Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Did They Clap for the Police? Embracing the Panopticon and the National Security State in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing

I would like to return for a moment to some lingering thoughts about the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Am I the only person who shook their heads in disbelief as the people of Boston clapped and celebrated when one Tsarnaev brother was killed and the other captured? The saga had ended...for the moment.

Of course, I understand the sense of relief that comes with the capture of a domestic terrorist and the killing of another. Such feelings are reasonable. 

However, I was, and remain concerned, with how easily the people of Boston, and in the general public, so quickly, and without much dissent or comment, welcomed the display of military power (and the assertion of martial law) in an American city. I reject the conspiracy fantasies--and the entertainment complex with they are part of--that brought us silly-talk such as the claim that Sandyhook was a "psyop" to facilitate the confiscation of guns, or how the Boston Bombing was a "false flag" operation. 

The radical conspiranoid fringe actually serves the interests of the elite actors who would like to constrain and limit the public discourse. How? Because exceptional claims without exceptional evidence are an easy way to dismiss reasonable and sensible concerns that are grounded in the world of fact and empirical reality. 

Caricatures often serve the interest of Power. Many of the former are not even aware of the role they play in the theater of politics.

Yet, one can remain deeply worried by how the rhetoric of patriotism, nationalism, and a convenient Other (those nebulous "dark-skinned" Muslims who actually turned out to be "White") can be used to encourage the people to surrender their freedoms and civil liberties to Power and the State. Appeals to a narrow sense of loyalty and nationalism also silence those truly patriotic Americans who dissent, asking hard questions about what the the union of the National Security State, the militarization of the police, and the surveillance society means for our collective freedom.

I mentioned Henry Giroux in a previous post; he is almost preternatural with his timing again, connecting the dots, as he works through how the Boston Marathon bombing is a crystallization of the power of the Incarceration Society, a permanent War on Terror, and an era of disposable people, to massage the public's consciousness into a willing surrender of their rights and liberties.

He writes:
The flight from ethical responsibility associated with the rise of the punishing state and the politics of the lockdown is also evident in the willingness of police forces around the country to push young children into the criminal justice system. More specifically, there is a frightening, even normalized willingness in American life to align politics and everyday life with the forces of militarization, law enforcement officials, and the dictates of the national security state. 
The lockdown and ongoing search for those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings was an eminently political event because it amplified the dreadful potential and real consequences of the never-ending war on terror and the anti-democratic processes it has produced at all levels of government along with an increasing diminishment of civil liberties. The script has become familiar and includes the authorized use of state-sponsored torture, the unchecked power of the President to conduct targeted assassinations, the use of warrantless searches, extraordinary renditions, secret courts, and the continuing monitoring of targeted citizens.
Since 9/11 we have witnessed the rise of a national-security-surveillance state and the expansion of a lockdown mode of existence in a range of institutions that extend from schools and airports to the space of the city itself. The meaning of lockdown in this context has to be understood in broader terms as the use of military solutions to problems for which such approaches are not only unnecessary but further produce authoritarian and anti-democratic policies and practices. 
Under such circumstances, not only have civil liberties been violated in the name of national security, but the promise of national security has given rise to policies which are punitive, steeped in the logic of revenge, and support the rise of a punishing state whose echoes of authoritarianism are often lost in the moral comas that accompany the country's infatuation with war and the militarization of everyday life.
The entirety of "Lockdown U.S.A." is as rich and grounded as what is hinted at in the above passage. It is in an excellent synthesis of the various ways that power and authority and democratic consensus are interlocking in a society which is moving towards Inverted Totalitarianism.

As I watched the spectacle of militarism that accompanied the Boston Bombing and its aftermath, I kept returning to the oft quoted Benjamin Franklin and his timeless warning that, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

The media circus, and how intrusive State power was legitimated by the Fourth Estate, the latter abandoning all pretense of fulfilling its watchdog function, was a failure of democratic institutions and a betrayal of the Public Good.

Franklin's intelligence and wisdom are paralleled by a lesser known observation by his contemporary Samuel Adams:
"In a state of tranquility, wealth, and luxury, our descendants would forget the arts of war* and the noble activity and zeal which made their ancestors invincible. Every art of corruption would be employed to loosen the bond of union which renders our resistance formidable. When the spirit of liberty, which now animates our hearts and gives success to our arms, is extinct, our numbers will accelerate our ruin and render us easier victims to tyranny. If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom—go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!"
The War on Terror is a natural complement to the politics of Austerity, neoliberalism, and the Great Depression 2.0. These are not separate phenomenon. Rather, they are all interconnected  in a system of relationships designed to create fear and anxiety among the American people. 

Economic insecurity creates a disregard for civil liberties. Political insecurity and fear silences dissent. Monetary compensation and consumerism are forms of compensation for a passive public which has traded active, engaged, and involved civic participation and life, for goods, trinkets, and ephemeral pleasures. 

The destruction of academic freedom and tenure in the university and the public schools through privatization and corporatization ensures that those potential sites of resistance--locales where potential critics who understand the role of an active citizenry were once created--have been neutered.

Is this how liberty dies? With thunderous applause...or with a whimper?


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chauncey devega said...

The media are no longer watchdogs. They are lapdogs for the State.