Foucault And The Tragedy Of The Commons

Michel Foucault, the Tragedy of the Commons and Crossfit. What do they have in common?

In political science, and more specifically in the field of collective action, there is a key concept: the Tragedy of the Commons. It is an idea that focuses the study on the existence of situations in which an agent, in the search for a particular interest, can produce a result totally contrary to what the individual expected. And even more, that it is a “tragic” result in the general interest of society.

Michel Foucault and the Tragedy of the Commons: the age of biopower

The classic example that is taught in collective action classes on this concept is that of a town with a fishing tradition in which the problem of the disappearance of fish appears. In this scenario, if fishing is not stopped and there is no pact between all (regularize or seriously control this activity), the fish will disappear and the townspeople will end up starving. But if you don’t fish, 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 goods (in this case, fish) and feed off the misery generated by their own monopoly. For that reason, the hegemonic power is interested in eliminating any type of political or social culture that favors cooperation. Consequently, he is interested in promoting the culture of individualism. So let’s look at some examples of how power puts this premise into practice.

Crossfit and individualistic awareness

Michel Foucault, one of the great thinkers on the theory of power, points out that one of the ingredients from which power is fed to exercise control over the population is to try to instill an individualistic conscience. According to this author, the ultimate goal that moves power is to make the individuals of a society as productive as possible, but at the same time, to be as docile and obedient as well. Going down to the realm of the concrete, it can be said that the practice of  crossfit is a good example of this individualistic awareness aimed at causing subjects to be docile, obedient and productive.

For those who do not know, crossfit is a sport that has become very fashionable lately, thanks in part to a good dose of marketing. It consists of a kind of multidisciplinary military training (it combines several sports such as strongman, triathlon, weightlifting, sports gymnastics, fitness) that is structured in a good number of different exercises diversified in time, number of repetitions, series, etc.

For there to be individualism, there must be discipline, and crossfit is the king of sports as far as discipline is concerned. The discipline pursues the ritualization of attitudes and behaviors, which we could synthesize with the term obedience. Obedience can be understood as the absence of searching for alternative options before an authority figure who provides the guidelines to follow. In crossfit, the discipline of the body allows it to act as a prison for the subjects. The highly mechanized exercises seek the aesthetic and functional perfection of the muscle. 

The ultimate goal is to progressively become a sort of more productive machine, in which the time factor (time control) also acts as the subject’s own controller. All this is based on a meticulous structuring that proposes combinations of totally predefined series of exercises and fragmented in time, in shifts, like mimesis 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 objective is to be more and more productive and who, paradoxically, ends up physically and mentally exhausted, plunged into this spiral of productivity and alienation.

The objectification of the subject and the figure of the entrepreneur

One step further for power to achieve its objective (the optimization of productivity) is the fact of creating the collective consciousness of what interests it, making these individualistic bodies join forces to generate a large collective body that produces for it ( the power). They are individualistic consciences that eventually come together to better reach their individual goals. 

For this reason, power has always sought the normalization of society, that is, creating guidelines, routines, norms, praxis in the day to day that are established as habitual, common, normal and, ultimately, acceptable (thus differentiating itself from the attitudes or behaviors that, due to their residual condition, can be briefly labeled as non-normal, eccentric or dysfunctional). For this reason, laws are used to define the limits of normality, always in conjunction with those behaviors or judgments related to legal logic, which is still an expression of a certain scale of values ‚Äč‚Äčthat is intended to be consolidated.

The system revolves around a key element that defines it, the company. If the power pursues an objective, the next thing it will do is turn people into that objective, objectify the subjects in the company object, the famous ” I am a company ” in order that all people in civil society produce In the same sense, in the sense that power is interested in: that the subjects define themselves as a company, that they be a company.

Let’s go back to the example of the fishermen that we mentioned at the beginning of the text. The process of individualization and the mentality of ” I am a company and therefore I have to beat all the competitors in the market ” only favors those who seek to finish the fish before nature can reproduce the species [ one]. However, it is appropriate to clarify that in this article we are not arguing at any time that the fishermen in the example or any of us are part of the oligarchy (it would, in fact, deny the same term) but we could affirm 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 both individualism and non-cooperation (especially in times of crisis like the current ones) suppose, in any case, the tragedy of the commons.

Bibliographic references:

  • [1]: Regarding the restocking of fish species, we could link the cooperation with a model of economic decline, but this is already another topic that we will deal with in future dates.

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