Posts Tagged ‘authoritarianism’

“The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks,” begins an article which gets no less fucking appalling as you read on.

Not for the first time, and to the surprise of nobody who’s paying attention, the FBI are exacerbating and assisting violent and destructive extremism, under the guise of fighting some sort of ideological war against it.

And, as is also frighteningly common, it’s not hard to imagine how few people need to be actually evil for it to get like this. The way their incentives were set up, it just made sense at the time for everyone to behave in destructive, damaging, hurtful ways. In which sense the feds in question really aren’t very different from the fanatics against whom they claim to stand in opposition.

I wonder what it takes to allow this sort of structured and systematised monstrousness to come into being under your watch. Whether it requires a special kind of incompetence or malice somewhere near the top of the chain, or whether this is just how things will inevitably turn out for any society that fetishises law enforcement as much as the modern USA.

When society has decided that an entrenched institution of authority must be respected, and revered, and paid homage to, because of its position at the top of the hierarchy, rather than continuously scrutinized, criticised, satirised, and questioned, in an effort to counteract the further concentration of power lest said power be deployed against us – maybe you don’t need to add outright evil or incompetence to the mix to end up with an organisation indistinguishable from terrorists.

Fuck the police. Fuck the feds. And no apologies for picking a title for this post which would fit better on some hipster douchebag pseudo-rebel’s t-shirt.

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The system is fucked. When it’s working well, it fucks people over with maximal efficiency. We need something wholly different, not just to patch some things over in a way that’ll hopefully suck a bit less.

A caution: While you’re burning the system to the ground, be careful of the people inside it, propping it up. They’re not the enemy. In a way, they’re a victim of it just as much as you are.

Classroom discussion questions

1. In no more than twenty words, what would an acceptable replacement to the current system look like and how can it be achieved?

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If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a fair bit of time feeling disillusioned about politics.

It’s fairly standard, really, for people to despair of the system as a whole if they pay attention for long enough to see what happens when someone they voted for actually gets into power. Politicians are easy to despise, particularly when they do publicly stupid things, which they commonly take advantage of their numerous opportunities to do. They might even be worse than estate agents.

A recent Gallup poll in America put Congress’s job approval rating among the public at 10%. That means that one person in ten thinks their body of elected rulers are doing well at what they’ve been put in that position of authority for. This was the least optimistic of various polls, and it has crawled pitifully upwards a little since then, but either way, it’s not hard to draw a few reasonable conclusions about the esteem in which politicians across the pond are generally held.

People are more likely to feel positively about the guy they voted for, or any individual who represents their team – Democrats, Republicans, whatever – but it makes little difference whether they’re closing the tribal ranks and blaming “the other side” for everything that’s going wrong. It’s a fantastically low score.

The political landscape often seems like a dismal place, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the whole thing.

Except, you can’t just not take an interest in politics. It’s not like it’s got any less important because the people who are supposed to be doing it seem to be really bad at it. It’s not like people’s disillusionment necessarily means they stop caring about taxes, or foreign policy, or military intervention overseas, or global economics, or the criminal justice system, or same-sex marriage rights, or how often the council come and collect the bins. These things still matter, and I still feel quite strongly about some of them.

And, on reflecting further on exactly what I strongly felt about all these things, I decided I wasn’t actually disillusioned with politics at all.

What I’m disillusioned with is authoritarianism and capitalism.

The reason this wasn’t obvious in the first place is that those two things basically are politics in much of the modern world. President Obama is from the purportedly left-wing party of his country’s political system; I’ve touched before on the ways in which his administration continues to resemble a right-wing dictatorship, despite the fevered, hallucinatory accusations of socialism from the even-further-right. And don’t even get me started on David Cameron.

Genuine socialism barely gets a look-in in the current discourse. The closest we usually get is reminders of how bad Stalin was, by people who – assuming they think what they’re saying makes any sense – have apparently never wondered whether the whole notion of government and capitalism shouldn’t similarly be debunked by Hitler. Libertarianism has a more noticeable and waxing presence, but also seems to be dominated by the right-wing.

The point is, there are alternative ways of thinking and acting available. You’re allowed to have such different politics from all the major political parties that you don’t want to join any of them. It doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to play politics, any more than not being a hipster means you’re banned from Tumblr. You might feel a little isolated and out of place, but it’s your internet – and, indeed, your world – too.

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– An interesting take on Godwin’s Law: the Nazis weren’t that special. And nor are Americans.

– Wow. Some state representatives have a lot of spare time in which to write people angry, incoherent, idiotic, hand-written letters.

– The Governor of Ohio wants to make it illegal for your car to have a “secret compartment”. There doesn’t even have to be anything in it. You’re probably only going to fill it with drugs, so you can’t be trusted with the responsibility.

– Read this. “Bullying is about as valid a rite of passage as female circumcision, and no less its spiritual equivalent.” Read it now.

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Have you read Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Were you cheering for Big Brother’s totalitarian regime of constant surveillance the whole time?

No? You mean you read it as some kind of satirical warning of the dangers of allowing the government too much power to monitor its citizens’ private affairs?

Better stay out of Canada then, you paedo.

Yes, that’s seriously how Canada’s Minister of Public Safety seems to think. There’s a new law being proposed, which seems likely to go ahead. What would this law do?

Internet service providers and cellphone companies must hand over basic subscriber information of customers to law enforcement agencies.

In addition to a name, address, phone number and email address, companies would also be required to hand over the Internet protocol address and a series of device identification numbers, allowing police to build a detailed profile on a person using their digital footprint and to facilitate the tracking of a person’s movement through the location of their cellphone.

The police won’t have to get a warrant to find out all this stuff. They won’t need to even suspect you of anything, or provide reasonable grounds for suspicion at any later point, or let you know they’re demanding this information about you.

They just want to change the default state, to one in which they get to snoop through the stuff you assume is private, because they’re called the government.

And if you’re not okay with it, well, you’re on the same side as child pornographers.

If the people running the country really can’t think of any reason why someone might be opposed to giving the government even more power over its people, other than the desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with those dealing in child porn, then Canada’s in real trouble.

As an argument, it’s up there with “You know who else liked breathing oxygen? HITLER.”

(h/t BoingBoing)

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– The Prime Minister recently made a visit to an NHS Hospital. Judging by the ensuing reports, it seems to have been an entirely self-serving publicity exercise, in which patients had to be inconvenienced and staff threatened with disciplinary action in order to keep things running smoothly for Mr Cameron. It might have done more to “bolster support for his NHS reform” if any significant body of NHS workers were actually in favour of it.

– And while we’re on the subject of dangerous government authoritarianism, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency appear to have taken down a website and replaced it with a legally illiterate series of threats. They were going after content infringement, but in a way that misleads the public and seems like it shouldn’t merit being grouped in with SOCA’s usual remit of investigating terrorism, people trafficking, gun running, and the like.

– If “homophobic” isn’t the right word to mean “displaying prejudice against homosexual people”, fine, use another one. Just let them get married already.

Occupy! Rapists! There, doesn’t that make the protestors seem scary and dangerous? They’re something to do with rapists!

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A disgruntled resident of Camden, in London, recently posted a video online depicting the source of his gruntlessness:



It shows a little garden-y area outside a block of flats, which he describes as being home to “no illegal activity… no anti-social behaviour“, but which has had a security system installed that instructs him to leave this “restricted area”.

Which seems a little over-the-top, to say the least, for such a low-key, trouble-free place to start seeing these machines popping up threatening to send photographs of people’s faces “for processing”. Who’s going to be processing them, and to what end?

It’s this weird approach to asserting their authority – which more than one commentator has likened to something from Robocop – that’s the most worrying issue. They’re not just keeping an eye on who’s using this space, and recording certain images which can be referred back to for information in the event of, say, a violent incident. They’re also blaring a stern American voice at passing citizens, ordering them what to do in a manner that expects immediate obedience and brooks no dissent.

The message is quite clearly designed to intimidate, to elicit fear, and to cow people into doing what they’re told by their superiors.

Little of which, I suspect, was genuinely in the hearts of the council officials who explained that the voice message was an accident that arose during a battery replacement. But even the fact that such authoritarian browbeating can happen mistakenly merits our attention. Even if it may not have been heralding an oncoming police state, this is exactly the kind of intrusion of over-zealous security measures we should be prepared to make noise about.

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– No, it’s not Blue Monday. And if you’re using that nonsense as anything other than an excuse to break out some New Order LPs and go on a nostalgia binge, you’re doing it wrong.

– The TSA has compiled a list of its best “catches” – that is, people detained by their security staff at airports – in 2011. The ratio of thwarted terrorists to harassed innocent citizens… may surprise you.

– Just the words “arrested on secret evidence” should make this seem like a seriously bad idea, even before you get to the torture of a humanitarian aid worker.

– Has your memory ever turned out to be unreliable, even though you swear something happened the way you replay it in your mind? Let the False Memory Archive know.

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So, here’s a thing.

Imagine there’s this privileged subset of society who are allowed to break into your home with impunity. Let’s call them the “overlords”.

There’d probably be certain rules about exactly when the overlords get to enter your premises against your will. But imagine too that, if some particular overlords broke these rules and tried to barge in anyway, there was nothing you could do to stop them.

You could try and get them punished later on, by reporting them to other overlords who you hope will be on your side, but it would still be illegal for you to make any attempt to prevent them from illegally breaking in.

You’re picturing it? There is a violently enforceable rule in place, which you didn’t agree to, saying that if an overlord invades your home, you may not do anything to resist them, even if the rules in place to restrict the overlords’ behaviour (and ostensibly to protect you) specifically say that they’re not allowed in.

Scary prospect, right?

Now replace “overlords” with “police officers“. Welcome to Indiana.

A decision earlier this year by the state’s Supreme Court said, in part:

We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest.

Right. Because the responsibility for not unnecessarily escalating the level of violence and risk of injuries should absolutely fall on the person resisting the illegal home invasion, not the people illegally breaking into someone’s home.

You know that thing about how you’re meant to get more right-wing as you get older? Fuck that.

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There was a major fracas in Florida a couple of weeks ago.

A guy got killed in a shoot-out, and some bystanders were hurt badly in the crossfire.

Someone who happened to be nearby started filming it on his phone. Maybe he was hoping it would be useful to somebody later, maybe he just wanted an awesome memento of what was going on, I don’t know.

However, one of the men with guns noticed what the camera guy was doing, and started pointing the gun at him. The guy was dragged out of his car and told to lay on the ground, at gunpoint. He then had his phone taken off him and smashed, though not before he managed to take out the memory card with the footage on it and keep it safe.

Some of the men with guns may have also done this to other people’s phones, and a local news team reports one of their cameras being illegally taken as well.

There’s one crucial point I’ve left out of the story, though, which stops this being a tale of assault, theft, destruction of property, or some other kinds of serious crimes, for which these gunmen would no doubt face serious charges and hefty retribution.

Can you guess what it is?

(h/t Ed Brayton)

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