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Foucault and the Tragedy of the Commons

In political science, and more specifically in the field of collective action, there is a key concept: the Tragedy of the Commons.

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In political science, and more specifically in the field of collective action, there is a key concept: the Tragedy of the Commons. It is an idea that puts the focus of study on the existence of situations in which an agent, in the search for a particular interest, can produce a result totally contrary to what the individual expected. And even more so, that it is a “tragic” result in the general interest of society.

Michel Foucault and the Tragedy of the Commons: the era of biopower

The classic example that is taught in the classes of collective action on this concept is that of a people of fishing tradition in which the problem of the disappearance of the fish appears. In this scenario, if fishing is not stopped and there is no agreement between everyone (regularize or seriously control this activity), the fish will disappear and the people of the village will end up dying of hunger. But if you do not fish, the population can also end up dying.

Faced with this dilemma, a solution: cooperation. However, in the absence of cooperation there are hegemonic forces that can benefit if they monopolize the assets (in this case, the fish) and are nourished by the misery generated by their own monopoly.

For that reason, the hegemonic power is interested in eliminating any kind of political or social culture that favors cooperation. Consequently, he is interested in strengthening the culture of individualism. Let’s see, then, some examples of how power puts such a premise into practice.

The crossfit and the individualist conscience

Michel Foucault, one of the great thinkers on the theory of power, points out that one of the ingredients on which power is fed to exercise control over the population is to try to inculcate an individualist conscience. According to this author, the ultimate goal that moves power is to make the individuals of a society as productive as possible, but at the same time, to be as docile and obedient as well. Going down to the terrain of the concrete, it can be said that the practice of the crossfit is a good example in which this individualistic consciousness is given, aimed at causing the subjects to be docile, obedient and productive.

For those who do not know, crossfit is a sport that has become very fashionable lately, thanks in part to a good dose of marketing. It consists of a kind of multidisciplinary military training (combines several sports such as strongman, triathlon, weightlifting, sports gymnastics, fitness) that is structured in a number of different diversified exercises in time, number of repetitions, series, etc.

For there to be individualism there must be discipline, and crossfit is the king sport in terms of discipline. The discipline pursues the ritualization of attitudes and behaviors, which we could synthesize with the term obedience. Obedience can be understood as the absence of searching for alternative options before an authority figure that provides guidelines to follow. In the crossfit, the discipline of the body allows it to act as a prison for the subjects. The highly mechanized exercises seek the aesthetic and functional perfection of the muscle.

The ultimate goal is to progressively become a more productive machine, in which the time factor (time control) also acts as the controller of the subject itself. All this is based on a meticulous structuring that proposes combinations of series of exercises totally predefined and fragmented in time, in turns, like mimesis of a factory production, only that in this case, the factory is the person itself. Thus, we have as final result a subject whose sole objective is to be increasingly productive and who, paradoxically, ends up exhausted physically and mentally plunged into this spiral of productivity and alienation.

The objectification of the subject and the figure of the entrepreneur

One step further for the power to achieve its goal (the optimization of productivity) is the fact of creating collective awareness of what interests you, making these individualistic bodies join forces to generate a large collective body that produces for him ( the power). It is about individualistic consciences that eventually come together to better reach their individual goals.

For this reason, power has always sought the normalization of society, that is, to create guidelines, routines, norms, and praxis on a day-to-day basis that are established as habitual, common, normal and, in the end, acceptable (thus differentiating itself from attitudes or behaviors that, by virtue of their residual status, can be roughly labeled as non-normal, eccentric or dysfunctional). For this reason, laws are used to define the limits of normal, always in conjunction with those behaviors or judgments related to the legal logic, which is an expression of a certain scale of values ​​that is intended to consolidate.

The system revolves around a key element that defines it, the company. If the power pursues a goal, the next thing it will do is turn people into that objective, objectify the subjects in the business object, the famous “I am a company” with the aim that all people of civil society produce in the same sense, in the sense that interests the power: that the subjects define themselves as a company, that they are a company.

Let’s go back to the example of the fishermen we mentioned at the beginning of the text. The process of individualization and the mentality of “I am a company and therefore I have to win all the competitors on the market” only favors those who want the fish to end before nature can reproduce the species [ one]. However, it is timely to clarify that in this article we are not holding at any time that the fishermen of the example or any of us are part of the oligarchy (it would, in fact, deny the same term) but we could say that we act according to the interests of this oligarchy and against, sooner or later, our own interests, as an integral and unconscious part of a corporatist machinery.

That is why both individualism and non-cooperation (especially in times of crisis like today) are, in any case, the tragedy of the commons.

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