Monday, January 18, 2010

Pitting Students against Prisoners

Some reflections on the Schwarzenegger's recent proposal:
The only possible solution to salvage either of these institutions for capital is to privatize them. It is here that capitalism as the unbridled negation of human existence shows its face; these two sites which are already situated to mold individuals to their social roles will be put under the rule of the most cutthroat calculus—quality will never outstrip quantity within the capitalist mode of existence. Students are merely collateral for construction loans, and a gamble on productive jobs in the future; prisoners are those without a legitimate place in the process, except as a reserve labor force (and object of prison corporations; let’s not forget prison labor as well, the latest form of slavery). And in order to create new forms of value, there must be a simultaneous devaluation of a particular sector of society. The university is thus being redesigned as a glorified vocational school, producer of complex labor powers for a privileged few, and an outsourced research and development division for state and corporate agencies to which it is ultimately the appendage. Its future can only be ever-more null and quantitative existence for its ever-more restricted pool of students: there must necessarily be those who are excluded access from the university, in order for the degrees it produces to be worth anything.

The opposite pole of social reproduction is found in the prison system, where individuals are actively being made useless. The prison is no longer meant to be a place to rehabilitate individuals, but a dead end in which the individual’s nullity in everyday life comes to its logical conclusion. As jobs become scarce, foreclosed homes are left unoccupied, and the prisons become the only place in which the growing number of people without a tenable capacity to produce value can be safely placed. It is this devaluation of living labor—“the crisis of a period in which capitalism no longer needs us as workers”—which underlies the crises of the prison, the university, and so much more. Socially condemned individuals are to simply to be warehoused and contained at all costs, healthcare be damned. Imprisonment is exclusion taking total form, one which marks even those who depart from its walls, still to be denied inclusion in the legitimate economy through the loss of employment, education and housing. (Much like immigrants who are finding themselves increasingly imprisoned and deported.) The prison as a form of mass containment and social control originated as the debtors’ prison; we still speak of prisoners “paying their debt to society.” Now students and workers are facing more debt than ever before: our whole society is a debtors’ prison. Meanwhile, the extension of parole regimes, house arrest, and generalized surveillance may be another means not just of reducing the cost of prisons, but bringing them into ever closer convergence with the rest of daily life (or rather, vice versa).

1 comment:

  1. Let's face it. the UCB Chancellor Birgeneau Loss of Credibility, Trust is the problem
    The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn't there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the "innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge" the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants' recommendations - disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy - the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.