“In 1796, Jeremy Bentham, the great legal reformer and utilitarian philosopher, published a grandiose scheme for ‘Pauper Management’. This early example of privatization proposed the formation of a National Charity company that would construct a chain of 250 enormous workhouses, financed by a large number of small investors. Each workhouse would hold around two thousand inmates who would be put to profitable work and fed on a spartan diet.
The plan, in brief, was for all of England’s paupers to be housed in purpose-built facilities [panoptical prisons], specified by Bentham in elaborate detail, and run on a strongly coercive basis, with all paupers held to work until they had paid off their accounts.
In many cases, that day would never have come, as children born in the pauper house would be held there until they had children in their turn, all of whom would be educated so as to eliminate desire – not by the normal mechanism of satiating it, but by the more cunning approach of ensuring the children were so totally ignorant of the outside world they would be happy in their prison. This was what Bentham was pleased to call his “Utopia,” and it was one from which he would personally have profited, since he proposed to serve as the owner, manager, and jailer of the entire system.”
“Idleness, intemperance, and vicious connexions, are the three principal causes of corruption among the poor. When habits of this nature have become to such a degree inveterate, as to surmount the tutelary motives, and to lead to the commission of crimes, no hope of reformation can be entertained but by a new course of education — an education that shall place the patient in a situation in which he will find it impossible to gratify his vicious propensities, and where every surrounding object will tend to give birth to habits and inclinations of a nature altogether opposite. The principal instrument which can be employed on this occasion is perpetual superintendence. Delinquents are a peculiar race of beings, who require unremitted inspection. Their weakness consists in yielding to the seductions of the passing moment. Their minds are weak and disordered, and though their disease is neither so clearly marked nor so incurable as that of idiots and lunatics, like these they require to be kept under restraints, and they cannot, without danger, be left to themselves.”
“At some stage, we said : work is everything we are, to the point where [we would] just name [our children] Ben Farmer, [or] Painter, [or] Blacksmith, [or] Goldsmith, etc. You know, these are [actual] names. [Their last names would just indicate their professions]… So, the job became the identity. And the point is that the unique characteristic of a human being is not the fact that they are a painter or a goldsmith, or that they can produce economic output. That’s not the unique characteristic of a human being. The unique characteristic of a human being is that they can discover undiscovered knowledge and perceive it. There is no other such [entity] that we know of that can discover undiscovered knowledge and perceive it.”
That, along with mankind’s capacity to produce singular, non-industrial, non-stereotypical objects and ideas, like care or a meaningful musical symphony for instance, is probably, as I’ve often stated, the most precious – if not the only – added value the human species has left, the only set of specificities still making it original and exchange-worthy to a (soon-to-be-deified ?) hyper-computer.
Choosing – but who actually chooses ? – to focus solely on a false conception of efficiency, reduced to the immediacy of its expected results, each (wo)man being, in that perspective, but a cog in a stone-cold machine, each confined to one role, to an often simplistic function, more often than not determined by others and/or by standardized circumstances instead of free will, talents and self-definition, is what led us to doom already, more than once, and will again if again we consider focusing on life is detrimental to the superstructure supposedly organizing it, as if said superstructure’s vivacity and life’s maximization were not each other’s sine-qua-non conditions.
From “pleasure for the greatest number” to ‘pleasure for a select few and pain for all the rest’ to ‘happiness for each one, at the expense of no one, and in its greatest possible diversity’ ? Therein lies the complex challenge of sustainability awaiting the human species and its environment in the coming centuries. But God knows how much some false conception of efficiency and an obsession for superfluous norms, meant not to protect but to contain life, not only adore hierarchy (which is never truly communal) but hate complexity as well…
Live and let live… There is but one true religion !