seduction and control

tea garden 3

In the discipline society bosses and workers were locked in a continuous pitted struggle for dominance and advantage. There were wins and losses on both sides and to a greater or lesser degree it worked: there was clarity about what each side stood for which made the society understandable and transparent, and afforded people a semblance of success and fulfillment in their lives.

In the control society this essential struggle between boss and worker is removed, the corporation and shareholders sit at the top making decisions and collecting profits without being challenged, while at the bottom a vast sea of workers engages in an endless and fruitless campaign of competition for survival.

The control society is fundamentally manipulative, passive aggressive and opaque. It has removed the clearly defined adversary and the straightforward rules, and substituted a milieu of confusion and fluidity in which people fight each other to stay afloat. Everyone is an entrepreneur now, said Margaret Thatcher as she and her contemporaries stripped away all of the assurances and infrastructure on which one relies when living in a modern discipline economy.

The outcome is continuous muggings and fatigue. How many friends have we recently heard say – I’m exhausted? How many – implicitly or explicitly – blame themselves and not the system for their frustrations and failures? Now you are the master of your own domain, and you are to blame if you fall through the cracks.

Surely none of us would have thought to say it but: we need a new enemy! To convince a critical mass of people that we need a new adversary could be the way out of the manipulations of the control society and back into a place where we can mount proper campaigns for meaningful work, healthy environments, balanced days, sufficient remuneration, and happy retirements. We need an enemy who we can define and see and mount a real tangible assault against to win back worthwhile and respectful lives.

Byung-Chul Han describes the control society:

In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labour entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.

The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.

Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themself (sic) and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.

Why Revolution is No Longer Possible, Byung-Chul Han, University of the Arts, Berlin

why we watch Downton

People like Downton because it shows a bounded, ordered, fated, world – in many ways you know what you get.  In stark contrast, our present world is endlessly shifting, unbounded, and competitive. This new state has become too much for many people and we want some of the stability and reality of that earlier world back, and so we watch and yearn.

I have found Deleuze’s descriptions of the control society very helpful for understanding this.  He would call Downton a ‘discipline’ society and our global capitalist world a ‘control’ society.  He says,
The factory (discipline) constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass, and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation (control) constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each dividing each within.
It’s not just liberals who like Downton, it’s anyone who struggles with the delirium and harshness of the control society.

discipline, control, contribution

Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, 1990

Here is a fascinating documentary on the shift from Foucault’s disciplinary society to Deleuze’s control society.  Disciplinary society is made up of bounded institutions through which we all pass in our lives:  family, school, hospital, prison, factory.  The control society, dominated by the corporation, is like an all encompassing gas which pits us against each other, in a shifting, never certain obligation to aims of the new global market.

What follows control? Watch the film.

From the documentary:

The factory constituted individuals as a single body to the double advantage of the boss who surveyed each element within the mass, and the unions who mobilized a mass resistance; but the corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each dividing each within.

Continue reading

endless postponement
February 21, 2010, 1:05 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

I have been thinking recently about how strongly people seem to bristle when they believe someone is lecturing them.  Some people, especially in today’s super charged political culture, have a strong aversion to people who give speeches that try to define how we have lived, are living, should live.  That’s not for me! they scream, leave me alone!  This crowd – mob may be more accurate – doesn’t want the stricture of sets of rules constraining their perceived freedoms.  In a way, I agree.  I’ve come to believe that too many rules often mean there’s a moralist lurking and it will serve you well to move on.

But it always depends on the content of what is being pitched.  That’s a maxim that’s ridiculously easy to illustrate: don’t drink that tenth litre of coke.  You don’t even need to say, it’s not good for you, or, you’ll die.

The following quotation describes two visions of society, one by Deleuze which he calls control; and the other by Foucault called disciplinary.   I see the disciplinary society as classically modern and the control society as postmodern.  The disciplinary society holds broad belief structures true:  management, labour, disputes are clearly defined constructs that relate to each other in clearly predictable ways.  In this society, the world is finite and definable and, presumably, you can sleep at night.

The control society, on the other hand is constantly shifting and operates, according to Deleuze, in orbits instead of linearly: I’m up, now you’re up, but now I’m certified, she’s credentialed, you’re laid off, he’s middle management, you’re middling, I’m studying for exams, that position is terminated, we’ve been merged and taken over, we’re team players, at each other’s throats, sink or swim.  When the only constant is change, your head spins, incredulously, looking for a place to get off, and stand, and assess and maybe live.

The mob I described in my first paragraph are screaming for more control culture.  They are being offered stasis, predictability, specifically the guarantees of personal and social freedoms as defined at the advent of the modern, egalitarian state.  But they’ll have none of it and, presumably, will go on spinning in their disorienting orbits, perpetually postponing the opportunity to take hold of a chance at sanity and meaning.

Here is the description of Deleuze’s control society and Foucault’s disciplinary society —

Deleuze quite clearly sees this control society as a threat as bad as, perhaps worse than, the disciplinary society Foucault described. In the disciplinary society, factories produced a body of workers that could be controlled en masse by management, as well as an avenue of mass resistance via unions. But in the control society, we’re not talking about factories producing goods, we’re talking about businesses producing services; in this society, individuals relate to each other, compete against each other, and their wages fluctuate continually, ‘bringing them into a state of constant metastability punctuated by ludicrous challenges, competitions, and seminars’ (p.179). This metastability is brought into education as well: ‘school is being replaced by continuing education and exams by continuous assessment. It’s the surest way of turning education into a business’ (p.179). So you have a sort of ‘endless postponement’ (cf. Body-without-Organs in A Thousand Plateaus) rather than a defined avenue of development; you travel in continuously changing ‘orbits,’ you ‘undulate,’ you find yourself switching jobs and careers and positionalities (p.180). The factory is gone, as are unions and lifetime employment; the best way to get a raise, as a friend once told me, is to switch jobs.”

Clay Spinuzzi, Reading Roundup: Deleuze on Control Societies