The State is Technology

I’ve given the game away in the title of this post, I know, but what is technology really? It’s not necessarily a device or machine: it can be as insubstantial as a concept or an idea. Foucault wrote about the “technology of the body”, the ways in which bodies can be manipulated and controlled. He thought that the concept of the “soul” was a technology that kept human bodies docile and compliant (putting it way too roughly) and that most social institutions (prisons, medicine, science) serve as ways of organizing and controlling bodies.

Foucault thought the same drive – to control bodies – was behind most cultural change. The abandonment of public execution, he wrote, was not due to a trend towards “humanization” but because public executions failed to serve their intitial purpose. They originally served as ways for the ruler to display his power and wrath to the people, mess with me and I’ll fucking torture you to death, which kept the people in awe and unrebellious. However, the public execution also served as a meeting-ground for the lower classes, breeding a kind of solidarity. Occasionally people condemned to death were rescued by the crowd; often there were riots. Imprisonment and private execution eventually proved more successful as a technology of power.

So yeah, the State – with its omnipresent surveillance, sprawling police force and foreign armies – is a kind of technology of power, evolved to keep as many human beings as possible channeling their wealth and power towards the institutions at the top. Against this backdrop, an anarchist faith in technology seems a little absurd.

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