All relations are power relations

“The great mechanism of control in the world is the creation of limits to people’s sense of creativity and possibility” Peter Joseph

Every time that we want to understand the limits of our possibilities, at the bottom we tend to find power. For a long time, power was something spectacular and marvelous, like Rome marching with its legions over the Judes or Hitler ordering a general the suicide. Power was something as simple as Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered), a great and immense display of force between a triumphant superior and a humiliated inferior.

Nevertheless, with the hypertrophy of the state and the increasing destructive capacity of wars, it was clear that power could not be satiated with the repression of rebelions on the battle field but that it should also fight his battles in the minds and hearts of the people. This is how sovereign power would be complemented little by little by a more subtle, alive and dynamic one: biopower.

Hence, biopower functions under the formula information + force = control. That is why it first patrols the subbordinated and studies his behavior, through which it access to key information for the second step, punishment. In this process, the idea that a certain state of affairs or way of life is normal and desirable is conveyed, with the finality of exercerting a control in which the punished ends up being grateful for the punishment.

In this way, the victims becomes an agent of the offender, like the child who applies a behavioural manual to his friends and to himself. Rapidly, biopower turns into a framework of judgements, treats, patterns and limitations, a real monster that overlaps into our thoughts, that inhabits our body, daily relations and mundane conversations.

The institution that gathered in the most clear way the mechanisms of the new power was the jail. This would become the empire of disciplinary power, a modality of biopower that makes use of the regulation of every aspect of life through schedules, permitted conduits, specialized spaces and clothes, all at the rhythm of the clock. Bentham’s panopticon, an ideal jail model in which the space could be optimized so that one central tower could observe and therefore control all the prisioners, would asure the perfect discipline. In this manner, jail would become not only the place in which deviations to the norm would be punished but where delinquency would be studied as a pathological condition, an abnormal state, all under the constant gaze of the central tower.

After all this, we can say that power is inherent to any relationship: whenever there are two poles there must be repulsion or attraction between them, but never neutrality. At the same time, freedom and power are a dancing couple that go on determining the limits of our possibilities, where freedom takes an step and power creates its shadow.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Michel Foucault and Herbert Marcuse


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