In The Future: I

Foucault suggests that the urge to disclose is a built-in component of our (Western) culture. In his terminology, the system of control is leveraged on an s&m relationship between repression and confession, with the net result being that we experience growing compulsions to express our private selves and in effect to register ourselves with society. At least, this is my light gloss on a shallow reading of a dense (and soporific) body of theory (in History of Sexuality: I).

It’s a provocative idea, anyway. One of the explicit implications in the book is that the disclosure of sexuality (how and how much) and the subsequent attachment to identity are in no way antisocial, or at least that they are a natural response to society’s prurient investigative interest in sexuality. And Foucault’s constant lament (or whatever he’s doing) is that each phase initiates a more complex and fine-tuned system of control over the individual.

Of course, in his thought control seems to be held by the system of society rather than by a cabal of inviduals. The system, in fact, binds rulers and ruled together in unexpected ways, and involves (yes!) s&m relationships. The success of the system’s control is contained in the fact that individuals respond to the system in ways that the system dictates, and take on individually roles of social enforcement. Self-disclosure is supposed to be the ultimate internalized social duty.

So my sense is that Foucault would be amused and/or dismayed by the diary-publication that occurs on the web. He would nod knowingly when told about efforts to semantically organize personal information (foaf), and about Google’s latest services. He might laugh at the emergence of “openness” as a social virtue. He might, however, take hope in the possibility that the reins of the systems of control are finally slipping from the hands of the rulers of nation states. Being a pessimist, though, he’d probably see this as no victory for the individual.

In the future. My prediction is that everyone will write a tell-all memoir. Zero-cost self-publishing (Lulu and CafePress) will make this possible. The books will be bought by friends and family and will contain uncomfortable truths and shocking revelations. But each person will explain his need to write a memoir as a desire to be “honest about my life”. There will be an expectation that people of a certain age will have written something that others can read. Otherwise, they will be considered rude, immature, or possibly sinister. “I read his memoir” will be the equivalent of googling in dating and networking nowadays. It may be that memoir writing will take on a coming-of-age significance and will be conducted in formal installments: at ages 20, 30, 40, etc. The important thing, though, is that every word must be openly available. People having trouble writing their memoirs will complain about feeling like they “don’t exist”.