Capitalism or Socialism? Same Thing.

Dec 26, 2011 by

Michel Foucault was a French historian of the twentieth century.  In his article, “The Subject and Power,” Foucault discusses power and how it relates to the study of history.  He starts off with saying that power should be studied by analyzing resistance to power.[1]  Foucault’s point about analyzing resistance is that the resistance is not directed at the power institution itself, but at its technique, the form of the power.  He says “It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects.”  “The exercise of power consists in guiding the possibility of conduct and putting in order the possible outcome.”  The people who worry about whether we are capitalist or socialist are looking at the technique instead of the institution itself.  In the end, the technique is not nearly as important and is just a distraction from the fact that we as individuals have no control and are in fact controlled by society.

Foucault says that society tries to control people through three methods:  language, economics, and what he calls bio control.  Language attributes words to concepts that it finds important.  Other concepts may not be given words.  In a way it is similar to George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which Big Brother tries to limit vocabulary so that the peoples’ thought is limited, because it is nearly impossible to think of a concept that has no name.  Society defines us through its chosen vocabulary, and that is why sexuality has become such a defining factor for people recently.  The terms “1%” and “99%” are also terms used to define us and separate us.  Foucault would say we need to go beyond the labels of rich and poor and look at ourselves more deeply.

Power is exercised through economics by exploiting the workers, separating the individuals from what they produce.  Karl Marx discusses this type of exploitation in The Communist Manifesto, but Foucault focuses on the power itself while Marx focuses on the institution, or the class.  This is where the terms ‘socialist’ and ‘capitalist’ should become irrelevant, because no matter what technique of power we use, the worker will still be exploited.

Bio control is the most subversive form of exercising power.  Foucault states: “This form of power… implies a knowledge of the conscience and an ability to direct it.”  Society uses this knowledge and molds your conscience to believe what it wants you to believe.  Basically it is peer pressure.  When your friends pressure you to do drugs that is peer pressure.  When friends pressure you to get married, have 1.5 kids, and live in a suburban house, that is also peer pressure, although we don’t normally think of it that way.

Power establishes a binary between the one who exercises power and the one upon whom power is exercised.  The one who exercises power establishes superiority by defining what is good or correct, and consequently defines the person he controls.  It is similar to Sartre’s play No Exit, which is about three people who are in hell.  All of the characters in this one-act try to define or be defined by the other characters.  In the end though, none of them are free because they are stuck in their imposed binary of power.  None of the characters break away and learn to define themselves, and they become dependent on each other.

Going beyond the margins means questioning why there are boundaries and lines and certain ways of viewing events.  It means really questioning the distortions in our views that society has placed upon us.  But in order to question those distortions, we have to first become aware of them.

[1] Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer, 1982).

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  1. Gerber

    Here is the problem with this article. You have failed to outline EXACTLY how Capitalism is oppressive. The way I see it, you can be meaning two things. Either A) You are referring to the current system, which would be very naive of you to call it a capitalism, since the masses are very ignorant of the market and the government is very involved (which seemingly is the exact opposite of a capitalism). Or, B) You are meaning that society influences us because the economy plays towards the likes of a society as a whole. Well, the problem with criticizing this is you are implying that there is a way for economics to work without playing to the majority. To do that would either be a very low-level economy, in which only the most basic of trading is done and most things that you use you create yourself, or or a non-existent economy. I mean, what is this alternative system you are proposing? To say that peer-pressure is the same as oppression is outrageous. Even John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for “originality” through “freedom and variety of Situations” advocated for SOME peer-pressure by stating. “The actions of an individual may be hurtful to others or wanting in due consideration for their (society’s) welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law.” (On Liberty, J. S. Mill) Peer-pressure may be used to influence people’s actions for the greater good, there is a difference between being influenced and being controlled. One of those is voluntary.

  2. N/Either Or

    Capitalism is as expansive in its control as communism. Capitalism, like communism controls and reifies the market place onto: language; economics; and our physical person (bio control). In both capitalism and communism the individual becomes the subject, a cog in the system of production. The difference is that in capitalism the only concern is the efficiency of the market, and so the system has a stake in optimizing the individuals efficiency. Communism, equally treats the individual as subject, but, as was pointed out in the article on the Big G:

    “China’s censorship is another example of modeling your information sources on your own peculiar desires. The difference is that China bases their censorship on their political/economic agenda, and America via its search, engines bases its censorship on our personal desires for consumption. Zhang Jingwei, defended China’s censorship policy in a People’s Daily article arguing that “It is a lie to claim that the Internet is an absolutely free space without regulations. The truth is that it is the extension of the real world. Therefore, implementing monitoring according to a country’s national context is what any government has to do” (Jingwei).

    The needs and desires of the Chinese people Jingwei argues are different from the needs and desires of Americans. “The Chinese society has generally less information bearing capacity than developed countries such as the U.S., which is an objective reality that no one can deny. Chinas intellectuals living in China should show understanding to the motherland’s weakness” (Jingwei). But this eschews the idea that there is a common intellectual realm shared by all humans by virtue of being human, regardless of culture. It suggests that the U.S. is right in perfecting its capitalist hegemony over itself, and that China is equally correct in following it’s own peculiar ideology.”

    In the end both capitalism and communism betray the purported freedom that they create, if only because both systems must of necessity be intolerant of the other system. The truth is that your language and your very desires are created by the system you live in because that system creates your belief system. Of course one will prefer communism, if one’s desires and core concepts are shaped by communism. We have to get to the point where we ask ourselves, “what are the ideological origins of my desires? How do my beliefs mold what I want? And ultimately how can I escape the duality of these two totalitarian systems to mold my own desires according to my own human nature?” The inability to see the sense in which this is a false dichotomy only further proves the point.

  3. Gerber

    Your claims are based on the United States and Chinese markets as examples of Capitalism and Communism respectively. The problem is, are you really in belief that China is a Communism, a true one I should say, or that America has seen a true Capitalism in the last 100 years? In a true Capitalism, the market adjusts to the desires of the consumers. The idea is that in its true form, the individual rules. In a capitalism, you vote with your dollar, and things change accordingly (keeping in mind we do not have a capitalist system at the moment). Now, as for our desires being created by the system, first of all, I find it funny that you think: “The inability to see the sense in which this is a false dichotomy only further proves the point.” actually proves anything. It is akin to saying: “The free-masons control every aspect of the world today in secret, the fact that you don’t know only proves the point.” No, it proves that IF it is true, THEN they are accomplishing. It does not prove THAT it is true. Furthermore, to state that capitalism and communism betray their freedoms by being intolerant of each other seems off. These are two systems, not two goals but the same goal. Thus, to state that you not being able to take both paths, or that once you are on a path, it discourages you from leaving, seems wrong. Of course there is discouragement, that is the GOAL of society. To limit the rashness of man. Now, does Capitalism NECESSARILY limit your choice and prevent you from communism, NO! The reverse is true as well. The only times it is not true is when governments step in, which both acknowledge as not being a part of their system. Now, as far as the curving of desires goes, someone being ignorant of influences is not the fault of the system, but the person. The system is doing its job, the person needs to step back on his own, not have the system let up. And, please, do not call this a capitalism, it is more akin to a corporate mercantilism, where corporations control the economy, trying to gain as much wealth as possible. That is not a capitalism.

  4. N/Either Or

    I am not quite certain what your goal is here? Are you defending capitalism? Are you asserting that both capitalism and communism are not power structures that have in their respective spheres a nearly omnipotent hold over their economies, their language they use to describe the world, or the individual person?

    Regarding your masonic parallel, I think you are misreading my claim.

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