In political science, and more particularly in the field of collective action, there is a key concept: the Tragedy of the Commons. It is an idea that emphasizes the study on the existence of situations in which an agent, in search of a special interest, May produce a result totally contrary to what the individual expected. And even more, that it is a “tragic” result in the face of the general interest of society.
Michel Foucault and the tragedy of the commons: the era of biopower
The classic example taught in collective action classes on this concept is that of a people with a fishing tradition in which the problem of the disappearance of fish appears. In this scenario, if the fishing is not stopped and there is no agreement between all (regularize or seriously control this activity), the fish will disappear and the inhabitants of the village will end up starving. But if it is not fished, the population can also end up dying.
Faced with this dilemma, a solution: Cooperation. However, in the absence of cooperation, there are hegemonic forces that can benefit if they monopolize the commodities (in this case, fish) and feed on the misery generated by their own monopoly. For this reason, in the hegemonic power he wishes to eliminate any type of political or social culture favoring cooperation. Therefore, he wishes to promote the culture of individualism. So let’s take a look at some examples of how power puts this premise into practice.
CrossFit and individualistic consciousness
Michel Foucault, One of the great thinkers of power theory, points out that one of the ingredients on which power is fed to exert control over the population is to try to instill a individualistic consciousness. According to this author, the ultimate goal that shifts power is to make individuals in a society as productive as possible, but at the same time, to be as productive as possible. docile and obedient as well. Going down to the realm of the concrete, we can say that the practice of CrossFit is a good example in which this individualistic consciousness is given aiming to bring the subjects to be docile, obedient and productive.
For those who don’t know, the crossfit is a sport that has become very fashionable lately, thanks in part to a healthy dose of marketing. It consists of a kind of multidisciplinary military training (combines different sports such as strong man, triathlon, weightlifting, sports gymnastics, fitness) which is structured into a number of different exercises diversified over time. , number of repetitions, sets, etc.
For there to be individualism, there must be discipline, And CrossFit is the king of sport when it comes to discipline. The discipline pursues the ritualization of attitudes and behaviors, which we could synthesize with the term obedience. Obedience can be understood as the failure to seek alternative options in the face of an authority figure who gives guidelines to follow. In CrossFit, body discipline allows him to act as a prison for the subjects. Highly mechanized exercises seek aesthetic and functional perfection of the muscle.
The ultimate goal is to gradually become a more productive kind of machine, in which the time factor (controlling time) also acts as a controller of the subject itself. All this is based on a careful structuring that offers combinations of sets of exercises over time totally predefined and fragmented, in turn, like a mimicry of a factory production, only in this case, the factory is the person himself. Thus, we have as a final result a subject whose sole purpose is to be more and more productive and which, paradoxically, ends up being physically exhausted and mentally plunged into this spiral of productivity and alienation.
The objectification of the subject and the figure of the entrepreneur
One more step for power to achieve its goal (optimizing productivity) is to create collective consciousness of what interests it, causing these individualistic bodies to join forces to generate a large collective body that he produces for him (power). These are individualistic consciousnesses that end up coming together to better achieve their individual goals.
That’s why power has always sought standardization of societyThat is, to create guidelines, routines, norms, day-to-day praxis that establish themselves as habitual, common, normal and, in fact, acceptable (thus differentiating themselves from attitudes or behaviors which, by their residual condition, may be briefly labeled as abnormal, eccentric or dysfunctional). For this reason, they are used laws to be able to define the limits of what is normal, Always in agreement with these behaviors or judgments similar to a legal logic, which remains the expression of a certain scale of values that one intends to consolidate.
The system revolves around a key element that defines it, the company. If power is pursuing a goal, the next thing it will do is turn people into that goal, objectify subjects into business objects, the famous “I am company“So that all members of civil society produce in the same direction, in the sense that power interests them: that the subjects define themselves as a company, that they are a company.”
Let us return to the example of fishermen we spoke about at the beginning of the text. The process of individualization and the mentality of “I am a company and therefore I must beat all the competitors in the market” favors only those who pursue the end of the fish before nature can reproduce the species.. However, it should be clarified that in this article we do not at any point claim that the fishermen of the example or any of us are part of the oligarchy (this would in fact refuse the same term) but we could to say that we act according to the interests of this oligarchy and against, sooner or later, our own interests, as an integral and unconscious part of a corporatist machine.
This is why individualism and non-cooperation (especially in times of crisis like today) are, in any case, the tragedy of the commons.
- : Regarding the repopulation of fish species, we could link cooperation to a model of economic decline, but this is another issue that we will address in the next dates.