Saturday, September 8, 2012

We Are All Occupied Countries

Two must-read articles that appeared in the past month that when taken together paint an accurate picture of the state of the world today:
From Michel Foucault, Graham has drawn the book’s galvanizing concept: the boomerang effect. Graham quotes from Society Must Be Defended, a series of lectures Foucault gave in 1975 and 1976 in which he argued that Western imperialism didn’t merely force Western practices and institutions on imperial subjects. Rather, “a whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practise something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.” This boomerang effect has been resurgent over the past decade, when one can observe practices from the neocolonial frontiers of Baghdad, Kabul, and Hebron now being instituted in New York, Washington, D.C., and London. So-called green zones, security buffers, checkpoints, novel nonlethal weapons, drones, and CCTV—all have become indelible features of the West’s urban centers of political and financial power. Though they originate in the military campaigns prosecuted by Western forces and security contractors, these elements are largely facilitated by the police.

Like Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s expansion of Paris’s boulevards, which ensured that future revolutionaries would have difficulty barricading the streets, Western urban spaces have been reconstructed to circumscribe sites of protest and protect financial and political elites against potential threats. During globalization conferences, free speech or protest “zones” are set up, encircled in barbed wire and riot police. Lower Manhattan and other “financial cores” are now set apart in “security zones” that restrict automobile and foot traffic. Traditional urbanism gives way to “what Trevor Boddy has called ‘an architecture of disassurance’ as set-backs are increased, roads are closed, barriers and bollards are inserted around perimeters, and fountains and landscape features are designed to act as collapsable ‘tiger traps’ to intercept truck bombers.”

In New York, armed National Guardsmen patrol Grand Central Station and other transportation hubs. The NYPD—which has been turned into a full-fledged intelligence agency, with military-grade equipment, civilian analysts, overseas offices, and in-house CIA liaisons—maps and surveils Muslim enclaves, recalling Israeli practices in the West Bank, the ur-model for counterinsurgency, and raids “known” activist households before protests even take place. Taken together—and one must also cite the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice, which has grown immensely in the past 10 years—these policies reflect a stunning reconfiguration of policing and of how cities are secured against urban publics, which is to say, themselves.

This brings us to the second key feature of Graham’s thesis: a shift in the perception of cities in the eyes of policymakers, security officials, and financial elites. Graham seizes on Richard J. Norton’s term “feral cities,” defining them as “highly disorderly urban areas in the global South which are controlled by violent nonstate militias of various sorts.” Increasingly, the global North’s cities are also seen as feral, “intrinsically problematic spaces” that must be managed, regulated, and heavily securitized. And with “war [serving] as the dominant metaphor in describing the perpetual and boundless condition of urban societies”—a war on drugs, on poverty, on ­terror—we have a domestic culture that matches the perpetual, amorphous, and secretive wars we are prosecuting on colonial frontiers from Somalia to Pakistan to Yemen. Graham demonstrates that the police conduct counterinsurgency wars at home, too.

“In the absence of a uniform-wearing enemy, urban publics themselves become the prime enemy,” writes Graham, though the reality is more complicated than that. Urban publics are certainly the prime enemy—­forever under scrutiny, with tacit guilt being the default—but they are also enlisted as accomplices in the securing and pacification of their own societies. On the subway, signs and recordings exhort us, if you see ­something, say something. Police officers hand out flyers requesting—as one recently distributed in New York did—that citizens help the nypd fight terrorism! Quoting James Hay and Marc Andrejevic, Graham offers, “everyone must be understood as both potential suspect and therefore, necessarily, proactive spy.”

We have long tolerated this kind of society in our airports. Now we are faced with “an extension of airport-style security and surveillance systems to encompass entire cities and societies utilizing, at its foundation, the high-tech means of consumption and mobility that are already established in Western cities.” Graham is referring to credit cards, CCTV, GPS, cell phones, IP addresses, E-ZPass—the whole networked circuitry of late-capitalist consumption. These data are continuously mined for patterns, subjected to algorithms that determine whether a person is worth tracking.
City Under Seige Jacob Silverman, The New Inquiry
At the end of the Cold War many writers predicted the decline of the traditional nation-state. Some looked at the demise of the Soviet Union and foresaw the territorial state breaking up into statelets of different ethnic, religious, or economic compositions. This happened in the Balkans, the former Czechoslovakia, and Sudan. Others predicted a weakening of the state due to the rise of Fourth Generation warfare and the inability of national armies to adapt to it. The quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan lend credence to that theory. There have been numerous books about globalization and how it would eliminate borders. But I am unaware of a well-developed theory from that time about how the super-rich and the corporations they run would secede from the nation state.

I do not mean secession by physical withdrawal from the territory of the state, although that happens from time to time—for example, Erik Prince, who was born into a fortune, is related to the even bigger Amway fortune, and made yet another fortune as CEO of the mercenary-for-hire firm Blackwater, moved his company (renamed Xe) to the United Arab Emirates in 2011. What I mean by secession is a withdrawal into enclaves, an internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot.

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare? In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack. Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to get Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party. The sentiment among the super-rich towards the rest of America is often one of contempt rather than noblesse.

The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?

Since the first ziggurats rose in ancient Babylonia, the so-called forces of order, stability, and tradition have feared a revolt from below. Beginning with Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre after the French Revolution, a whole genre of political writings—some classical liberal, some conservative, some reactionary—has propounded this theme. The title of Ortega y Gasset’s most famous work, The Revolt of the Masses, tells us something about the mental atmosphere of this literature.

But in globalized postmodern America, what if this whole vision about where order, stability, and a tolerable framework for governance come from, and who threatens those values, is inverted? What if Christopher Lasch came closer to the truth in The Revolt of the Elites, wherein he wrote, “In our time, the chief threat seems to come from those at the top of the social hierarchy, not the masses”? Lasch held that the elites—by which he meant not just the super-wealthy but also their managerial coat holders and professional apologists—were undermining the country’s promise as a constitutional republic with their prehensile greed, their asocial cultural values, and their absence of civic responsibility.

Lasch wrote that in 1995. Now, almost two decades later, the super-rich have achieved escape velocity from the gravitational pull of the very society they rule over. They have seceded from America.
Revolt of the Rich. Mike Lofgren, The American Conservative

Taken together, these two articles paint a grim but accurate picture of the world at the dawn of the twenty-first century: the global elite of wealthy capitalist billionaires and their mandarins and factotums are essentially an occupying force over the entire globe, controlling governments and using the military and police forces against the citizens of their own country who are essentially colonized populations just like in the era of international colonialism. This is the true state of the world, not "democracy," which is just a fiction to placate the masses. Neither you nor I as Americans, nor the citizens of Greece or Spain or Ireland, nor the citizens of China or Japan or Korea have any more of a real say in how our country is run that the average Indian or South American or African under British, Spanish or French rule. We are an occupied people, all of us, with lsay in how our countries are run. The difference is, we are not controlled from a country outside our own borders, but by a global international elite and their political handmaidens.  This elite has no loyalty to any particular country. Hence the increasing use of military and police forces against the citizens of their own country, and wars for control of resources most citizens will never benefit from. Hench the dismantling of nation state outside of the police and military forces, which just serves as an unnecessary and inconvenient check on the rapacity of those elites.

This is what is meant by Neofeudalism.

Just as the revolt against colonialism took over a century, and only really succeeded in the aftermath of the Second World War, I think the struggle against the occupation of the global financial elites (the 'one percent'), will be the struggle of the twenty-first century. And it too make take a war to win.

The decline of the nation state and the rise of corporations as the major organizational feature of humanity was a staple of cyberpunk science fiction authors since at least the nineteen-eighties.

See also  John Robb's concept of the Hollow State.



    1. Thanks for posting the link to my entry and for promoting it on your LJ. I'm also glad to see escapefromwisconsin commenting at my blog. I'll be sure to answer his comment there presently.


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