To address the inequities of police policy, we must interrogate the Human that lies behind the dogmatic image of thought. Without this, we will never LEARN anything about the nature of police violence and will REPLICATE the production of racialized subjects deemed non-Human.
The Image of Thought is Deleuze’s conceptual shorthand for a dominant philosophical tradition of thinking that is grounded in the realm of the recognisable. In this model, thinking is an already-settled starting point from which all human beings begin; the actualised world is thus grasped as intelligible by the concord of our faculties, and organised into a taxonomy of grouped categories. Deleuze reviews Descartes’s move to eliminate Aristotle’s presupposition of ‘Man as a rational animal’ in an effort to avoid all presuppositions – to start at the very beginning of philosophy (Deleuze 1994: 129). In order to construct a philosophical proof without relying on Aristotle’s presuppositions, Descartes strips away every possible assumption to end with his proof: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Deleuze points out that he fails to see the ‘subjective or implicit presuppositions contained in opinions rather than concepts, what is meant by self, thinking, and being’ (Deleuze 1994: 129). The critique of Descartes’s proof (and the many models that derive from it) is that it assumes that ‘everyone knows what it means to think and to be’ (Deleuze 1994: 130) based on the assumption that everyone finds themselves already thinking. Thus, the beginning point for Descartes has smuggled in a different set of presuppositions about thinking that Deleuze points out and refutes as a non-philosophical Image of Thought (Deleuze 1994: 132). The three levels of the Image of Thought are: ‘A naturally upright thought, an in principle natural common sense, and a transcendental model of recognition’ (Deleuze 1994: 134). Each of the eight postulates constituting this Image of Thought represent fundamental misunderstandings–and therefore obstacles–to the practice of thinking as Deleuze understands it: the purported good will of the thinker, the reliance on common sense as a ready-made faculty, the model of recognition, the sufficiency of representation, the aspiration of eliminating error, the sufficiency of logic and truth as a structure, the reliance on solutions, and the emphasis on knowledge rather than learning. I argue that they also implicitly frame an ‘Image of the Human’ based on this Image of Thought–a racialised figure of the human that grounds and perpetuates invasive policing policy inequitably among urban spaces. Just as Deleuze articulates a critique to the dogmatic and stultifying Image of Thought, I propose a parallel critique of an Image of the Human in order to expose and refute harmful policing practices framed around this image. The model of thought that derives from the Image can be described as universal, representable, natural, general, truth-based, upright (well ordered, susceptible to human mastery). Thought occurs, on this account, through a unification of the faculties and a perfect distillation of the world into recognisable categories that appear to exist prior to thought. Based on the third postulate, one does not need to think to see a distribution of recognisable objects or concepts – they are simply there. In his critique, Deleuze reminds us that ‘the form of recognition has never sanctioned anything but the recognizable and the recognised; form will never inspire anything but conformities’ (Deleuze 1994: 134). If we stick to the realm of recognition, we will be trapped in the ‘rediscovery’ of existing or current values. For Deleuze, the encounter–that which compels us to think – is not recognisable (Deleuze 1994: 139–40). It is sensed. We are drawn to the encounter based on discord rather than a unity of the senses. We can sense that the realm of the virtual is at work, even if we cannot access it. When we encounter something that disorients or unravels our categories of recognition–a problem–we have the potential to learn(Deleuze 1994: 164). Thus, thinking cannot be reduced to the empirical existence of objects or experiences because thinking must (and does) draw on things that have yet to actualise and are not graspable through common sense.Thinking draws on the very edges of our faculties, where we can sense something that is imperceptible. If one dwells in the world of analogy, opposition, resemblance, identity, comparison, qualities, quantities, distribution and category, one has left thinking behind. The stultifying and oppressive Image of Thought is accompanied by an implicit figure of the recognisable and rational human who engages in thought as opposed to thinking. This human is coded in particular ways11 – it knows rather than learns, obeys rather than transgresses, accepts rather than questions, remains silent rather than objecting, and is a static being rather than a dynamic becoming. This human is not an Idea; she is an object. I am calling this the Image of the Human. Like thought, the Image of the Human is a governing principle taken to be a given–the Image is predicated on the assumption that the human is a settled, recognisable point of departure that relies on no presuppositions. Even Descartes, who attempted to strip away all philosophical presuppositions in order to get to his point of departure, leaves the category of the human securely, if implicitly, intact; he ‘presents the I think as another procedure of definition, one capable of demonstrating the specificity of humanity or the quality of its substance’ (Deleuze 1994: 257). The concept of thinking, as Descartes defines it, provides the parameters of the human that Deleuze traces through the Western philosophical canon. It can be simplified as rational in thought and self-governed in practice. The faculties of the thinking human are in concordance in a univocal, whole, singular self. According to Georges Dicker, Descartes’s presupposition of a substance as the foundation of the ‘I think’ is ‘the most basic assumption involved in the cogito’ (Dicker 1993: 50). Subjects are stable, static, univocal, rational beings who process past memories to reasonably inform future decisions in linear patterns.Deleuze critiques this model of Thought (and, by implication, the accompanying figure of the human who correlates with it) as reductive and inaccurate, and he provides space for a fractured self, experiencing newness in the face of repetition with a difference. My goal is to transpose Deleuze’s analysis back to the discussion of Sewell et al.’s studies in order to identify the way this problematic Image of the Human undergirds and informs policing policy. Sewell et al. reveal that SQF and other aggressive policing techniques are more often deployed in neighbourhoods of colour than in white communities (see Sewell and Jefferson 2016; Sewell et al. 2016). Men of colour experience aggressive and violent encounters with the police at disproportionately high rates. Using this statistical data, it can be posited that policing policy is based around an implicit Image of the Human that is racialised: certain techniques are used only on those who fall outside this operational Image of the Human. Accordingly, I argue that conceptions of the human that ground policing practices are constituted by, and help reconstitute, processes of racialisation. Such processes provide the rationalised resources for the policing practices discussed above. The rational, singular, radically self-governing figure of the human–docile and disciplined–is a figure marked (in part) by whiteness.Bodies who do not comport with this latent category of the recognisable ‘human’ find themselves subject to the modes of policing described above that are justifiable only outside boundaries of the Human. What would it mean to disrupt this Image of the Human in the same way Deleuze wants to upend the Image of Thought? Perhaps Deleuze has given us the resources to think through the way an Image of the Human is smuggled into aggressive policing and surveillance. If the Image of the Human is a problematic and oppressive image that is racially grounded – rather than a settled and given point of departure – then the twin projects of disrupting the Image of Thought and the Image of the Human may yield a new set of criticisms for the framework on which policing policy appears to operate.12