The new novelties of power in the era of freedoms

When trying to transmit the distinctive notes of legal norms, we emphasize -especially in the first year Law courses-, in the coercive support they have. That is, the legal sanctions, which appear on the scene when the conditions provided for in the provisions are verified, are applied by the State making use of the monopoly of force. In this way, we put a lot of effort into differentiating them from other types of norms, such as moral or religious ones. However, the norms that determine the courses of action are not reduced to those included in our traditional normative systems.

The word “norm” comes from Latin and refers to a square, so it includes a comparison between a standard and those subjected to analysis. Thus, the regulations, understood as these fines as prescriptions –mandates of courses of action, of how we must behave–, pursue a comparative judgment between a “must be” and reality, what it is.

This explains why there are rules on all sides. Rules to speak, to write, to eat, to play, to have sexual relations, to cure one, to choose to dress, for illness a university degree, to go through a duel, in short, for everything we do and what we omit to do . Some are easy to identify because they are written, are public, come from a recognized authority, and are characterized by generality. Many others circulate in a modest, elusive way and, far from diminishing their effectiveness, that kind of anonymity gives them a not inconsiderable level of observance.

Why do we like what we like? Why do we want what we want? Why do we hate what we hate? Why did he press what he pressed?

In the family, as a primitive area of ​​socialization, there are rules, there is power and authority. There common senses are reproduced, they are “normalized” and the apartment is sanctioned. Power enters homes, conveyed in different ways, brought from the factory, from the state bureaucracy, from the market, from the media, or from anywhere else. Once inside, it adopts its own circuit, in accordance with the particular power relations of each family. In this exercise of power, norms are transmitted. A few years ago, in the first class of a course at the Faculty, a student told me that he had chosen the career “to be someone in life.” There is the norm, the duty to go to the University – and choose a conventional career, of those that make you “someone” – nothing more and nothing less than to “be”, erasing everything that is left out.

The same happens with friendships. Worldviews converge in these frameworks –sometimes diverse, other times similar– that also configure a normative order. Gender roles, for example, are imposed almost without discussion: women have a range of options – to behave, fall in love, play sports, dress, say or shut up – and men with another. Also there, it is defined for decision-making, the valuable is distinguished from the disvaluable norms, hierarchies are based. In some groups, the center of the scene is occupied by money, which is why the entire network of ties revolves around it, while in others, sports skills, political relations, aesthetics, etc. power, always some predominant version over the others, it is always possible to identify a stronger voice (because of economic position, status, social capital, or other reasons).

Then, the functioning of the norms in formal education is clearer, where beyond the legal guidelines, other “duties” are reproduced, origins are complex to scrutinize. Although the State establishes common minimum contents, it is not the same to study in a public school than in a private one –in turn, religious or not–, in a school in the center or one on the periphery, in an establishment in a large city or in one of a provincial town. Anyway, it’s almost a truism, but in those circles we are regulated at all times. The variant may lie in the content of the rules.

In our time, the methodology in which these types of norms are constructed, disseminated and internalized is decidedly peculiar. Notwithstanding the scenarios described, digital environments function as standards factories that we incorporate without a filter. In fact, certain discourses have penetrated in such a way that they have guards – worth the expression – in each place, reducing the possibilities of non-compliance or rebellion.

The phenomenon of cancellation accounts for this reality: the conquest of a negative version of a person in the public space makes their repudiation mandatory, regardless of any factual element that proves a dose of truth in the facts. Not to mention the prescriptions that emerged in the heat of social networks about the body, about what it means to enjoy a life, about what success denotes. These statements have more normative force than those located in state legislation, let us think that they lead millions of people to undertake sacrifices, go through anguish, lie systematically, in order to comply with the norm.

Every relationship is a power relationship. Those of a couple, friendships, those of fathers/mothers and children, those of work, those of consumption, all of them. There will surely be suspensions in the exercise of that power that enable a certain resonance, some horizontality, although said suspension also represents an enactment of the power held. In this dynamic, the norms, such as mandates, behavioral requirements, transit. And, despite not finding the “stick” of the State behind it, its force, the sanction takes other forms, notoriously more powerful: the fear of exclusion, rejection, losing belonging, heartbreak, loneliness, indifference, to economic punishment. All the options more expensive to subjectivity than those offered by the legal system.

We are summoned by an era marked by the conquests of freedoms, however, we do not stop being subject -worth the term, again-. We concur, ultimately, to a replacement of prescriptions, under the mask of an increase in freedom. We enjoy, in capitalism, the most balanced purchase alternatives, although we all end up buying the same thing. Freedom of expression has a very broad protection, however the voices we hear do not change. We can instantly find out and verify data on virtually all issues, but we endlessly repeat fake news and condemn anyone who raises an objection. We are champions of sexual freedoms and, simultaneously, we define how one should love, what is love and what is not. What is singular is that in this panorama the centers of power are absolutely hybrid, undetectable, almost imperceptible, and they operate with a forcefulness never seen before.

For this reason, the capacity of the State to determine us is displaced by a series of devices in which meaning is created, a normative meaning, and which are distinguished by their vigorous diffusion and internalization. The subjects make these prescriptions their own and supervise them, something compensated with the legal norms.

Fito Páez sings “I put the songs on your walkman, time put me elsewhere” and although there are no longer walkmans – there are Spotify lists – the question is worth:

Who puts the songs on our walkman? Someone always does it and I don’t know they will have the freedom to stop them, but perhaps we have a livable refuge left, a reflection to make, a question to shoot, a person to think with, other songs to listen to.

*Professor and researcher at the Law School of the National University of Rosario. Master in Global State of Law and Constitutional.

Democracy University of Genoa.

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