Levers of Control: Accept or Flee?

The extreme levels of control that were in evidence across the world during the ‘pandemic’ did not usher in anything new, in principle, but merely its exacerbation. To be sure, there were all kinds of justifications for such an intensification of control, all in the name of what Giorgio Agamben, in Where Are We Now? calls a ‘sanitation terror.’ And yet ‘control,’ as a central motif of modern societies, has been known and was identified as such by several thinkers in the past, such as Gilles Deleuze and the critical theory duo of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

In a relatively short essay – ‘Postscript on the societies of control’ (October, Vol. 59, Winter, 1992, pp. 3-7) – Deleuze brilliantly outlines how, since Michel Foucault’s genealogical study of modes of punishment in Western societies (Discipline and Punish, 1995), the latter have imperceptibly made the transition to ‘societies of control.’ Foucault disclosed the ‘disciplinary’ nature of these societies, identifying specific architectural instances in which this was embodied.

Most conspicuously this was the ‘panoptical’ prison – where the ideal was constant, uninterrupted surveillance of inmates – but as he pointed out, factories, schools, and hospitals all share this ‘carceral’ character. The ‘carceral society’ was characterised by the reduction of human bodies to docility, according to which they are economically productive and politically passive.

The time in which we live displays all the features of societies of control, which have succeeded disciplinary societies, but at a level of intensity that would probably even astonish Deleuze, had he been alive today. According to Deleuze, ‘societies of control’ represent a further step in the reduction of humans to a condition of powerlessness in the face of ways in which they are controlled, but this time in a far subtler way than in the carceral society described by Foucault. In the ‘Postscript’ he writes, with an amazing degree of prescience, that the ‘new forces knocking at the door,’ about to oust the institutions identified by Foucault (p. 4), 

…are the societies of control, which are in the process of replacing the disciplinary societies. ‘Control’ is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future…There is no need here to invoke the extraordinary pharmaceutical productions, the molecular engineering, the genetic manipulations, although these are slated to enter into the new process. There is no need to ask which is the toughest or most tolerable regime, for it’s within each of them that liberating and enslaving forces confront one another. For example, in the crisis of the hospital as environment of enclosure, neighborhood clinics, hospices and day care could at first express new freedom, but they could participate as well in mechanisms of control that are equal to the harshest of confinements. There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.     

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, later filmed and directed by Milos Forman, with Jack Nicholson in the memorable role of R.P. McMurphy, may serve as persuasive dramatisation of ‘the harshest of confinements’ alluded to by Deleuze, above. Talking about confinements reminds one, of course, of the confinement to one’s home through the ‘pandemic’ lockdowns.

But there is also the prospect of modes of spatial confinement that the WEF has planned for the rest of humanity, namely so-called ‘15-minute cities,’ promoted by the ostensibly innocuous idea of making less use of gas-guzzling cars (for ‘combatting climate change,’ of course…) and walking everywhere within a circular or square space circumscribed by boundaries, where it would take 15 minutes to walk from the one side to the other. Very appealing. Except, what they don’t tell you is that, once all of this is in place, these barriers would become electronically controlled limits, beyond which one would not be able to go without an electronic pass of sorts. In other words, it would be an open-air concentration camp.    

In his essay on societies of control, Deleuze mentions an astonishingly accurate anticipation of these 15-minute cities on the part of his friend and colleague, Félix Guattari. How uncanny is this anticipatory projection by Guattari (p. 7)?

Félix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) [from “divide” B.O.] electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position – licit or illicit – and effects a universal modulation. 

Considering that this was published at the beginning of the 1990s, it reflects a remarkable degree of prescience. To be prescient enables one to prepare oneself for what is coming, but it is just as important to learn by hindsight from what has been imposed on society. Naomi Wolf, for one, displays keen insight into the nature and efficacy of the measures of control introduced in the course of the Covid ‘pandemic,’ which made use of technological ‘advances’ which were not available to other totalitarians at an earlier stage. In The Bodies of Others (p. 200) she writes: 

In fact, in the wake of Covid the whole world has become a digitized platform owned by six entities that can be switched on and off at will. 

Even as a vaccine passport gives governments vastly greater control over the individual, solving the problem of citizens’ freedom of action in a free society, it solves for tech companies the problem of users’ privacy online. 

As for the leaders who are currently betraying their countries, thinking they will always have a seat at the table with these technological elites, they are badly mistaken. As much as the dissidents who dare challenge this situation, they too can be switched off at the flick of a finger. Machine learning can scan social media and switch off commentators, journalists, physicians, even dissident technologists.

Grids can be switched off. Gone

Supply chains can be switched off. Gone.

Personalities can be switched off. On September 4, 2021, Candace Owens was told by the facilities director of a Covid test site in Aspen, Colorado, that she could not have a Covid test because of “who you are.”

Whole populations can be switched off.

In 2021–22, freedom was lost via vaccine passports in Europe, Canada, Australia, Israel, and many states in the United States without a shot being fired.

In her more recent book, Facing the Beast, she goes further by reminding her readers of the greatest obstacle, in the United States, standing in the way of the total control aspired to by the neo-fascist technocrats of today (p. 121): 

In 2021 and 2022, as the lights went off all over Europe – and Australia, and Canada – via lockdowns and vaccine passports and the forced control of the movements, commerce and education of formerly free people – the last thing that was keeping us in America free was, yes, the Second Amendment.

Wolf acknowledges that the chapter, in which she reflects ruefully about being ‘a child of the peace movement’ – and had hence always regarded guns with suspicion and dislike – amounts to ‘Rethinking the Second Amendment’ (the chapter’s title), given the changed historical circumstances in which we find ourselves today, not only in America, but everywhere we cherish freedom in all its variegated forms.

And it is not difficult to agree with her that the wide ownership of guns in America is an undeniable obstacle to those who would love to take them away from their owners, simply because those among the latter group who have become wise to the despicable motives of the neo-fascists, would probably stand in the way of the agents of these would-be dictators. 

Later in the same chapter (p. 127), Wolf recognises that, even if it is easy to choose one’s ‘favourite’ amendment, in her case the First, it is incumbent upon one to accept the American Constitution in its entirety, which includes the Second Amendment. This conviction on her part is reinforced by the fact that, today, she knows people who have guns, and who do not match the stereotypes that she was familiar with at a younger age. Clearly, Wolf has realised that times have changed, and with different historical exigencies come different responsibilities and duties. 

I would argue that the First and Second Amendments have to be read together, insofar as their combined function is what has prevented America from being another open field for a dictator such as Justin Trudeau to run rampant (with the exception of Alberta, in Canada, of course, where the Premier, Danielle Smith, has taken a determined stand against Trudeau’s fascist excesses). 

All of these reflections remind me of an essay written, years ago, by a student enrolled for a political philosophy course, on the sustained manner in which German Jews were disarmed by the Nazis before they were shipped off to death camps. This serves as a constant reminder that, regardless of how much one is opposed to gun violence – and I certainly am – responsible gun ownership is a prerequisite for being able to defend oneself, particularly when the chips are down, as the saying goes. 

In South Africa, where I live, the ANC government (which is in cahoots with the WEF) has made it as difficult as possible for people to own firearms, but there are still many who do. I fully expect the so-called ‘authorities’ to intensify their efforts to disarm citizens in future. I have heard from a friend in Australia that the disarming of citizens has been largely successful there – much to their disadvantage. After all, within societies of control gun ownership is an anachronism, something from an era where the kind of things identified and anticipated by Deleuze had not yet reached the level of a stranglehold on citizens’ freedom. 

Returning to Deleuze’s visionary essay, it is noteworthy that, two decades before Hardt and Negri (in Declaration) singled out the ‘indebted subject’ as one of the figures of subjectivity created by neoliberalism – the other three being the ‘mediatised,’ ‘securitised,’ and ‘represented’ subject (more on that in a future post) – the French thinker had already anticipated the role that debt plays in controlling people’s lives. He writes (Postscript, p. 6):

Marketing has become the center or the ‘soul’ of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world. The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt. It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three quarters of humanity, too poor for debt, too numerous for confinement…   

Little could Deleuze anticipate the evil genius of Central Bank Digital Currencies – the extension of control through debt, embodied in these CBDCs – of which Naomi Wolf, referring to the ‘vaccine passport’ in which CBDCs would be incorporated, wrote (in The Bodies of Others, p. 194): ‘In short, this was something from which there was no returning. If indeed there was a “hill to die on,” this was it.’ 

It is hard to imagine why people would be willing to accept CBDCs or ‘vaccine passports,’ and yet I have spoken to several people who scoffed at my suggestion that they should accumulate as much cash as possible in a safe place for the time when CBDCs are introduced, lest they are forced to allow their own enslavement.

Bewildered as they usually are by this suggestion, I explain that, by being tethered to an abstract entity that would be fully controlled by AI according to an algorithm which does not allow them any freedom in the way they would spend these digital entities – which would, after all, not be ‘money,’ which is private – they would, in fact, be slaves to the ‘system.’ The system will always ‘know’ how they have spent, or want to spend, these digital ‘dollars,’ and will sanction some purchases while blocking others. 

They could always, of course, decide to opt out of the ‘system,’ if they are willing to be ‘excluded from society,’ as Bill Gates infamously said about those who would refuse the digital prison that the neo-fascists have built for the rest of humanity. I certainly would, but my guess is that most people are too immersed in social media and the technical means to sojourn there – usually a smartphone, and of course the internet – to take that drastic step.

For me and my life partner it would not be that difficult because we live in a small town among majestic mountains (where we spend a good portion of our time), and we can be self-sustaining in this town, with the help and goodwill of our friends here. I would miss writing for Brownstone, of course, but if the price of being ‘allowed’ entrance to the internet again is taking the clot-shot, I know what our choice would be.        

This choice is guided by the difference between Jacques Lacan’s well-known ‘mugger’s choice’ and the ‘revolutionary’s choice’ (forgive me if you have read this before). The former reads: ‘Your money or your life,’ and represents a lose/lose situation because, either way, you would lose something. The revolutionary’s choice, on the other hand, reads: ‘Freedom or death,’ and instantiates a win/win situation, because in the event of dying in the course of a just struggle against a democidal oppressor, you would die a free person. And neither my partner, nor I, would ever live in the dystopia that is being prepared for us. But they have to succeed first, of course, and I doubt they will. 

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