Law in Contemporary Society

Imperfections and Dystopia

-- By YvetteFerrer - 22 May 2012


Throughout the semester, we have discussed the ways that structures handed down to us impede our creativity, happiness, and work ethic. More importantly, we have discussed how to start pushing against those influences. This course reminds me of Foucault’s criticism of disciplinary power. Foucault indicates that systems are everywhere, seen and unseen, influencing our lives and behavior, or rather, turning us into canned meat. When reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment,

Did you check the title of the book you were referring to? This is a more serious example of the failure of proofreading. Getting the title of your source wrong in the first paragraph pretty much destroys your credibility with the reader.

it is unclear what Foucault is trying to evoke in the reader.

Why are you dragging in someone else's book in order to say that its ideas are obscure to you? Does the supposed value then lie in name-dropping? (Not much of a value in any event if you get the name wrong, of course, but even so....) What we needed to find in the first paragraph of the essay was your idea, not a reference to Foucault.

However, like this class, critically analyzing “the system” is most useful to improve, rather than overthrow it. After all, there is no guarantee that a “V for Vendetta”-style takedown does more than change us from canned meat to canned fruit.

What has a comic book to do with this?

So Happy Together

Humans are social creatures, but living together as a society is exceedingly difficult. Societies, and the rules that go with them, are socially constructed and aim to create order.

Societies are socially constructed? What does that mean? Sociality is a biological property: termites, ants, wasps, elephants, baboons and humans are social species. What has "aim" got to do with it?

While social control can, is, and has been used to commit horrendous acts, just because a system has potential for great harm does not mean the system is inherently flawed.

I'm not sure what this sentence is about. Are we discussing whether society should exist? Or whether society without social control should exist?

Control techniques like checks and balances stabilize human emotions and help create a “good” society.

I don't know what "checks and balances" are. I know what table manners are. Do table manner stabilize human emotions and help to create a "good society"? I think this is a category error with respect to the nature of social control, but the language is so indefinite I can't be sure.

However, human societies will never be perfect for the simple reason that they are human creations. “Good society” is a varied concept. Not only do ideals vary from person to person, but people also act contrary to their ideals. So while all contemporary liberal societies use controlling structures, regarding all attempts at control as dystopias disregards many respectable and laudable features.

But who has suggested "regarding all attempts at control as dystopias"? This isn't an argument about anything, and we still don't know what your idea is, because you're still objecting to some other idea that no one has yet advanced.

Learning and Innovating

Disciplinary power also allows a stable environment for innovative scientific and philosophical discussions like those held in our classes.

I'm not sure I understand. Does this mean that if there were no social control in the classroom we couldn't talk to one another effectively? That's true, but why is it relevant? Are we still fighting the strawman of "let's not have sociality"?

If Foucault’s goals were to unveil an awful system, spark a mass movement, and tear it down, he would be disappointed. Instead, Foucault, and this class, allows us to analyze and enhance the system to better-fit society’s needs.

Now we are asking what Foucault wanted? He wanted an archaeology of knowledge. But why does that matter?

Citizens learn their desires. Laws, schools, television, religion, and parents tell us who we are and what we want in life.

Is this a conclusion? From what basis? Surely it is clear that this is at best only partly true?

Children are taught that they should be proud to be American,

Some children.

that citizenship entitles them to rights that should be protected because others do not have them, but we rarely question the origin of these rights. Patriotism is nothing more than learning to love ones own chains.

What does this mean, actually?

People are not born knowing not commit tax fraud or to die for their country. Rather disciplinary powers teach people to abide and defend these structures under the guise of safety, health, ethics, education and progress. However, this does not make systems inherently dire. Without these justifications people may resent rather than desire the control that could lead to violence. A disciplinary system prevents chaos. Evolutionarily speaking people have self-interests at the expense of others. People are impulsive and irrational. A world without checks on people’s impulses would result in a chaotic and likely violent world. These systems allow reasonably reliance of safety and ability to live.

There are many bleak characteristics to disciplinary power, but there is also much innovation created within disciplinary systems. For example, during the enlightenment, when monarchies declined and contemporary liberal societies started forming, there was a sudden growth in innovative ideas that resulted in one of the largest and fastest technological and philosophical advances in history. Disciplinary power has the ability to incentivize innovation by defining success and rewarding that success. For example, by defining success as creating something new and useful for our society and then society rewards that innovation through money and status.

Not a sentence.

While one would like to think that people are inventing medicine from the goodness of their hearts, looking at where pharmaceutical companies spend research money paints a different picture.

What picture does it paint? I know a good deal about what pharmaceutical companies spend money on, and I can't make sense of this statement.

Corporations and individuals respond to incentives and a disciplinary structure allows for the incentives and guides what kind of work is needed. Foucault would question where these values come from and point to the lack of choice people have in establishing a value system.

What does the first sentence have to do with the second?

We Are Our Choices

However, we are not absent choice. People do have choices within the disciplinary system and constantly validate or invalidate kinds of governing, products, and behaviors both individual and corporate. The rise of sustainable food is a good example of consumers changing the disciplinary system that would have preferred to keep producing unhealthy, inhuman food. But through individual choices, the market is shifting and there is a retooling of what is valued in society. The idea that we are given a set of choices from which to choose and that anything else is outside of those choices is not a choices allowed to us is a valid concern. But moderated choices allows for slower changes that create not only longer lasting change but also more agreeable changes.

These sentences are blowsy, and their meaning is uncertain. I think you are saying something about the market, but I don't know what.

Consider the civil rights era. At that moment, gay marriage was not an option on the table. However, the civil rights can be seen as a catalyst for gay marriage now becoming an option.


While the disciplinary sytem does not always allow voting on either by ballot or purchase power, the system does allow people to attempt to set in motion activities towards a goal. And that makes the United States not a dystopia but an imperfect system. A disciplinary system allows a society to not constantly question its own exists but move towards improving the current society through smaller and less radical changes. A small change is not inherently a meaningless change as a lot of small changes can lead to a big result. We must entertain the possibility of a disciplinary system that can change to become more accepting and better if people choose to value something new. So if the system will react, then what we must do is start changing what we value to create new options. We must stop playing the short term game of “what do I wan and do” and play a longer game for those that come after. The system is not perfect, but we should ever strive for excellence.

This draft does not make much sense to me, after three readings.

The draft refers to a "disciplinary system," which seems to mean "social order" of some kind. Much effort is spent, apparently, indicating that if social control disappeared, society wouldn't work. This is tautological, and doesn't lead much of anywhere.

Let's back up a step. What is the central idea of this essay? Put its essence in a sentence, clearly, using simple words. Then make an outline, showing the steps necessary to support that idea, answer any objections that must be met in order for the reader to see your idea in context, and present some implications the reader can work out for herself. Use that outline to construct paragraphs whose topic sentences are the simple expressions of the steps listed. Let's find out what the simplest and most unadorned version of your idea looks like. Then we can use another draft to put flesh on the bones.

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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:22 - IanSullivan
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