Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Foucaultian thinking

So that you guys have a little taste of what I've been doing here, I'm posting a part of a response that I have for my Body Politic class. This subject is based off of Foucault's writing on the penal system and how it has evolved. Keep in mind, that this is an opinion-based article and that you may not agree what I am saying. This is only a portion of the essay that I wrote. The other part isn't that interesting and written in essay format. I had not really thought about this subject until I began reading Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. You can find it on Spark notes if you are interested in reading about it.

Situating Theory #1: Discipline and Punish

"The issue of punishment and what it has become has made me feel like our penal system is not strong as it should be. Sometimes I feel that some people deserve to be put on the spot and truly “punished” for what they have done. Although it was brought up in class that within the penitentiaries criminals are often punished among other criminals, I sometimes feel like there should be a harsher system. Though I do not agree with the public display of humiliation, I do feel that minor torture like the forty-hour questioning shown in the opening scene of The Lives of Others is acceptable.
I cannot see how treating criminals in a humane way can be justified when, for the most part, the criminal himself acted just as or more inhumane than the punishment itself. A mere slap on the hand does not make me feel that our penal system is holding criminals responsible for their actions. Think of it in terms of a child. If a child pulls the cat’s tail and is yelled at he will stop for the time being, but when the child pulls the cat’s tail again and is scratched he will have learned his lesson and will not do it again. If the penal system wags a finger at a the criminal who has committed a petty crime the criminal will most likely do it again because he knows that he can get away with it, where as if the petty crime is repaid by an equal mistreatment it most likely will not happen again.
Foucault talks in length about the portion of history where the criminal was punished with the eye for an eye logic. Although it may sound harsh to say it, I think that I agreed with the thinking of the age. Like I said, I do not think that public punishment is the right way to go, but equal punishment is a good tactic to make criminals learn their lessons. The modern role of judges and their desire to “correct” the criminal does not seem like the best logic to follow. Do people really learn from following example? It can be said that learning from the mistakes of others is nearly not as effective as if that person himself were to be punished.
In terms of The Lives of Others and Foucault’s observation on the evolution of the penal system, I think that the movie definitely shows how much more lenient societies have become. After Wiesler was caught in the act of treason, he was sentenced to twenty years in the mail room. Back in the 1700’s, the time period that Foucault had been talking about with his torture example, he would have been flayed alive for committing an act against the government. Even now, people are put in jail for a few weeks for working against our government. Punishment has become so much less severe.
Whether this is a good or bad thing I do not know. People still fear what the government can do, but I think that I would have feared committing a crime much more if I knew that my skin would be torn off and I would be pulled apart by horses in front of the whole city. I do have to say that I am definitely one of those people who fears what the government can do to me and I do learn from the example of others, which pretty much makes me an unreliable opinion on the penal system’s operations; however, for those who do not easily learn from example, the penal system needs to step up and take action.
The whole aspect of the government shaping its community the way that it wants is frightening to me. The fear that our society (for the most part) has for what may happen to us if we do something wrong is outrageous. It makes me question whether or not this tactic is working. Is the relationship that the average citizen and the government has healthy? Let us look at it this way. If I was in a relationship with man who I feared could do terrible things to me, my friends and family would tell me to dump him. So why do we put up with our government, when we clearly fear them. I know that I can safely say that when I drive to school every day I’m always looking over my shoulder in case there is a cop car behind me. Mere police officers, who are citizens as we are, can still strike fear in my heart. They may just be a low rung representation of the government, but the power that they hold over the average Joe is incredibly daunting.
What aspect of fearing our government should make us feel safe? I know that I’ve heard people say, and probably have said it myself, that we feel safe that our government protects us from criminals and other people with deviant intent. How can we truly feel safe when the people who we are calling our protectors are the same body of people who we fear can harm us?"

Well that's all folks. Once I have a short story finished the way I want it to be then I'll post some of that too. If you're interested in the short story that I'm working on now I can post some of that, but it is subject to change.

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