Purchase Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control
Read more

Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Law and Order (p. 133)

From chapter "Nothing to Fear"

If you recall, early on we quoted Foucault as saying that the Panopticon is “an important mechanism, for it automizes and disindividualizes power. Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain . . . arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. . . . There is a machinery. . . . Consequently, it does not matter who exercises power.”

Enter the bureaucrats.

Weber wrote that bureaucracy is “fundamentally domination through knowledge. This is the feature which makes it specifically rational.” But this statement standing alone misleads on a couple of major counts. The first is that it’s not domination merely through knowledge. Beneath it all, when the bureaucracy does not suffice, the state can use its monopoly on physical force. Weber’s identification of discipline as the bureaucrats’ second characteristic, and comparison of bureaucracy to a machine without will or mood, can also be misleading. Bureaucrats may be narrowly rational, but their rational discipline serves structures and goals that are largely ignored by everyone. And while their jobs may depend on stifling their own will and mood, bureaucrats are fundamentally instruments of the will and mood of those in power. Bureaucrats’ discipline is not self-discipline. Power does not discipline itself; it disciplines the populace through the administrations of bureaucrats.

When modern authorities say, as they often do, that “we are a nation of laws,” they are pointing not at themselves but at those over whom they rule. Everyone knows that laws do not apply to those who make and implement them. Within our culture they never have. As B. Traven, author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and other books, wrote, “ ‘Law and Order’ means: The protection of property, the protection of capital. ‘Law and Order’ means: To protect the capitalists so that they can in a lawful and orderly fashion impoverish those who want to eat. The shopkeeper cries for ‘law and order.’ The rulers, and those who want to rule cry for ‘law and order.’” When those in power emphasize the rule of law, they are pointing to the narrow rational disciplining of the masses, and away from the need for self-discipline. We would only substitute our bureaucrat for Traven’s capitalist.

Anatole France wrote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” France’s point was clear. The poor are not to be free or independent; the rich do not have to beg, as they control the levers of power, which are the privatization of profits and the externalization of costs, or the taking for themselves of whatever material benefits the machine provides, while forcing others (including especially the nonhuman world) to suffer the material consequences.

The implications of the rational disciplinarian society are not hidden, but ignored. How hidden were the Nazi extermination camps? How hidden are clearcuts? How hidden is a planet being converted into cash? Nothing’s hidden, but we don’t see it, and if we’re asked, there are countless rationales for continuing to not pay attention.

Rationality exists to explain and justify, and it ignores what it cannot explain and justify. The purpose of rationality is the “logical and efficient” pursuit of a goal that is determined by emotion, either an unconscious compulsion or a conscious act of will. Once the goal is set, the rational bureaucrat’s only duty is to fulfill it. This is as true, once again, of killing Jews as it is of killing Indians as it is of killing forests as it is of killing the oceans.