Foucault is what is known as a Genealogist and Archaeologist type philosopher. In his Genealogical phase, he looks at discourses throughout history, mainly around the time of the enlightenment up to the secular movements of humanism and discovers how there is always an epistemethat preceeds our existence, or a knowledge structure, a truth that is sought after or aspired towards in the time of our lives, that we incorporateinto our bodies.
Unlike the existentialists, who transformed Will and Desire into free will and subjective desire, as they were ‘I’ Philosophers, Foucault like Derrida is much more centrifugal, but instead of thinking about signs and how they endlessly and restlessly signify in meaning, Foucault looks at bodiesin the same way.
According to Foucault, our sexual instincts are not so natural, unlike the conventional view of sexual instincts. He prioritises culture over biology.
Quote:We believe in the full consistency of instinctual life and imagine that it continues to exert its force indiscriminately in the present as it did in the past. But a knowledge of history easily disintegrates this unity, depicts its wavering course… We believe, in any event, that the body obeys the exclusive laws of physiology and that it escapes the influence of history, but this too false. The body is moulded by a great many distinct regimes.
Sexual instincts are not fundamental. Take child sexuality, which Foucault argues was ‘discovered’ in the 18th century. This is evidenced by the whole new literature on the topic, with precepts, medical advice, clinical cases, outlines for reform and plans for ideal institutions. Great measures were taken to eradicate masturbation, but it had completely the opposite effect, it intensifiedthe desire for our own bodies. In short, the sexuality of the child was created by 18th Century discourse.
He has the same view of homosexuality. While discourse on sex had previously dealt solely with marriage—what one could and could not do within and without the bonds of marriage—discourse on sex came increasingly to focus on those who fell outside the category of marriage: children, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and so on. A distinction arose between violations of marriage bonds, which were seen as violations of the law, and violations of what was considered natural practice, which were seen as sick or demented.
Foucault sees the modern concept of homosexuality arising from a desire to see sexuality as a fundamental aspect of who we are. Before the 19th century, sodomy was simply regarded as a criminal act. Since the 19th century, sodomy has been regarded as just one manifestation of a person’s homosexuality. “Homosexuality” ceased to be associated with certain acts, and became associated with a person’s identity, with his soul. One’s sexuality became a key to interpreting one’s personality and one’s behavior. Rather than work to eliminate homosexual acts, the growing discourse around homosexuality saw these acts as constitutive of a person’s identity.
Instead of sex being a desire, the desire for sex as an object was born out of discourse, out of truth. Instead of thinking of bodies and their pleasures, we should instead think of pleasure and its bodies.
On the one hand, the body does not exist like an idea, but it’s also not like a thing. It’s always being pulled out of itself, toppling forward into newly opened spaces, being drawn across boundaries. The body is not solidity, it is more of a force. Foucault, like Derrida, is a materialist, but in a very special sense.
There is a deeper reality to which can be true, rather than langue, or an epistemic framework, one that is not a thinking force. He is of course, talking about power. Power is not strictly only about wars and battles, for Foucault there is power over bodies and power of bodies.
Power over bodies is the power that invests in power relations, forces it to carry out tasks, perform ceremonies whereas power of bodies is the body’s own power, the source of Will and Desire.
Foucault observes the penal system and questions whether or not the ideal of reform is actually occuring, or if delinquencyhas emerged, prisons seek to grind meaning out of bodies, it normalises bodies. Just like the quest against masturbation, prison succeeds even though it fails to eradicate crime, there is a mastery of the body’s forces that is more than the ability to conquer them.
He rejects the Marxist view of progression through history towards an ideal and instead uncovers an anarchistic proliferation of forms over and above anyone’s deliberate aims or goals.
Foucault’s work on power has been used by some feminists to develop a more complex analysis of the relations between gender and power which avoids the assumption that the oppression of women is caused in any simple way by men’s possession of power. On the basis of Foucault’s understanding of power as exercisedrather than possessed, as circulating throughout the social body rather than emanating from the top down, and as productive rather than repressive, feminists have sought to challenge accounts of gender relations which emphasize domination and victimization so as to move towards a more textured understanding of the role of power in women’s lives.
Some feminists have also found Foucault’s contention that the body is the principal site of power in modern society useful in their explorations of the social control of women through their bodies and sexuality.
One of the distinct advantages of Foucault’s understanding of the constituted character of identity is, in Judith Butler’s view, that it enables feminism to politicize the processes through which stereotypical forms of masculine and feminine identity are produced. Butler’s own work represents an attempt to explore these processes for the purposes of loosening the heterosexual restrictions on identity formation. In pursuing this project she argues that Foucault’s characterization of identity as constructed does not mean that it is completely determined or artificial and arbitrary. Rather, a Foucauldian approach to identity production demonstrates the role played by cultural norms in regulating how we embody or perform our gender identities. According to Butler, gender identity is simply ‘a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being’
The way a political organisation labels itself often holds sway on their influence. A political spectrum is a system of classifying different political positions upon one or more geometric axes that symbolize independent political dimensions. Commonly we use the terms “left and right” to distinguish between political ideals and practices.
Since the 1970s however, this divide has become almost obsolete, politics is governed by economics and the Brexit backlash was a statement of resistance against this phenomenon, the people want a movement where politics grasps the reigns of economics once more, but there is another meta layer behind the left and the right that unifies them as bound to the same economic principles that produce the main causes of resentment and the drive for change towards their preferred political ideology.
You would think that a party with a name like “Liberal Democrats” would be considered as “left”, when we look at their main ideals, we see “classical liberalism” and “neoliberalism”, which all sounds very nice, after all “liberal” means willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas, favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms, regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change. They are technically described as “center”, which I would dispute is now center right after the coalition government, blatantly once Nick Clegg leaned toward the Tories instead of Labour and definitely when he raised university fees.
In reality and practice however, “Liberal” is as deceptive as it gets. Mainly when we hear any one of these liberals and how they propose we sort out various problems in society, they end up acting in a way that is, well, quite right wing and conservative, which is confusing to say the least.
So what is classical liberalism? It drew on the economics of Adam Smith and on a belief in natural law, utilitarianism, and progress. It is one of the main ideals behind American Conservatism. Historically, they were opposed to the movement of social liberalism, that child labour was forbidden, minimum standards of worker safety were introduced, a minimum wage and old age pensions were established, and financial institutions were regulated with the goal of fighting cyclic depressions, monopolies, and cartels. Classical liberals opposed these new laws, which they viewed as an unjust interference of the state. They argued for what they called a “slim state”, limited to the following functions:
Protection against foreign invaders, extended to include protection of overseas markets through armed intervention, protection of citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens, which included protection of private property, enforcement of contracts, and suppression of trade unions. They assert that rights are of a negative nature which require other individuals (and governments) to refrain from interfering with the free market, whereas social liberals assert that individuals have positive rights, such as the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to health care, and the right to a living wage. For society to guarantee positive rights requires taxation over and above the minimum needed to enforce negative rights.
We can see how these classical liberals have set the theme we see today. Economics over Politics. Which brings us to Neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism became prevalent in its current meaning in the 1970s and ’80s by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Thatcher and Reagan are the prime examples of the neoliberal ideal.
Its advocates avoid the term “neoliberal”; they support extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.
The private finance initiative (PFI) is a way of creating “public–private partnerships” (PPPs) by funding public infrastructure projects with private capital. Developed initially by the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom, and used extensively there and in Spain, PFI and its variants have now been adopted in many countries as part of the wider programme of privatisation and financialisation driven by an increased need for accountability and efficiency for public spending.
The implementation of neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 as one of the ultimate results.
It’s quite surprising, when one takes into account that these are conservative or right wing ideals, yet it is under the guise of a liberal or left sounding name. It is essentially meritocratic, Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. We can see how classical liberalism has informed this ideology.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
This definition scratches the surface of what Neoliberalism causes in our society, the other chief issues are how it views all citizens into a consumers. Then there is the European Troika, an organisation composed of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Troika, is policing the countries that got themselves into trouble; governments are constitutionally bound to the principles of good housekeeping. Greek unemployment remains the highest in Europe at almost 25% – and just under 50% among the young. Many companies are relocating to Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Cyprus as a result of over-taxation.. In Spain, it is now commonplace for three generations to survive on a single salary or a grandparent’s pension; unemployment is running at 26 per cent, wages go unpaid and the rate for casual labour is down to €2 an hour. Italy has been in recession for years, after a decade of economic stagnation, and 42 per cent of the young are without a job. In Portugal, tens of thousands of small family businesses, the backbone of the economy, have shut down; more than half of those out of work are not entitled to unemployment benefits. As in Ireland, the twenty-some-things are looking for work abroad, a return to the patterns of emigration that helped lock their countries into conservatism and underdevelopment for so long.
The commission’s cure for the Eurozone crisis prescribes neoliberalism finessed by technocrats. Neither Remain nor Leave has a credible vision of how things would go, notably as regards the EU’s own future.
With all of this uncertainty, it’s not hard to see why Brexit would seem appealing, where do you think all of these people, who are the victims of ‘fiscal austerity’ across the EU, are going to go?
The EU has emerged significantly more autocratic, German-French-dominated and right-wing, while lacking any compensatory charm.
Not having a say in how Brussels will manage trade and fees could be a problem however. On a wider, farfetched worry, the collapse of the Euro currency could be disastrous too.
Any resistance to the EU has been met by a fierce wrath from the neoliberal intelligentsia, calling anything that resembles resistance, right wing, yet the EU and neoliberalism in general and the way it has emerged, is anything but ‘left’ in the sense of improving socialism, or even advocating socialism to regulate capitalism.
Neoliberal effects on the EU
The Troika – it has no official name – was scrambled together in April 2010 to take over direction of the Greek economy, as the condition for its first EFSF loan. Composed of functionaries from the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF, it now governs Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece, and has been permanently inscribed in the European Stability Mechanism. The Troika issues Memoranda of Understanding on the same model as the IMF, which dictate every detail of the member states’ legislative programmes: ‘The government will ensure that the legislation’ – for cuts in health and education, public sector redundancies, reductions in the state pension – ‘is presented to Parliament in Quarter 3 and agreed by Parliament in Quarter 4’; ‘the government will present a Privatisation Plan to Parliament and ensure it is speedily passed’; even, ‘the government will consult ex ante on the adoption of policies not included in this Memorandum.’
The Troika’s record of economic management has been abysmal. Greek GDP was forecast to fall by 5 per cent from 2009 to 2012; it dropped by 17 per cent and is still falling. Unemployment was supposed to peak at 15 per cent in 2012; it passed 25 per cent and is still rising. A V-shaped recovery was forecast for 2012, with Greek debt falling to sustainable levels; instead, the debt burden is larger than ever and the programme has been renewed. No one has been held to account for this debacle. Further rounds of cuts are scheduled for 2013, without any economic rationale. Another 15,000 public sector workers have to be sacked to meet the requirements of this summer’s quarterly review; the entire staff of the Greek broadcasting corporation has been dismissed. The number of doctors by headcount fell by another 10 per, as in 2012; hospital costs are to be cut by another 5 per cent, after 8 per cent in 2012, and the Troika wants to see a substantial further reduction in hospital beds.
Question everything…except liberalism and capitalism, you sophist!
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.
Austerity catch 22
The question is whether or not, Britain, in or out of the EU, can stand against austerity while neoliberalism is the dominant economic practice on both sides of the political spectrum. Left and right are now obsolete distinctions.
Both neoliberalism and neo-conservatism although disagreeing on amoral principles, uphold free markets, austerity and privatisation, making the left and right divide of the political spectrum a blurred continuum.
Political correctness and social justice
One major component of neoliberalism however is its political correctness ideology, that on the surface may seem like it is heading towards tolerance and understanding of diversity, but in truth, it is just another means of production, another trend to sell, a fad, a brand. Neoliberalism takes that which is profound and turns into the profane, neoliberalism has slickly achieved three things to ensure its robust longevity: “first, it has enabled the mutation of the state into a firm; second, it has given birth to the responsibilised and self-governing citizen; third, it has constantly projected experiences of human precarity and risk as entrepreneurial developmental funding opportunity”. These adaptions are infused with social identities and categories. Alliances built by neoliberal politicians to assist the flow of money up the economic hierarchy are complex, flexible, and shifting, yet the contexts of their concretion are always forged by “the meanings and effects of race, gender, sexuality, and other markers of difference”
Myth of the ‘posts’ in society
Commonplace discourses assume that western societies have largely overcome problems of racism, sexism, and heterosexism, homophobia. Political myths of “posts”, post feminism and fantasies of transcendence are espoused by both liberal and conservative forces
The result is a contradictory political and cultural climate replete with ideals of equality, accompanied by an unbending refusal to see the persistence of deeply entrenched inequalities of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and citizenship-status. Framing social life not as collective, but as the interaction of individual social entrepreneurs, neoliberalism denies preconditions leading to structural inequalities; in consequence, it congratulates itself for dismantling policies and discrediting movements concerned with structures of injustice. Thus neoliberal assumptions create the conditions allowing the founding conceptions of intersectionality—as an analytical lens and political tool for fostering a radical social justice agenda—to become diluted, disciplined, and disarticulated.
Ultimately, we see how neoliberalism has been the illness that has destroyed social services across the UK and Europe through privatisation and has worshipped the free market in a very exploitative way that looks for cheap labour while advocating austerity, consumerism and debt slavery.
How can we destroy it?
As we have examined the ideology behind left and right, we should seek a form of politics that can tame economics, scrap the fiscal policies of austerity and preserve social services like health care and education, schools that are better equipped for tolerance and diversity without the inauthentic shade of marketing tolerance and diversity for the ends of laissez-faire capitalism.
A coherent alternative has to be proposed. the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.
Also see: The new series about capitalism on Disjunctive Media
Humans in society are in a constant state of flux, an on-going ritual of ordering and re-ordering. Roles, purpose and meaning is often based on tradition, norms and customs, when there is a binary, the rituals are straight forward, unchallenged and acceptable.
There are moments, when ambiguity or disorientation begins to emerge, individuals begin to express themselves outside of these norms and customs, this is the threshold known as liminality.
During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.
This space in between object and subject relation is often revolted against, repelled, prohibited, it is the creation of phobia, the power of horror, something that we identify with, yet we are not what it is. This liminal space is occupied by something that is neither subject nor object, it is occupied by the abject and abjection.
The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. The place of the abject is where meaning collapses, the place where I am not. The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self.
When we confront the abject we simultaneously fear and identify with it. The presence of a corpse is abjective, it reminds us of life being intemperate and is repulsive to us. The abject has only one quality of the object and that is being opposed to I.
Abjection is concerned with figures that are in a state of transition or transformation. The abject is located in a liminal state that is on the margins of two positions. We are both drawn to and repelled by the abject; nausea is a biological recognition of it, and fear and adrenalin also acknowledge its presence. Consequently it is a manipulator, and as such subverts boundaries, laws, and conventions.
The abject literally means “the state of being cast off” and “rejected”. It informs our reality through appearances, bodily fluids that we excrete, shit and urine are all parts of me, yet they are not me. We wipe it away, discard and find it repulsive. We define ourselves by what we are not, the abject is relational to the super ego, as it is not an object, objects relate to the ego.
Examples of abjection include the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 80’s, the fear of bodily fluids and imminent threats of death provoked hysteria, disorder, phobia and prohibitions toward those who we pointed the finger at as “impure and improper”. Abjection is devoid of understanding, as it is outside of the symbolic order of language, it is the unnameable, the horror and the taboo.
Abject crime, abject poverty, abject lies – it informs our disgust and it defines our cultural articulations of morality, yet it thrives on being able to be defined while at the same time being feared. Snobbery, bullying, misogyny, misandry and racism thrive off the abject. The informing presence of abjection keeps disorder in its place, that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason — the communal consensus that underpins a social order viewing the subject as something that is derived from filth.
Within the boundaries of what one defines as subject – a part of oneself – and object – something that exists independently of oneself – there resides pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one’s identity that has since been rejected – the abject.
The abject is often coupled (and sometimes confused) with the idea of the uncanny, the concept of something being “un-home-like”, or foreign, yet familiar. The abject can be uncanny in the sense that we can recognize aspects in it, despite its being “foreign”: a corpse, having fallen out of the symbolic order, creates abjection through its uncanniness — creates a cognitive dissonance.
“Abjection” is often used to describe the state of often-marginalized groups, such as women, unwed mothers, homosexuals, trans-genders, people of minority religious faiths, prostitutes, homeless people, convicts, poor and disabled people. The term space of abjection is also used, referring to a space that abjected things or beings inhabit. The abjects is the misplaced inversion of empathy thinking of “the me that is not me”, the rejected I, in order to preserve one’s identity they are cast out.
The abject makes some aware of the power, pleasure and pain of being looked at, as our objective sense of self dominates any subjective sense. Abject art is that which “explores themes that transgress and threaten our sense of cleanliness and propriety particularly referencing the body and bodily functions,” The DaDa movement is perhaps the most grotesque example of artistic abjection, a more commonly known presence of its artistic expression resides in a cartoon show from the 90’s, Ren and Stimpy, bringing to our attention scenes of horrific violence, callousness and disgusting actions of teeth being pulled out, bodily fluids spilling everywhere, farts escaping only to return inside an anus, excessive amounts of body hair, misogyny, among other themes that never made it into the prime time childrens’ show that forced us all to absorb the abject, the aesthetic experience of the abject, such as within art and literature, is a poetic catharsis – an impure process that allows the artist or author to protect themselves from the abject only by immersing themselves within it.
As the abject resides in liminality, it expresses how we ‘come together through murder.’ Blood has powerful abjective associations with horror within rituals, vampires sucking the blood out of their victims in order to bring them into a new state of being, one where the victim then is seeking to bring more vampires into the social order. Blood in rituals is abject because of sacrifice and martyrdom, once the blood is spilled, a new message and state of power emerges from it, we feel repulsed, yet intoxicated, as the threshold we stand before runs with the new blood that provokes social change. Religion plays on this power of horror with martyrs who spill blood for the value of good. Blood in social orientation brings with it an agency that can only be described as a hallucination and total hysteria, the spectacle of the scaffold and the guillotine, the abject is used to distil fear, to bring about disorder through shame, guilt and bad conscience.
Those outside of the object being abjected revolt against its gross meaning, aware of th fear that one day, they too could be the message of prohibition, stripped of their rights as a human being, that they will become the “me that is not me”. Thus, it manipulates empathy.
We come together through murder, we define ourselves by what we are not, we outcast and exile that which reminds us of our failures and insecurities, the abject is the shit that is buried under sand in India, it is what goes on, yet it is hidden away from everyday life, it is domestic violence, secular bullying, xenophobia, tribalism, Islamophobia, anti-semetism and rape. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you, but you can’t let it be you, so you reject it as perverse, obscene and vile, as the filth we wash away with the clean and proper, it’s the reaction of vomit to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or between the self and the other.
I am ambiguous and disjunctive, I wear clothes of what society views as being for the opposite sex and yet I identify myself as male gender, heterosexual and yet I cross dress. If this has you confused, I suggest you forget about it, there is nothing to say really, you have to take me as I come, I am what I am, and things are how they are. If I have to give a reason as to ‘why’; I would object to the inquiry of ‘why’ as it implies a purpose, the truth is I don’t know with certainty and it doesn’t matter ultimately, if anything I have lots of fun and life is interesting for me, which may cover the ‘why question’, I really don’t know. For some people however, apathy just isn’t enough, they have to tell me and others like me how wrong I am, how I ought not, should not be doing what I am doing. This is what this essay is all about.
For Those at Odds with the World and Who Care with Courage