Political Corruption, Business and Reform (Part II)

By Cristian Ramirez
University of Mindanao

FOUCAULT AND CORRUPTION

The Greek philosopher Thales is remembered for his cosmology, in which water forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe. Over the course of time, it was Anaximenes who said that the essential element for the universe is air. Many other pre-Socratics declare the inconsistencies of these thinkers and created their own. Until such time that Empedocles proclaims that the universe is made up of four fundamental elements namely, the earth, air, fire and water.  Thus far the discovery of atoms by Democritus and Leucippus led to the new conception of the origin of universe. Now we rely heavily on what is said by the famous thinkers about the world. When Newton said that in every action, there is always an equal but opposite reaction, we tend to wait for a reaction as a consequence to the action we’ve done prior. When Pascal said that love has its own reasons in which reason itself does not understand, well, we don’t try to understand love, we just feel it as we cannot know what reasons it has to take.

And when P-noy (Pres. Aquino) said that ‘our country has zero remaining balance,’ the majority of the Filipino people would just sit at their own safety and mutter, “oh how pity our destiny is”. The point is that all characters involved in these examples have given their full authority to investigate the world and thus make these to be scientifically approved or if not, our common-sense perspective even tells us that what they say has somehow a trace of truth. They gave us their perception about the world and thus shape our knowledge. But the last example is an exception. When P-noy says that we have the diminishing value of peso and that we lose our economy, most of us bring ourselves to a safe zone where our awareness to such case is highly neglected. I mean we see riots and rallies over television, but they just constitute little fragments of the Filipino people (I don’t intend however to make ourselves rally over the streets). The majority of us blame these leaders for bringing us down, but what do we do when we see them doing the wrong thing? We go with them; we do the same. That is the reason why there is a never-ending quest for development.

Michel Foucault is quite a reformist. He critically sees the development of science in a different perspective. The body, as Foucault calls it, is an ‘automaton’. Being docile, it is subject to repression. The will or man’s rationality can never be taken hold of that is why it is the body that is subjugated and controlled. The body has been the target of penal repression during olden times. But because of the advent of humanization, punishment that is directed to the body disappeared. Humanists posit that we should do away from brutal and vulgar punishment. With the ‘modern rituals’, torture becomes no longer a public spectacle. Also, the disappearance of pain was strongly imposed. Foucault believes that in order to transform the condemned, it must be the soul that must be subjugated. This translates into the very idea of reform. The ‘prison system’ was invented in order to address this concern. But does the state have the legitimacy with regards to dominion and power? Why does the state impose punishment? The state, as the governing body, puts forward the welfare of its citizens. Policies are therefore imposed so that people will submit to authority. And if individuals break the rules, he is then entitled to a certain legal punishment. Punishment, hence, is used in order to make manifest the whole concept of power.

Now, what is the implication of this? The soul is said to be the prison of the body. As it makes possible the existence of the body, it becomes the very factor by which power manifests itself. The basis of knowledge is ‘power relation’. As Foucault claims, epistemology is latent in the society that we have. Knowledge and power directly imply each other. It is power which produces knowledge. There is no power without a correlative constitution of a field of knowledge; nor any knowledge that is not constitutive of power. There is therefore a ‘power-knowledge’ relation. Foucault describes knowledge as being a conjunction of power relations and information-seeking. He states, “It is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge, it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power” (Foucault 1980, 52).

The conventional understanding of knowledge, and particularly scientific knowledge, is that it is shaped by a series of isolated creative geniuses, for example, Newton and Pascal. They are characterized as exceptional people who were able to transcend the conventional ideas of their period and who were able to formulate completely new ideas and theoretical perspectives. Same with corruption, our knowledge of it is what the situation tells us to be as it is. Our knowledge of political corruption is not what the original definition of it signifies. Political corruption means an abuse of public power for private benefit but the way the status quo reacts to it is quite the opposite. Our supposedly reaction to this act is negative but we become blissful the moment the concept of corruption is applied to us. Instead of limiting the definition of corruption to ‘private benefits’, I guess, the private that is already meant here is a ‘public-private’, that is, almost all of us take advantage of things surrounding us by means of corruption.

“Thus, where there are imbalances of power relations between groups of people or between institutions/states, there will be a production of knowledge” (Mills 2003, 69). While there is an overwhelming influence of the wealthy or the authority in our society, then our society is in turn shaped by the very prominence of these people. In the case of election for public office for example, there are of course wealthy politicians who give money or whatever ‘gifts’ it is to the people in return for their support to that certain politician. Then the knowledge that will be produced in our consciousness is that these rich individuals can only run for office because in reality, they are the ones who have the sole capability to bribe, to give gifts to the people. That would then be the measure of these affluent individuals for winning the election.

Then why are all of us accountable to political corruption? Why not the politicians only? Foucault characterizes power/knowledge as an abstract force which determines what will be known, rather than assuming that individual thinkers develop ideas and knowledge. Our generation of knowledge according to Foucault has been based to the authority because for him, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of [the] fundamental implication of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggle that traverse it, and of which it is made up, that determines the form and possible domains of knowledge. (Foucault 1991, 27–28)

Corruption becomes existent because of the power relation that occurs between the politician and the civilian or the agent and the private citizen.

Foucault contends that rather than knowledge being a pure search after ‘truth’, in fact, power functions in that processing of information which results in something being labeled as a ‘fact’. For something to be considered to be a fact, it must be subjected to a thorough process of ratification by those in positions of authority. Such is the case for political corruption where we do not see the clear picture that it implies a long term negative effect to the economic progress of the society. We only see the positive consequence that comes out of it.

Political corruption has become beneficial because of the way we all react to it positively. Our acceptability to corruption is what makes it normative. The politicians shape our conception of corruption. They give us money, and then we become happy. But the thing is when we try to deliberate the long term effect that it brings to us, sure enough that it collapses the value of perseverance and willful determination in our society. It deteriorates the very essence of political corruption as totally defined towards positivity, thus making political corruption beneficial.

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