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We were talking about Foucault's ideas about power yesterday. Jonathan said that, while he liked Foucault in general, he felt that he didn't make a distinction between dominating power and resisting power. He gave the example of a US soldier who's ordered to shoot at some Iraqis. Johnathan said that, in Foucault's conception of power, there's no difference between the dominating power that forces the soldier to shoot, and the power of resistance that the soldier would use to defy the order. Either use of power is as good.

Sarah's response in defense of Foucault (which I tend to agree with) was that he does in fact draw a distinction between domination and resistance in some of his work (in response, I think, to the sort of criticisms that Jonathan made). But I think that response overlooks a more important problem with Jonathan's comment, and of the whole domination and resistance paradigm that's so popular among radicals these days.

Consider a situation in which Tommy Franks gave the order for the military to pack up and get back on the boats. The soldiers would be in a situation of either being dominated by the military, or resisting by staying behind to shoot some more Iraqis. Granting for the sake of argument that in both cases shooting Iraqis is bad, we have quite a different situation. If we grant the moral distinction between domination and resistance promoted by Jonathan and the later Foucault, for the soldiers to resist Franks's order must be valued, even though it clearly undermines the progressive/radical cause. The only way out is to claim that non-progressive resistance is actually domination by a higher anti-progressive power (some sort of godlike world racist-capitalist-patriarchal system), based on the axiom that resistance must always be progressive.

The solution I see is to recognize -- and to a certain degree I believe Foucault does point us in this direction -- that power is an instrument, not a goal. The form power takes is not significant in and of itself; it's the entire suite of its effects that is important.


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