through planning. In security, also associated with ‘governmentality’, and with antique notions of selfhood, Foucault finds that power may bow to chance A key example is the emergence of the Physiocrats in Eighteenth Century France. They moved away from the idea of the king’s servant trying to control the economy through protectionism, state monopoly and state control of high prices. The Physiocrats displaced the Mercantilists as the leading advisers to the Crown. The mercantilists aimed to prevent tangible wealth leaving the country in exchange for goods. The effect of their policies was to hold down living standards of the majority in order to guarantee the strength of the state measured by its holdings of gold. They tried to prevent rural famine trough state intervention. Physiocrats thought fear of famine was exaggerated and that the best way of guaranteeing enough food for everyone was to keep prices down.

The Physiocrats appear in Foucault as the opposite of the schemes of the French early modern monarchs, and other European monarchs, to plan new cities and organise the lives of the inhabitants in every detail Physiocrats thought allowing people to be free and to develop their own responses. was the best prevention for famine. Allowing the price of grain to go up would prevent famine as it would create an incentive for farmers to grow more of the crop concerned.

It’s in the market as something driven by chance that Foucault saw an antidote to rationalistic planning. Quite how far Foucualt was going in the direction of the capitalism of spontaneous human action is a matter of debate. What definitely comes through is not only opposition to state dominated economics but to the idea of unified transparent civil society or public sphere. With the decline of Marxism, a lot of leftist thought has resorted to notions of public sphere and civil society in opposition to capitalism Civil society is understood as defined by state administrators and actors in favour of state intervention against the looming chaos of market economics. Jürgen Habermas is the most obvious representative of such a view, and Habermas has gone beyond his Marxist background in influencing the discourse of social democracy and liberalism. His view of rational consensual civil society expresses itself in admiration for the constitutional state, which includes the European Union. Sometimes Habermas seems like the official philosopher of the EU and of Atlanticist democracy. To the disappointment of many Marxist fans, Habermas supports some US and European military operations. That shows how far he was from revolutionary Marxism, but also how a kind of low level Marxism, appealing to a rational unified ordered public sphere and civil society, guided by a constitutional state beyond passions, comes to the fore as the necessary means to resist the supposed chaos and cruelty of unrestrained capitalism. It’s a convenient doctrine for academics, NGO activists and state employees across Europe and across the Atlantic world.

Foucault certainly said that society should be defended, he meant that the state should be limited, and that even the state guided by intellectuals and acting for benign motives constrains freedom and administers every detail of society in a disciplinary way. Habermas recognises a tension between the liberal goal of a state resting on general law and the welfarist pracitce of administrative action outside general law. His solution is more and more rational discourse, which in practice will be structured by the state and by intellectuals in the broad sense. Foucault’s interest in what has been kept out of official and intellectual discourse leaves him with a much better sense that the willfulness of individual behaviour and the spontaneity of uneducated human behaviour in the economy is waht gurantees freedom. His account of he role ofGerman free market economists in the Odo group in opposition to the Nazis and playing a large role in the early post-Nazi German political and economic thinking, certainly suggests so.

Why Buffy Matters: Entropy and Life, History and the Moment

In Joss Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy stand for life and the moment. Her ‘watcher’ (the Englishman Rupert Giles who trains her and is a general mentor figure) tells Buffy’s mother (Joyce Summers) that Buffy is not good at history because she lives in the now and history is very much in the then.

When she is practicing for the SATS exam (general school examination of aptitude in the US, providing an opportunity for those who don’t get grades to show what they have got), one of the answers Giles reads out to her refers to the second law of thermodynamics. This law refers to energy moving from hot gases to cold, and its more generalised conclusions include the claim that energy keeps reducing in a system. This is why there could never be a perpetual motion machine. In general the universe is losing energy and keeps cooling down. that loss of energy is also a collapse of the system into chaos. Chaos is what Buffy, Giles and all the good characters are fighting. Demons are strongly associated with chaos. Giles tells his former friend Ethan Rayne, that they stopped being friends when Ethan started woshipping chaos.

At the end of Season Three when her vampire lover with a soul, Angel, is dying she tells the pompous watcher Wes, that she does not know what he is talking about when he refers to the ancient laws that stop the Council of watchers from helping to cure Angel. She just knows her lover is dying. History and laws are foreign to her, she lives according to the passions of the present.

Buffy comes back to life from death twice, at the end of season one and at the beginning of season six.

As life, as the person who lives in the moment, Buffy is also a chaotic force. The struggle with chaos, what Freud called the death principle, what physicists call entropy, is what Buffy fights and is what she longs for. As the vampire Spike explains to her in season 5, she is drawn to death and experiencing the moment of death. A slayer guide explains to her that ‘Your gift is death’. Buffy longs to entropy at that time, she with draws from her friend into herself , and dies a euphoric death to save the world from demon dimensions.

Buffy is chaotic in a positive sense, she resists and questions authority. This means introducing entropy into hierarchical ordered system. As the bad colonel points out to her boyfriend Riley, his resistance make him an anarchist.

Why Buffy and Joss Whedon’s other work matter

Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after three series this lead to the spin off Angel. Buffy ran for 7 seasons, Angel ran for 5 seasons. Towards the end of that period Whedon made 14 episodes of Firefly before it was cancelled by the network. The sequel to Firefly was the film Serenity. All these things have sold in massive amounts on DVD, unfortunately TV and cinema have been more mixed in their returns.

I’ll be returing to the Whedonverse. First of all, why does it matter? Today we’ll concentrate on Buffy. A series with a silly sounding name. The full name of the series, as Whedon points out, combines comedy, horror and drama. The silliness already indicates an interest in combining genres and crossing boundaries. What are the themes that appear and make Buffy important 8and which appear in the rest of the Whedonverse).

Buffy is an icon of female power, often defeating patronising enemies.
Buffy is also an ambiguous character: the hero and the disturbed individualist
The apparently simple conflict between good and evil moves switches back and forth between moral ambiguity and moral absolutes.
Buffy is drawn in different ways to 2 vampire characters (Angel and Spike) who make journeys from good to evil.
Buffy, Angel and Spike finds that despite the elemental conflicts she participates in, that the world has no meaning. The only morsl perspective is what the individual brings.
These characters refer to alientated states of mind and the struggle to overcome subjective alienation.
Characters find that passion drives them and is the basis rather than moral judgement.
Spike shows a moral evolution driven first by the restraint of a violence inhibiting implant, then by love for Buffy and then by regaining his ‘soul’ (soul=conscience in the Whedonverse). Many questions arise here about what morality is and what moral motivation is.
Individual difference and liberty are promoted along with an awareness that they can become alienating and disturbing.
Buffy is drawn towards ‘the dark’, towards violence, aggression and chaos in her own struggle against them.
The struggle against demonic chaos is a struggle to impose the order that Buffy resists.
Characters go through remarkable changes from apparent good to evil, and from evil to good. This is made very material in the vampirasation of Spike and Angel, both events are shown in flashback, and in the ways in which Angel and Spike get their souls back. For Angel, a soul is a punishment, for Spike it is a reward he seeks to make him worthy of Buffy. These tranformations and many others, raise questions about the limits of personal identity and the posisbility of change within continuous identity.
It deals with different possible worlds, as do many philosophers.
It’s very funny, all serious themes are ironised and everything is ironised. This is an important message in itself. Comedy and tragedy are always close together.