Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Most Tragic, The Most Sickening Thing You Read Today

... may be this article by Stuart J. Murray and Dave Holmes at truthout about the growing perversion of the justice systems of the US and Canada. Canada, f'chrissake... the place a lot of us Americans considered absquatulating to around 1970 in preference to being sent to Viet Nam... is now the home of a justice system as cruel as, if not crueler than, our own.

One of the cruelties inflicted by both systems is the death penalty, born again in the US in 1979. States that execute people are lately having difficulty finding suppliers of drugs for lethal injection. Rather than give up lethal injection, states are... experimenting. They're creating cocktails of drugs never used before to execute humans. Some of them don't... quite... do the job, for a half hour or so after injection. And what a half hour that is! Read the article; I can't bear to spell it out here. Our nation's founders and the framers of its Constitution are no longer around for me to ask whether this sort of thing is what they had in mind when they formulated the Eighth Amendment, but in my opinion it's so cruel and unusual it's damned close to torture. I hate to say it, but a firing squad is bound to be less cruel. If you think the death penalty is appropriate for some crimes, I doubt this is the implementation you had in mind. If it is exactly what you have in mind, please seek professional psychological help immediately.

Then there's the privatized prison system, the sheer anonymity of the machinery of death, the "sovereign" state power over life and death turned into an impersonal process for which no one is responsible. Murray and Holmes attribute it to neoliberalism; maybe so, I wouldn't know... there's no "neo-" in my liberalism. Murray and Holmes:

... In some respects, then, the frenzy to shore up and exercise state power over life might be understood as the dying gasps of the sovereign in the face of a rapidly decentralizing authority. Increasingly, heads of state are no more than symbolic figureheads, the vassals of free-market ideology, deregulation, economic forecasts and corporate lobbies. Life-and-death decisions are no longer "sovereign," in the classical sense, but emerge almost anonymously and are recommended, as it were, and required by the system itself - the effects of technologies, forecasts, statistical estimates, securitization and risk management strategies. It is this logic that underpins the prison-industrial and mental health complex, as corrections and psychiatry find themselves subject to wider stakeholder "interests."

Within this context, state-sanctioned killing takes on a different guise. It is no longer the sovereign prerogative simply to take life, but rather, we are faced with a power that exposes life to death, to neglect, to hunger and poverty, to the loss of dignity, to destitution and precarity. In official political rhetoric, this is not "killing." On the contrary, it is argued that austerity measures, securitization, criminalization and mass surveillance are meant to protect life, to foster it, to prolong it. Death gets figured as a passive consequence, as merely "letting die": collateral damage or negative externalities in political economies of scale. ,,,

("Precarity"... wonderful word which I didn't know before. Look it up.)

So much for executions conveying a warning to other would-be criminals: it's all just the process of the state; move along, nothing to see here. The point seems to be not so much crime prevention, or even vengeance, as a demonstration that literally everyone is vulnerable, that the machine will get you sooner or later. The impersonal nature of this "justice" is not the premeditated objectivity of law, but the indifferent cruelty of the machine of state. Murray and Holmes describe a case in which the sheer dehumanizing nature of treatment of one 19-year-old prisoner drives her to commit suicide, apparently with no serious attempt on the part of prison employees to intervene. Life is sacred? really? To these people, it seems life is... indifferent.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to go there. To the extent America has taken on that soulless character already, we need to do every possible thing to reverse it... or else nothing, nothing whatsoever, can help us.

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