I’m going to start with some theory, so just hold on – concrete examples are coming.
In the spirit of this special War issue, I’m going to start off with Foucault’s notion of security – or rather, the “techniques of security” he talks about in his lecture series Security, Territory, Population.
Unlike Foucault’s disciplinary institutions (the prison, the school, the barracks), apparatuses of security are powers that let things happen.
They create a space for processes of circulation – circulation of goods, ideas, people. “It was a matter of organizing circulation, eliminating its dangerous elements, making a division between good and bad circulation, and maximizing the good circulation by diminishing the bad,” he said.
Foucault isn’t trying to say this way of thinking about the world is wrong. What he’s trying to do, and why this is useful, is to see the logic by which power operates today – for better or worse. So although we could argue with this positioning of circulation above all else, right now I want to look at how this logic plays out…
…and that brings us to the G20 summit going on right now in Seoul, South Korea.
What we have here are twenty or so nation-states coming together over one common goal – the economy, i.e., circulation.
And this is where power comes in – not in the form of orders from on high, but from the management of circulation – flows for some, trickle for others, walls for many. Financial deregulation and bailouts for some, deep cuts to public programs for others, border controls and repression for many.
Another example from the lectures: Foucault looks at the idea of “risk” as developed around smallpox inoculation in the 18th century. You identify different risk groups: the young, the healthy, the elderly – and treat them differently.
So security acts differently on these different “risk groups.” When the G20 in Toronto decided that all these twenty states had to halve their deficits by 2013, they weren’t making orders from the throne, but rather creating a “milieu” where certain processes are set in motion, and where the “old armatures of law and discipline” are going to have to be remobilized in certain ways – and toward certain desired economic effects.
They don’t have to say, “Destroy public services, use riot police to put down the inevitable dissent.” They just say “deficit” – and who can argue with that economic logic?
It seems straightforward, but it puts into motion all those forces that currently manage inequalities in power and income.
So even if the policies encouraged by institutions like the G20 ostensibly act only on economic processes, the economic and social pressures they unleash remobilize and reinforce the sorts of policing mechanisms – homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, et cetera – which constantly divide us into manageable “risk groups.”
People in one part of the world may be losing their means of subsistence, having their water privatized, their homes destroyed, their land expropriated, but for us here at McGill, we just get corporate food, tuition increases, and more and more “competition” to secure dwindling funds and space. The same logic and institutions justify both – increase circulation here, shift it there, cut it off somewhere else
But to bring it back – it’s not the logic of security we’re fighting, but the priorities behind it, the desired effects that have been chosen for us.
This system is not some diabolical Illuminati spider web shit – it’s a creaky machine with lots of cogs that work together intermittently, without actually agreeing on much.
This is where you come in.
If you look at the news, students in London yesterday weren’t taking this sitting down – and they’re following the huge protests worldwide against misplaced priorities in Puerto Rico, France, California, Japan, Greece, Ireland, and the truly global convergences that occur at international summits like the WTO and the G20. This latest wave of protests joins those in developing countries that were subject in the past thirty years to the same austerity measures we’re seeing now – but that time, they were called “structural adjustment programs,” and administered by the IMF and the World Bank.
I think as students and citizens and people, we should see our role in this system, and go out and protest the G20 this Friday. There will be a demonstration from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Cabot Square (corner of Atwater and Ste. Catherine) in solidarity with those in South Korea. It should be fun, and will be family-friendly.