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Behind the Overreaction to the Boston Marathon Bombing

April 21, 2013 12 comments

I am sure that almost all of you saw, and sorta followed, events subsequent to the Boston Marathon bombings. You might have also read many posts, editorials and articles about the excessive show of largely ineffectual force and the passive acceptance of such displays by the citizenry. In the end, Bomber 1 was killed in an average police shootout and Bomber 2 was caught because some guy went to check on his boat. Many people have confounded by the thought process behind the decision to shut down a major US city for the purpose of locating a 19-year old stoner with a couple of guns and perhaps.. a pipe bomb or two. The show of force in Boston was in sharp contrast to what happened after an explosion at a Fertilizer Storage facility in West, Texas in the same week.

So what is going on? Why do actions which resulted in the death of 4 people in Boston consume infinitely more resources and attention than an almost simultaneous industrial disaster in Texas that has killed 3-10 times more people.

First let us be clear about one thing- the majority of people killed in both Boston, MA and West, TX were white.. so it was not about race. Nor were the events in Texas any less photogenic. The fertilizer storage facility explosion (100-300 tons of ammonium nitrate) in Texas was far more spectacular than the pathetically small pressure-cooker bombs in Boston. Heck even the aftermath of the Texas explosion was way more photogenic than the Boston blasts.

So why was the much bigger blast which killed many more people in West, TX not as worthy of media and government attention as the infinitesimally smaller ones in Boston, MA?

The answer to this question lies in the very nature of governance in hierarchical societies itself. Governance is not, and never has been, about providing public services, helping people or any of that ‘feel good’ BS which most people want to believe in. It is, and always has been, about the sole rights to kill people who live under that system. All forms of governance, “public” or “private”, are therefore about a collection of individuals who want to maintain their monopoly on lethal force. While natural disasters, infectious diseases and industrial disasters do kill far more people, they do not challenge the governmental monopoly on lethal force- at least in the mind of its subjects.. I mean ‘citizens’. Other people, groups or countries can however challenge the monopoly of any given government on lethal force- especially in the minds of its own subjects.. I mean ‘citizens’.

The actions of autonomous actors, such as “terrorists” and “criminals”, is a public demonstration of the fact that governmental power is not absolute.

The reaction of any government to such authority challenges is remarkably similar to how organized crime syndicates defend their territory or pimps hold onto their hoes. They go overboard with shows of violence and force designed to show the “protected” who is “really” in charge. It is about showing the “protected” that the ‘godfather’ or ‘pimp daddy’ cares about the “well-being” of those who live under his authority. Such shows have no correlation with the magnitude of the challenge and will always appear as overkill to the rational observer. But they are perfectly logical, if not rational, from the viewpoint of the ‘godfather’ or ‘pimp’ because power is really about maintaining monopoly over the use of lethal force at all costs.

So you see, shutting down a large city and using 10-20 thousand heavily armed men along with scores of APCs and Helicopters to find an injured 19-year old “terrorist” with a handgun or two makes a lot of sense if you want to show your subjects that you (and only you) are still in charge.

What do you think? Comments?