Public Service (2013)
(November 2013, The Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum)
Public Service was an experimental project created in 2013 in the Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum. It consisted in the exploration of seven topics that demonstrate the constant production of distinct modes of cognitive capitalism.
We wrote words and phrases and placed objects on the walls of the museum gallery related to each of the seven topics.
On the central wall of the main room our show occupied a video that spoke of the challenges of survival in a world saturated by cognitive capitalism was projected on loop.
Finally, we organized conversations once a week between a person who had some degree of expertise in one of the seven topic areas and a public. The conversations were livestreamed. Special guests included the sociologist María Emilia Tijoux and the historian César Leyton Robinson.
Social control and subject formation through comercial and social media and publicity
Social control and subject formation condition our desire and emotional lives. If the goals of this social conditioning are diverse, they are almost invariably associated with fear and consumerism and a dulling of the critical capacity that allows one to reflect on and act to change the existing social order.
Communications media constantly elaborate a version of the truth invites people to construct a life that is amenable to the prevailing system. These ways of life structure a moral universe that is normative and hierarchical and that defines both material and immaterial needs. Not fitting within these normative, moral categories can generate frustration and fear in the subject, whose life has been forcibly capitalized. Subject formation happens within this prevailing moral order and provokes mental and emotional illness. Anxiety, depression, anguish. In this way, emotions are codified in such a way that the subject is rendered uncapable of organizing against the hegemonic social order into which they are born. The stability of the system is founded on a constant threat and the subject lives in fear.
These two schema (social control and subject formation) reproduce an imaginary that can be defined as cognitive capitalism. The subject is at risk of entering into uncertainty and crisis and, penetrated by loss and a sense of chaos, giving into an eternal panic.
Semiocapitalism: the resignification of concepts and the uses of language
We understand semiotics as the method that examines the interpretation and the production of meaning. In this case we refer to the specific uses to which language consensus, by means of its construction by an elite that semiotizes to benefit its own interests and to protect its power, lends itself. Using diverse platforms to influence the construction of new meanings and reconceptualizing words related to people and society, they create the spaces that give rise to the misrepresentation of social phenomena.
For capitalist semiotics, reconceptualization attempts to act on the social consensus, determining the anomalies that power structures consider damaging to the established social order and the functioning of capitalism and using language in legal and moral valences that disqualify and judge determinate groups in order to identify and criminalize them. This semiotics produces meanings related to desire, consumption, paranoia, illness, addiction, status, segregation, individualization, objectification, needs, and fear. In short, the manipulation of words under capitalism constructs a particular imaginary of reality which allows for the functioning of society in the service of its upper echelons.
The institution creates constant hoaxes that destabilize dialogue and communication and produce social isolation in a language of individualization and paranoia.
Public policy and subjective capital
Public policy in the neoliberal system can be summed up by looking at the decisions that are or are not made in the resolution of conflicts of interest and values. Hegemonic institutions keep civil society from participating actively in governance and protect private sector interests and capitalism. The dominant oligarchies work to assure the continuity of the prevailing power structures.
Oligarchic governments, through proselytism and demagoguery, manipulate public opinion around policies that narrowly serve their own interests, to the exclusion of everyone else’s. Welfare policies are so many placebos and orthopedics, designed to keep the poor, huddled masses pacified. These placebos put in place to keep the existing social order going through inertia, allowing for the parallel construction of policies that deteriorate the quality of life of the social body, violating fundamental human rights through exploitation, marginalization, forced exposure to addictive substances and nutrient-poor, genetically modified food, manipulation of information, hierarchical control of public education curricula presenting heroic and white-washed versions of national history, mismanagement of natural resources, petrocapitalist energy policies, bourgeois criminal-juridical institutions that criminalize poor and racialized populations, and the universalization of heteropatriarchal values and norms. The construction and maintenance of these public policies and the mass production of certain kinds of (governable) subjectivities are designed to keep individuals atomized and dependent on capitalist markets for survival. In this way, mental and physical health are systematically put in harm’s way through the constant production of precarity and stress, limiting the working class’ ability to rest, reflect, enjoy leisure, question, imagine, and organize.
Society lives in a constant state of anxiety and tends toward the fetishization of the individual through concepts such as merit and hard work and upward social mobility. Individuals seek to demonstrate their social prowess by obtaining symbols that demonstrate and validate their success: expensive objects, university degrees, new cars, works of art, etc.
Individuals who are members of the same class and who share common interests compete amongst themselves. Neoliberalism has succeeded in mass-producing subjectivities that eschew collective forms of identification and action.
Surveillance and social control, in the city and at the workplace
By urban control we refer to the configuration of a series of interventions that attempt to solve social ailments by way of:
- The installation of surveillance systems in public spaces that treat all people as potential criminals.
- Public policies related to social housing initiatives and prívate real estate interests, the adjudication and construction of a city’s space.
- The privatization of space.
- Architectural, economic and social interventionism that rely on centrally planned, large scale private sector projects that modify the biosphere including its human-social dimension.
On the other hand, work place control is achieved largely through the establishment of a brand of business-friendly unionism that divides workers into discrete syndicates and impedes rank-and-file leadership and direct action, including sustained strikes and worker takeovers, as well as coordination across multiple sectors to achieve macro-political ends, instead of narrowly sectarian and mostly economic ones.
Biopolitics and political association
The Pension Fund Administrators in Chile (AFP), collusion between the major players in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, the massive reliance on prescription drugs in the current public healthcare system are all examples of how the private sector, the State, and the political class (including lobbyists) collaborate in the establishment and ongoing execution of a system of social control that situates the subject in a repressive arena from which it is very difficult if not impossible to extract oneself.
The consumption of both legal and illegal drugs, preordained by public policy, is sustained by the illusion that governments are waging a war on drugs, when in reality they are helping to produce and distribute them and claim a lion’s share of the profits they generate. In this sense, the State definition of licit and illicit substances creates the basis for criminalization of consumption, which is a powerful mechanism of social control.
On the other hand, the debate surrounding the privatization of seeds (Monsanto) illustrates the incredible flexibility and ingenuity of global capitalism as it extends its tentacles into rural areas as well, threatening ecologically sustainable agricultural production and small-scale farmers.
“In the early days of prison systems, it was clear that they did not produce obedient citizens. Why, then, did prisons persist? Because, in fact, they produced delinquents and delinquency has a certain political and economic utility for hierarchical societies. This utility can be easily demonstrated: the more delinquents that exist, the more crimes will happen; the more crimes there are, the greater the fear amongst the population; and the greater the popular fear, the more acceptable and desirable the system of police control becomes. The permanent existence of this tiny, internal danger is one of the conditions that renders the system of control acceptable. This explains why the newspapers, radio, and television, in every country in the world without exception, dedicate so much space to criminality as if each instance of it were something truly new. From 1830 in every country in the world they developed campaigns related to the growth of delinquency, a fact that had never been proved. But this supposed presence, this threat, this growth of delinquency was a factor in the wide acceptance of social control.”