Catastrophic Gradualism (p. 923)
Power constantly ebbs and flows in civilized society that it can be an overwhelming topic to address. Positing that we're not experts in the topic like Foucault or Nietzsche, how do we legitimately approach power? Legitimately is the operative word, considering anyone with a brain can have an opinion about it, but as it goes with any subject or discipline, certain approaches will lead to understanding better than others. Foucault argues that power doesn't live in effects or manifestations, but in some kind of primacy. I'll rely on him and start there.
Does power cause and direct everything we do? Books have been written on this question; it's indeed complex. Questions and concerns involving power have put civilized man into an almost checkmated position, convincing himself that he is by default subject to the forces of power just as he is subject to the forces of nature. The difference is that the enlightened proportion of our civilization has become comfortable with the fact that we are a part of nature, and thus are subject to laws of nature. (The un-enlightened proportion of our civilization are thus uncomfortable or in denial to the fact that nature doesn't care about us specifically.) In terms of power though, despite the extensive work philosophers and ruthless intellects have done to study the phenomena, we are not quite at a point of general comfort in our relationship with it as we are with natural laws (despite our continual revisions).
This is evidenced by all the literature involving experiments and observations of both natural hard and soft sciences, and the developments we'd created from them. Yes, technology is one form of development, but not the only one. Agrarian cultures have developed ways to live in balance with nature without agriculture, as well as creating mythos to further immerse themselves in reality, oddly. We've moved forward with our understanding of basic premises of nature, whether or not we all agree on the origin of nature. But our relationship with the origin of power is by comparison stuck rubbing two sticks together. Our domestic perspective about power is simply whichever direction the body with the most resources and executable laws looks. Again, fundamental Foucault. But the literature Foucault wrote about the matter, illuminating some of the bases of power, isn't in alignment with or capitulating to the bases of civilization, thus isn't condoned for assimilation/education by the collective. Our study and understanding of nature can be exploited by civilization's drive for progress, therefore an understanding of nature can (and does) facilitate civilization. It's ironic. From this point, I've come to understand that since Foucault's understandings about the primacy of power isn't widely accepted by the majority of our civilization because they weren't exploitable by the industrial civilization. One of his findings was that power exists as a current that runs through people, and is amplified by law and war. That certainly sounds like something our industrial civilization does not want to admit has any fault, or is willing to revise, because if you do, the social compulsion that drives people to produce and consume goods withers. In studying power, he thus gave us a golden truth about our civilization; that it believes it cannot exist without laws or war, and utilizes the conductive phenomena of power which flows between and through individuals in a collective.
It's easy to point the finger at civilization and blame it for our faults, but the ugly truth is that we are civilization. I as much as anyone would love to isolate and excise these tumors of understanding, but just as some cancerous tumors intertwine with vital organs and are independently irretrievable, our social and personal paradigms have become effected. This addresses the age-old question of whether we throw out the baby with the bathwater: In order for the non-expert to get a true, operative handle on power devoid of exploitative compulsions, we need to deal with civilization in its barest sense, and ask ourselves whether we want this civilization around. Power has become such an integral part of our lives that it's the tumor that not only intertwines other organs, but modifies those very organs to its own end. Like a virus.
There's no reason to complicate this, just look at the largest institutions of power in history; essentially they overtook the previous one via force, assimilated their non-resisting members, and created terms of order (laws) and functions of domination (war) to create self-preserving mechanisms. This is power on a macro level, which is why it's easier to see than on a micro-level, or a level revealing consistent patterns of compulsions within the infrastructure, or collectives. Many professional scholars have studied these micro-levels--sociology, cultural studies, psychology, the creation of ethnicity and race, the list goes on--but we haven't quite gotten to a point of understanding the ichor, the DNA of power. I'm sure the experts like Foucault have, but the problem is that when civilization is exposed to the knowledge they produce, civilization has a way of not making it very appealing, popular or even accessible. And you think books are burned only because they mention sex or blasphemy? We're in a dangerous spot when conversations relating to power--or any other concept exposing some of civilization's guts--are addressed with a question of how you're professionally qualified in that field to even ask a question.
Don't get me wrong, education is a virtue. However, so are investigation and conversation, and I think that since our level of awareness of power is so discrepant to our level of awareness of natural laws, we may want to reorient our attitude and re-approach to the topic, because civilization isn't going to facilitate the understanding for us. The Enlightenment wasn't accidental. The first step may involve referring back to the historical experts and geniuses--Foucault, Nietzsche--to de-modernize and detox our thinking. We may not be interested in bringing civilization down, but that doesn't mean we can't locate the treasures it has hidden from us. But again, I'm not an expert, I just detect some foul play, and you may as well.
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