Sunday, March 29, 2009

Law and Order

The "loss" of law and order that Barry Goldwater complained of when running for president in 1964, iterated (on behalf of Capitalism) an up-dated effort to save the legitimacy of the social and economic system in crisis. The true voice behind that iteration was Capitalism itself. As the only true subject of modern history, Capitalism was frantically seeking dry land. Needing a pretext to stave off the structural crisis it faced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, capitalism began a string of wars on strawmen: drugs, poverty, illegal immigration and terror. The mask it would choose would be the “rule of law.” Over the past 44 years, trillions of dollars have gone towards the control of the class structure and social revolution. Whether it is the Military Industrial Complex or the Prison Industrial Complex or the Surveillance Industrial Complex, our world must come to terms with the nasty reality that the "ideology of the rule of law masks, or is meant to mask, the fact of class rule" (John Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 2009). As a result of these complexes of control serving to maintain the “rule of law,” we have an extremely paralyzed society unable to muster a serious fight against the enormity of it all.

Goldwater—and each subsequent president—would have to make a center piece of their campaign platform the return of law and order. However, there was never a “loss” of law and order, but a sudden realization that the rule of law (read: authoritarian control) had been weakened by massive social upheaval. Normally, when people get feed up enough with the crappy reality of their lives, they rise up. Capitalism needs to contend with this, so control of unhappy people is necessary.

Nixon said while campaigning in 1967: "America has become among the most lawless and violent [nations] in the history of free people." Depending on whom one takes to be the "criminal" (i.e. the capitalists, or union organizer, or Black Panther, or the dope-smoker) Nixon could be understood as extremely honest or dishonest when he blamed liberal decisions for "weakening the peace forces against the criminal forces." Ronald Reagan "aspired to nothing less than readjusting the balance between the forces of law and the forces of lawlessness." George Bush Sr. concentrated on five areas of crime, three of which dealt with illicit drugs, and as he infamously said: “Take my word for it. This scourge will stop!” Bill Clinton was perhaps the toughest on "crime" with his unprecedented Crime Bill, because he believed the "first responsibility of government is law and order." George W. Bush meant what he said when he warned “if you break the law, there will be a consequence.”

Slavoj Zizek recounts an old parable that helps us understand how the subjective manifestations of violence like a homicide, or a rape, or an assault, or a drug bust, or a bank robbery, or an international conflict, or terror, or civil unrest do not happen against a background of zero violence. In fact, it is the background which is the most insidious, egregious and violent of all. Violence in the objective forms of systemic and symbolic violence is ever-present and constant. The resulting pathologies, anger, abuse, and violence are all a result of a cosmic dissonance of violence already done to us.

In the parable, Zizek tells of the “worker who is suspected of stealing. Every evening, as he leaves the factory, the wheelbarrow he rolls in front of him is carefully inspected. The guards can find nothing. It is always empty. Finally, the penny drops: what the worker is stealing are the wheelbarrows themselves…”

As the guardians of our own society, “we need to learn to step back, and disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible “subjective” violence, violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts. A step back enables us to identify a violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence.”

The Prison Industrial Complex is a multi-billion dollar industry. After killing the black leadership of the 60's, they next thing to do was to put millions in prison. Of the 2.3 million American prisoners (roughly seven times the amount in 1971), over half are black.

Building a Prison Industrial Complex has served many purposes:

  1. Class control
  2. Billions of dollars of profit
  3. Deal with civil discontent
  4. Deal with the ugliest aspects of capitalism’s objective violence: i.e. vagrants, welfare mothers, the mentally ill, etc.
  5. Deal with the effects of neoliberal globalization: “illegal” immigrants

Being “tough on crime,” the “War on Drugs,” the “War on Poverty,” and—the most Orwellian of wars—the “War on Terror,” have all served a simple ideological purpose of perpetual wars on strawmen/scapegoats. When violent reaction reaches the absurd levels of today's world it can no longer be called an aberration, but an inherent reality of an inhumane, anti-democratic, and anti-environmental system that prefigures it. The one true crime boss is the system itself. It has successfully pitted us against ourselves and the system’s spectacular marketing has masked the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Docile and scared like sheep, we huddle together and tremble, until the master’s of mankind divide us further and further so that we can be easily picked off one-by-one.