Sunday, May 25, 2014

Totalitarianism: Sadism Today

I'm uncomfortable writing about this subject.  I am NOT an enemy of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials; for more info on that point see the second footnote here.  Overall, this subject is old-hat: some members of the American law enforcement community are wonderful, positive, committed, dutiful, and helpful.  

However, some, I hypothesize, constitute a quiet, raging sadism in line with Marcuse's 'quantum of aggressiveness', the subject of part 1.  I choose the word sadism from an intuitive perspective and to emphasize the pathological component of this question. 


American Sadism

Police brutality is now a formality.

They're kicking our ass; and we're paying their salary.
          Brad 'Scarface' Jordan, City Under Siege, 1990

About 5,000 Americans have died at the hands of the police since 9/11 - 400 to 500 per year.*  Some law enforcement agencies understand this perception and have asked Google to remove related footage from Youtube.  Apparently Americans are 9 times more likely to die at hands of an American nonmilitary law enforcementofficer than a global terrorist.  And that's based on a conservative 2011 estimate of 155 police killings.  

Some police officers seem truly motivated to serve the public.  Others clearly want adventure and prestige, which is fine with me.  And still others seem to want the power - consciously or not - which presents some issues.  Regardless I don't blame the police alone for American sadism.  We nearly all have a role in this matter and it all ultimately finds its home in some of the darkest components of European culture.  It has become an almost spiritual illness** - which fear and propaganda*** further complicate.  

State sadism has deep meaning today.  Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, the March 20th invasion, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the bombing of Cambodia, and more all reflect a state-condoned sadism and a spiritual-emotional-psychological method of power construction and power maintenance.  (I am curious to locate research into this matter.  The testimony of Ursuline nun Dianna Ortiz tells is but one account of intimate state involvement in her own torture.)  

I have no evidence to suggest this sadism is explicit state policy but I suspect TPTB (who are not omnipotent) understand the method in play and simply let it unfold once it arises.  I'm also not saying state sadism is not without benefit although I question whether is exhibits a net benefit.  

My point: illegitimate police violence in the US is not state policy.**** Illegitimate police violence is, however, almost certainly, related to the spiritual-emotional-psychological method of power construction and maintenance.  Police brutality is, among other things, our own internalization of aggressive foreign policy and our failure to own the ugliness of the colonial era and to heal those ills.   


Petite Sadisme

The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life.  It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living.

          Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning*****

Not only do we like a good fight, state brutality and violence affirms our sense of and desire for order.  I call this the petite sadisme.  We respond positively to the images and video footage of the regimentation of life at Guantanamo Bay prisoners, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, water hosing during the Civil Right Era, the Viet Nam War bombing of Cambodia, and even the beating of Rodney King.  It's not that we like it, condone it, or could participate in it.  It's that it satisfies something in many (though not all) of us.  

We respond to it in such a way as to enable it and allow it; and generally we do not take active steps to attenuate it.  More examples from entertainment abound.******

Just as our propaganda-driven fears leads us to give the state more power, a slowly brewing sadism finds satisfaction in watching the state implement violence.  Out of this mass of fear and sadism, Americans are themselves helping to construct a totalitarian future.  The whole tragedy - with its psychoanalytic, economic, political, and policy implications - feeds on itself. 

This arrangement often requires that a minority of people become the target of the state aggressiveness or that people either enjoy being mistreated or simply acquiesce.  The target of illegitimate external control has generally been classic minority groups: activists, the poor, racial minorities, the mentally ill, or misfits.  But that is changing for some reason.

In the last 20 years, a more diverse population of people is beginning to feel this pressure - particularly 2nd Amendment activists.  Alex Jones has been quite vocal on this subject for many years.  Former Navy Seal and activist Ben Smith has explicitly said that he believes the federal government wants to provoke veterans 'to do something' and justify a state response.

One the one hand, we have the global power conspiracies.  But on the other we have a growing emptiness in people - and simultaneously emerging depth in people, which is where I continue this piece in part 3.   


* I learned of this estimate from RT News and came across it in a short film titled RELEASE US.  I was not able to locate the original figure as of December 2013.  To fully evaluate the meaning of that figure we also need to know the pre-9/11 figures.  I have not found definitive evidence so far but many believe police brutality is on the rise.

** I could be wrong but events such as the My Lai massacre seem much less coordinated and yet still reflect American sadism and the large spiritual crises we have in front of us.  As does the recent story about the 'death squad' of American servicemen in Iraq.  My point is that these are not simply questions of state policy but also something deep and something cultural.

*** Again this blog series on totalitarianism all originates from ideas I was considering in December 2013 in relation to the NSA series, which has an entry on synthetic terror and Managing the American Mind where I discuss fear and propaganda more carefully.  Fear and propaganda are as old as culture.  This episode of fear and propaganda I connect back to the Second Industrial Revolution and the birth of modern communication...which has everything to do with the Information Age...

**** To the extent that a shadow state (i.e. shadow gov't) exists, illegitimate police violence is almost certainly the policy of the shadow state.  But I have no evidence of this highly likely reality other than common sense.  These are all very important distinctions to make when you start to determine cause and to attribute responsibility.

It's not a great quote because it addresses war.  But it's completely related in that violence does unify groups.  And that's the point.  People often don't get involved politically in the police brutality issues, I suspect, because it's someone else's problem and the victim 'probably deserved it' and it keep people under control.  I think that thought is more powerful than people know.

****** Cops is a show where you can watch the poor get chased and captured.  Border Wars is slightly more sophisticated except you're watching illegal immigrants.  The Hunger Games and The Running Man clearly reflect these themes.  In the song Superstar, Lupe Fiasco explicitly talks about the crowd's anticipation to 'see the lights get dim'.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Totalitarianism: Quantum of Aggressiveness

My extended NSA blog series has an entry that got me thinking about totalitarianism.  (Check out the quotes in that entry from the following: Binney, Schell, Moglen, Alexander, and Hunt.  They are enlightening.)  Also, in another entry in that same series, under the heading Disciplining and Punishing the American People, I touch on the issue of illegitimate external control and provide examples.  Here I address the dynamics that I see in play and not so much the examples.*
Cases of state brutality abound.  People on the Right such as at the Cato Institute cover police misconduct; meanwhile, people you'd more traditionally associate with the Left cover police brutality.  It is an issue wide in scope and audience.


I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.
          Slavoj Zizek, contemporary philosopher, 2008

Americans need to speculate much more on this subject - especially in light of 20th century Asian and European totalitarian legacies, not to mention whatever is exactly going on in Russia right now.  

Even though totalitarian states killed nearly 130 million people in the prior century, the subject seems distant, absurd, or just boring.  It is the obsession of the academic, the conspiracist, and the intellectual.  That is true at least until it's too late per the 'Then-they-came-for-me'-adage.  Perhaps we are all too aware that confronting power is dangerous work and, or worse, that possessing it is even more horrifying.

Whereas we may have survived the Orwellian vision of totalitarianism (heavy-handed, propagandistic, external, and traditional), we are perhaps slipping into the Huxleyan vision of it (subtle, doctrinal, pharmacological, and technological).  Whereas Winston drinks gin, Lenina takes 'soma'; it has no hangover - making it all the more insidious.  For Orwell, the self still existed despite the state's impositions.  For Huxley, the state and the self had become a single nightmare.  (I'm not the first to make this observation.)

'A Quantum of Aggressiveness'

[Anna Freud] and Bernays provided the ideas that were used by the US government, big business, and the CIA to develop techniques to manage and control the minds of the American people.  But this was not a cynical exercise in manipulation.  Those in power believed that the only way to make democracy work and create a stable society was to repress the savage barbarism that the psychoanalysts told them lurked just under the surface of normal American life.
          Adam Curtis, filmmaker, 2002

This prosperity...consciously or unconsciously leads to a kinda of schizophrenic existence...In this society an incredible quantum of aggressiveness and destructiveness is accumulated precisely because of the empty prosperity, which then simply erupts.
          Herbert Marcuse, 1967 (near 53:00emphasis added)

Although conspiracy plays a role**, I suspect the ultimate origins of totalitarianism lie in the public mind and the efforts to manage it.  Anna Freud, Sigmund's daughter, and Bernays felt that people in a democratic society required external control - precisely to avoid the political implosions that had created totalitarian states in Europe.  The irony of course is that that external control precisely tends toward totalitarianism of one sort, as Marcuse suggests.  He felt that that very control and its attendant 'empty prosperity' inhibits healthy growth and even creates in people 'an incredible quantum of aggressiveness and destructiveness', which itself could manifest in totalitarianism of yet another sort.***  (A proper discussion of this subject could fill a book.)

We don't see much hard physical evidence for this aggressiveness in society at large; crime has fallen in recent years.  But we see this aggressiveness in another place: among the police and other law enforcement officials, the subject of part 2

* As of 2007, USA Today reported increased police brutality.  I have not found recent definitive evidence so far but many believe police brutality is on the rise today.   

** American totalitarianism, if it emerges, will not simply be the fruit of our own mass irrationality; conspiracy will have played a role.  But nature of that 
conspiracy is potentially quite subtle.  Nevertheless, I am certain average people face a conspiratorial class who, in effect, manages the maelstrom of history.  More on that here soon.  

Bernays, Anna Freud, Paul Mazur, and all the purveyors and beneficiaries of corporate propaganda are not real conspirators on the level of which I speak.  They participated in an ordinary (and deceitful) sort of class warfare and partisanship for the sake of their vision of stability and personal gain.

*** Marcuse's words: "By virtue of the way it has organized its technological base, contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian.  For 'totalitarian' is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulations of needs by vested interests. Not only a specific form of government or party rule makes for totalitarianism, but also a specific system of production and distribution which may well be compatible with a 'pluralism' of parties, newspapers, 'countervailing powers,' etc."