What does it mean if I say Biopolitics? According to the famous philosopher Michel Foucault, biopolitics is a “power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations” (Michele Foucault, The Will to Knowledge).
The functioning of political power is always related to specific forms of production. In particular, biopolitics is connected to the industrial production when in the 18th century the nation-states had the necessity to discipline the body and fit it to machine production. In fact, discipline power put the body into a system of norms. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Michel Foucault argued that disciplines are “methods which make possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which (assure) the constant subjection of its forces and (impose) upon them a relation of docility-utility”.
So it was for the prisoner, the fabric worker and the medical patient. The biopower manufactured individuals managing their bodies.
In the next phase, the biopower discovered population as a productive subject to manage with a specific tool: statistical science. Reproductive cycles, birth and death rates, levels of general health and life expectancy had to be managed with the statistic’s help. It was important for the wealth of the nation-states manages these data and keep it under political control.
Nowadays, something new appears in the scene of history. We are talking about another kind of power that goes to add up to biopolitics. In fact, as we know, the statistic is a science that does not has access to the psychologic dimension while this new form of power has. The philosopher Byung-Chul Han speaks of Psycho-politic power:
“Biopolitics, which makes use of population statistics, has no access to the psychic realm. It can deliver no material for drawing up a psychogram of the population. Demography is not the same thing as a psychography. On this score, statistics and Big Data lie worlds apart. Big Data provides the means for establishing not just an individual but a collective psychogram – perhaps even the psychogram of the unconscious itself”. (Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics)
This new kind of power is related, as always happen, to a particular form of production called neoliberalism. This kind of capitalism is based on an immaterial form of production. “What gets produced are not material objects, but immaterial ones – for instance, information and programs”. (Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics)
As we have seen, the tool of psycho-power is the amount of Big Data that we leave every day on the web. The Bentham’s big brother turns on itself: while into biopolitics the power asks us the information about ourselves, inside the psycho-power the information is voluntarily given from us.
“Psycho-power is more efficient than biopower insofar as it watches over, controls and influences human beings not from outside but from inside … Digital surveillance society – which has direct access to the collective unconscious (that is, the future social behavior of the masses) – is assuming totalitarian traits. It is handing us over to programming and control”. (Byung-Chul Han, The Swarm: Digital Perspective)
We have seen the consequences of this kind of power in the last American election. Specifically, in the case of Cambridge Analytica, someone creates personalize messages that appeared on the Facebook timeline’s users in order to direct the vote. For instance, If someone was racist, in his timeline appeared fake-news that informed about a crime committed by immigrants.
To make another example, we could claim that with the Five Stars Movement in Italy is happening the opposite: by analysing Big Data, their exponent argues to do exactly what the citizens have asked them to do on the social media channels.
At this point, there are some questions which are interesting to investigate. For instance: which is the relation between the psycho-power and the creation of consensus? There is a connection between this kind of power and the success of populists movements all over the world? Especially, which are the consequences on the free will and to liberal democracy if the subject is manipulated on his decision process?