Philosophy: Chapter Three - Part Four: Relational Materialism and Citizen XRead Now
and Citizen X
Chapter Three - Part Four
In Part Three, I began defining ‘Power’ and ‘power’ and mentioned that individual agents have the capacity for action, their own personal power, but the ability to exercise this power is a matter of contingent degree.
Any expression of power faces resistance from its relation with the external world, and this fact brings limitations to expressions of intentional action.
Limits to personal power, then, also function to limit personal autonomy.
The relation between power and autonomy and a few definitions
I spoke of autonomy at some length in Chapter Two, but it important to recap and renew that previous conversation.
Autonomy, from the Greek auto meaning ‘self’ and nomos, ‘law’ or ‘rule,’ describes the individual’s capacity to maintain authority over the directions, choices, and actions that concern her life.
The core notion of autonomy is “self-authority,” that is, the ability to decide and act in accordance with one’s own choices, without deferring to or confirming those choices with any authority higher than one’s own.
Among traits Marina Oshana lists (and I endorse) as necessary for self-authority, are “reasonably astute cognitive skills and a developed set of values,” as well as “certain psychological characteristics and a history of experiences conducive to self-directed agency.”
These characteristics frame autonomy as a relation of constitutive social forces and degrees of personal disposition, development, and recognized authoritative opportunity.
In distinguishing autonomy from freedom, Marina Oshana says, “To be free is to possess the power to decide or to act, but autonomy deals with agential authority over those decisions and actions.”
Autonomy is closely bound with “authority,” which I understand as “power that acquires legitimization.” In other words, an authority is an agent who holds legitimate power over one or more other agents, including her own “self.”
Another definition necessary to restate is that of ‘agency.’ I understand “agency” as the capacity to make and impose choices in the world; an agent is one who acts.
This action, as fundamentally a capacity, is ontologically based in the phenomenological subject, the individual, the “agent” who may only act to the extent that she is able to with self-deliberation and empowerment.
Ideally, an “agent” maintains the capacity to express her personal power with no limitations and with complete self-authored deliberation. However, as I have taken pains to mention and explain, practical limitations to “agency” exist in the simple fact of physical and social reality.
Acknowledgement of these empirical conditions negates the usefulness of ideal theories, requiring practical theory to base itself in material paradigms such as my proposed model of Relational Materialism.
The relation between power and resistance
The concept of resistance is vital to my overall project.
In upcoming chapters of this blog series I will be returning often to resistance so for now, I want to quickly bring the idea into play and offer a short description of how resistance functions in relation with power. It will be discussed in greater detail as we move forward.
First, Foucault claims that resistance is internal to the exercise of power, a dynamic part of the action. Of resistances, Foucault writes, “They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite.”
I understand this to mean that resistance is found in the relation itself, at points of instantiation when an agent intentionally utilizes her capacity to act.
What I mean is this:
Where the technical term “Power” deals with the internal experience of Citizen X, the basic experience of being ‘in’ an external world, the concept of “power” contains both internal and external aspects, it is our common, colloquial notion of being able to act in the material world and the ability to effect the objects we encounter.
In every case, power is in relationship with resistance so as to facilitate tangible actions, the capacity and/or the ability to do something in the physical world.
This implies some degree of relationship between objects, as the concepts “power to” and “power over” tell us that there is a form of resistance that is being overcome.
My initial definition of ‘resistance’ is: “The impeding or opposing effect executed by one material thing upon another.” This definition will evolve as the discussion continues in future chapters, but for now it is enough to move on.
Moving On: The Sociopolitical State
Resistant forces can be understood as environmental, other agents, the agent’s own materially-considered phenomenology (i.e. psychological and physical limitations), or most importantly for this blog, the sociopolitical state.
In this section, I will begin with a general definition of sociopolitical power, one endorsed by Iris Young. From this initial attempt, I will build my own definition of sociopolitical power based on a Relational Materialist model.
In general, the “sociopolitical” involves a combination of social and political factors, an idea found in Iris Marion Young’s claim that sociopolitical justice “concerns all aspects of institutional organization, public action, social practices and habits, and cultural meanings insofar as they are potentially subject to collective evaluation and decisionmaking.”
Traditional descriptions of sociopolitical power, also described as “state” power, are in terms of the “sovereign,” a common and legitimate political authority.
According to this model, individual agents trade some degree of their “personal” power and autonomy, their “agency,” for the benefits of an organized and structured social system: protection, opportunities, creative and fulfilled lives free from the instabilities of non-political existence.
Hobbes describes such existence as the “state of nature,” while John Rawls hypothetically calls this the “original position.” In either case, what they are describing is conceptually equivalent: a model of human life without a political state or sovereign authority.
Models of human life without legitimate political authority are used to develop the idea that the fundamental relationship between individual agents and the political state must be justified.
I agree that this fundamental relationship must be not only justified, but continually maintained, an idea I will return to.
What I want to draw from this conception of an original state of nature is the idea that there is a fundamental relationship between individual agents and the political state that must be justified, legitimized, and maintained.
This relationship is based on recognized and accepted authority; political subjects, citizens, recognize the state’s authority over their lives and accept the benefits of political life, i.e. protection, law, increased opportunity for felicity or a “good life,” in trade for the necessary burdens of such arrangements. Burdens include restrictions, taxations, and limits to personal expression of power such as laws against stealing, yelling “fire” in theaters, traffic regulations, and so forth.
In the traditional context, political power was considered the sole possession of a lone sovereign or ruling class.
Current philosophical inquiries into the subject, following Foucault, have to admit to a shifting in the locus of political power.
There can be no legitimate discussion of a single authority guiding the mechanisms and apparatus of the State, the sources of power have become abstract, the major influential factors in a secular, capitalistic democracy too diverse, parasitic and demanding of one another to be thought of as one coherent entity.
With the growing specialization, consolidation, and cohesion of industrial, political, and economic systems, the traditional idea of ‘power as sovereign’ fails to hold.
No longer confined to the simple form of an absolute ruler, the paradigm and structural mechanisms of ‘power as sovereign’ has become embodied in and by the social system itself. Power is now everywhere, wrote Foucault, for “it comes from everywhere”. (Foucault, “History of Sexuality- volume 1”, pg 92-93)
Foucault realized that our modern society has developed such as to internalize two crucial mechanisms of ‘power as authority’, those of Surveillance and Exclusion, and the panorama of disciplines and controls that stem from these.
Its authority has moved beyond traditional limits as citizens have come to internalize the mechanisms and ideologies of state power, enacting the capacity of that external authority over themselves. Born from foundations of post-industrial, capital-driven politics, individual agents produce, reproduce, and are subject too, political authority, and enforce its power with their everyday actions, assumptions, relationships, and norms. We have become more than the ‘units’ of power’s application, Foucault says, we are ‘vehicles’ for its expression. (Foucault, “Power and Knowledge”, pg 544)
The idea of the ‘sovereign’, he writes, is enough to propagate its continual rebirth.
My initial definition of ‘power’ is “an agent’s (1) capacity to act, an internal potential that manifests in actuality as an (2) intentional action involving (3) a dynamic relationship with the external world. To this I must now add further points to encompass our relation to the modern political state.
The power of the common authority we enact has become (4) a net-like system that is (5) internalized by agents in dynamic relationship with their own personal power. I will develop these ideas further in upcoming chapters.
The Structure of Sociopolitical Power
Structurally and mechanically, contemporary sociopolitical power is exercised in three forms: Argumental/Persuasive, Compulsive/Brute, and Deontic/Structural. In this blog, I am concerned specifically with deontics.
Broadly, deontic power constructs the basic structural limits of the socio-political system, and enables an agent of power, be it state, individual, or group, a de facto authority, to get other agents to behave in desired ways without having to resort to actual physical coercion or force.
Searle writes that deontic power provides “desire-independent reasons for action.” He means that on a practical level, the rights, restrictions, and duties imposed by the deontic structure of law and regulation produce, on the theoretical level, intentions to act that are not based on an agent’s own initial desires.
Stopping at a red light on an empty street when in a hurry is an easy example. One way relevant to this paper involves the agent of power getting the subject to actually want what the agent wants him to want, while a second way involves the agent getting the subject to only perceive certain courses of action as open, manipulating the subject’s subsequent actions and intentions.
I have a problem with Searle’s idea of ‘desire-independent reasons for action’ and I will return to it in upcoming chapters.
I do, however, agree with his assessment that the contemporary sociopolitical state’s legitimacy and regulative force is, in Searle’s words, “intentionally-relative,” that is, “people’s attitudes are necessary to constitute something as money, government, political parties, or final examinations.”
Political agents accept the benefits of political life, i.e. protection, law, increased opportunity for a “good life,” in trade for the necessary burdens of such arrangements, including the state’s authority over aspects of their lives. Foucault writes, “What can the end of government be? Certainly not just to govern, but to improve the condition of the population…”
The ability to carve the space for oneself to realize, develop, and exercise personal power is relative to one’s relationship and standing to the society at large. The more power one holds over their choices and movements, the better the chances to fulfill one’s own particular ‘good life’, an important concern in liberal discourse.
This “pastoral” state, with the population its flock, contains the mechanisms for large-scale discipline of the individual body, where conformation to the expectations of the state was linked to the well-being and advancement of both individuals and the general population; the state as the sole means to the best end.
I will return to these ideas in the Part Five.
Two more definitions necessary for upcoming discussions
Allow me to briefly step back and offer two definitions that will become of growing importance as we move forward. This discussion evolves and moves quick in this blog format, so I do not want to risk letting these definitions slip through the cracks.
First, I will use the term ‘System’ to describe “a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements in relationship to each other as to form a complex whole”.
Second, ‘Economic’ is “the system concerned with the structure of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption of goods, services, and resources in a society, including finances, labor, and institutional relations”.
Thank you and I will see you again in Chapter Three, Parts Five and Six.
In Part Five, I will begin discussing this notions of the pastoral state and “biopower,” as well as offering my definition of sociopolitical power. Five will also lead us towards Iris Young and her rejection of distributive theories of power and justice. Her rejection forms the base of my own model of Relational Materialism.
Part Six will delve into Searle and answer to some objections I have with his conclusions.
 Oshana (2003) pg. 102
 ibid. pg. 101
 Oshana, 2008, pg. 199
 Foucault (1990) pp. 96
 Young (1990) pp. 9
 Slogans, propaganda, the food pyramid, political primaries, nationalistic rhetoric and symbols.
 Imprisonment, penalties, sanctions, the death penalty, military presence at social demonstrations.
 Searle (2010). pp. 23 “the glue to hold civilization together,”
 See Searle (2010) and Lukes (2004) This ability to reflect upon first-order desires, and then to act upon consequent second-level reasons, is a trait particular to humans and “distinguishes language-based rationality from rationality that does not require language.” Searle, pp. 128
 Searle (2010) pp. 17
Such burdens include regulations, taxations, and limits to personal expression of power such as laws against stealing, yelling “fire” in theaters, traffic fines, slander, and so forth.
 Foucault, 2004, pp. 105
 “And the instruments that government will use to obtain these ends are, in a way, immanent to the field of population; it will be by acting directly, on the population itself through campaigns, or, indirectly, by, for example, techniques that, without people being aware of it, stimulate the birth rate, or direct the flows of population to this or that region or activity.” (2204, pp. 105)
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