Poststructuralism and doom

Michael Foucault, a Parisian gay man who died a relatively early death from AIDS, nonetheless tends to attract the wrath of the politically correct gay movement because he is (to them) too structuralist. By structuralist, I mean specifically that Foucault believes that sexuality is something that can be defined — that one can be “gay” therefore be attracted to a member of the same sex.

The postmodern, destructuralist (some would say destructionist!) gay movement, on the other hand, defines itself as “queer”.  The newly-styled “queer movement” says that by defining oneself as a certain sexuality, one is limiting onesself. The Queer Movement says that everyone can do everything or anything, that everyone is bisexual or omnisexual, that everyone can be attracted to men or women or elephants or tables, and that when we attempt to structuralize ourselves to be a certain “way” – like gay or straight – we only limit ourselves.

The queer movement says that postmodernist “destructuralization”—that is, the ability to be anything – equals freedom.  That is, the queer movement says that when we say what we are, we are limiting ourselves.

Foucault disagrees.  He sees the supposed “freedom” of postmodernism as instead a stealth form of control – he would say that when we give into society’s pressure not to define ourselves at all, we give in to the ultimate supremacy of society, which is to de-define us into being just like everyone else, that is, de-identitized hence neutralized. To Foucault, freedom is not the freedom to “do anything” (meaning nothing), but the freedom to do that specific thing we want to do, since that is what individuates us.

Like Foucault, I am sick of these postmodernists who think that all ideas and identities are of equal value and should be given equal time – you know the kind of thing: charity is equal, Obama is equal, Sarah Palin’s trash talk is equal, Hitler is equal, genocide is equal, bla bla, so let’s respect all ideas, sexualities and identities as equal.  Foucault and I propose instead that we be who we are.

The powerful thing about postmodernism is that it contains its own control mechanism (which, paradoxically, as I said, reduces the individual to nothing).  The USSR is a good example.  Remember the USSR? They had elections, but there was only one candidate and like 99% of the people came and voted for him.  They had a newspaper called “Truth” that told lies. But — people thought it was a free country, not just because they never had seen a free one, but because they had been systematized not to assert individuality. (You might say that about the US today, but I digress!)  The point here is not that people in totalitarian regimes have to be actively controlled.  The means of control are internalized; they are the result not even directly of the systems, but of the conventional wisdom produced thereby.  The conventional wisdom is like a computer program that has been implemented and takes on a life of its own: once implemented, no actual “controller people” are required bcause biology is self-perpetualizing.

Like Galloway, Foucault sees a “carceral continuum” through all of society, which runs from prisons right down to schools and right into our sexuality.  It is no coincidence that so much of popular culture is sexualized, since the control of orgasm – in fact, the definition of what causes an orgasm — is an essential part of the way the social network programs us to be pawns of capitalism, making each of us a well-functioning cog in the vast machinery which channels capital from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy.

I’m interested that Galloway sees computer or capital networking as a biological process.  (He writes: “In making freeways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control… people can drive infinitely and “freely” without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled. This is our future.”)

This however is our present. We expend a vast energy which we think is “free” but in fact is channeled for a certain purpose. It is like the supposed freedom of orgasm. Postmodernists claim we can orgasm however we want, when in fact our sexual desire has been programmed by the imagery we have seen since the day we were born; and when we embrace postmodernist “fluidity” (read conformity), we in fact give up our ability to enjoy our individuization. Seen properly, our only control over the orgasm is that we can control its ebb and flow (to some degree); but what causes it, has been determined elsewhere. We cannot, as the postmodernists e.g. queer theorists claim, “be anything.” Our only choice is whether to submit to social definition while controlling our own flow, or give up control of both the definition and the flow.

The panopticon certainly seems to be a model of current society. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even matter if anyone is in there watching us, because it only matters that we don’t know if there is – that is sufficient to scare us into de-individuating our behaviors. One can’t know if humans can move past such a structure. I tend to think not, and it often makes me wonder if we are an ultimately doomed species.

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