Category Archives: spirit

Thoughts on Foucault

Discipline and Punish

Discipline and Punish

Does the soul, as represented in contrast with the duality of the King (temporal body vs. eternal sign of monarchical rule) in fact represent the eternal nature of man? Thereby endowing the designs of subjection within the construct of Foucault’s punitive power with a universality equal and opposite to the universality of the king’s subjecting power exercised in the name of supporting the kingdom (i.e. political economy that privileges and stabilizes the interests of the ruling class).


One problem with Foucault’s analysis is his incomplete understanding and treatment of the notion of the “Christian” soul. Foucault’s conception of the soul, unlike the Christian soul is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but born out of methods of punishment, rules and constraint. His argument that the Christian theological notion of the soul as born into sin, and subject to punishment is incomplete. Foucault uses the term “Christian Theology” as if it were a simple unitary document, but it is really a complex community of ideas. The soul in Christian theology also represents a source of a power that mitigates the punitive power of the ruling class. The “Christian” soul is, like that of the King, recognized as eternal, subject to the authority of the deity.


In Christian theology the soul is free except in relation to God – Foucault fails to understand the implications of being born in sin (at least theologically). Furthermore, in this conception, the Christian “soul” rejoices in the sufferings of this age, which are identified as signs of their freedom in Christ. There is an injunction to obey God rather than man – and at least among the children of the reformation – that frees them from arbitrary church authority as well. While God, does require obedience to authorities – the soul is free with regard to them in that they are only given outward obedience.  The ultimate power to punish – death – is not considered a punishment but rather a release – so it is unmasked (Wink 1984) as powerless. The punitive power of the ruling classes are then transferred back, solely to the body, thereby limiting its effect as temporary, and the authority is likewise then diminished.


One might argue that the other primary Christian theological position with regards to the relationship between the authorities in power and the subjected body (remember, the soul is not subjected to the rulers “of this world”), contradicts this notion, as disciples of that faith are charged to obey the authorities of the land. But again, there is a context within which that commandment is given, that might also easily be ignored or misunderstood. By submitting to the authorities of one’s, the argument continues, one lives a life above the reproach of the authorities, thereby avoiding punitive measures taken by the ruling class. Furthermore, in this act of legal submission, the Christian again understands this as a bodily, temporal act. Foucault’s flaw is that he is ultimately a materialist – and thus cannot consider the nature or capacity for freedom of an eternal soul.


Yet, the source of Foucault’s misrepresentation (or exclusion) of the Christian understanding of the soul arguably demands such an interpretation. The religious leaders (often intertwined with political leadership) that he portrays in his discussion about judicial torture and public punishment and execution offer no indication by their actions that they represent a God interested in anything but divine retribution. These “inquisitors” and judges demonstrate a corrupted misinterpretation of the judgment of God, and of their positions as the carnal manifestations of that blood-thirsty God. God, and by extension the religious authorities, are fierce in their judgments, which are dispensed as signs of absolute power. Their interpretations of this God were shaped so as to secure His absolute power for themselves; by claiming privileged and exclusive access to the knowledge of God, they retain that power by creating and maintaining a culture of fear that is expressed in the political economy of the body through torture and execution. Foucault states that the body “is an essential element, therefore, in a penal liturgy, in which it must serve as the partner of a procedure ordered around the formidable rights of the sovereign, the prosecution and secrecy.” (Foucault 1977: 47) It is Foucault’s basis on these examples of misguided corruption in religious authority for the understanding of the “Christian” soul that ultimately creates the hole in his argument.


This does not dismiss Foucault’s basic argument – as far as it goes in an existential and material world. What it does do is demonstrate a hole in Foucault’s theory that ignores another interpretation of the nature of the knowledge-power relationship. It is irrelevant whether or not he, or subsequent readers, agree that this Christian doctrine is “true.” The fact that there are a great number of individuals located within the political economy of the body (more than half in the US) that believe, perceive, or argue that they experience this to be true, radically alters Foucault’s equation.  It requires Foucault to address this radically different understanding of the relations of, and imposition of power, which he does not.


Live from New York! – Millennium Development Goals Summit

Leaders of the Free World

Leaders of the Free World

So the Cubs have clinched back to back division championships for the first time since our nation’s last depression. Talk about a harbinger of the apocalypse… Obama’s own city is writing Palin’s script. And while we’re putting lipstick on pigs and buying 50cc scooters, our government spends hundreds of billions of dollars to revitalize bad business practices. Didn’t AIG’s ousted CEO get $8 million in severance pay as a thanks for killing our economy? America, America… so full of grace.

Well at least we’re not French. Freedom Fries for everyone! Those lefty fruitcakes are talking about re-colonizing Africa! Who would pour capital into a continent so devastated by famine and disease? Quite possibly the French.

Oh, and over a million Chinese.

“It’s a rich continent: zinc, copper, oil, gas, silver, gold, diamonds… Just for its resources Africa will play a critical role in how the 21st century is shaped.” (Bono: MDG Blog) This is all sounding so familiar. A weakened populace looking only to make a living. Endless resources available to anyone willing to do the work to extract them, and with that endless opportunity for advancement, even riches.

Lost in war, politics, and subprime lending, I wonder how many of us knew that the Millennium Development Goals summit was going on right now? I wonder how many of us actually believe that capitalists would rather invest in American labor and resources than the untapped, exploitable resources and labor in Africa.

I’m excited that Bono and are having success influencing so many world leaders to take action in Africa. I’m equally excited that he’s found a way to demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between social amelioration and profit that the capitalists and leaders of state can buy into. Wait…


I realize that the best hope for the people of Africa is massive foreign investment in infrastructure and production. I realize that the people of Africa should benefit immensely from this program. And yet…

Bono also said “All kill their inspirations and sing about their grief.” I hope we’re not grieving too hard for imperial conquest. That’s an inspiration that needs to stay out of the historiography of resurrection narratives. So I’m guardedly optimistic, though with the move to history this fall, a lot of this is looking familiar. And not in a fun, “Hey remember when we egged that cop car!” kind of way.

Jeffrey Sachs

I’m linking Bono’s blog today from the MDG  just below, and I’ve also set up an RSS feed for it in the sidebar to the right. Bono and Columbia University Economist Jeffrey Sachs will be posting updates for the duration of the summit in New York City.


I’m reading…

New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America – Jon Butler

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England – John Putnam Demos

The Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fanon

The Mediterranean Vol. 1 – Fernand Braudel

Empires of the Atlantic – John Elliot

The Portable Karl Marx – Ed. Eugene Kamenka

Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnegut

The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract – Bill James

The New Testament – Paul, Peter, James, John, etc.

Engaging God’s World – Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

Tao Te Ching – Lao-tse

One spirit

We were once a tribal, communal people, united in spirit.

Then the experiences of awareness, perception, and communication evolved into the separation of expansion, commerce, greed and fear. And we locked our doors and moved into the suburbs.

Does the Internet bring us back together, if not in body, in spirit? We share the experiences of awareness, perception and communication… instantly. One spirit…but what do we do now with expansion, commerce, greed and fear?

Can they be assuaged? In this stage of our evolution as a community of one, we cannot escape them… but what of the future? Must there necessarily be regulations imposed on the community for such unity to be realized?

Tradition, Doxicity, and the Order of Things

“The general pattern of order for political or religious purposes is established by a tradition, sometimes centuries old, and it is applied in each particular case by a master of ceremonies or other special agent. Those who participate in the reception or the procession are informed of their places in the order and are expected to stay or move when and where the pattern requires it. Every deviation is viewed as a disturbance of order and negatively valued by the agents who have made the arrangements.”

Florian Znaniecki, Cultural Sciences: Their Origin and Development


What happens when the political and the religious are inseparably wed very early in the development of tradition? Is deviation then a disturbance of the political or the religious?  To what tradition do the recognized authorities, agents, or creators of order cling to with all of their sincere, heart-felt, and yet necessarily doxic notions of faith?

No one of sound discernment would question the purity of true conviction.  However, only one of limited discernment would fail to question the motives of those who would so quickly wed the political aspirations of man with the purposes of the Divine.



“But throughout history some thinkers have been searching for and have sometimes discovered various kinds of order previously unknown. They usually met opposition from the bearers of established knowledge who were sure that it was complete; nonetheless, the search went on, though sometimes with long interruptions, and gradually resulted in the development of new varieties of knowledge.”


“Modern scientific knowledge, the latest result of this slow, agelong evolution (of knowledge) may represent the final result. This is not because scientists know everything that is to be known, but because search for the unknown, which was incompatible with older forms of knowledge, has been recognized by scientists as one of their main functions. Consequently, whatever new knowledge may emerge from this search will remain an integral part of scientific knowledge.”

Florian Znaniecki, Cultural Sciences: Their Origin and Development

Why must the search for the unknown be incompatible with older forms of knowledge – pragmatic, religious, philosophic knowledge? The search for truth is the impetus which drives all inquiry, is it not? Do we then as finite human beings, who are only capable of making use of approximately twenty percent of our brains, have such temerity as to presume that we are remotely capable of understanding truth in it’s finality?

Too often are we locked into our doxic notions of what is real. The presumption that “there can be no alternative” to anything that we are capable of contemplating, perceiving, experiencing, KNOWING, is absurdity in it’s fullest manifestation. There must absolutely be faith involved with any and all forms of knowing. This is not to suggest that we cannot, or perhaps better said, should not live by faith. For even the most devout atheist can only know that there is no God by faith. There cannot be empirical evidence for or against the existence of a Being that is outside of our notions of time and space. With what do you propose to “measure” this certainty?

We must begin to understand that in all things, we can only know in part, and therefore the “search for the unknown” must necessarily be a main function of all of our forms of knowledge. Adorno has said “the whole is false”, which is of course true, but only when understood as “the whole is incomplete”. Where there is knowledge, it will pass away. We know in part, we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. Show me what is perfect, and I will show you truth, the actual order of all things. We must not be too quick to dismiss the unfamiliar.