3.4 Navigating the journey: Knowing the rules and 'games of truth'
GAMES OF TRUTH
Examples of road usage suggest that almost anything we do is going to have an effect on other people.
We are constantly asked as individuals to behave or act in a certain way so that we may have a prosperous and efficient society. For example, while we are free to choose to drive on the wrong side of the road, if we do so we are likely to harm ourselves and others.
To prevent such harm, society will put many processes and people to work to help and encourage us to make a more appropriate choice. In previous sectionsof this resource, you have read about how discourses and surveillance techniques play significant roles in ensuring that the most appropriate choices are made by most individuals most of the time.
The need for society to discipline and control our behaviour frequently requires us to surrender our freedom, and to not assert our free will in some of our actions. By agreeing to drive on a particular side of the road, for example, we agree to give up the freedom to do whatever we want when we are driving because we believe it is a necessary thing to do. For this to happen, institutions in our society (for example, the law) and their processes (for example, law enforcement) need to be seen as relevant and legitimate.They need us to accept their authority and their right to control our behaviour.
The ways institutions and individuals go about gaining our acceptance and compliance are what French philosopher Michel Foucault calls games of truth. In using the word ‘game’, he was referring to the way that truth is produced in society according to a set of ‘rules’. Discourses and surveillance play a very important role in getting us to follow the rules in these ‘games of truth’.
In the public sphere, these rules will usually be written down so as to be very obvious to all. For example, the Australian Government is bound by a constitution and set of laws that require it to fulfil certain requirements and functions in a certain way.
One thing that this ensures is that the people are able to approve or reject the government’s proposals and actions on a regular basis. Elections must be held every three years and people aged 18 and over are required to vote.The Australian public is likely to be very reluctant to accept any major changes to these requirements because it now understands and accepts them as part of the ‘truth’ about what is appropriate behaviour for a government. Part of the discourse of democracy is the accountability of government. One way the public can ‘keep an eye’ on what a government is doing is to hold regular elections. In other words, the elections are a method of public ‘surveillance’ that will influence how a government acts.
In the sphere of personal relations, the rules will typically not be written down and will not be so readily obvious to all.
For example, consider the discourse of friendship. One person might believe a good friend is someone who phones or emails them a few times every week, and who sends them a card for their birthday. Another person might expect a good friend to text them every day, and they might not be too fussed about sending birthday cards. Obviously, if these two people were to become friends, their different understandings of the ‘games of truth’ involved in defining a ‘good’ friend could cause some problems. They would have to work out between them the truth of how to be a good friend. Their different understandings of the discourse of friendship will have to be brought closer together, and each will have to make changes to their understanding of themselves and how they behave as a friend.
Learning to be a productive member of our society allows us to begin to fulfil our individual potential, and not to consciously cause harm to others or prevent them from reaching their full potential. In learning to become a productive member of society we must become familiar with the unofficial ‘games of truth’ in which we will inevitably be involved in all aspects of our lives. Our society obviously has a very strong interest in seeing that we are capable of successfully participating in its ‘games of truth’. If each individual member of a society is productive then society as a whole becomes more productive. This means that the ongoing strength and prosperity of any society can be understood as a very large ‘game of truth’.
Given its size, this ‘game’ naturally involves very many rules. Some of these rules are official, being written into laws and regulations, and some unofficial, meaning they are learnt and passed on from person to person and through time in other ways. In both cases, ways of enforcing the laws will be needed, so that the individual members are encouraged and rewarded for knowing and following the ‘rules’.
Check your understanding
Below is a series of statements. Decide whether the statements are true or false according to the text above.
Last update: 5th September 2016