Archives for category: Social Criticism

The traditional motto of the police department is to “Serve and Protect.” The police are supposed to protect the innocent from the criminal, so it might come as shocking that the Hong Kong protesters are calling for the abolition of the Hong Kong police department. Of course, Westerners might read this and think, “Well, obviously they would want to get rid of the police! They live under the tyrannical regime of COMMUNISTS!” No one would bat an eye at someone wanting to abolish the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Not in a modern context, anyway. The police becomes the arm of government oppression when the system is rigged against the people (or a specific demographic of people). Whoever dictates what is legal and what is criminal uses the intrinsic violence of the police (to either restrain, detain, or attack) as the power to enforce its decision.

fascit police

Don’t look at me, I just enforce what’s right and wrong. Who decides what’s right or wrong? Stop asking questions.

For added nuance, the Black Lives Matter movement made a similar call to abolish the police in the United States. When white supremacy is the systemic norm, black people become viewed as criminally-inclined compared to their white counterparts, so the police become the manifestation of that racist imbalance. When race is criminalized, when poverty is criminalized, when mental health is criminalized, when drug abuse is criminalized, then intrinsic police violence becomes directed at those demographic. Getting rid of the cops, in theory, would force us to confront the problems within these demographics non-violently.

If drug use was no longer illegal, then we would need to help drug addicts instead of locking them up. Treatment would become the default. If we could no longer lock up the poor, we would have to find them stable housing and make sure they had enough to support themselves so they would no longer need to game the system in order to survive. Mental health would somewhat ironically become a health issue, and those whose underlying issues causes them to act out in anti-social behaviours could only be helped instead of punished. We would probably have to shift our cultural view of violence as being the solution to all our problems so that those who commit violence to solve their problems would do less of that, too. We would need to refocus on rehabilitation as a solution, on help as a solution, on compassion as a solution. Cuz if we didn’t, society would collapse into a miasma of inhuman chaos and brutality!!

And that’s the thing about abolishing the police. If the monopoly on “legitimate” violence dissolves, a power vacuum appears. It’s why libertarianism is a terrible idea: if the government is abolished, then those with the most power (corporations) would step up and dominate with their unchecked and unregulated sovereignty. If the police disappear, then those currently with power, and this could be as little power as an abusive husband to as much power as a drug kingpin, will be able to execute that power without regulation.

emot-ab

Quick! Call the BLM movement to remove him from the house!

This isn’t to disregard the absolutely solid arguments that both the Hong Kong protesters and Black Lives Matter movement make. The police, without a doubt, are the arm of systemic oppression within the state apparatus. The goal should always be anarchism. The issue is always the method of achieving that. The problem with libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism) is that it wishes for anarchy within the cultural context of today. If we cede police power to anarchism within our current societal context, the violence that exists within our world now will continue to manifest itself; simply in new, unchecked ways.

I believe in a more incrementalist approach: similar to social workers whose goals are ultimately to end the apprehension of children from families, the goal of the police should be to work themselves out of a job. We obviously need to work on cultural transition, poverty reduction, race relations, mental health issues, and so on, but so long as power imbalances exist, then having a police force that is even minimally under popular control (in that we in the West have a small say in who writes their paychecks and holds them accountable) is better than allowing the unchecked power of some other violent agency to shape our legal and social framework. What we need is a new world. In order to reach that new world, we should no longer look at the police as a static necessity, but as a dynamic institution geared towards its own demise.

Bootstraps are things that everyone has, but the only people who have ever used them are rich people. If poor people had used them, they wouldn’t be poor. Their bootstraps remain, unlaced, disheveled upon the floor. This is how we justify our system: it is merit-based. Those who attain power within it must have that power legitimately, and legitimacy is seen as being earned through hard work. The powerful, those who noticeably do not generally wear boots, obtained their power through the literally impossible task of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

bootstraps

He must have been poor

To deny the bootstrap theory is not to proselytize a Calvinist social doctrine where some are preordained with salvation through inherited grace while the rest are condemned to poverty and damnation. Social forces, however unjust, will never be immutable. If things can change, then it must be the people who change them. The capacity to change must then exist, and if not through bootstraps, then how?

Imagine two people in two separate hallways at the end of which lies a mysterious door. The first person opens their door, and a litter of adorable puppies is revealed! Behind the second person’s door is a literal crack den with someone offering them a pipe. Both doors offer a choice, it’s just that that choice depends entirely on which hallway the person happens to be in. The person being offered crack could say no, sure, but the person playing with the puppies didn’t even get the opportunity to smoke that delicious crack.

puppies

I know what I’D choose

There will certainly be things that influence that choice. Did the second person receive an accurate education regarding the nature of drugs? Did they witness drug use during their formative years? Did they suffer a previous trauma that they never learned to cope with? Is the first person allergic to dogs? There are always correlative factors that influence choice which explain statistical trends, but choice does exist to explain anomalies.

The thing is, we don’t choose our doors. A door may open, and behind it may lay overt racism. Behind another door may be an abusive partner. Behind another door may be a downsizing layoff. We can only choose our reactions to these doors, but our reactions will always open more doors towards which we must again react. A woman might open a door to sexual harassment at work, and how she reacts might open another door that reveals a misogynist work environment, and her following reaction might open a door to reveal hostility at having rocked the boat.

Privilege is living in a hallway with mostly benign doorways. Merit doesn’t enter into it at all. Don’t have to react to racism? Congratulations! Don’t have to react to sexism? Congratulations! Don’t have to react to growing up in poverty, undergoing abuse or neglect, being followed home by a cat-caller, learning your times tables in an underfunded educational system, walking down the street with an authoritarian police force, or making a shitty wage under precarious employment? Congratulations! Resilience is a thing, certainly, but if doorway after doorway is consistently negative, a negative anti-social status is far more likely to develop.

shining hallway

I’m sure it’s fine

Like I said earlier, we’re not Calvinists. Choice is an option, and our hallways are not preordained. They are evolved, shaped, and constructed through social history, economic factors, cultural attitudes, and policy decisions. Someone on the LGBT spectrum would not have to react to homophobia if homophobia in all its social, cultural, economic, and political incarnations wasn’t a thing! On an individual level, encouraging resilience is not the worst thing in the world because often in that precise moment there is nothing else really that an individual can do. Even if that is the case, being aware of the context of that person’s situation is going to massively improve your compassion and understanding, vastly improving their likelihood of listening. However, encouraging bootstraps in any other capacity completely ignores that we all live in different hallways, and that we, collectively, can actually improve what’s behind those doors through our evolving culture, our economic system, and our political decisions.

So let’s do that instead.

Would you ever sell yourself into slavery? If you think this is a paradox, remember that slavery is not simply unpaid labour, but giving up our control to the whims of another. Slaves were property, not unpaid labourers. The conditions of the slavery aren’t even that important; I don’t think anyone would go back in time and choose to be a slave, even if they got to be a house slave. Slavery isn’t abominable because of the conditions, though they certainly didn’t help, nor was it anything to do with the type of labour involved since all of that labour still exists today with little controversy. Slavery was abolished because it took away our liberty as human beings.

Maybe you’re a bit more cynical. I was a quite vague in my offer, but perhaps a huge cash sum might change your mind? The thing is, though, if any amount of money tempts us to give up a fundamental condition of our human nature, then that desire can only be driven by desperation. If the thought arises that this amount of money might make life more livable, it is only blinding us to the fact that a life of slavery is less than a life. We cannot abandon liberty and still be fully human.

Now, if we wouldn’t accept a single cash buyout to enter into slavery, then why do we accept smaller, biweekly payments in the form of a wage? The conditions of our labour today remove from us our autonomy just as much as any plantation, even if the conditions might be better. If you disagree, ask yourself how able you are to say no to your boss, and how able your boss is to say no to you. There is a disparity in freedom there, and it very likely isn’t favouring you. Any ability to say “no” to your boss that you possess today was fought and bled for by unionists before you. The pittance of liberty we possess at work was not given but taken, and, under many employers, is slowly being clawed back.

You might be skeptical. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can just pick up and leave for another, right? But consider this: how many employers are there out there right now that allow you to say no to your boss? How many employers are there that don’t follow this fundamental relationship of capital ownership? Trading one plantation for another is not liberty.

plantation1a_360

“Let’s work next door. I hear they only give out ten lashes for insubordination instead of twenty!” Businesses might offer perks to compete for your labour, but never liberty; all you receive are allowances from your master.

Maybe you dream of one day becoming the boss, then you’ll have freedom! Climb that corporate ladder! Regardless of how unfeasible this might be in reality due to the disparity of opportunities, the number of aspirants, the nepotism and politics of advancement, this is still the dream of the hooker wishing to become the pimp. Regardless of where you might fall along the spectrum of middle management, it is still an immoral system. Self-interest and greedy delusion are not sufficient justification.

The movie Office Space exists and is so relatable because we all inherently recognize that the disparate hierarchy we possess in our workplace is ultimately degrading. We agree to it because if we don’t work, we starve. We agree out of desperation.

working outside

And yet if Peter’s new boss asks him to come in on Saturday, he is still in the same predicament as in the beginning of the film. His relationship to work has not changed.

In our work today, we live less than a life. What we need is autonomy in our labour. What we need is a voice in the conditions of our labour. We demand democracy in our politics, but remain blind to it for the eight hours or more we slog through in our employment. We’ve been convinced we’re free because we have a few tired hours after work to spend the money we’ve been allowed on streaming television, forgetting that those hours required workers to die because the bosses of the past couldn’t be bothered to allow us even that.

Is that what we want? A life where our few pleasures are those “allowed” to us by our employer? Or do we want a say in our lives? Do we want real choice? If we do, what then are we willing to do for our liberty?