john locke, meet john yooSeveral nights over the last month, I've climbed into bed around dawn after watching police abuse videos on YouTube all night long. (Ann now wakes up briefly, squints at me, and says, "police abuse videos again?" And then sighs, and goes back to sleep.) (And the cats don't get it at all, and make pitiful noises.) Love the one of the city cop beating the shit out of a city councilman while the city councilman is pinned down on the ground. Love the one of the piece of shit in Arkansas choking and otherwise hurting some children who he caught skateboarding. Love the one of the small-town cop who told the guy in the parking lot that he would make some shit up so he could arrest him, if he felt like it.
And, finally, I love the latest one that shows the Utah state trooper losing his shit because a driver -- who obviously, ended up getting tased -- asked why he was getting a ticket. And yes, that driver was obnoxious, and made choices I wouldn't have made. But the cop was Eric Cartman come to life, instantly enraged because someone resisted his authority to the slightest degree.
Oh, right: And the one of the loudmouth kid in Florida who asked John Kerry if he was a member of Skull and Bones, prompting six university cops to beat him and tase him. Which reminds me of the video of the elderly minister being thrown on the ground by the Capitol Police because he'd tried to enter a Senate hearing room wearing an anti-war button. A tip of the stormtrooper cap to the Capitol Police for keeping an eye on the nation's lapel pins, huzzah! (If elderly ministers are allowed to wear anti-war buttons, the Islamoterrorfascists will put their global caliphate on us!)
And...uh... Where the fuck was I?
Right! So here's the question: Does anyone still buy the idea that the state embodies a social contract in which we're governed by people who exercise a power that derives from our own consent? Because fuck that, is what I'm thinking. I don't consent, and the state hasn't called to free me from the contract. No flowers, either, the bastards. A box of candy? How about a little effort, here?
The sociologist Charles Tilly argues, in the greatest essay EVUHR, that states develop their sovereign identity and ability to apply notionally legitimate power by delivering violence more consistently and credibly than competitors. Many warlords compete for power, and then one prevails, and becomes "the state." Tilly compares the process of state formation to the dynamics of organized crime, forever winning whatever's left of my cold dead heart.
Then we have Zygmunt Baumann, who argues that the Holocaust was merely the normal activity of the modern state taken to its natural and inevitable extreme: Assign a task to the state apparatus, and watch it assemble the puzzle. Would you like a block quote? Bam, you got it, with emphasis helpfully added:
Once effectively dehumanized, and hence cancelled as potential subjects of moral demands, human objects of bureaucratic task-performance are viewed with ethical indifference, which soon turns into disapprobation and censure when their resistance, or lack of cooperation, slows down the smooth flow of bureaucratic routine.And so on. That was from page 103, if you're following along at home. In the book, see especially pages 105 (from "But bureaucracy made the Holocaust...") to the end of page 106. In short:
Driver: Uh, why are you giving me a ticket?You must obey, instantly and absolutely, or force will be used. Talk to a police officer? Ask questions of a police officer? It is not appropriate to question a police officer's authority.
Cop: Are you QUESTIONING ME? STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE!
Driver: Well, all right, but I'm just wondering...
Driver: AAARRRRGGGHHH!!! ARRRGGGHHHH!!!
Cop: Stop resisting! Stop resisting!
There are a hell of a lot of great police officers out there, and the few direct experiences I've had with the police around Los Angeles have been good ones. But it's a personal choice, not the institutional requirement, and if they feel like tasing you, you're going to lose. A government uniform means that you are right, your choices are valid, and you will be supported. There are awfully few exceptions. And we're headed in the wrong direction. Once effectively dehumanized...