A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
CHAPTER 2: Foucault's Concept of Bio-Power
2: Bio-power and dispositifs sexuels in consumerist America
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Copyright © 2001, 2004, 2007 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.

E. Bio-Power in Contemporary American Society

So, we are going beyond Foucault. We are now going toward bio-power, not in the age of the genocidal World Wars, but in today's Global Consumer Economy. This new phase of bio-power is typified, not in Europe any more, but in the U.S.

The up-surge of bio-power or bio-politics has not come to an end, but seems to be entering its second phase in the growing American consumer society of today. Many phenomena of contemporary American society recall indeed Foucault's analysis of bio-politics and discipline in the first volume of History of Sexuality and Surveillance and Punish. The phenomenon of "tyranny of the masses" which characterizes the climate of daily life in American society seems exactly to be a repetitive extension of the rise of middle class and its bio-politics in general and its sexual dispositives in particular in nineteenth century Western Europe. Something like the second rising of the middle-class? Once again, the (new) middle-class is becoming the predominant power that determines the course of American society and nation; once again, by means of bio-power and sexual politics (in the sense of technology -- this is not Kate Millet's limited kind) it is attempting to demarcate itself against the Other and to maintain its hegemony in societal, cultural, and political affairs. During this second phase of bio-politics the four dispositives identified earlier have changed shape when transiting to the mature phase of capitalism (consumerism).

(1) La sexualisation de l'enfant (concern over children becoming unproductive and unreproductive adult through his or her own intrinsic sexuality) changes into a fear over child-abuse and child-molestation (with the same effect: a traumatized adult, unproductive and unreproductive). Hence American middle-class has exalted into an absolutely inviolable sacred the "children" and any issues connected with raising them (education, child health care, safety from crime…). Since sexual dispositives perform their regulative and maximizational function through thematizing and exaggerating aberrations (fear-mongering), this time the dangerous effects of the intrinsic sexuality of the children shift into the dangerous effects of the external child-sex offender, against whom the middle-class demarcates itself through absolute rejection (e.g. the Megan Law). A child-sex offender is expelled from any community, and is told that "he should live with his own kind in an island" (from an interview in Nightline). Or more realistically the middle-class community demands that he be locked up for life and kept there under eternal surveillance. Children are of course God, since their healthy, productive body is the key to the class' future domination. Hence parental rights also increase in prestige, as expected. But then parental abuse has suddenly "reached epidemic". So has child pornography. And recently there comes the new widespread fear over sex predators luring children on the internet or over children becoming traumatized when they inadvertently encounter sexual contents on the internet. Just as in the earlier centuries fear-mongering about children's masturbation did little to eliminate it, so now all these fear-mongerings about epidemic child-abuse, child pornography, and sex-related dangers for children surfing the internet have not aimed to eliminate these dangers. In the case of child pornography and internet sex-predations there are really not much to protect children from: as Barry Glassner has pointed out in The Culture of Fear (Introduction: Kiddie Porn and Cyberpredators) there have been in America so few cases of pornographic exploitation of children and virtually no cases of cyberpredators on children that all the fear-mongerings have simply resulted in mis-accusing innocent peoples and ruining them (e.g. the case of Raymond and Peggy Buckey McMartin in the 1980s; although the FBI, with agents posing as children looking for sex on the internet, and many citizen groups doing the same, have caught several potential cyberpredators). Overzealous crackdown on child abuses and the resultant encouragement ("inducement") and quick acceptance of children's "testimony" thus obtained (like the "confessions" extracted from women during the Salem witchhunts) have also ruined many parents and school teachers actually innocent of these abuses. Glassner comments regarding the L.A. Time fear-mongering report on a false cyberspace "abduction" ("Such are the frightening new frontiers of cyperspace, a place where the child thought safely tucked away in his or her own room may be in greater danger than anyone could imagine", referring to the case of the 15 year old Daniel, who went meeting someone -- only slightly older -- he met over the internet, and returned unharmed) that it was in fact in poor families without access to internet that children were overwhelmingly more likely to be abused. The number one cause of death for children is actually accidents on the playground, and dangers from sex-predators are so slime and abuse by parents and teachers very few; but just as in the case of earlier "infantile sexuality" bio-power did not produce the dispositive "children-sex-danger" to protect children, but to regulate their maturation.

(2) L'hystérisation des femmes (concern over un-reproductive mother unable to raise healthy, productive children for society) changes into "violences against women" (with the same effect: the traumatized mother or her reproductive tasks interrupted). Again, the dangers taken to inhere in the sexuality intrinsic to women transit into dangers effected by external offenders (rapists, battery husbands, etc.). Hence also the rise of a new medicine of women, unlike the earlier gynecology, respecting them and whose knowledge is generated from women themselves taken as the norm rather than by transferring the knowledge of men's body taken as the norm onto women's body taken as the "difference".

The peculiar change in the evolution of these two dispositives is thus the shift in the "explanation" for the cause of aberration from causes internal to children and women (infantile sexuality and uterus) to those external to them (abusive parents and rapists or battering husbands). Although the reason for this shift can be said to lie in the scientific invalidation of such pseudo-scientific constructs as infantile sexuality and hysteria (even psychoanalysis had already dispensed with the "nervous effects" of having a "uterus"), the main reason probably has to be sought in the changing social requirement for children, men, and women. For example, the new "double role" of women in consumer society (below) has required a new discipline of men in the public sphere when they are next to women and in interpersonal relationships with women, and this new discipline seems to be effected through a "demonization of men", so to speak. This is also tied up with the subjective desires of the (cultural) feminists to acquire more power for (white) women in the American society ("feminist fear-mongering"; later). The complete externalization of women's and children's demons has resulted in the hunt for these imaginary child-abusing parents and molesters and in the false accusations of many men as rapists, etc. Almost as harmful as Freud's denial of the reality of his female patients' traumatization had been for these women, as said earlier. The complete reversal of the situation illustrates the profundity of the influence of ideology on people's perception of cause-and-effect in personal life -- and the social function of the feminists.

(3) Socialisation des conduites procréatices changes to debate over pornography, etc. It thus appears that the contemporary American middle-class may seem like a new generation of Victorians, with their progressive weeding-out of sex-entertainment in the city (e.g. the banishment of strip clubs in New York) and sex-toys in the market (e.g. Alabama's ban on vibrators), and with their non-graphic sanctification of spousal sex restricted to the master bedroom of nuclear family, and an ironic bloom of pornography consumed increasingly by the ordinary couples (married or not). But this is not to be mistaken as fearful and oppressive asceticism, just as Foucault denies the Victorians to be such. It is the new sexual ethic of the middle-class (like the nineteenth century sexual dispositives) that regulates sexual behavior in hope of maximizing (not diminishing) its effect, by promoting productive sexual acts and weeding out wasteful sex acts that do not contribute to, or even squander away, class power. There is no question of oppression or rejection of sexuality here; the sanctification of child-care and exaltation of spousal sex to the exclusion of other wasteful forms of sex only reflect a concern for a disciplined "good life" -- pleasurable and "reproductive" life -- and the preparation of the next generation that will maintain class hegemony. The success of this sexual ethic is for example borne out by a recent study by an American condom-making company (Durex) showing that although Eastern Europeans on average have the most amount of sex on Earth (Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Russians all reporting having sex more than 150 times a year), they are unhappy with their sex-life -- and the crisis all Eastern European nations are experiencing of the rapidly shrinking population stifling economic growth attests to the importance of an ideological regulative ethic over arbitrary orgy -- whereas the trailing Americans (who, with their 118 times a year, are below the world-wide average of 127 times) are generally happy with their sex-life and are reproducing at the replacement rate. (Jennifer Warner at WebMD Health, Sept. 24 2004.) It is only interesting that the regulation of sexual activity is enmeshed with the new "eugenic" sentiment, with the deification of children, since the banishment of sex-entertainment is often achieved in the name of "protection of children." (E.g. "No adult entertainment within 500 feet of school…" Why? For fear that children be contaminated and their sexuality forever skewed -- resulting in criminal perversion? That would make it seem that Foucault's claim that in the nineteenth century, sex was the defining point of humanity or personhood for the middle-class [if sexuality is kept in health since childhood, then the person will grow up balanced; hence the concern for child masturbation] which would correspond to the blood of the noble in medieval time, would still be valid in contemporary American society.) This fact also indicates that the deification of children and the sacred mission of protecting and raising them is in fact a sort of disciplinary procedure and demographic praxis, a sort of correction, a sort of training, something like a preparation of an efficient production and consumption machine for the future.

(4) Psychiatrisation du plaisir pervers changes to the neurologically based, pharmaceutical psychiatry of "mental illness" in general which in particular applies this neurologico-pharmaceutical techniques on the "sex offenders" (medication, therapy, and chemical castration); and also to the new justice system which registers and monitors them. There has also arisen a fascination with and specialized psychology of serial killers. Pedophiles, necrophiles, serial killers, and even abusive parents are the new "perverts" replacing the old mixoscopophiles, presbyophiles, sexoesthetic inverts, etc. Again this leads full circle, in terms of both cause and effect, back to all three previous concerns over sexual damages of women and children and debate over pornography and "proper sex": serial killers are frequently said to be the products of (especially sexual) abuses by parents or precocious exposure to improper sex (first and third); they then cause "violence against women" and (in the case of sex-offenders) sexual crimes against children (first and second). Abusive parents are also said to be "caused" by their own abuse suffered during childhood (circular chain of cause and effect with the first).1

Note that the proponents of the two new dispositives -- violence against women and women's health, and the control and yet spread of pornography and the new concern and ethic over proper sexual conducts -- are increasingly feminists and have become "women's issues". This indicates the particular role the (especially cultural) feminists play in a consumer society in the regulation and moulding of population into "productive resources" -- especially women. This is the effect of the larger, changing trend of consumerism in which women are required to take up both the roles of producers and reproducers, the trend whose particular proponents are the feminists. This general function of feminism in the new global, consumerist society will become the focus of the study later.

We also want to locate the sexual dispositives of bio-power in the overall context of the evolution of the human consciousness. Our genealogy of primitive religiousness (Preliminaries on Mythico-Animistic Consciousness", "The Origin of the Sacred and Totemism", The Logic of Sacrifice") confirms Foucault's statement that the Renaissance marks the transition in human preoccupation from food to sex, in that the primary objective of primitive religions is to ensure the arrival of food into the mouth, and that the overriding theme of primitive thinking in myths and daily consciousness is "the body being regenerated by food so as to keep living (to keep the order that life is from entropic disintegration)." Concomitantly, they spend their time fearing being eaten by gods and monsters: if unfed with sacrificial food, the originally good god would, getting hungry, turn into men-eating evil god. A secondary feature of "the unfed god descending among humans to lay claim to his nourishment" is "his sending of plague and illness to destroy them." The primitive mentality reflects the precariousness of their existence at the time: their being always at the mercy of famine, natural calamities that cause famine, and disease. Evidently after the 1500s when the European nation-states have solved the food-production problem with modern agricultural technology and risen to explicitly generate power for themselves in their mutual competition with one another (c.f. "The Remote Origin of Bio-Power", next), human preoccupation naturally shifts from food to the next important thing, that which perpetuates the human resource that lies at the foundation of the power of the state: i.e. sex. We have already seen that during the formative period of capitalism "psychoanalysis" appears as the first new secular religion centered, no longer around food, but around sex. In a full-blown consumer society where the devastation of famine has so thoroughly been replaced by the soft killer of obesity, and the preoccupation with food by the obsession with sex, people are concomitantly spending time fearing sex-predators. The ancient Anglo-Saxon fear of men-eating entas (giants) and thyrs (giant and demon, such as the monster Grendel Beowulf fought against), with the associated aelf (elf: hostile creatures bringing disease) and dweorg (dwarf: another unfriendly creature), all these lurking in the forest, has metamorphosized into the modern American fear for rapists, serial killers, and monstrous pedophiles roaming the street and even on the internet. If those former are the objects in primitive religion, these latter are the same in the contemporary secular religion of consumerism. The difference is that whereas the ancients "project" their fear onto "invisible", spiritual beings (not a correct description, but it suffices for now) outside them -- in the atmosphere and nature -- the moderns "project" their fear onto "real" people among themselves (now this is a correct description), quite often with saddening effects for those so wrongly stigmatized. In part this results from the modern day demand for empiricism: everything has to be visible, tangible, and controllable in the here and now, otherwise it cannot exist. Again the (cultural) feminists, with their male-demonizing ideological fearing-mongering, play an important role in producing this modern version of religious myth that serves to reinforce consumerism (c.f. "Feminist Fear-Mongering", in "An Archaeology of the American Feminist Intraworldly Messianism").

What about the regulation of the population and the discipline of the individual's body that formerly were joined to the sexual dispositives? The old era of eugenics, centered on the technology of breeding out a superior population ("race"), seems to be gone, never returning. America has gone through that "first phase" in the nativism of the 1920s concurrent with the same practices of population-regulation in Europe. This has been replaced by the debate over abortion and family planning which in fact started in the early 20th century especially among the women activists. On the side of the discipline of the body: The sort of orderly, pleasurable "good life" that the middle-class seeks after is simply efficient production and consumption. Discipline (of the child, and of the parents) leads to good life, which means efficient consumption and production. Hence, discipline too is a pervasive phenomenon among the middle-class of contemporary America. Whereas in the nineteenth century discipline took the form of shaping body's movement into machine-like processes with detailed division and economy of movements, aiming to maximize the docile utility and productivity of the body -- and this chiefly imposed upon the lower class by the middle-class, at least in the beginning -- in today's American middle-class world discipline is formulated as "health ethics". First, the banishment of all intakes detrimental to health -- i.e. which impedes the total production/ consumption capacity of the body. Hence the banishment of the tobacco industry to oversea. Then the imperative of health dictates the popularity of exercise. (Note the proliferation of health industries [clubs and magazines]. They are about health ultimately, not simply aesthetics.) Just as the intake of detrimental substance is progressively regarded as "immoral" (e.g. the banishment of smokers), a person with strictly and rationally determined schedule of exercise (e.g. daily running in the early morning) possesses an aura of integrity and moral superiority in relation to the "undisciplined" drug-user and heavy smoker. This is not a "free country" in the sense in which people are foolishly proud of it: the fact remains that insofar as we do not have total control over our own body, over what goes into it, our body does not belong to us ourselves; the (middle-class ruled) society decides with what we should nourish our body, and passes moral judgment upon our manner of maintenance of our own body, because it has a stake in our body: insofar as we produce and consume -- processes upon which the middle-class depends for its hegemony in this market society of theirs: their power depends on our need to consume their products -- the middle-class has the need to take over our body and its bodily processes; and insofar as we are part of the "national resource" upon which the power of our nation-state vis-à-vis other nation-states depends -- and the middle-class is the owner and ruler of this nation-state -- this nation is under imperative to take over our body. Hence the government's "war on drugs"; hence its propagandist exaggeration of the harmful effects of ecstasy, as recently exposed. Our body, truly, belongs to the society and our beloved nation-state, and we should be flattered that we, ourselves, or rather our bodies constitute a most essential resource on the foundation of which the nation may survive and prosper. This is why we are even born! At least for those whose birth is "planned", by rational parents or under the advices of family planning agencies.

The evolution of the structure of bio-power (dispositifs sexuels in the middle)

(The current debate on the legality of assisted suicide marks the high point of the "debate" as to whether or rather how much of our body belongs to ourselves and how much to society. To be sure, suicide is not illegal in most states, but laws usually require intervention by government officials -- evidently because society forbids our wilful destruction of "national resource" -- however much the prohibition is formulated in the language of humanitarian sympathy.)

Humanitarian practices are always accurate indexes of bio-power operating behind the scene, rather than of some mysterious "emergent enlightenment". (If there is any enlightenment or rationality, then it is in regard to becoming practical, to concentrating on how to increase power, leaving to the dustbin abstract imaginations and ideals, God, and Justice that clouded the head and wasted energy of pre-enlightened predecessors.) Foucault's earlier statements continues thusly:

J’aurais pu prendre, à un autre niveau, l’exemple de la peine de mort. Elle a été longtemps avec la guerre l’autre forme du droit de glaive; elle constituait la réponse du souverain à qui attaquait sa volonté, sa loi, sa personne. Ceux qui meurent sur l’échafaud sont devenus de plus en plus rares, à l’inverse de ceux qui meurent dans les guerres. Mais c’est pour les même raisons que ceux-ci sont devenus plus nombreux et ceux-là plus rares. Dès lors que le pouvoir s’est donné pour fonction de gérer la vie, ce n’est pas la naissance de sentiments humanitaires, c’est la raison d’être du pouvoir et la logique de son exercice qui ont rendu de plus en plus difficile l’application de la peine de mort. Comment un pouvoir peut-il exercer dans la mise à mort ses plus hautes prérogatives, si son rôle majeur est d’assurer, de soutenir, de renforcer, de multiplier la vie et de la mettre en ordre? Pour un tel pouvoir l’exécution capitale est à la fois la limite, le scandale et la contradiction. De là le fait qu’on n’a pu la maintenir qu’en invoquant moins l’énormité du crime lui-même que la monstruosité du criminel, son incorrigibilité, et la sauvegarde de la société. On tue légitimement ceux qui sont pour les autres une sorte de danger biologique.

On pourrait dire qu’au vieux droit de faire mourir ou de laisser vivre s’est substitué un pouvoir de faire vivre ou de rejeter dans la mort. C’est peut-être ainsi que s’explique cette disqualification de la mort que marque la désuétude récente des rituels qui l’accompagnaient. (ibid., p. 181)

The shift of focus of explanation in criminology from the crime itself to the constitution of the criminal, which occurred in the nineteenth century, is documented, for instance, in Steven J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Men. This development was originally linked with the eugenic movement; all this, next.

In American society where state’s –- or rather society’s (since this is a democracy and federal system) –- administrative control of citizen’s life processes has reached its historical apex, we can only expect the current exceeding intolerance of any form of unnatural death, even deaths of soldiers in war. Putting citizens’ life (which it administers) in danger is the absolute contradiction of the bio-power mechanism that runs this society. Execution of murderous criminals is nonetheless necessary insofar as they, as Foucault says, constitute “biological danger” to society. That is, both life (of the good citizen) and death (of criminals) are justified in name of “sanctity of life”.

But what is also to be explored is the phenomenon of "ideology run-away". A power that maximizes life-processes for its use under the disguise of humanitarian sentiment will run into the problem of the fossilization and literal application of the ideology which it has invented and uses for such maximization ("fundamentalism"). The phenomenon is implicit in some of the debilitating debates over death-penalty. But to take a more explicit example, a comatose person on life-support machine: from the point of view of power, this person is no longer usable, no longer productive and wastefully consumptive. But the literal application of "the sanctity of life" (actually, life-processes) means that the metabolism of this otherwise dead person is still sacred: nutrient still goes in and "shit" still comes out! Hence the "dilemma" of whether to let this person die, and the setting in of an "inertia" within the operation of power. The "liberals", proponents of the advancement (or metamorphosis) of power (the "progressives"), and "rational" in this respect, want to let him or her die, to save resources for better uses. The "conservatives", becoming the inertia of the power-system, hold onto the literal meaning of the "sanctity of life" ("nutrient still goes in and shit comes out: sacred!") and wouldn't so let. Power is stuck: this contradictory tendency of power (generating its own inertia, and elsewhere, even its own resistance) to be explored elsewhere. (A truly intelligent person, aware of the operation of power, would probably dismiss the "sanctity of human life" altogether as harmful to life in general and pull the plug.)

But must Foucault claim: “Pour la première fois sans doute dans l’histoire, le biologique se réfléchit dans le politique”? (p.187; “for the first time undoubtedly in history, the biological is reflected in politics.” Emphasis mine.) The very “thermodynamic interpretation of history” is based on the premise that the form and evolution of human organization (“society”) has essentially been a reflection of the form and evolution of the human group’s “metabolism”, namely its regulation of its members’ life-processes through organization of labor and consumption and the adjustment of this organization to the level of technology, the whole of which is reducible finally to the manner and efficiency of the human group’s dissipation of energy. That is to say, a thermodynamic view of history should show that politics has always been bio-politics aimed at the expansion of life-processes through organization of the structure of human association (at least in the material aspect of history’s meaning). What makes the Modern, European bio-power unique is the scale, degree and extent of the explicitly calculated bio-politics, not the very existence of bio-politics. Degree and not kind. This essay will show that the distinguishing feature of Homo sapiens sapiens as a biological species relative to other species of “nature” is their activation upon themselves of a bio-politics (bio-power).

F. Characteristics of Modern Life, i.e. Under Bio-Power

Increasing importance of “norm”, of normalization: the appearance of “la société normalisatrice”; one witnesses “l’importance croissante prise par le jeu de la norme aux dépens du système juridique de la loi…” (p.189; “the increasing importance of the play of norm at the expense of the juridicial system of law.”); or “que la loi fonctionne toujours davantage comme une norme, et que l’institution judiciaire s’intègre de plus en plus à un continuum d’appareils (médicaux, administratifs, etc) dont les fonctions sont surtout régulatrices.” (p.190; “that the law functions ever more like a norm, and that the judicial system is more and more integrated with a continuum of mechanisms [medical, administrative, etc] whose functions are especially regulative.”) The norm or the normalization of population functioned to “produce” more “energetic”, more forceful but yet more docile individuals from whom the state could extract more energy and power to contribute to its competition (“struggle”) with other states in the interaction sphere. Consequently from 1500s onward, each European state became more and more invested in institutions whose raison d’être is to regulate and normalize: psychiatry, mental and medical hospitals, prisons, police (that ever-present thing after the French Revolution), schools (“universalized, compulsory education” read “inescapable normalization extending to every corner of the state’s territory and starting with the most vulnerable period of a person’s life, childhood”), factories, eugenics and the beginnings of “family-planning”. Foucault attempts here to make a contrast between the traditional, prohibitive (through violent death-threats) law of the king and the post-(French) revolutionary, new judicial system that functions rather positively to constantly regulate rather than negatively to, from time to time, express prohibition through exhibition of violent mortal punishment. But consistent with our thermodynamic view of history, we may put the matter thusly: each new stage of history signifies that the human association has advanced onto a larger and more integrated “supraorganism” with metabolism of larger scale and better efficiency. In the older, kingship system the regulation of this supraorganism’s metabolism was performed by a system of laws of an essentially negative nature; in accordance with the lower metabolic rate of the kingship “supraorganism” the regulative law correlative to it, with its prohibitive mechanisms, regulated to a much lesser extent and with far lower efficiency. But, in France, for example, as the human collective’s metabolic rate increased the “revolutionaries” arose to institute a new system of laws that positively made the population conform (normalization) through its association with the “continuum of regulative mechanisms,” a new system of laws, that is, that was able to manage and extract the most power from the increased metabolic rate of the “new” supraorganism. New law in correlation with the new era of bio-power, of bio-politic.

Bio-power, or the new “cultural sensibility” that it created, permeated the entire culture, leaving no corners for “extra-thoughts.” Thus, "resistance against power" (since the nineteenth century) was essentially based on the same objective that served as the aim of bio-power: namely the life-processes. “C’est la vie beaucoup plus que le droit qui est devenue alors l’enjeu des luttes politiques, même si celles-ci se formulent à travers des affirmations de droit. Le ‘droit’ à la vie, au corps, à la santé, au bonheur, à la satisfaction des besoins…” (p. 191; “It is Life rather than rights that has become ever-since what is at stake in the political fights, even if these are formulated through affirmations of rights. The ‘right’ to life, to body, to health, to happiness, to the fulfillment of needs…”) With the emergence of bio-power there was the erosion of individual rights, though this erosion was masked by so much talk of “rights,” “liberty,” and so on. Resistance movements against political and social institutions since the opening of the era of bio-power have always been shaped by the concerns of bio-power (augmentation of consumption), in effect constituting no resistance at all against the true motivating force (bio-power) behind the institutions against which they rise up but only reinforcing it: especially when they “succeed” in turning over the institutions, they do none other than establish an even more efficient bio-power agency to continue the work (c.f. especially the communist movements). We may perhaps say that these “resistances” (such as socialism against capitalism) are in reality simply attempted reformation of bio-power, aiming at its further growth and not its demolition.

G. Final Comment: the Contrast Between the Old and the New

Foucault sees the juncture of the classic age as “le passage de la société d’une symbolique du sang à une analytique de la sexualité” (“the transition of society from the symbolism of blood to the analytic of sexuality”). The "essence" of human being has passed from blood to sexuality in this juncture. Within our framework of the evolution of “supraorganism” called society, the symbolism of blood corresponds to our aristocratic type of supraorganismic metabolism, and the analytic of sexuality to the mass-consumer type of supraorganismic metabolism.

a.) The aristocratic type: Foucault’s characterization of the this type, or the symbolism of blood: “pour une société où sont prépondérants les systèmes d’alliance, la forme politique du souverain, la différenciation en ordres et en castes, la valeur des lignages… où la famine, les épidémies, les violences rendent la mort imminente, le sang constitue une des valeurs essentielles; son prix tient à la fois à son rôle instrumental (pouvoir verser le sang), à son fonctionnement dans l’ordre des signes (avoir un certain sang, être du même sang, accepter de risquer son sang), à sa précarité aussi (facile à répandre, sujet à se tarir, trop prompt à se mêler, vite susceptible de se corrompre). Société de sang -- …de ‘sanguinité’: honneur de la guerre et peur des famines, triomphe de la mort, souverain au glaive, bourreaux et supplices, le pouvoir parle à travers le sang [power as negative interdiction through the threat of blood-shedding; organization of power through the identity of blood: one obtains political authority through belonging to the royal clan, being of the royal blood]; celui-ci est réalité à fonction symbolique.” (p. 194) Negative power is organized around the having or losing of blood.

b.) Modernity, or the mass-consumer type: here sex becomes the object of control, the means of power, because of its essential role in the (re-)organization of the population, through mass discipline and demographic regulation, for the sake of the maximization of the species (coincident with the competitive power of the state). Positive power operates through sex, its control and regulation.

As always in evolution, the primitive form persists in the presence of the innovated form. Blood symbolism, and the concomitant means of power-expression correlative with it, persist into the era of sexuality and bio-power, showing no sign of extinction. But blood gets aufgehoben, sublimated, integrated into a new system wherein it performs a new role. Here Foucault pins down the origin of racism and psychoanalysis: Racism (of the first and only totalitarian racial state, Nazi Germany) was born from the attempt to use the former sign-character of blood to revivify bio-power, to achieve total control of life and thereby the maximization of the species (or “race”) and state, now identical, through a combination of blood-signification with disciplinary power. In reaction against racism, on the other hand, psychoanalysis interprets sexuality in terms of “law”, i.e. negative, prohibitive power.

Bio-Power in Classical China

If the remote origin of bio-power as Foucault has analyzed it lies in the European Interaction Sphere, then it is not surprising that techniques and ideologies very much in the nature of bio-power -- specifically, population-administration and humanitarian thinking -- should have appeared in classical China as well during the time of Warring Kingdoms, i.e. at a time when the Chinese Interaction Sphere had reached the level of saturation. The formation of the Chinese Interaction Sphere will be analyzed on the occasion of the discussion of the emergence of classical patriarchy in the Eastern Ecumene and the extraordinary parallel between the Chinese and the European Interaction Sphere will be noted in the Epilogue. The following brief remark on the development of bio-power in classical China is a conjoint of that later account of classical patriarchy in China.

The high shamanism that laid the foundation of the Chinese civilization since the Lung-Shang period of warring tribal confederacies (3,000 - 2,000 B.C.) reached its zenith in the Shang period in the second millennium B.C. It is on the occasion of the burial of Shang royalties that human beings were sacrificed in the largest number in Chinese history as a way to send servants to the realm of the dead to serve these royalties. Consider the case of Fuhao: this second-ranking member of the Shang royal family was already accompanied at her burial by sixteen human sacrificial victims. This widespread practice of unusual cruelty -- a duke at the time of Western Zhou might receive at his burial two or three sacrificial victims, usually those young males and females that had attended him in his life -- had however all but stopped by the time of Eastern Zhou, at the dawn of the philosophic awakening in the persons of Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and many others. Power -- in the primary sense: the pressure on individual persons of supraorganismic formation and metabolism, as we shall learn more of later -- has bent this consciousness newly differentiated for the spiritual meaning of life and history into the service for the material meaning of history as well, and a humanitarian sentiment arose, took hold of the royal classes among all states within the Chinese Interaction Sphere, and caused notice suddenly of this barbaric cruelty involved in human sacrifices. The consequent official effort to ban such practice in the name of eradication of barbarism was, of course, motivated in reality rather by the desire to avoid waste of human resources. (The "cunning of Reason" was at work here.) Under pressure of their mutual competition the warring kingdoms had all begun at this time to take careful census of their population and to organize them into administrative units in order to increase their contribution to the state's power -- either as soldiers or as energy-suppliers in the form of "tax-payers" -- and the avoidance of waste of human resources in fact formed part of this program.

The humanitarian sentiment and the rationalism that supported it is succinctly illustrated in a narrative, found in Sima-Chien's Grand Historical Records, Ch. 66:



西门豹即发民凿十二渠,引河水灌民田, 田皆溉。当其时,民治渠少烦苦,不欲也。豹曰:“民可以乐成,不可与虑始。今父老子弟虽患苦我,然百岁後期令父老子孙思我言。”至今皆得水利,民人以给足富。十二渠经绝驰道,到汉之立,而长吏以为十二渠桥绝驰道,相比近,不可。欲合渠水,且至驰道合三渠为一桥。鄴民人父老不肯听长吏,以为西门君所为也,贤君之法式不可更也。长吏终听置之。故西门豹为鄴令,名闻天下,泽流後世,无绝已时,几可谓非贤大夫哉!

At the time of Duke Wen of Wei [during the period of Warring Kingdoms], Ximen Bao was the administrator of Ye. Bao arrived at Ye, met with the village elders, and inquired of the reason for the impoverishment and hardship of the commoners. The elders replied, "The hardship is due to Uncle River's marriage. Hence the impoverishment." Bao asked for clarification, and they replied: "The three elders of Ye and the assistant administrator yearly taxed the commoners, collecting several million of their money. They used twenty to thirty thousand of it for the purpose of finding a wife for Uncle River; as for the rest, they split it with the local shaman and shamaness, and the latter proceeded to look for a wife. At that time, when the shamaness saw a beautiful girl among the commoners, she would say she should thus be the wife of Uncle River, and would buy her. They would bathe her, make new dress for her, confine her and have her fast. They would furthermore make wedding room in the middle of the river, complete with curtains and drapes, and have her live inside. The would furnish her with wine and rice, and this would last a dozen days. Finally, they would decorate her, and obtain a bed as if to marry off their daughter. They would command her to sit on the bed, and float the bed on water. In the beginning it would float, but after a few dozen li it would sink. Many of the families with beautiful girls, because they feared that the shaman and the shamaness might come to get them for Uncle River, all fled far. Hence the city was empty of people and impoverished... The commoners had a saying, "if we do not get Uncle River a wife, there will be flooding and people drowned." Ximen Bao said: "When it is time to find Uncle River a wife, and the three elders, shaman and shamaness, and the parents all come to escort the girl to the river, please come tell me, for I want also to take part in the escort of the girl." They all replied, "Yes."

As the time arrived, Ximen Bao went to meet them by the river. The three elders, officials, the rich, parents and village presbyters all came, and the commoners who came for a show numbered two to three thousand. The shamaness was an old lady already, about seventy. She was accompanied by a dozen girl disciples, who were all dressed and stood behind her. Ximen Bao said: "Summon the wife of Uncle River, and let me examine her look." They brought out the girl and Bao examined her, and told the three elders, shaman and shamaness, and the parents: "This girl is no good. I ask miss shamaness to go report to Uncle River, that we shall search for another pretty girl, and then we shall present her to him." He thereby commanded the troops to throw the old shamaness into the river. After a while, he said: "Why is she taking so long? Get her disciples to go check on her!" They thereby threw a girl disciple into the river. After a while, Ximen Bao said: "Why is the disciple taking so long? Send another one!" The troops threw another disciple into the river. They threw three thereinto in total. Ximen Bao said: "The disciples of the shamaness are girls, and cannot handle the affair well; we ask the three elders to go into the river and handle it." They hence threw the three elders into the river. Ximen Bao waited by the river bank for a long while. The village presbyters, troops, and the commoners were all in shock. Ximen Bao looked and said: "The old shamaness and the three elders do not return. What shall we do?" He therefore asked the assistant administrator to go into the river with one of the rich. These kowtowed until their head bled and blood stained the earth; they all looked dead. Ximen Bao said: "Good. Let us wait a bit longer." After a while, he said: "Assistant administrator may rise. It is likely that Uncle River wishes to keep his guest for long, and that those who go would not return." The troops and commoners of Ye were all in shock, and from this time on, they dared not mention Uncle River's marriage.

The story concludes with the description of Ximen Bao's effort in the construction of the irrigation channels to help the peasants. The system was so successful that during the time of Han the villagers resisted officials' effort to modify it. There have thus been in Classical China efforts similar to those of the French revolutionaries who went into the country side to stamp out "superstition" in the name of Reason. Events of this kind always have both a spiritual and a material meaning. While considered with respect to its spiritual meaning the above incident indicates consciousness' better attunement with the nature of reality, its material meaning lies in the manner in which such rationalism might strengthen the power of the state through better usage of the resources under its possession.


1. The Origin of Serial Killers:

Serial killer is this peculiar phenomenon of modernity. A tribal people in New Guinea in the fifteenth century would never in their wildest fantasy imagine that such creature might exist someday somewhere. No wonder that this creature makes its first appearance in the first “modernized” country: Jack the Ripper in late nineteenth century Britain; and no wonder that it proliferates the most in the most post-modern, post-industrialized, consumerized service-oriented society, the United States. What is the reason for its appearance?

(1) What causes serial killers in the first place is in large part the very fascination of our society with serial killers. The type of serial killers who leave messages and communicate with the police and press obtain a lot of desirable attention. If no one cared, would they be so motivated to kill? If people were instead fascinated with the postman, then a BTK might instead steal mails from the post-office, masquerade as a postman, secretly deliver mails to your house, and then brag about his secret deliveries in secret letters to the press and police, and so on, in order to get the same thrill of attention.

(2) Many serial killers however kill for sexual pleasures. A lot of it is just genetic. But again it is the context that is important, for the “defective genes” in this case exist among primitive peoples too, and yet they are not bothered by serial killers within their midst. The context is first of all the modern society’s obsession with sex, compared with primitive people’s obsession with food.

(3) The anonymity of modern urban and suburban life. In a primitive village where everyone knows, and is related to, everyone else, could there be serial killers? Sometime ago I read a Chinese magazine article which discusses the appearance of a new social phenomenon following the massive industrialization there: serial killers. Back in the Mao days, no one had ever heard of serial killers. But then, these factories came to town, and millions of migrant workers followed in from different places, and no one knew anyone anymore, and no one talked to his or her neighbors anymore. Then serial killers appeared in their midst. It is because all those people around are just strangers and interchangeable with one another that one sees them less and less as real persons and more and more as just meaningless objects, and serial killers essentially are just the most extreme embodiment of this sort of perception: they see no “persons” per se, but only objects for manipulation, like chairs or walls. Hence serial killers only appear in modern mass-society.

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