Understanding Foucault: Overview Covid-19 as a New Power
The Relation Between Knowledge and Power
God bless Monday. This is the second time I wrote about Foucault. If you mind to read the first one, I already published it in Journal Kita or here’s the shortcut. The main reason is because, he’s one of my favorite philosopher of all time lol. His notion always blew up my mind despite his controversial. Last night, I was thinking about what’s the reason behind Covid-19. What is the noumena behind this phenomena. After a long reflect and meditating, I found something. I’m sorry if this article are too long, I’ll try my best to keep it short. Alright, Foucault…
Two years ago, a disaster hits human civilization. It will be marked in the history books of an elementary student in 3022. Is there still has the same model of education as now? Hmm probably not. I think one of the most memorable year for the people in 21’s century belongs to 2020. A global pandemic, namely Covid-19 appear in our earth where no one predict it before. And now is 2022, which means two years later, and we still don’t fucking know what is the caused of this shit.
In media, many assuming Covid-19 came from Chinese. Some people arguing this pandemic is made up by humans. There are also some people that see this phenomena as a conspiracy. And then, there are also some people who have a good relationship with God see this as a calamity. However, I will not discuss about such things in this article because it is a futile endeavor and not so interesting for me.
What I’m tryna talk about in this article is, how Covid-19 related to someone’s thoughts who was born in1926 and died in 1986. This man is well-known as a philosopher from France, post-structuralism, and Nietzsche’s best student. His name is Michel Foucault. Understanding Foucault and realizing how relate his ideas nowadays is more interesting for me rather than arguing the caused of the pandemic.
Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, and The Order of Things are Foucault’s magnum opus. Foucault is a man whose life is tragic, has revolutionary thoughts, and has a sexual disorder. Foucault studied in Paris, France and briefly taught in Tunisia. He was born into a family of doctors, where his father was a surgeon. Foucault has a psychological condition that tends to be unstable, which is characterized by easy get stress and anger.
Foucault produced many of his philosophical ideas. One of his original ideas is the notion of historical discontinuity. For Foucault, history is discontinuous. The history of human life is from fragment to fragment. However, today, the chronological way of thinking dominates humans more. For example, Tony used to study hard, then Tony managed to get into the best university. Tony entered the best university because Tony studied hard. Because Tony got into the best university, Tony found it easy to get a job. For Foucault, our lives doesn’t work like that. History is fragmentary. Each event and phenomenon has its own mode. Thus, one cannot use event A’s parameters to assess event B. One cannot use Western glasses to see East, and vice versa. Each local has its own way of thinking.
Departing from this idea, for Foucault, it is futile for us to seek universality, essence and absolute meaning because these three things do not exist. This is because each event has a different fragment. These fragments in each history are later referred to as episteme.
In short, episteme can be defined as the way a person -or group of people- thinks, perceives, describes and understands reality. Everyone and society has its own reasoning system. According to Foucault, examples of episteme can be seen from historical periods. For example, people in Ancient Greece had a tendency to think cosmocentric, which positioning themselves as part of the universe and then tracing the relations of reality. Then, continued by the tradition of Hellenism which also cosmocentric but centered on humans, no longer seeing the dances of the universe.
This paradigm was replayed by the medieval tradition with its central episteme in God (theocentric). Then, the modern age came and threw it all away. Centering everything on humans (anthropocentric). This modern century then gave birth to many problems, so a new awareness was born, namely logocentric which gave birth to pluralism.
Episteme is a long process of determining knowledge and discipline of human thinking by the regime of discourse and truth. To find the truth of each period, Foucault uses two complementary philosophical approaches, namely archeology and genealogy. There are power in the determination of knowledge, we will see how this relates to the way of reasoning, and the formation of knowledge. To uncover this, Foucault uses two approaches: archeology and genaology.
Through an archaeological approach, Foucault wants to reveal the deepest and hidden elements of each episteme, as well as show a comparison of the truths that are discoursed in each historical period. Meanwhile, through a genealogical approach, Foucault is not only limited to revealing the deepest elements of each episteme, but furthermore he wants to find hidden variables, motives, and causes for these differences. In geneaology, Foucault sees the motives behind a meaning, such as social variables, culture, religion, and so on.
Knowledge is Power
Another Foucault’s characteristic is the quotes “knowledge is Power.” However, this terms has appear previously at the beginning of renaissance. There was an english philosopher who said it before. His name is Francis Bacon. At the beginning of the renaissance, the connotation of “Knowledge is Power” means that whoever is intelligent, then he is strong. Meanwhile, Foucault interprets it differently.
For him, whoever has power, then he has control over knowledge. Power is always articulated through knowledge, and knowledge always has the effect of power. The enforcement of power always produces knowledge as the basis of its power. Power produces knowledge, and not only because knowledge is useful for power. There is no knowledge without power, and there is no power without knowledge. Furthermore, to find out power, research is needed on the production of knowledge that underlies power. This is because power is always structured, established, and manifested through certain knowledge and discourses. Thus, every power always pretends to produce a certain truth regime that is propagated through discourses formed by power. It is power that permits the existence of knowledge.
“Through knowledge, we could become a kind of instrument for determining truth. Therefore, knowledge is nothing but power.” — Michel Foucault
What perpetuates a power through knowledge according to Foucault is a panoptic system. Panoptic is supervision that is carried out with discontinuous, but has continuous impact. For example, the prison guard tower always turns on the lights so that the prisoners feel that they are always being watched and guarded. It’s as if the guards are on duty when in reality that’s not always the case.
In my opinion, power is something that controlled majority. Something that determine what is right and wrong. Something that decide what is normal and abnormal. A system that shape our behavior. In fact, power usually in the shape of minority group. It is a metaphysical thing that we can’t see, touch, kiss or whatever you wanted it to do, but it’s indeed, affects human life.
Government, school, hospital, asylum, religion, family, and culture are several examples of power. They produce a knowledge which then produce truth. They determine implicitly how we should act and think. Determining what is good-bad, normal-abnormal, and noble-despicable. From there, they indoctrinate us the truth through knowledge.
On the Ancient Greek times, LGBTQ+, naked on the street, and having a discussion about such things that outside our reason was a normal thing. But nowadays, especially in Indonesia, you will be considered as a crazy, abnormal, and a sinner if you behave like that. Don’t go so far, you will be marked as a strange people if you don’t have Instagram or WhatsApp nowadays. How can? Knowledge is power my friends. All knowledge that you gain and adopted currently is because the people who is in charge allowed you to access it. The people up there, constructed our truth through knowledge.
On the previous part, I’ve already mentioned types and shape of power. Such as government, school, hospital, asylum, religion, family, and culture are several examples of power. They have dominated us for a long time. However, in 2020, such power have to bend their knee. A new power has joined the game. Ladies and gentleman please welcome, Covid-19.
How can I interpret Covid-19 as a new power? Isn’t this just a virus outbreak disaster? Again, the definition of power is something that produces knowledge, which then produces truth that will adopted by majority. It determine whats normal, what’s right and so on. Therefore, the characteristic of Covid-19 is match and fit with the ontological of power.
A life before Covid-19 is pretty common. We could go to the mosque, church, office, school, and college without necessary wear a mask or doing social distancing. A person is a normal if he or she doesn’t wearing a mask. A place like theater, market, mall, and other public places still considered as a normal if they didn’t apply social distancing policy. However, that truth suddenly disappear after the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many places are closed. Suddenly, people are wearing a mask across the street. Many places apply and adjusting social distancing policy. Even the previous power like religion has to bend their knee which marked by the closing of the mosque, church, temple and so on. Furthermore, moslem has changed the provision of pray. Where before Covid-19 appear, if we pray in congregation in the mosque, the prayer rows must be close to each other. Then, this provision of pray has change due to the Covid-19 outbreak. I’m wondering does Covid-19 having a higher degree than God?
It may doesn’t produces knowledge, but it is makes the power produces a knowledge that suit and fit with Covid-19. Before Covid-19, if you going to the theater that doesn’t apply social distancing policy and health protocol, you will felt nothing and it just a normal one. But, in the next day, when you go to the different theater and they apply social distancing and health protocol, I’ll bet you will say “what the fuck is going on here? It is weird and abnormal.”
That’s how human life goes. The meaning and truth always change based on who’s behind the power. It is power that gives birth to the truth. Covid-19 has gave me a lot of lesson. I’m planning to write this topic on my thesis, about how powerful Covid-19 is by using Foucault’s ideas and others similar philosopher. I don’t know, is it my mind that travel too far or what. I really love to hear from you about this topic. Therefore, the comment section is always open. Really appreciate what do you think about this phenomena. Selamat malam from Jakarta, and good day…