I'm always rather leery about applying literature to the real world. After all, how can I be sure that fiction presents truth or even gives the right questions? But I happen to be writing a fairly in-depth paper comparing Foucault's Discipline and Punish with Conrad's Heart of Darkness. There are some strong connections.
Why do we ask questions like "what happened to Lynndie England this year?" The prevailing philosophy of our time likes to think that people are naturally nice people but can be adversely affected by our surroundings. This is why we delve into the childhood of criminals, etc etc etc. There was a time when criminals were just killed or punished, the main purpose of the law to determine guilt and mete punishment. Of course, in those times, someone like Lynndie probably wouldn't have gotten in trouble for torturing prisoners.
Where did we get this sense of "humane" treatment? What is humane anyway?
In Heart of Darkness, (arguably) Conrad puts people in strange situations, takes them from 'civilized' humanity to live in a less civilized place. When the artificial props of human society fall away, so does their illusion of a good character:
And what do we question when people go down? We question their training. Mark again:
This is our problem, and Foucault's work points it out. Two things. First, we believe the lie about training. In a world where we try to stick up for individuality, we believe the marketing. We believe that training can create an Army of One, a collection of perfectly operating biological machines who follow orders. If someone messes up, Rumsfeld is responsible somehow, because he is the face (Big Brother? or Goldstein?) of the military. We think he directly influences everything because we believe The Lie.
Contrived systems of power like a military hierarchy, parliamentary procedure, flip-a-coin, etc, make placing blame very difficult, since blame can be distributed not only to a large number of people, but also to the system itself. And we can't quite punish the system without punishing everyone in it. Nobody wants to do that.
Perhaps the training worked too well... for in this discussion we also marvel that someone would display a gaping lack of individuality. We are shocked that someone who was working at Walmart could be torturing people a year later and not think twice about it. This is not a surprise at all. If she's your everyday conformist (working at Walmart, preparing for college), I would expect her to be someone on whom the training would work very well, someone who would want to please, someone who would use unusual torture if it was perceived needed.
If Lynndie, for example, drove an art car, I would be more surprised, since I would expect her to be more of an individual thinker. This is just a guess, but most art car drivers don't end up in the military.
I wouldn't be too much more surprised though. We make a lot of assumptions in our nice, affluent world. The lie of training is one of our more insidious errors. It's the error that says that the military is a good way to reform someone, the error that says that college is useful for producing people to work in skyscrapers as interchangeable cubicle parts. The error says that prisons for children are the best way to nurture them. If the lie were true, we wouldn't need that other instrument of discipline: the video camera. We wouldn't need surveillance, we wouldn't need bureaucracies, we wouldn't need judges, and we wouldn't need to ask the question "how?" and "why?" when things like this happen. Because they wouldn't happen.
It would be a very scary world, imho, if we could fully control a person's future moral life just through a short period of training and discipline. We can't, fortunately, but we assume we can in times like this, Clockwork Orange notwithstanding.
Scholars debate over whether the title Heart of Darkness refers to an empty moral capacity or one predisposed to evil. In the book, I would vote for emptiness. I think that is Conrad's philosophy. It is not mine. As a Christian, I realize the predisposition for evil that is even inside me. I tend to be selfish, greedy, proud, and unkind. But I have acknowledged that truth, identified the evil within (which is not inscrutable or cloaked in darkness, but very real and visible) and acknowledged my inability to remove it from my identity. I am not surprised at Lynndie's actions (not very pleased, but not surprised), because I know that I could very easily do the same things given the right circumstances. I might even enjoy it. I also know that I am capable of many equally despicable, harmful things in my current circumstances. This is not an easy thing to admit.
But I have a very real hope. I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, the only person who ever lived with a completely clean heart. He was tortured, punished, and the eternal law was satisfied on his body. And he has given me a new heart, a new nature along with the power to live a righteous life. Foucault talks about power over others, but he doesn't say much about power over one's self. God gives me the ability to choose my life, granting the power to make a fair choice between good and evil. I no longer have to be a product of my direct surroundings. I now choose righteousness.
As nice as they are, Walmart and a drill sergeant can't create morals or righteousness.
Yes, you may chide me for not being scientific. But I don't see where today's mechanical/pharmaceutical philosophy of human behavior has created systems capable of consistently reproducing results. I'm glad it doesn't. I'm glad I'm free to choose God. I'm glad He has made me free.