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societies of control, prison industrial complex, military industrial complex

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Maria Lugones question and my answer

Here is the question by Maria Lugones:

I would like some reflection on the relations between war and the racialized new slavery of the prison industrial complex in the structuring of the social, keeping in mind the thought that the prison industrial complex is not mainly about discipline and certainly not about punishment. If you see a path to it, think about the “new that is going on” with this relation in mind.

 

And my answer:

 

The relationship between the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex would deserve its own book. So allow me to just simply sketch out some of the more salient links between these two complexes. The first link will be to explore a materialist symbiosis, and the second link will be to look at their mutual functions within society. In both cases we are not dealing so much with links between the two complexes, as much as a blurring of any distinction between the two. As I wrote this it became increasingly harder to know when I was talking about the prison industrial complex, and when I was talking about the military industrial complex. Perhaps it has come time to talk only of a prison/military-industrial complex, or some variation thereof.

Angela Davis argues that the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex as having a “symbiotic” relationship. She argues that “[t]hese two complexes mutually support and promote each other and, in fact, often share technologies.”[1] She goes on to briefly cite how in the early nineties defense contractors began to create technology marketed not to the military, but for police and prisons. Linda Evens provides even more details of this new trend:

In the lull between wars during the last twenty-five years, defense industry giants such as Westinghouse retooled and lobbied Washington for their share of the domestic law enforcement market. “Night Enforcer” goggles used in the Gulf War, electronic “Hot Wire” fencing ( “so hot NATO chose it for high-risk installations”), and other equipment once used by the military are now being market to the criminal justice system. A growing “specialty item” industry sells fencing, handcuffs, drug detectors, protective vests, and other security devices to prisons.[2]

This is of course merely a change of marketing, for civilian police forces have long bought military technology. The LAPD has long had a relationship with military aerospace industries, buying and outfitting entire fleets of military helicopters.[3] And SWAT forces have long received training and equipment that mirrors the Army special forces. However, this transfer is not a one way street of only the civilian acquiring materials from the military. In another work, Davis points out how many of the people working in military prisons and camps, such as Abu Grab and Guantanamo Bay, are actually hired from civilian prisons.[4] This symbiotic relationship does not have to just be composed of direct transfers of personnel, training, and technology. This relationship can proceed through interlocking social practices.

An example of this is the history of the assembly-line in modern labor processes. Frequently the assembly-line is thought to have been invented by Henry Ford, however this is incorrect. The assembly-line was created by arms manufactures.[5] Originally, guns were individually handcrafted. However, this had two major drawbacks in war time. The first was that it simply took too long to have skilled gun-makers producing slowly one gun at a time. The second drawback was that if anything went wrong with a weapon, it would have to be individually fixed with parts handcrafted for it. Gun manufactures created assembly-lines as the answer to both of these problems. Not only did assembly-lines greatly increase the speed of production, but assembly-line necessitated uniform products which had parts that could be totally interchangeable between one gun and another. In order to assure that the weapons were properly made, the assembly-line imported techniques, from prisons, for supervising and controlling the actions of their workers.[6] It therefore is not surprising at all that imprisoned people are engaged in a wide-variety of labor, businesses now exporting their labor needs into an easily controlled expanding workforce within prisons. While it is tempting to continue providing a laundry list of various ways that the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex cross-pollinate each other, it is perhaps more productive to explore how they are mutually constituting systems.

If the transfers of personnel, technology, and training between police and military blurs the line between civil society and military; then the language that the two complexes engage in further blurs any line. The prison industrial complex has boomed because of two successive ‘wars.’ The first being Nixon’s declaration of a “war against crime.”[7] This was followed by the even more massive “war against drugs” that originated under Reagan. At the same time that the prison industrial complex has expanded due to these wars, the military industrial complex has grown, after WWII, through a series of ‘police actions.’ Schmitt probably explains it best:

Since, on the one side, war becomes a punitive action in the sense of modern criminal law, on the other, the opponent no longer can be Justus hostis. It is no longer war waged against him, any more than against a pirate, who is an enemy in a sense completely different from that in European international law. … Thus, the action taken against him is no more war than a police action against a gangster. It is merely the execution of justice and, ultimately, with the modern transformation of penal law into social pest control, only a measure taken against a parasite or trouble-maker: against a perturbateur who is disarmed with all the means of modern technology, e.g., rendered harmless by a police raid.[8]

The linguistic blurring between police actions and war highlight a similar status that both prisons and war have. They are both exceptional, in the sense that they are perceived as being exceptions to the normal social order. War is seen as being what occurs when peace breaks down. Prisons are seen as being where places where we keep criminals, people that are thought of being unable to exist within the civil order. Rather than being exceptions, both prisons and war are norms. The United States has been actively involved in some military intervention since WWII.[9] Not only is war a perpetual occurrence for the U.S. military industrial complex, but there exists whole populations for whom war is anything but an exception. This includes people living in civil war, people living in occupied countries, and people living in the so-called Forth World. In short, the global poor experience war not as an exception, but rather as a backdrop to life. Likewise, prison is far from an exception.

There are at least more than two million people actively incarcerated within U.S. prisons.[10] It should be noted that this figure is not only a bit old, but hardly comprehensive. It does not take into account people in INS detention centers, county jails, camps like Guantanamo Bay, insane asylums, and many other spaces of confinement. Most importantly, the figure does not take into account the number of people who have been through the penal system but are not currently locked down. And just as it is mainly the global poor that experience war, it is the poor and people of color in the U.S. that are imprisoned.

Perhaps it is here that the relationship between the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex becomes the clearest. They are both primary forms of violence that is used to control populations that could be resistant to the hegemonic order. Because the hegemonic order is suppose to be the naturalized order, the violence that maintains that order is seen as exceptional, unless you already exist outside of the hegemonic order. With this we come back to the blurring that exists between the complexes. There seems to be at least two reasons for this blurring. The first is that at times it is useful to work under the justification of war, and at other times it is useful to work under the justification of a police action. War allows one to justify massive spending and personnel, and the suspension of rights that occur co-terminus with the creation of repressive legislation. A police action allows one to depict the people one attacks as criminals, evil-doers, parasites. We never have to view people we attack as humans, with their own interests, desires, and needs; because all we are engaged in is “social pest control.” The other reason for this blurring is that in control societies both complexes serve the same function: the monitoring and exploitation of bodies that are potentially unruly.

 

 

 

[1]Angela Y. Davis. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003. p. 86

[2]Linda Evens. “Playing Global Cop: U.S. Militarism and the Prison-Industrial Complex,” in Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex, ed. Julia Sudbury. New York: Routledge, 2005. p. 217.

[3]Mike Davis. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. New York: Vintage, 1990. pp. 251-253

[4]Angela Y. Davis. Abolition Democracy: Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire Interviews with Angela Y. Davis. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005.

[5]Manuel De Landa. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. New York: Zone, 1991. pp. 31-35.

[6]ibid.

[7]Richard Milhouse Nixon, “Message on Crime Control,” in State of the Union Message 1973.

[8]Schmitt, Carl. Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum, trans. G. L. Ulwen. Telos Press: New York, 2003. p. 124.

[9]Gore Vidal charts this in his book, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. New York: Nation Books, 2002.

[10]Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? p. 10.

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I love your ideas here. Especially the ones about the production of guns.

 

“[t]hese two complexes mutually support and promote each other and, in fact, often share technologies.”

What technologies of power do you see that these share outside of the basic normalization, and productivity?

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I'm not sure I agree that the current prison system isn't based around the capital of th body in a new form of torture as Foucault outlines in Discipline and Punish. That is if I am remembering his theories correctly. While modern punishment is not as obvious, nor as bloody, it is maintained through the creation stigmatizing norms and through separation of individuals. Prisoners are seen as evil creatures, a detriment to all society, which prevents any mercy (except perhaps from those personally affiliated with the prisoner) and often leads to harsh treatment outside of the prison. This is the norm behind recidivism. The prisoner is welcome withing his cell block, the prisoners are in the same plot and they all share a common bond. However, by controlling the release of prisoners, the system maintains control over the prisoners sociostasis, which is a key piece of a persons mental well being. The prison system can use this method as a psychological torture to either produce a reformed citizen because prison disgusted them, or a perpetual prison because the jail was a "positive" experience. This is how the system also utilizaes separation. If the system wants to create a reformed citizen, it places that body into an area where it won't have sociostasis, which will cause it to change and not want back to prison, preventing the recidivistic tendency from emerging. If the system wants a perpetual prisoner, then it will place them in a block where the social environment will be similar, or sociostasis will be easy to achieve, which encourages and practically ensures, the the emergence of a recidivistic tenedncy in the prisoner.

 

But, I did enjoy the analysis on the military/police connection, and the rest of the post, it was quite well done and well thought out.

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I'm not sure I agree that the current prison system isn't based around the capital of th body in a new form of torture as Foucault outlines in Discipline and Punish. That is if I am remembering his theories correctly. While modern punishment is not as obvious, nor as bloody, it is maintained through the creation stigmatizing norms and through separation of individuals. Prisoners are seen as evil creatures, a detriment to all society, which prevents any mercy (except perhaps from those personally affiliated with the prisoner) and often leads to harsh treatment outside of the prison. This is the norm behind recidivism. The prisoner is welcome withing his cell block, the prisoners are in the same plot and they all share a common bond. However, by controlling the release of prisoners, the system maintains control over the prisoners sociostasis, which is a key piece of a persons mental well being. The prison system can use this method as a psychological torture to either produce a reformed citizen because prison disgusted them, or a perpetual prison because the jail was a "positive" experience. This is how the system also utilizaes separation. If the system wants to create a reformed citizen, it places that body into an area where it won't have sociostasis, which will cause it to change and not want back to prison, preventing the recidivistic tendency from emerging. If the system wants a perpetual prisoner, then it will place them in a block where the social environment will be similar, or sociostasis will be easy to achieve, which encourages and practically ensures, the the emergence of a recidivistic tenedncy in the prisoner.

 

But, I did enjoy the analysis on the military/police connection, and the rest of the post, it was quite well done and well thought out.

 

Uhhh, that really doesn't make any sense, being put in isolation doesn't decrease recidivism, it only makes you go crazy.

 

Here's a quote by Michelle Brown from her article "Setting the Conditions for Abu Ghraib":

 

"Prisoners, much like detainees in the war against terror, may be placed in supermax confinement for indeterminate periods of time, with limited review procedures in place to monitor the reasons for and length of time spent in segregation. The average time spent in segregation nationally is not known; however, inmates have been known to spend years, some being released directly from these high-security units to the street with no transition programming. Given that inmates are assigned to these facilities for various reasons, many of which are based upon subjective criteria and the discretion of prison staff, supermax classification has been subject to a good deal of legal scrutiny, centered upon two constitutional claims. The first argues that supermax settings exhibit a degree of harshness in conditions that violates international guidelines for the minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, including the prohibition of torture, and also challenges Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. A number of human rights organizations have documented the highly disturbing conditions of supermax settings, including high noise levels; the throwing of food, urine, feces, and belongings; the flooding of toilets; the destruction of clothes; and the widespread practice of self-mutilation (many of the same kinds of conditions documented at Abu Ghraib and visible in photos).51 These surroundings are argued to be highly punitive, dehumanizing, and potentially volatile living conditions for both inmates and staff, resulting in higher levels of hostility, an enhanced psychological setting of "us versus them," and a generally more confrontational daily institutional setting with an increased likelihood of the use of force. Such sensory and socially deprived environments, in which confrontation is a routine part of daily existence, are argued to have often deeply adverse psychological effects. The sparse amount of research that addresses the psychology of supermax confinement provides evidence for increased problems with concentration, thinking, impulse control, and memory, as well as the development of severe anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, depression, rage, claustrophobia, [End Page 988]and hallucinations. When the Red Cross documented identical psychological patterns in its examination of detainees subjected to U.S. interrogation practices, military intelligence officers explained these tactics and effects as "part of the process."52 Many argue that these conditions increase the likelihood of self-fulfilling prophesies. By placing troublesome prisoners who cannot adapt well to prison life in segregation, supermax settings potentially render them less able to return not only to the general prison population, but to society as well. Such treatment also makes them angrier, more conspiratorial and alienated, fundamentally disconnected from the basic commitments to social life."

 

 

But in general, prison isn't about reforming the folk in there, it's about warehousing bodies that are imbricated in social problems the government dun want to deal with. That and being racist extensions of slavery.

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Uhhh, that really doesn't make any sense, being put in isolation doesn't decrease recidivism, it only makes you go crazy.

 

But in general, prison isn't about reforming the folk in there, it's about warehousing bodies that are imbricated in social problems the government dun want to deal with. That and being racist extensions of slavery.

 

Sorry, I didn't state that very well. What I meant was the groupings within the prison, like what block your on, not solitary confinement. That is a different and obviously torturous thing. Thanks for the catch.

 

And prison is used to reform in the modern age. That is it's general purpoe is to either instill the norms of societies or to destroy thye bodies of those who will not conform. Granted warehousing is a method, but usually the state uses prison to try and create a love for the law and instill new obedience to it.

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Sorry, I didn't state that very well. What I meant was the groupings within the prison, like what block your on, not solitary confinement. That is a different and obviously torturous thing. Thanks for the catch.

 

And prison is used to reform in the modern age. That is it's general purpoe is to either instill the norms of societies or to destroy thye bodies of those who will not conform. Granted warehousing is a method, but usually the state uses prison to try and create a love for the law and instill new obedience to it.

 

Hardly, even in Foucault that is not the case. Ben's right, prisons are about profit and warehousing social problems. The last point co-incides with Foucault's work, in which prisons are used to police stratas of society that are dangerous to the hegemonic social order.

They certainly don't reform anybody, nor are they meant to. What's really interesting is the way in which they act as an extension of sovereign power. Remember how Foucault said that executions and other displays of sovereign power became ways in which the people contested power itself? Well prisons function in a similar way (though Foucault doesn't talk about it). Think of the explosion of gangs in prisons, many of which are explicitly anti-state, anti-law, revolutionary and political.

What is really interesting that prisons fail so often to produce the docile bodies that Foucault was obsessed with. Michael Hardt tells this story of when he use to teach a class at prison. He taught the prisoners the same thing he was teaching his grad students, and at the end he brought his grad students in to have a class with the prisoners. The book under discussion was Discipline and Punish. He said that while the grad students were all too willing to assume that we are just empty vessels that power fills in, the prisoners insisted that you have a core that the prison can't get to. (perhaps this is even what Foucault was getting at in his latter works on subjectivity). My point is that prisons frequently produce great antagonism to the entire system. This is in much the same way that formal subsumption/Jungle Capitalism frequently produces powerful underground worker's movements.

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I can agree that prisons are mostly used for profit and wharehousing social problems, but then how does Foucault (or even better how do y'all) explain release for good behavior and parole. These seem to point to at least a small expectation of reform if the social problems are being released before full time, and the fact that many leave again only to come back.

 

As for creating resistance, that makes a lot of sense, thanks for helping me out.

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I can agree that prisons are mostly used for profit and wharehousing social problems, but then how does Foucault (or even better how do y'all) explain release for good behavior and parole. These seem to point to at least a small expectation of reform if the social problems are being released before full time, and the fact that many leave again only to come back.

 

As for creating resistance, that makes a lot of sense, thanks for helping me out.

 

Because there's a difference between the official justification for imprisonment and the way it actually operates, i.e. the unsaid assumptions that allow those justifications to operate. So while officially the law is supposed to be blind and prisons are supposed to reform a raceless, classless, genderless criminal subject, what it means to be criminal is already caught up in those very questions of race class gender and sexuality. So, yes, prison does police and survey and discipline and reform, but it does so in a way that is more complicated than just "follow the law" - it produces what that law is by molding out the contours of what it means to transgress it along the lines of race and class, gender and sexuality. You can witness this in the criminalization of certain communities through practices like racial profiling, anti-loitering laws, mandatory arrest laws in domestic abuse etc. So, a lot of the time, it's not that people go back to prison because it's just a peachy keen environment, rather because their identity is already criminalized - it's pretty hard to "reform" your skin color and economic status (especially when the two are already interrelated). Arguing that things like good behavior prove that the criminal justice system cares in a way that is disinterested in identity politics about the reform of behavior is really only naively buying into bullshit. More than disciplining anyone on the inside, prisons are meant to (as James was saying) brutally police communties that are isolated as threats and discipline those on the outside who don't fall into those communities into complicity with such violence by constantly producing the image of a dangerous non-white, poor, deviant identity that they should oppose themselves to.

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Following up on what Ben said.

 

While Foucault's work is completely essential to me, it has several problems. First of all, Foucault wants to explore prisons as a part of punishment, so he wants to exam how we got from executions to time-table of prisons. But, prisons have nothing to do with punishment. This cannot be over-emphasized. When you tell people you are for the abolition of prisons, they always want to know what you will do with the unredeemable body (it's always interesting who gets chosen as unredeemable. Usually the child molester, then the rapist, then the serial killer, etc.). They can only think this question because they think prisons have something to do with punishment, something to do with "criminals". It doesn't! In the same way that Foucault explains that executions have nothing to do with punishment or criminals, but are rather acts of sovereign war; prisons are first and foremost not about punishment (more on criminality below). The other thing Foucault ignores is everything that occurs in prisons. With the exception of the panopticon idea, Foucault treats prisons as almost black-boxes that produce disciplined and docile bodies in a carceral system. So you read nothing of the routine violence of prison guards, you read nothing of sexual assaults, the spreading of diseases and the allowance of sickness to continue without halt in prisons. You don't read how prisons are designed to turn prisoners against one another. Et Cetera. (also, following my last post, you don't read about how gangs and other prison resistance are formed).

 

But to add to your question, why is there parole I think Foucault understands this point very well. With the rise of the prison is the rise of a brand new subjectivity, the idea of the a criminal. Right, by which I mean not just someone who commits a crime, but someone whose essence is criminality. This is the answer to the question of why do prisons make use feel more secure rather than less. We feel more secure because we could never go, only "criminals" go to prisons. So even though we all break the law, constantly in some form or another, we think we are safe from prison. But we never are, at any point that protection can be retracted, we can become prisoners. This helps lead to a normalizing society (for recent examples picked from yesterdays reading of newspapers, what about the atlanta DJs that where arrested for making mixtapes. And also the virginia woman who threw a drink cup out of her window at another car. Though no one was hurt, she has been sentenced to prison for two years). But why parole? Well, with this invention of a new subjectivity was created what Foucault termed (if I remember correctly) the army of the technicians of the body. These are the people who are given authority to decide on extra-legal means how and in what way people are kept in prisons. Parole is a necessary condition of this.

 

Also, Foucault points out that we keep a certain number of the usual suspects (not his language) in order to police and survey stratas of society that could prove dangerous to the hegemonic orders of society. Parole allows for the surveillance more easily (ever seen an episode of Law & Order ;)).

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