Foucault, Deleuze and… Scott Cawthon? “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and the Societies of Control
by Diadelics (They/Them), February 3rd 2022
Written in 1990, nearing the end of his life; Gilles Deleuze wrote a short piece expanding on the work of French Marxist Michel Foucault in which he named “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” This work, along with others like it, was big. Not only for the Post-Marxists, but for the entire Left in general. But to truly see the value of such a work of his, we ought to look at what exactly he was expanding on and the applicability of his theory of a new society that we are reaching.
In order to understand what Deleuze meant by “Societies of Control,” we must first understand his inspirations in the works of Foucault, and we must also understand the societies before the “Societies of Control,” and how we can understand them in a comprehensible way.
So, what do they mean when they say “Societies of…” anyways?
A continuity with each of the societies that Foucault analyzes throughout his work “Discipline and Punish,” is that there is a way that each society throughout history organizes its own oppressive nature, each of them, in a simpler phraseology, have their own way of subjugating those who weren’t in power throughout history. This means that throughout each period, there were different methods of dealing with wrongdoers, and a different logic when viewing them and in whole — the law.
Deleuze characterized each society and their development, much like Foucault but in a slightly different way, as such:
“Types of machines are easily matched with each type of society — not that machines are determining, but because they express those social forms capable of generating them and using them. The old societies of sovereignty made use of simple machines — levers, pulleys, clocks; but the recent disciplinary societies equipped themselves with machines involving energy, with the passive danger of entropy and the active danger of sabotage; the societies of control operate with machines of a third type, computers…”
As said, Deleuze does very much agree with the way in which Foucault described the development of such societies, as Foucault says:
The formation of the disciplinary society is connected with a number of broad historical processes — economic, juridico-political and, lastly, scientific — of which it forms part.
So we now know what the idea of different societies means, and how they are characterized, let’s now have a closer look of the societies preceding the “Societies of Control.”
“Societies of Sovereignty” and “Societies of Discipline”
The “Societies of Sovereignty,” can be best described in this part of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy when, in the article on Foucault, they say:
“[S]overeign power: a form of power that was historically founded on violence — the right to kill… The obligation to wage war on behalf of the sovereign and the imposition of death penalty for going against his will were the clearest forms of such power”
The law was the direct will of the mighty sovereign — the King. Therefore, you were allowed to do whatever you like as long as it does not oppose the will of the ruler. Wake up whenever, wear whatever, eat and drink whatever. As long as you reached your production quota (for taxes) and didn’t piss off the king enough to kill you, you were generally able to do whatever.
But that only covers the way laws were seen, what about punishment in such a society? Well, as anyone in power does when their will is imposed on, when imposing on the will of the sovereign you will be met with the most absurd, brutal, and petty backlash on behalf of the sovereign themself. Having all of you fingers cut off, being electrocuted, poison, lashed, stoned, or having you head chopped off are all possibilities, unlike a modern society of discipline, ones of sovereignty aren’t necessarily consistent because it all depends on what side of the bed you preferred King woke up on.
Sovereign societies are societies of petty violence.
With “Societies of Discipline,” (also known as “Disciplinary Societies”) we now see a more consistent manner. Being described by Deleuze as “environments of enclosure,” the way in which control is organized in disciplinary societies can be best compared to the structure of prison (though the same structure is in place throughout all social formations — schools, hospitals, factories and the family structure).
Think of disciplinary societies as a movement between these enclosed environments, each being their own kind of panopticon (a specific prison structure characterized as a prison with a large tower in the middle) instead of law being the will of a specific person, it is the law of common standards, what is socially acceptable, reaching certain social standards or quotas. In the school, it’s getting the right grades, in factories, it’s all about reaching that production quota, and so all. Things that are meant to benchmark progress and accomplishments become the accomplishments themselves in a disciplinary society, because it’s all about how you act under constant surveillance.
It doesn’t matter if anyone is actually in the tower, or if anyone is actually watching the camera footage. All that matters now is that there is the possibility of you being watched at every moment. “But what if there is someone watching me, I best not steal this candy bar,” is a way of thinking in these disciplinary societies. As much as it doesn’t matter whether or not you actually are being watched or not, it also doesn’t matter how severely you’ll be punished, because it is all about the fact that you are not meeting the social standard.
When it comes to the way wrongdoers are viewed in these different societies. Where someone who went against the law may be viewed with empathy from bystanders in a society of sovereignty (as the law is completely subjective, and not based in any actually existing standard or moral code), those in disciplinary societies aren’t seen as some victim of a system, or a victim of the wrath of a sovereign, they are seen as a disrupter of the social contract. Or in other words, the people, the power, those people are the victims of the wrongdoer’s wrath. And therefore, the prison as a system is not only seen as necessary, it’s seen as a peaceful reform of the person.
But another important aspect of these disciplinary societies is the fact that this power structure exists in all organizations. Everywhere you go, you are always enclosed in this space and you have certain tasks to do to meet your quota.
As Deleuze says:
“The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first, the family; then the school (“you are no longer in your family”); then the barracks (“you are no longer at school”); then the factory; from time to time the hospital; possibly the prison, the pre-eminent instance of the enclosed environment. It’s the prison that serves as the analogical model…”
And these organizations are constantly having to be upheld, though their flaws are prevalent, they always need to be reformed to beat out the kinks. As he explains further:
“The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons. But everyone knows that these institutions are finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods. It’s only a matter of administering their last rites and of keeping people employed until the installation of the new forces knocking at the door.”
Much like capitalism, where these societies (as they are seen as the will of everyone, despite only benefitting certain people) are constantly devoid of criticism and even when criticized, they are never called to be abolished or changed in any significant manner.
Capitalism gives one an unfulfilling life despite all of it’s promises, yet its reform is the goal for many of capital’s critics. It lives on its critics because critics never call for anything more than just petty change. This is how you can best view the disciplinary societies of our time, though they may not last much longer.
Instead of punishment, disciplinary societies are those of total reform.
So now that we have this knowledge on the societies before the “Societies of Control” let’s just quickly recollect what we’ve learned by explaining the machines Deleuze used as examples.
The clocks, levers, pulleys not only show off the time period in which these societies existed in (these sovereign societies) but it also shows the ways in which these societies worked. The lever, pulley, and the clock, all have the idea of individual production in common. It takes one man to use a pulley, a lever, and a clock, given they have the right skill, and it gets the job done enough for it to not matter what you are wearing, or what you look like while you are using such tools.
The machines involving energy immediately make me think of an energy transformer, where despite it being an enclosed space (much like the space in a classroom, for example) most of the energy (production) happens on the inside. This relates to our comparison to capitalism quite nicely as well, as despite the international nature of capital accumulation, it all starts in the office, the cubical, or the factory room.
The Societies of Control and “Five Nights at Freddy’s”
“[C]omputers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy and the introduction of viruses.”
Computers are very dangerous for many of the reasons that Deleuze listed off in this quote, but they are also good for a lot too. Computers allow you to do whatever you may want to waste your free-time doing: binge-watching awful T.V shows that you swear are just “guilty pleasures,” writing essays that nobody but a niche audience will read, or playing video games.
Societies of Control are characterized by this freedom, but on a deeper layer this danger is something that is omnipresent.
Where a disciplinary society would tell you “You must stay here until you meet our standards,” the control society encourages free-flowing movement, thought, action, whatever you want. Similar to the ways in which production worked in a sovereign society, the control society gives you that same feeling of freedom. But are you ever free?
Constantly being watched — monitored. There is always the chance of being caught, even if you don’t think that you are doing anything wrong to begin with. There’s still always the idea in your head that those in power know your schedule — what time you wake up, when you are going to bed, who you like to talk to, what kind of movies you watch. Your computer is always collecting data, storing it short term (in your RAM sticks) or long term (in your HDD or SSD) and even when it isn’t apart of your hardware, websites collect everything about you any time you interact with them and sell this date to other companies, or regimes around the world.
I must ask again, are you truly free?
You wonder around wherever you like, you do whatever you want, but what are the consequences?
Deleuze tells us of an example that his good friend, Felix Guattari, makes, when saying:
“Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position — licit or illicit — and effects a universal modulation.”
(Dividual, meaning a new synthesis between an individual and the masses, like how the card is meant for a collective access to the gate yet it comes in the form of an individual card)
This perfectly encapsulates the ever-so-looming possibility of rejection based on any set of actions, walking the wrong way, drinking or eating the wrong thing — anything. Anything can be seen through the things you interact with. Fingerprints can be tracked by your phone data, or your genetic code can be tracked through DNA tests that your family took (which has happened). Anything.
The idea of being able to do anything at the expense of anything being tracked is what best pictures the societies of control that we are starting to see develop (or have they already developed, you’ll never know). Which is why I, along with Deleuze, think that the development and logic (or, rather, the development of the logic) of the computer is what is most analogous for the new societies that we are seeing.
Unlike the cameras in disciplinary societies, giving you the idea that you are always being watched (even when you’re not) in whatever enclosed environment, only feeling free when you are disconnected from an enclosed environment, computers in a society of control give you the illusion that you are never being watched (even though you are).
But let’s look closer at one of the things that you can do whilst on a computer — playing video games.
Recently, as I have been quarantined with Covid-19, I have had a lot of time to either write essays or play video-games (since I am free from school, I do have supposed “freedom” to do whatever I please). I used some of my money to buy myself the first and second “Five Nights at Freddy’s” games (as well as “Terraria”, but that isn’t important), and I have been putting a good amount of time into both of them.
For those reading who do not know about this game, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (FNaF) is a point-and-click horror game based in a Chuck-e-Cheese esque pizzeria. For the most part (there obviously has to be exceptions), the character you play as is hired as a nightguard for this pizzeria franchise and you must use the security features of your office to protect yourself from child possessed killer animatronics — weird, huh? Well, the game is amazing from a gameplay perspective because you have to constantly use the movements of the animatronics (which can be viewed via cameras placed throughout the pizzeria), being able to close the doors, flash lights, or use audio lures (depending on the game) to keep the animatronics as far away from you as possible, this game is a great game for that raw feeling of panic of fear that not many games can give you.
But, this is not an IGN post about this game, and there are plenty of people who can review the game better than I can. What does this game have to do with the societies of control? Well, look at the example Guattari provided:
Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to (roam around)…thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours
The animatronics in the pizzeria are subjects in the control grid, the pizzeria itself being the society of control.
Let us imagine the doors in the FNaF 1 office to be the barriers Guattari spoke of , and the electronic card to access these barriers being a representation of the ability for these animatronics to presumably roam freely around the building.
In the game, as I have said previously, you must use the cameras to track the movements of the animatronics, everywhere they go, you can pick up on it and see everything that they are doing, every noise they make, and you can estimate where they will be next by picking up on their attack patterns and behavioral mechanics. Much like how your data is tracked everytime you turn on location on your phone, or make a post on Facebook, these animatronics can be easily tracked everywhere they go. Though they have more mobility that real life animatronics (analogous for subjects of a disciplinary society), these in-game animatronics’ sense of free will and free mobility are just that — a sense, instead of a genuine example.
The doors in FNaF 1 are a perfect example of this barrier, because it all depends on how you use the information gathered via the cameras, the animatronics could easily walk into your office, but the barrier could just as easily be erected on a given day or between certain hours.
Let us now look at a game of the same series in which the cameras play an even more crucial role, FNaF 3, in order to truly display how important this constant tracking of information is.
As you can see in this screenshot, there is only one animatronic that you are meant to watch throughout the night. In this game though, there is no way to actually keep him outside of your office, once he is near you have to be one lucky player for him to willingly leave. It is all in prevention via the cameras. You can watch him move all you want, sure, but to keep the “Springtrap” away from your office, audio is the name of the game.
Track his every pattern, and lure him to certain areas. Keep him away from you by any means possible.
Like how computer software tracks your watch/search history and gives you advertisements corresponding with your interests, meant to make you click on it.
If you are one of those people, you might have seen a rather promiscuous advertisement on the internet but when clicking on it, it asks for information that no random “game” should be asking for. Or, sometimes, these adverts don’t even need to ask for your information for it to already have access to it. “Hot singles in (your city),” type advertisements are the best example of this kind of constant information gathering. Computers can be used maliciously to constantly track you and lure you to websites you shouldn’t be on, putting in information you shouldn’t be giving, and all of this will be used to your dismay.
You don’t just have the chance of being watched…
You are being watched. Right now.
The societies of control may or may not currently exist among us, at the time that Deleuze was writing, it was still something that was being developed in society, and some time has passed since then. The internet is now more developed, recognition technology is reaching new heights, and now ruling powers have more things to use at their disposal.
Deleuze wrote his “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” in order to warn the left to develop new tactics for rebellion. As he asks:
“One of the most important questions will concern the ineptitude of the unions: tied to the whole of their history of struggle against the disciplines or within the spaces of enclosure, will they be able to adapt themselves or will they give way to new forms of resistance against the societies of control?”
There will be new tools of oppression that will be used against the radical left, the revolutionaries, and the class conscious of the future. It is the job of use, thinkers of the future, to point towards this new cybernetic apparatus and create new concepts of resistance.
What we need is a new call to action, new tactics, new organizations — a new left. We can clearly see holes in this society of control that is developing, as animatronics in FNaF are still sometimes able to get into your office, we can find new ways to work around this new apparatus just as unions of the past were able to fight against disciplinary societies. We could have new online organization through VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), we could organize ourselves in private servers that can’t be tracked, trade and get resources via black market trade and underground purchases.
But who am I to tell you what you need to do, go out there and organize, praxis makes perfect!
Further Reading and Sources:
Postscript on the Societies of Control
1. Historical Foucault located the disciplinary societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; they reach their…
Living in a Society of Control
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