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The Culture Prison: The Condition of Control and Restraint

“Free your ass and your mind will follow.”

George Clinton, Founder, Parliament Funkadelic

This week’s blog completes the crux of an investigation into theories on cultural construction and how such natural human effort becomes perverted into prison culture, especially with regard to the Dobbs ruling. Moving forward, and touched upon here, future blog entries are a dialectic between imprisonment and freedom. Between light and dark. And, in the feminist tradition, a view of the intertwining of all. In the abolitionist tradition, this dialectic is also a type of Bernoulli curve, even, where there is no top or bottom, but where disparate qualities coexist as core driving forces within an imaginary of the particularly human experience of living and dying. And where a new reality, new curves and shapes and geometries and experiences may exist, instead. You will hear this dialectic reflected in this week’s sound swatch – complimentary arpeggiations lifting into the soundspace, while being surrounded by, herded in, assisted, contradicted, directed – even held – to folds and sheets of moving walls and ground, all touched by willful pulsations. This dialectic – noted, for instance, in the Peace Building ethics of Positive (proactive) and Negative (reactive) Peace efforts – can help produce, through an inter relational framing, new understanding, ideas, hope, and realities.


In the most basic way, the Dobbs ruling exponentially increases, in myriad ways, the capitalist ideal of a unilateral and mulit-leveled system of ownership over bodies supported by interwoven sub-systems – as abolition feminism points out – such as misogyny, racism, labor prejudice, classism, etc., creating an Owner-Owned culture of being – of living – what Pierre Bourdieu famously refers to as a “habitus”. Certainly, it would be easy, at this point in our exploration, to foreground the socio-economics of the U.S. healthcare system in an effort to highlight dominant, punitive, destructive ramifications and folds of the reversal of Roe v. Wade. However, to do so, we must delve into the roots of economics as a fundamentally ritual, religious, cultural function of sacrifice and immortality effort and offerings. And we will. Suffice to say, in future blogs, we’ll discuss why the ontologies of capitalism, and its inversions, perversions, and rebuttal of tribal mores, are central to the lauded ethics and assumed (though programmed a priori) morals of socio-economic stratification, disparity, domination, and ultimately destruction. Indeed, we’ve begun the discussion strongly here, already, as we address the roots of culture a psychological defense meant to buffer our fear of threatening, imminent, and ultimate death, and how that ultimately celebratory human invention is subordinated into an untimely, panicked, murderous thrashing – often despite outward appearances - in the world.

For now, I’m going to keep the view of this writing wide regarding the function of the Dobbs ruling as both a sacrificial act of the “Other”, even as it further re-sets the cultural table of the God-King, Slave Owner, Slum Lord, Sweat Shop Foreman, etc. Later, again, we’ll pull in the religiosity and religious ontologies of money, economics, the wage, and capitalism as they pertain to Women’s Rights and Abortion Rights, as well as how Abolition Feminism, formal Human Rights standards, and best practices and research in Peace Building parse out these matters.

The Dobbs ruling, overturning Roe v. Wade and the Casey precedents, doesn’t simply restrain women, families, and societies, from self-determination over the story of their own bodies and lives – it encourages and enables the ethic, mechanics, and participation in Control and Restraint, as the Overpower, as a personal, cultural, social, political, and even visionary, more. It gives birth to the Jailers. The Keepers. A Warden Culture. It instigates and prioritizes, in comparison against all other environments, a kill or be killed cultural setting – ironically, a lawless habitus, or at least one that legislates a bounty-hunter mentality (see, ironically, how CA Governor Gavin Newsom flipped the lid on the Texas abortion reward system of $10,000 to stool pigeons, by awarding the same to whistleblowers of illegal gun ownership here:

As mentioned above, before Dobbs was even decided, the Texas state legislature passed a law permitting one citizen to report another citizen whom they suspected was having or had acquired an abortion procedure outside of already restrictive state guidelines. They sweetened the deal with a $10,000 finder’s fee for the informant. This kept anyone seeking an abortion with both eyes over their shoulders, worried that they’d be pulled into court by a would-be mercenary informant, adding to their already difficult situation. Importantly, the state legislators kept themselves free from liability (at the time, state legislators could not, by law, directly prevent individuals from accessing abortion procedures) by creating an incentivized culture of stool pigeons, rather than direct law enforcement intervention.

After Dobbs, I wonder if they’re still paying.

This system theory instills the belief that healthy survival in American Culture is allowable only when passing a litmus test of subservience, subjugation, and even self-eradication when tested by a system of domination and purgation - a system created, if you will, by certain people, of certain people, and for certain people, without care, conscience, or concern apart from self-gain – which represents none of the latter three in full. Dobbs sends a clear cultural message to the Ted Cruzes, Jim Jordans, Josh Hawleys, and Marjorie Taylor Greens of the country: You and your believers and followers are The Chosen. Feel free to hold anyone back and down from their self-agency – starting, here, with women - they do not have a close voice in this matter or any matter - even when their voice and story has already been taken from them in cases of rape, incest, illness, health risks, stillbirths, etc. They are not to access health care or social care, in these instances, under penalty of law. They are to obey, succumb to the situation, sit down, and stay down. There is no vision, visibility, or quarter needed in this culture. You are the Owners. They are the Owned.

But, there’s a catch.

Remember the prison of privilege mentioned in the previous blog? The Dobbs ruling also restrains the Owners in this scenario. How? There is a damagingly narrowed bandwidth of cultural being for them in this scenario. Sure, they may have the means to travel to another state for an abortion procedure. Or the means to pass further stipulations onto particular legislations. But in the exacerbated Republican ethos of Dominance, beginning with Nixon and now typified in the Trumpian Era, the jailers have to tow a line that leaves them little room to move (we’ve seen this through retributions against in-house Republican critics – Liz Cheney being the most obvious example). They denude their own agency for action and thought by agreeing to only follow the order and orders of the Overpower’s domination ethos – one of violence. I’m not asserting Dobbs supporters care about any of that. I’m just stating a systemic, cultural fact. The progenitors of the Overpower become more restrained, more imprisoned in the prison they, themselves, create – because it’s the only prison they know how to create and move within. It’s like any prison. Limited. Even when their capacity and imagination for violence seems unlimited, the milieu is monochrome. This is why non-violence is such an effective weapon – its approaches and approachability is wide.

Of course, a general tenor of desperation has long since reached the jailers, too – truly, it is their tenor of desperation that incites events to begin with. And the present U.S. incarnation has been with us, in development, for fifty years. During election cycles (which never end). Online. On T.V. On the radio. They will have to work harder and harder to keep the Other down, however - to increase their narrative for effect, inflection, and stress, so they, themselves, are not outcast into a social No Man’s Land of unforgiving rejection of stress, strain, and striations that threatens them in the form of the masses from all directions and in all spaces.

That time is now. But not without an enabling politic of shared power positions abdicating past responsibilities of public service, and not without present sacrifice relative to such abdications and crimes.

The walls close in for everyone in different ways. It’s just that some people can afford to wait before they scream. So, they stay quiet.

As a side note, in thinking about the U.S. history of immigration laws, treatment of immigrants, and using the immigrant “Other” as a political pivot point on which to turn a critical, divisive, centrifugal social force of fear upon the country, I wonder if the initial ruling of Roe v. Wade, as with countless Immigration laws, wasn’t an effort by the establishment to foment social unrest. I know that it was a good thing that opened access to more equitable health care and quality of life for women. No doubt. I know that as a man with women in my life that I care about (near and far), given to a hope for greater social and economic equality in the world, and given my professed mission as a Human Rights worker, in general, I want it reinstated – with more resources and protections. Still, to note, the Right Wing has been selling anti-Roe rhetoric for 50 years. And, of course, they don’t really care about the legislation’s ethic or premise. Remember Bush II’s campaign against stem cell research – critical work that would save lives, help people walk again, etc.…heal? What was that? What happened? His campaign based its ethos on exactly the same “pro-life” lines as the anti-Roe crusade. As Henry Rollins once noted, “They just know that horse will run all day, every day for them, and make them a lot of money in fundraising.”

I agree.

The Condition of Surveillance and Hopelessness

If you’ve ever been to a Starbucks and paid with your phone, or accessed its Wifi, Starbucks knows where you are. Right now. Same with Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Twitter. Etc. My car has a default, built-in tracking system – a satellite driven surveillance system that tracks the location of my car and prompts the company to email me special reminders – and offers - at opportune times. Online, pop-up ads selling goods from websites I’ve visited appear on new, unrelated pages. Most notably, our iPhones, through their mere presence on our persons, track our whereabouts – locate-able by law enforcement, at least – at all times. Taking a selfie? We know where you are.

This type of marketing and sales has been dubbed “Surveillance Capitalism”.

We are Big Brother.

Historian Michele Foucault is legendary for his examination of penal systems, especially with his celebrated tome, Discipline and Punish. In his writings, Foucault pays special attention to a literal architecture of prison he felt was highly representative of retributive cultures of control, The Panopticon. The Panopticon, in its basic form, consists of a circular rotunda in which the prisoner’s cells are sunk within the circumference of the cylindrical wall, while a singular pillar that houses security surveillance is located in the middle of the rotunda with a 3600 view of the prisoners. Security detail is minimized, while surveillance, access, and protection of the security detail is maximized.

The Dobbs ruling, in conjunction with conferring heightened value upon its exacerbated culture of domination, subjugation, and refutation, broadens the reach of what might be termed the New Panopticon where, at least in Texas, the prisoners surveille themselves. Misogynistic ideals, placing the male story-body as having greater importance than the female story-body; a bounty hunter culture; a lack of accountability for legislators; and a unilateral authoritarianism as a cultural more to be desired and exercised; all contribute to an anti-social developmental psychological habitus as the predominant culture under such high court rulings and permissive behavior. Such a culture is vicious. And it leaves no one out. Hate is created. Reactions against the tropes of its progenitors – Christians, Conservatives, Men, Heterosexuals – may become triggers of distrust, disdain, and violence for some. The cultural habitus, itself, is rent. Binaries rule as the only perceived choice of discourse. Tribes are established. Right and Wrong are assigned. There is not the necessary liminal space for truth and reconciliation of propriety, if not the greater community.

We are the Panopticon.

Under such a shineless cultural sun, an Alpha and Omega appear around the singular pole of the New Panopticon. Those who campaign for, create, command such “law and order” have no depth perception of possibility – no lateral view for health – no heightened view of hopeful potential. They are cyclopic in their sight of the one point in the universe they can tolerate – that which is under their heavy thumb.

Only then do they feel strong. Only then do they feel powerful against tragedy. Only then do they feel capable. Only then can they fantasize about themselves as a “hero”.

While the fantasy of their subconscious continues to dim and deaden an otherwise bright day of renewal and growth, it is this lack of renewal and growth that reveals the irony of the Right Wing conservative tradition of political action in this country: it lacks all wisdom. It lacks acceptance of the natural order of things. It lacks the basic truth that elements in the universe are more driven to live than die. Srdja Popovic, leader of the student movement that was instrumental in overthrowing Serbian president Slobidan Milosovic, once commented, “We won because we love life. They only knew death. That is why we won.” Oppression is not grounded in lived truth – only fantastical notions of being all-powerful bolstered by a continual and desperately hungry need for the feeling of Strength. A strength which, within and outside of its poseurs, is transient and waning. It can only arc to an end. It cannot persist. But it can be rekindled, if only temporarily.

Still, without a lived wisdom, without a conscientious connection to one’s ancestors, without an empathic, charitable view of the world at hand, hopelessness abounds and any perceived or real “strength” that may be present, surely only temporarily, evaporates into weakness. This is especially true, in inverse proportions, to the determined, diabolical efforts of domination and control. Without a core strength, there is no center that can hold. Only parasitical vampirism results.

And with the selling of fear, coupled to the selling of the feeling of Power, coupled to a culture of hopelessness, there are too many willing victims that choose another’s life story rather than their own. Social conformity – under penalty of death (for human beings ultimately hunt through exclusion) – reigns in the complacent ones even tighter. Because, as we see in noting the resultant public health disparities involving poor people of color threatened by the Dobbs ruling, based on events such as the social neglect around Hurricane Katrina, some can afford not to care. And it seems they only care when their privilege to not care is threatened.

Within the dominant Capitalist Realism (Mark Fisher) narrative in which we find ourselves, where or how to find refuge? Where and how to find direction? The Culture Prison and Imprisonment Culture is a very real social construct but in being a social construct, it must, necessarily, also be a mental construct. As we move deeper into the dialectic of Freedom and Imprisonment, we’ll explore the access and habitus of inner and outer Refuge from constraint and control foisted upon natural, healthy freedom. How do the incarcerated find Refuge? The imprisoned “partner”? The poor? The infirm? We’ll view a variety of techniques amidst a variety of settings. And the music? Well…it’s gonna get funky!


Written by Peter DiGennaro, Sound Artist/Human Rights Educator

Sound Swatch: SoundCloud

Learn more: Free the Body


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