Beyond Resistance: Replacement and Restoration for Resilience

Resist we must. But what will that get us, really? Well, catharsis yes. However, that is clearly not enough.

Will resistance bring a slower unraveling of American Democracy? Maybe, maybe not. The deep entanglement of political institutions with the increasingly monopolistic “technosphere” is so extensive that only resistance that borders on revolution might make a dent by forcing contraction of the corporate state. Don’t hold your breath.

climate change heats the planetWill resistance bring one or two less weather weirdings next year? Probably not. That will take a lot more than resistance. Only major contraction of the techno-industrial-consumer economy coupled with accelerated deployment of low-carbon technology and economics in local communities will make much difference. That will require massive social change at every level.

Limits of Resistance

Will resistance bring a respite from the splitting of our society between the extremely rich and the rest of us? Perhaps a tiny easing, if a new Congress were to legislate big penalties for abuse of the economy by the financial sector and if a new president were to appoint a ‘hard-ass’ to enforce existing anti-trust law. Only then might the parasitic financial sector shrink some. But its penetration into political institutions is deep and pervasive. But how much of the liberal insurgency that is the #resistance just a visceral repulsion to a narcissist sociopath and how much seeks deep social change?

Would resistance bring a slight improvement in the deteriorating health of our people due to abridged access to healthcare? Not likely in the short run, since it will take a lot more than Corporate Democrats controlling Congress to overthrow the Medical Insurance Monopoly and Big Pharma dominance over the forced “markets” mediating medical care. On the other hand, maybe enough resistance could generate the momentum needed to bring on universal health care, so common in the rest of the developed world.

Well, with a lot of resistance, we might at least get a concerted effort to accelerate climate action, right? Again, Mr. Big Corp is likely to continue forcing more capital-intensive hi-tech R&D programs, not accelerated deployment of ready-to-go distributed power generation and energy conservation strategies. Serious carbon emissions reduction, which requires major contraction of the technosphere, would involve seriously greater community control of economic activity, replacing the endless intermediation within the technosphere assuring sustained central control and uninterrupted human suffering.

Something Different: Replacement, Restoration, Resilience

No, we need something very different, and we need it now. “But you don’t know what it is, do you Mister Jones?” Of course, that is a major part of the problem. We are blindly sailing into unchartered waters in a sinking ship with the captain acting the mutineer  overloading a private lifeboat with bullion. “Follow the money.”

Sorry.Lifestyle.out.of.stockWe will not survive by appealing to existing authority structures or charismatic demagogues. Nor will we survive by separating out ‘recyclables’ while buying plastic-packaged everything and investing in a hybrid car to maintain accustomed fossil-fuel levels of mobility.

Well, I can tell you one thing. What we do need even more than resistance is replacement of the global industrial-consumer economy with local ecological communities. Also we urgently need restoration of ecosystems everywhere to stop the planetary bleeding of the complex of living Earth systems we timidly call “the environment.” Only then can we achieve the resilience we desperately need. We will never get close to resilience by appealing to national politics. We must act now where we live. Of course, that is the hard part.

Resist we must, but it will be far from enough, even if Indivisible, movements like it, and street protests grow much larger. Politicians will continue dickering and taking bribes right up to the point where full-on climate collapse accelerates weird weather events, droughts, floods, large-scale crop failures, forced migrations, escalated violence and imminence of societal collapse.

No, Resistance is not enough.

Can Hope Overcome Reality?

I just read Chris Hedges’ report in Truthdig of his recent telephone conversation with Ralph Nader. I regularly read numerous sources of information on the politics of Trumpery and the failure of the Democratic Party to respond effectively to the crises facing the nation as Dem’s obsess over the latest Trumpist Travesty, as if wavering minority opposition and easy sarcasm were enough. So, I was surprised that Ralph Nader’s and Chris Hedges’ words hit me so hard.

I have read most of Chris Hedges’ books, so I am used to his dire descriptions of the present state of the American Empire and its domestic disasters. They are accurate and scary. I have also followed for decades Ralph Nader’s incisive expositions on the catastrophic corruption of the U.S. corporate state, and his amazing feats forcing reforms. But somehow this conversation hit far more deeply than the general realities of the “Deep State,” and the appropriation of that term by the “alt right,” such as I wrote about in a recent post here.

White nationalist propagandists such as Steve Bannon, tout the goal of taking down the “administrative state,” by which he seems to mean everything in the federal government not directly controllable by the wannabe dictator in the White House. That includes any federal program or agency that attempts to serve a public purpose rather than the interests of the American Oligarchy. But I digress.

In his conversation with Chris Hedges, Nader expressed a deep pessimism about the political prospects of the nation and the cultural decline of its people. This, after decades of stalwart defense of the public interest in myriad ways, ever dauntless. What is it that so troubles Nader, the unflappable public intellectual-activist? Hope fades for Nader and Hedges’ desire to take down the corporate state in the nation’s defense against the exploitative interests of the oligarchy under which it now operates.

The contrast is instructive. The Bannon-Trump forces would dismantle large elements of the U.S. federal government in order to eliminate operations that protect society from the devastation of neoliberal corporate economic system of extraction, production, consumption and waste. Disaster capitalism indeed! They promote utopian dreams of libertarian individualism as their cover for kleptocratic plunder of the commonwealth.

Nader and Hedges would dismantle something quite different. Their target is the totalitarian political apparatus that manages the nation-state under the thin veneer of a pseudo-democracy in the interests of corporate market liberalism and the kleptocratic oligarchy  from which we desperately need to protect society. That, of course, is the far more difficult task.

It is far easier to rile up the growing segments of the population that politics has abandoned while pretending to assist those already downtrodden for generations. The declining white middle and working classes have built up resentment ever since their slide began three decades ago. Trump is exercising the classic tactics of all demagogues throughout history. And conditions were and continue to be ripe for their success.

Hedges quotes Nader’s telephone rant reflecting his despair for American democracy. The litany of converging crises is to long to repeat here. Read it there. We must face the reality he describes and find ways to overcome it. As Hedges reported, “Resistance, Nader said, must be local. First we need to organize to take back our own communities…” Neighborhood by neighborhood is where the power of the people resides. That is where our hope for the nation and our survival will be found.

 

Fake Everything

With the proliferation of digital sources of “information” and technologies of communication, it seems more and more difficult to determine the difference between fact and fakery. Social media allow just about anyone to post outlandish claims and arguments without a shred of evidence. Fake evidence and false logic proliferate. If it is sensational enough or hits a sore spot for many people, a falsehood or an otherwise meaningless meme may “go viral.”

Fakery is not new, but its access to everyone has exploded with the advent of social media. Critical thinking and the weight of evidence are lost in the process. Powerful elites deny any verified fact that conflicts with their economic or political interests. Fossil-fuel industry campaigns of disinformation about carbon emissions, global warming and the extreme weather events they cause follow the model the tobacco industry used in its public relations campaigns to deny the scientific facts lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes.

Fake News

Almost any news report today is subject to the accusation that it is “fake news.” The term’s recent growth in popularity may have originated when ‘liberals’ accused Fox News of prevarication when its stories were so biased that they did little if any justice to facts. Of course, the prevalence of propaganda has a long history. Fake news is not new, but it grew rapidly as the institutions of traditional journalism were folded into the entertainment divisions of the major networks and print newspaper sales declined.

The blatant false characterizations of “liberals” by Fox New anchors, and extreme right-wing radio “personalities” while their regular misrepresentations of facts drew mockery and ridicule from “liberal Democrats.” The fake news anchors denied the legitimacy of the “Black President,” with the lies that with the help of “The Donald” became known as “the birther movement.” At the same time, corporate interests exploit the resentments and fears of the declining white working and middle classes by funding the extreme politics and racism of the Tea Party movement, which the Republican Party embraced and began calling its “base.”

Fake President

Unsubstantiated claims, rhetorical tricks, exploitation of fears, and outright lies permeate the speech of the Fake President. Cheating and fakery characterized the entire

Fake President_image, Northern Sun

Image: Northern Sun

business career of the Dangerous Donald. Big lie or small, the Fake President simply repeats falsehoods in the face of publicly verified contrary facts. “Fake President”? Yes. What began as another attempt to gain more notoriety as a “celebrity,” unfortunately resonated with the anger and fears of many Americans. His open pandering to racism, misogyny, and hate brought the neo-Nazis and white nationalists out into the open.

“The system” had destroyed the aspirations of middle and working class white folks through job outsourcing, cultural marginalization, and political indifference. Corporate Democrats and Republicans both contributed to forming the corporate state against the interests of citizens. Each blamed the other for the plight of ordinary people; both were guilty of betraying the people while pandering to wealthy corporate donors. Trumpery arose by effectively exploiting the political chaos of fake democracy.

Fake Congress

Everyone knows that the Congress operates to serve the interests of the biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals, not the people. Senators and Representatives feign concern for the people while taking huge bribes in the form of “campaign contributions.” The Supreme Court abetted their corruption by the fakery of defining corporations as “persons” and allowing unlimited corporate money to influence

Inhofe.snowbal.congress_Wash.Post

Senator Inhofe faking climate denial, with the chance of a snowball in Congress. Washington Post photo.

elections. The Republican Party effectively used unfettered funding to influence elections by various forms of voter suppression and propaganda. They ruthlessly gerrymandered minority voting groups out of electoral influence. Russian bots and trolls abetted the chaos of fakery.

The Democratic Party elite, dependent on large corporate and Wall Street funding, stuck with Hillary, the corporatist candidate, suppressing the booming popularity of Bernie, the independent bearer of the old FDR-liberal policies. The desire of many democrats for a female candidate – the logical follow-up to the Black President – conflicted with the resistance to the corporatist party elite. Resentment resulted in many not voting and some even voting for the Fake Outsider, Trump, the master of demagoguery and economic exploitation.

Fake Experience

However, politics is not everything. It is merely a core driver of the fakery of modern life itself. Fake experience proliferates, from fake adventure (theme parks, staged ‘adventure’ vacations, and video games), from fake meaning in consumerism to fake

Virtual.Reality.Woman_The Guardian

Virtual Woman. Image: The Guardian

reality itself (so-called “reality shows” on TV and diverse digital “experiences” that mimic non-existent realities).

The fakery of suburban life, for those who can still afford it, reflects a trained incapacity to live beyond the illusions of the fake domination of nature that characterizes the consumer culture. The real world consists of the complex of ecosystems upon which all of humanity depends, but few recognize for its survival importance. Most remain insulated from real experience.

Revenge of Reality

It is all coming to a head. Reality has a way of eventually forcing itself upon us. We have lost our fake control of our environment, as the laws of physics, chemistry, and bio-systems continue to rule the material world from which we have alienated ourselves.

Growing numbers of people have become aware of their dissociation from reality. They realize at a gut level that the fake realities that digital technology generates are no substitute for the feeling of a warm breeze on a spring day. Reality impinges on illusion.

Growing numbers of IT geeks now carry physical notebooks to write in. Music lovers return to the analog sounds of vinyl records and live music. Children are discovering actual toys again. Who needs a “driverless car”? Smartphones, texting (while not driving), and Facebook are far from disappearing. Nevertheless, reality will continue to insert itself into our abstracted lives and disrupt our digital and social illusions. That is when the denial of reality will dissipate and a democracy grounded in ecological reality will return.

 

Climate Imperative, Freedom, and Democracy

We are so used to the idea that we must each have the freedom to choose, well, just about everything in our lives. We imagine that we are independently constructing a “life of our own.” We have, in our minds at least, an inalienable right to choose and to live our own unique “lifestyle.” That privilege is seen from within the American consumer culture as a fundamental, even constitutional, right of every “consumer.” With the development of consumerism, the idea of “the consumer,” seems to have replaced the concept of citizen. Many people’s understanding of freedom has narrowed considerably as a result.

Democracy, on the other hand, is an inherently social concept; it refers to a people fully engaged in the decisions that affect their collective lives. Humans, like all other living species, are interdependent for their survival and well-being. As individuals become more dependent on the corporate state, the freedom that is made possible by democracy begins to fade.

Freedom to Consume

Our concept of lifestyle is closely related to our consumer behavior; in fact, each seems to embody the other. Our consumer behavior is our lifestyle. The pursuit of consumer lifestyles has itself become the defining element of our “freedom.” It is hard to imagine that this is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind in shaping the Bill of Rights. Political freedom seems to have receded into a background abstraction – another consequence of the ascendency of the corporate state.

Of course, much of our so called “freedom” is actually conformity to some mass-media generated image of our personal uniqueness and “individuality.” Any potential authenticity in that image is transformed by the corporate mass media to maximize consumption, profit, and, incidentally, waste and pollution.

Shopping_024mallkiosk

Thorsten Veblen described the status-enhancing behavior of the “leisure class” of the booming U.S. industrial society at the end of the nineteenth century as “conspicuous consumption.”[i] Today, conspicuous consumption is no longer limited to displays of excess by the very wealthy. The ever growing productivity of the industrial system requires mass consumption to generate enough demand for its ever-growing supply of products. The desire for consumption beyond need has to be stimulated for demand to keep up with production. The consumer culture is driven by the need of capital investment to expand production and sales so that principle and interest can be paid back and a profit made. The agent of that culture is mass-media propaganda.

Ultimately, in an endless-growth economy, demand cannot keep up. Nor can the supply of raw materials for ever more efficient production.

Illusions of Freedom, Denial of Necessity

The debt and growth driven economy has no viable boundaries within its own operating model. It admits to no natural or environmental boundaries to its growth. But there are limits to growth on this finite planet and they have been known for decades.[ii]  The contemporary dilemma of political economy is of an entirely different order than that framed by conventional economics. We are faced with two directly related imperatives, one economic, the other physical-environmental. The growth economy has reached its natural limit and the expanding consumption of earth’s resources is surpassing the carrying capacity of the planet. Together these two elements of industrial society have come a long way in destabilizing the living earth systems upon which we depend, as well as the climate system upon which their stability depends.

Put aside for a moment the climate deniers — a good idea in itself. Fundamentalist deniers would dead-head us into an earth-bound “end times” in order to retain their faith that only God controls the weather. The more secular deniers won’t give up the corporate largess they enjoy or seek; they are not going to be convinced of scientific facts by rational argument. They want the economic growth of the industrial era to continue forever, or at least while they grab all they can. However, neither the material facts of resource depletion, pollution and waste, nor the climate disruption caused by industrial society will allow continuation on this path. magical thinking cannot overcome the laws of physics nor the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate disruption. Science is not a matter of political opinion or religious fervor.

Ironies of Democracy and Science

The more important issues are found in questions of how to respond to the scientifically verified facts of impending human crisis, knowing their truth. Those facts include a rapidly destabilizing climate, an increasingly unstable overly integrated world financial system, a debt-driven overproducing intolerably unfair corporate dominated economy, and growing cultural chaos and political violence.

Climate destabilization involves an incredibly wide range of variables in an extremely complex system over which humans have had very little control. Diverse human actions, all involving the burning of carbon, inadvertently disrupted that system for two hundred years until the consequences became obvious to those who observed, measured, and analyzed them.

The first major evidence of an impending climate crisis was hidden by the petroleum industry, enabling it to grab a couple more decades of undue profit while the problem grew far worse and now threatens humanity itself. Along the way, it funded large scale climate denying propaganda using the same marketing that the tobacco industry used to delay acceptance of the facts of damaged health from smoking cigarettes. The damage done, however, is global, not just to a single sector of the population.

The scientific ethic of accepting socially verified evidence in the face of prior contrary beliefs has led to countless advances in knowledge and technological innovation. The ability of NASA to land a man on the moon, etc., resulted from the same basic scientific processes that produced the findings of climate science.

Once clear trends from vast amounts of data are confirmed, “theory” is no longer a matter of opinion. The math of verified laws of physics and the evidence of repeated observation that produced aerospace program success were never subject to denial propaganda. And they involved a very focused goal and the development of very specific technologies to achieve it. This allowed an incredibly high degree of control over a very narrow range of variables with highly predictable outcomes. In that respect, climate science is very different. Any attempt to achieve climate restabilization will require the mobilization of entire populations to change their institutions and behavior.

The democratic processes of science have produced knowledge verified by countless data sets and analyses.[iii] Unlike the behavior of nations, those facts are not negotiable. Physics, in that sense, is objective. It is up to humans to respond to reality in a way that improves our chances as the chaos grows. But the formally democratic institutions of the industrial societies have completely failed to take actions to counter the deadly trends we know are occurring. The only chance to overcome the moribund political institutions and achieve the necessary will come from the diverse social movements now building around the world, demanding climate action that goes far beyond COP21 platitudes and international empty promises.

Freedom is Survival

How do we retain our consumerist illusion of unbounded personal “lifestyle” freedom in a new situation that calls for massive social change? We do not. We simply do not have that luxury, even though the corporate state would have you believe you do. If we want to survive without global extreme climate chaos and collapse of society along with the failed-growth economy and climate-destabilized agriculture, we must act collectively and quickly.

Despite the claims that technological innovation within the industrial system can reduce carbon emissions enough to thwart climate catastrophe and all the chaos that entails, only major constraint of industrial production and consumption themselves will be enough. That is not a welcome fact. The power elites are still in denial about the necessity of transformative change, as they seek piecemeal profitable technological fixes. But another way is not only possible, it is undeniably necessary. It must come from people and communities organizing themselves for the change that the large institutions deem impossible. Reorganizing society from the bottom up must happen because the top-down institutions are strangling any serious initiative from the top. This is not a lifestyle choice. Rather, it is the necessity of collectively choosing complex and massive social actions to improve the chances for the survival of our species.

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[i] Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure class. (1899) New York: Penguin Books, 1979.

[ii] Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis L. Meadows, Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update (New York: Chelsea Green, 3rd ed., 2004), confirms the projections of the 1972 book, Limits to Growth, based on computer models of resource depletion by MIT scientists. Simply put, humanity has overshot the environment’s ability to physically and biologically sustain human life at the scale to which it has grown. This will lead to the collapse of civilization unless radical changes are instituted to reduce the human load on the planet’s carrying capacity.

[iii] The scientific consensus on climate change, while continually being refined, includes some very clear and uncontested trends. Many of these have accelerated faster than predicted. The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), made up of scientists from around the world, has consistently under-predicted changes. Perhaps that is because its reports are mediated by the nation states that it reports to. The trends are nevertheless clear and increasingly disturbing. Any mitigation efforts that hope to be adequate must also be comprehensive and complex, resulting in significant “lifestyle” changes, mostly in fully industrialized nations where carbon emissions continue to be vastly larger than in non-industrialized regions.

Political Pathology Trumps Political Democracy, or not?

Granted, the media frenzy over “The Donald,” as if he were some sort of political “outsider” riding in on a white horse to save the American people from all those “politicians” running for president, is rather astounding. Crass is in with the mass media. It is hard to find any genuine political process in all the hoopla or in the sniping among the vast array of Republican candidates for the nomination. The Democratic National Committee’s attempt to anoint Hillary as their candidate while snubbing the only candidate of either party – Bernie Sanders – who presents himself as representing actual policy positions is certainly quieter. But it is no less anti-democratic, if less blatantly demagogic, than the likes of a Ted Cruz or a Jeb Bush, or any other member of the GOP Clown Car.

Most fascinating to anyone interested in the process by which the corporate and financial elites control the political processes in the U.S.A., is the relative media attention allocated to Sanders versus Trump. The best the media can do in that regard is to compare the two as “outsiders” appealing to the vast frustration of voters with “establishment politics.” While it is said that Trump is widely despised in New York, it is hard for me to visualize the self-proclaimed billionaire real estate developer as an “outsider.”

Broken Democracy, or Is That Oligarchy Behind the Curtain?

It is also widely acknowledged that “Washington is broken.” Yet, is it really? To be “broken” implies that something was supposed to work in a certain way but due to some problem it does not work properly and needs to be “fixed.” I would suggest that the national political system is not broken; it is working exactly as it is intended by its elites. That is the problem.

Paul Cienfuegos, a regional leader of the Community Rights movement, argues that our nation “more and more resembles a corporate oligarchy.”[1] Sheldon Wolin characterizes our illusory democracy as actually being an “inverted totalitarian” system that maintains the formal trappings of democracy while a corporate-state elite controls the economy and political process.[2] Chris Hedges proclaimed the Death of the Liberal Class, saying that while liberalism once provided the controls over the excesses of corporate capitalism, only the rhetoric remains.[3] Kim Phillips-Fein documents the decades long crusade by business against the New Deal that ultimately destroyed any serious political mitigation of the social damage caused by laissez faire capitalism.[4] These authors have each identified key elements of the pseudo-democracy that has in fact become a plutocracy.

Business won the struggle Phillips-Fein describes; liberalism had provided partial management of capitalism in the public interest, but it was destroyed. Only the rhetorical claims of liberalism serving the public interest remain, as Hedges points out, mostly in the abstractions of the platform and pontifications of Democratic Party politicians. The rest is finance capital managing politics and the economy in its own interests. Legal restrictions on speculation of investment bankers using depositors’ money had restrained finance capital until the elimination of all post-Great-Depression protections. Those restrictions are gone now.

The final blow was begun by Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, and completed by the rest of the Goldman Sachs crowd, rotating through the Executive Branch revolving door from Wall Street to the president’s cabinet and back to Wall Street. Every regime since Clinton has allowed the economy to be directed by Wall Street executives such as George Schultz and Timothy Geithner in the sole interests of the Big Banks and investment houses.  That, of course, resulted in the financial crash of 2008. And now the Democratic National Committee wants to hand us Clinton II?

Avoiding Catastrophic Destabilization

The deeper problem is that these political-economic developments have accelerated the most destructive tendencies of extractive predatory capital. The planet and its peoples have been plundered at accelerated rates for over two hundred years, but especially over the last half-century. The result is climate destabilization, accompanied by accelerated species extinctions that are synergistically destabilizing local and regional ecosystems around the world. The warming of the planet already results in extreme weather conditions, but will soon also entail consequent massive food-crop failures, mass regional starvation, mass migration, water and other resource wars, and the likely collapse of the global economy. Meanwhile, the charade of political democracy shields the corporate path to human extinction.

Paul Cienfuegos argues that the national complex of legal and regulatory systems is rigged in favor of allowing the corporate destruction of the planet to continue. He suggests that the only way to avoid catastrophic climate destabilization is for local communities to resist. They must pass and enforce local laws that prohibit corporate destructive practices in their towns and counties, even though such laws may violate presumptive state or federal jurisdiction. The democratic rights of communities to protect the health and safety of their citizens must be asserted. That just might be the only way that the affirmation of political democracy can trump political pathology and protect the planet.
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[1] Paul Cienfuegos, “Local Governance,” talk given in Minneapolis, MN, 23 Feb 2015. Transcript from Alternative Radio. http://www.alternativeradio.org/
[2] Sheldon Wolin, Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
[3]Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class. New York: Nation Books, 2010.
[4] Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal. New York: Norton, 2009.

A Teachable Moment: Criminalizing Everyone

A recent “dust-up” in Santa Fe, New Mexico, between the school district and the police department ought to be an important “teachable moment.” But the opportunity to resolve institutional overreach and get back to basics is likely being ignored.

It all started when a highly respected middle-school teacher Marcy Slaughter allegedly threw a paperback book at a misbehaving student. A fire drill had just ended before the final bell of the day rang. The teacher asked her students to remain in their seats for the moment. As you may remember, fire drills are sometimes occasions for frolicking as preadolescent students become agitated by the activity, especially a few days before the end of the school year. According to most reports, four students in Ms. Slaughter’s class decided that she had no right to hold them after the bell and began walking out of the classroom. Their teacher, in frustration with their insubordination, threw one or more – “flimsy” by another student’s description – paperback books at them.

Escalation Unbounded
One of the students complained to her mother; the mother called the police – and the media! She did not call the school. Police immediately charged Slaughter with felony child abuse and charged Principal Marc Ducharme with obstructing a report of child abuse. Neither teacher nor principal were notified of the charges, nor were they arrested. An adequate investigation was not conducted prior to the charges being filed with the support of members of the office of the District Attorney. “Heavy-handed” is a rather mild characterization of these actions. Principal Ducharme had reported the incident to his superiors at the school board, in line with district policy, as he pursued his own investigation into the event.

There is certainly enough blame to go around in this incident. The students were blatantly disobedient to their teacher. The teacher clearly overreacted. The student who complained to her mother clearly ignored her own culpability, as did her mother. The police, instead of acting like “peace officers,” took a combative stance in seeking any basis they could for filing criminal charges. In several articles and columns in the local newspaper, The Santa Fe New Mexican, the unreasonableness of the behavior of various parties was widely acknowledged. Yet the institutional implications of this incident were barely mentioned and only in terms of resolving the inconsistency between school district procedures and police criminal procedures. This incident was a symptom of a much deeper dilemma. Unfortunately, the most important aspect of this teachable moment was missed. The blame game dominates too many institutions today, at the expense of problem solving. But there is more and it touches the very fabric of the social order. Why does something like this happen?

“Higher Authority” Usurps Functional Community
Compassionate resolution of disputes reflects a civil society. That is not how things are going in Santa Fe, in the nation or in the world. Conflicts are routinely escalated rather than resolved. Appealing to “higher authority” marks social-system failure. We humans are in serious trouble. Today, ever-increasing unwarranted authoritarian power is executed with bias, injustice, and abuse. Political power is widely enforced by expensive military and police command-and-control technologies – from “stop-and-frisk” and SWAT home invasions to drone attacks. Authority is claimed at the end of the barrel of an AK-47 or by suicide bomb. In this case, a relatively minor conflict in a public institution was escalated into a criminal case when instead, a conflict resolution process should have been initiated.

It is now common for “social control” to be exercised not by any democratic process or interpersonal negotiated consensus. Instead, arbitrary “rules” of increasingly totalitarian bureaucracies are simply “enforced.” That is a failure democracy cannot tolerate. A Los Angeles police officer, who was at the same time a member of the Crips gang, once told me, “The police are just another gang, but with more power.” In the current case, a police officer inserted himself into a minor case of civil conflict and forced an interpretation of “crimes” having been committed. The prosecutor’s office enabled that overreach. To what end? As a result of the media exposure of the absurdities involved, the prosecutor eventually dropped all charges. The media moved on to other news, but never addressed the implications of the incident for civil society or democracy.

Police are no longer “peace officers.” Instead, high school bullies are self-selected, recruited and trained to treat every citizen as the enemy. The New Mexico state Law Enforcement Academy trains cadets to embrace a paramilitary “warrior cop” mentality, with a strong emphasis on unrestrained use of force. Though it may seem extreme, especially to white middle-class suburbanites who rarely have contact with police, this combative police culture is not uncommon. Nationally, typical police cadets receive 58 hours of weapons training, 49 hours on defensive tactics, but only 8 hours learning to de-escalate tense situations.

The cult of the warrior cop is all about confrontation. While the police were not in any physical confrontation in this case of classroom disruption, their behavior was nothing but confrontational. They should not have been involved at all until and unless some actual crime had been determined to have occurred based on a thorough investigation. Instead, they exhibited aggressive overreach. Similarly, a badly behaving adolescent whines to her mother, who immediately complains to the police – and to a television station – without even contacting the school. She sought vengeful “justice,” entirely ignoring her daughter’s misbehavior, thus encouraging police overreach. Such uncivil self-righteous anger is increasingly as common in America as is excessive police action.

Civil Democracy or Police State
Some conflict is inevitable in any society. Criminalizing one side of a civil dispute does not resolve it. Widespread unnecessary police homicides of unarmed vulnerable persons are symptoms of a dying democracy, as is the rush to criminalize everyone. The “charge first, investigate later” police approach in this instance stems from the same combative police culture that has placed police in crisis across this nation. Continued police intrusion into domestic and civil affairs is as dangerous as is foolishly expecting police to solve all social problems.

Santa Fe Police Chief Garcia and District Attorney Pacheco’s mutual buck-passing upon public exposure of their excessive practices reflects stubborn but embarrassed culpability. As Milan Simonich aptly put it in his 5/18/2015 column in The Santa Fe New Mexican, this problem should have been resolved the old fashioned way: a serious sit-down parent-teacher conference in the principal’s office resulting in well-earned apologies from both sides. That would be the civil solution, and would serve to strengthen community ties. But today’s overburdened regulatory environment of education and law-enforcement limits the principal’s and even district superintendent’s authority to solve problems. This further damages the community’s ability to function effectively and thereby weakens its institutions.

When police rush to criminally charge a teacher and principal in a dispute over classroom authority, the school becomes the dangerous equivalent of a police state. Santa Fe Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd did the right thing in confronting the police chief over this. This police intrusion into the internal affairs of a civil institution reflects an intolerable totalitarian mentality. Police and prosecutor both have a whole lot to reconsider if they are to salvage any credibility for their departments. However, we must remember that this is not some rare parochial incident. Instead, the behavior of police and prosecutor is notably symptomatic of a much larger and deeper problem.

The Death Dance Continues: “There is no excuse for …” But there are Reasons

The upsurge of rage over the apparent police killing of twenty-five year old African American Freddie Gray in Baltimore is emblematic of widespread public discontent with law enforcement. It is just the latest incident demonstrating the continuing chaos in the relationship of American law enforcement to the citizenry. There is little point in listing here the seemingly endless number of citizen videos documenting inept and mean spirited police aggression against citizens, especially young men of color.

Media reaction to the events in Baltimore has been predictably distorted. As with Ferguson and numerous other cities, public protest is framed primarily as potential or actual violence. The police violence that sparked the protest is given scant coverage despite clear evidence of brutality. “The authorities” fail to openly address the grievances by fully informing the people. Some teenagers begin rock throwing and other vandalism. The immediate media response is: “There is no excuse for this violence!” Young African-American female Baltimore prosecutor, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, with only four months on the job and not part of the old-boy network, is from a law enforcement family. To the surprise of many she swiftly – and bravely – handed down indictments against the six officers involved. But the problem is much larger than individual Baltimore officers.

No Excuse
Baltimore is no exception; it reflects a national pattern. Despite local variations, as more and more evidence of institutionalized police misconduct and brutal behavior across the country is exposed, the pattern becomes clearer. From this general pattern and its specific incidences can be gleaned the elements of a deep pathology of law enforcement, which is inexcusable and requires radical excision. Sadly, that pathology is not likely to be seriously addressed unless the systemic social pathology that breeds it is faced and eliminated.

The typical crisis unfolds something like this: First, an incident where police appear to have overstepped their authority and committed gratuitous violence or murder upon a citizen is caught on cell-phone video. Second, the video “goes viral” and is picked up by local or national media because of its sensationalistic elements and social-media exposure. Typically, a young (or not so young) man of color (or homeless man or other vulnerable person) is killed or maimed by police. Third, outraged citizens exercise their constitutional rights and engage in peaceful protests. Fourth, police characteristically over-react to what should be an acceptable expression of public concern and/or outrage. They define the situation as a threat to “law and order” and to their own authority. They bring in heavy military weaponry, riot gear, armored vehicles, and swat teams, as if they were confronting a foreign enemy military force. Police then force protesters into some confined area or force them to move or disperse, leading to sporadic confrontations. Fifth, some unruly teenagers throw some rocks or smash some windows, enabling the police to define the entire protest as a “riot.” The police then move in with full military force and as often as not break heads, fire rubber bullets or bean bag rounds, or launch flash-bang grenades. More often than not, it is the peaceful protesters who are injured and/or arrested. Any distinction that police may have recognized between peaceful protesters and “rioters” is quickly lost. Usually the next night, the peaceful protesters prevail upon the angry youth to remain calm or go home. Further protests are greeted by admonitions from both “the authorities” and the media that, “There is no excuse for violence!” Public pressure and media exposure by this point restrain further police aggression.

Well, there is no excuse for violence. Rampaging or rioting crowds must be controlled for the sake of public safety. Out-of-control police violence against citizens also must be controlled for the sake of public safety. There is no excuse for the media to dismiss police violence and only focus on violence that results from anger over repeated patterns of police violence on vulnerable populations or excessive use of force in crowd control.

There Are Reasons
“Everything happens for a reason.” Well, not exactly. We live in a chaotic world. Explaining everything by reference to some ‘higher purpose’ is usually unproductive or worse counter-productive, though psychologically comforting. However, events do have causes and many causes are quite complex and are best understood by looking to their history. If we fail to recognize complex causes of problems, then we are unlikely to find effective solutions. So it is with police violence and social unrest.

Police violence is not new. Nor is it unique to the U.S.A.  Anywhere authority is enforced by an armed group, violations of human rights are likely if certain controls are not in place. Law enforcement institutions must maintain a high sense of public purpose, a high level education, a strong tradition of self-discipline, and a strong humanitarian value structure. And they must be held publicly accountable whenever they misbehave. Otherwise, they will be subject to growing corruption of their proper mission: keeping the peace and catching criminals. In many places around the world, such conditions of effective law enforcement do not exist. In the U.S., we pretend to uphold such high standards, but we do not. The public purpose of law enforcement has been subverted and corrupted by a “we vs. them” mentality and an increasingly militarized framing of mission as that of the “warrior cop” defending power elites against the people.

“No justice, no peace!” That protest slogan reflects the growing frustration among vulnerable populations and many others with the continual violation of human rights by police. It also reflects the demand that this corruption of mission be eliminated. As long as law enforcement is not radically reformed, we have no reason to believe that peaceful protests against police abuses will not be exploited by those who are prone to violence – including the police.

The conditions of urban life for populations that are essentially isolated from the new economy of little opportunity are increasingly oppressive. It is unlikely that the elites of the corporate state will relinquish their control over the economy to the extent needed for the economy to actually serve the public interest. In order to make the economy reflect the needs of the people rather than the greed of the plutocracy, major changes will have to be made to re-balance power toward economic and political democracy.  Indictments are not enough; they address individual cases, not systemic change.

Without democratic politics and an economy serving the public interest, the radical reformation of law enforcement to reflect its most common motto, “to protect and to serve,” is highly unlikely. At the same time, a national culture that glorifies violence in the exercise of imperial ambitions around the world will continue to view subject populations in “the homeland” as the evil other. Our violent culture, institutional racism, self-selection of violent persons as police officers, a culture of punishment, and institutional corruption must be changed.