The neo-liberal State governs not so much by making specific demands on the body but by controlling bodily access to, and use of, space and infrastructure. It needn’t tell us in overtly dominating terms, “Go Here Now!” because we will go where we are supposed to be without ever thinking beyond the choices that we are free to make. Our milieu will always offer choices … When we drive in our neighborhood after dark, we play a game: Cop or Not a Cop! It started as a way to involve the whole family in a counter-surveillance system designed to protect ourselves from the enforcement of child restraint laws; but gradually, and because in roughly two years of playing we have seen exactly two cops patrolling the streets of our neighborhood, it has become a pedagogical tool for demonstrating the powers of passivity and the awe inspiring expression of instincts made to serve the State and Capital. “If there are no cops here, then there are no laws,” my son understands. “But T, I say, the laws are inside each and every one of us. I am a cop. Mamma is a cop, because we police ourselves. We obey, and deep in our bowels, our bodies rejoice.” “What?”
A proud mamma explained to me that her son was accepted for kindergarten at a private school. “Money, [blah blah blah], and he passed the psychological evaluation!!” “The what?”
So I did an experiment: “T which is good: an ice cream cone or a hand grenade?” “A hand grenade! No, wait, both!” “Bravo son, but you just failed the psychological evaluation that would’ve put you on the path to wage slavery.” “Hey T, what is your favorite football team?” The son looks at me askance … “T, what are the relative merits of an AK series carbine compared to the M-16?” “AK’s will function even when dirty.” “Bravo son.” Some choices are more valuable than others because they add something to Life that cannot be so easily codified by the State and Capital. I wrestle with books, bourbon, and bullets: not all of our choices serve the State, even if ALL of our choices can serve the State. It depends on what is added to the taxable portion of our assemblages. The neo-liberal State governs in ways never imagined by previous forms of government: by providing access to legal and profitable milieus of habit and governable circumstance.
This past Sunday at the grocery, every single person in the ransacked store, black or white, asked me something about the Super Bowl. I had no great or pithy responses to their questions (the “I don’t know, I don’t watch TV,” response is getting old, so I just played it cool, “Yeah, some becoming-herd dude is gonna feel totally justified and gratified by what his life is capable of in a few hours.”) Not too pithy; and then I get back home. You see, I purposely waited until 5:30 to go to the store so that I wouldn’t have to play the game, but back home I see my Mexican neighbors down the street. “Hey Mark,” one of them says, “we are having a Super Bowl party if you want to come down.”
Even the Mexicans. Not the Mexicans too! I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather have “All the stores will open up if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick up!” than, “A white dude, a black guy, some Mexicans, and even a Jew bought a Coke. Period.”
In other words, the State governs by creating an environment that promotes and sustains the thriving of a specific form of human life – by providing a milieu of maximum comfort and ease (one needn’t hunt for or slaughter food, walk long distances in an airport – George Costanza rejoices! – walk at all, chop wood, or climb stairs) as well as a set of discourses on morality, altruism, and behavior that coincide with an entire psychological, anthropological, and biological science of being human so as to precisely codify this form of life/mode of being human.
And it does so largely in the name of freedom – a singular embodiment of the sanctity of this milieu: all progress, success, and meaning is demonstrated in one’s mastery of comfort and leisure. Even the rights and constitutional guarantees of liberal governance point to such a slavish and capitalistic basis of freedom – and truly protect little more than that in the vast realm of potential human behaviors. We remember that American racial segregation was ended with interstate commerce and access to new markets in mind – and this is not to say that morality didn’t play a role, for what could be more moral than freedom?
The agōgē, as it was for the Spartans, assumes that the human is created – not born – by a long associative interaction with certain precise configurations of technologies and techniques (culinary, agricultural, musical, lyrical, erotic, martial, spatial, relational, etc.) that come to prominence largely through our extended apprenticeship with language and narratives.
When these technologies and techniques are circumvented, short-circuited, or better yet, created anew with a view to an-other form of life, then we begin to play with the powers previously reserved for gods and nature (as the State sacralizes or naturalizes this process in order to erase its role in creating the conditions of our servility). We begin to understand just how creative is the human in his/her relationship with life: to wit the effort put into making sure that we never step beyond the stories we are given to explain ourselves and the world.