What the Response to the Killing of Black Men Reveals About the USA: 2
Following on from my previous post in this series, I shall now try to answer a set of related and important questions that almost nobody seems to be asking. They are as follows.
Why are the police so dogged in their refusal to publicly accept that they might make mistakes? What do they really stand to lose from occasional gestures of contrition, even if they are insincere and meant for public displays? But perhaps more importantly, why are elected officials apparently unwilling or unable to pressure police departments to publicly lose a little?
As you will soon see, the last question in that set is far from trivial. Throughout human history, successful tyrannical regimes have always spent a considerable amount of time on making sure that they were feared but not hated. To this end, successful tyrants always made sure that low-level enforcers of the regime who overstepped their bounds and bought disrepute to the tyrant were quickly punished for their excesses. As is often the case, the reasons for punitive action against low-level enforces who brought disrepute to the regime were motivated by the self-interest of the regime.
Most of these reasons boil down to two interlinked issues. Firstly, excessively tyrannical low-level enforcers result in the regime being hated rather than simply feared. A hated regime will always cause the affected subjects to rebel against the regime or try to sabotage it- neither of which are desirable from the standpoint of the tyrant and his cronies accumulating wealth and power. Secondly, low-level flunkies in the department of oppression require periodic reminders that they are just low-level flunkies. Tyrants do not like people who dream of usurping their position.
What does this say about the current situation when elected politicians seems unwilling or unable to reign in the low-level flunkies in the department of oppression?
Well.. there are two ways to look at it. You can either believe that the politicians are unwilling to reign in the police because that is what they want them do. However, the demographic-racial profile of, and the electoral situation in, the USA is such that willingly ignoring such problems is a good recipe for losing power- especially at the national level. A related possibility, namely that politicians are expecting these problems to blow over before the next series of elections (like in the days before internet) has some merit. However the sheer number and frequency of cops murdering and beating up people combined with the ubiquity of people using the internet means that hoping the problem will go away is a naive assumption.
But what if there is another explanation for this reticence by the political class to condemn cops who commit murders? What if they are actually unable to do so?
Towards the beginning of this post, I casually mentioned the concept of “successful tyrannies”. So what makes some tyrannies successful and long-lived? It comes down to rational centralization of power and a clear chain of authority that ultimately gives one semi-competent (or better) person the final say on any subject in his realm. Unsuccessful tyrannies, in contrast, have many competing centers of power involved in a continuous game of one-upmanship. And this brings us another question.
Is the USA a representative democracy or a tyranny masquerading as a democracy?
Now, I am sure that readers of this post will have their own beliefs about the “right” answer for this question. However I am not interested in answers based in personal beliefs or books- because those answers are really about what you believe or want to see. Let me show you another way to look at this question.
Does the USA, as a society, function largely on the basis of constant explicit and implicit threats or does it function on the basis of a melange of individual calculations, some goodwill, some fear and some guilt?
Well.. in my opinion, the functioning of american society has become increasingly dependent on the constant application of explicit and implicit threats. While we can certainly argue about whether that was always the case, it is quite clear that there was a period from the 1930s to the 1970s when optimism and belief in a better future was the driving force for people keeping up their end of the social contract. The end of this era, in the late 1970s, signaled the beginning of an age where repression combined with explicit and implicit threats has gradually became the norm of making the system function- for enriching the top 1% and 0.1%.
The USA is therefore functionally identical to a tyranny. The real question is- are the people running this tyranny united and competent or divided and incompetent.
Russia and China provide good examples of what successful tyrannies look and function like. In both countries there is a very well-defined, uncontested and publicly known chain of command and power that pretty much everybody in those countries is well aware of. While those at lower levels in the power structure have some autonomy and perks, they are perfectly disposable and dispensable if they screw up or do anything that causes public embarrassment or loss of face for those at the top. Everyone in the setup, including the flunkies who staff the oppression apparatus know their place and leeway in the system.
In contrast to Russia or China, the USA lacks the highly centralized and efficient human infrastructure of a tyranny even though it operates as one. Consequently there are multiple centers of power and members of each group are locked in an unintentional but eternal struggle with members of the other centers. This low intensity civil war between multiple power centers results in the formation (and subsequent dissolution) of numerous temporary alliances between groups who often don’t have much common ground or interests.
The studied silence of politicians in the face of cop atrocities is therefore a sign of the inability of their group to exert influence on a nominally subordinate group.The shortsighted unwillingness of police to acknowledge either administrative concerns or public opinion is best seen as the result of a situation where nobody is perceived to be in charge of the system. To summarize this post, the largely uncontested and unpunished cop brutality evident in the USA today is a sign of that the country has become an unsuccessful and unstable tyranny- one where nobody is recognized as being in charge of the overall situation.
What do you think? Comments?