Tuesday, February 27, 2007

WHEN CRIME GOES BAD

A previous Post (“Crime and Governance”) had discussed a very valuable book by Jon Simon entitled “Governing Through Crime”.

His thesis is that over the course of the past half-century or so “crime” has gone from being an unavoidable aspect of life that the government – with its monopoly on violence – has a responsibility to address within the framework of Constitutional praxis to being the blazing pretext upon which the police power of the government can continually expand into the lives of citizens.

Concomitantly, the ‘ideal citizen’ now is not the frontiersman or the pioneer or the farmer or the industrial worker but rather the ‘victim of crime’. And for that ‘victim’, and on behalf of that ‘victim’, the police power of the government will wage sleepless – even pre-emptive – war against perps perverse, probable, possible. The media, needless to say, find such ‘wars’ hugely telegenic and tirelessly profitable; far more than oil wells, the public’s capacity to feel fear and anxiety, the public’s capacity to seek vengeance, the public’s dark but abiding dislike of ‘others’, the public’s capacity to feel better when strong actions are taken, never run dry.

The consequences of drinking too deeply too long from such wells are only now becoming clear.

And so, Simon says, ‘crime’ becomes ‘Crime’: not an event or a pattern of acts, perpetrated by identifiable individuals and addressable by competent police action and judiciously formulated social policy – all with the Constitutional framework. Rather: a handy torch that will stampede the citizen-herd into granting (or at least acquiescing-in) the exponentially increasing authority of the government to expand the writ of its police power. Feelings are all: frighten them, outrage them, get them all worked up – just don’t let them slow down to think or to look or to ask questions.

Do whatever it takes to find perpetrators of great evil. If there aren’t enough of them, if they aren’t doing enough awful stuff, hook up with the media and create the appearance that they are.

Do not go near ‘malefactors of great wealth’. Keep it all focused on ‘perpetrators of great evil’. What is vivid and awful is best; that it might be infrequent or even rare is of no consequence. What might have happened is good enough; that it might not have happened or could not have happened is of much less consequence.

On the basis of the ‘emergency’ such awfulness creates, get citizens used to your doing things that not so long ago were considered beyond police or government authority. Keep up the pressure on the citizens through more vivid and sustained and selective focus on the worst possible crime. Don’t let anyone snow you with ‘reason’ or ‘thought’.

Label anyone who questions your authority to go after a perp as a perp himself.

Remind everyone who sees you: you are doing this for the people. Promise them that you will enforce zero-tolerance; heck, tell them you’re going to eradicate evil.

If they question your authority, tell them that you as the police are the moral guardians of society and anyone who questions what you do must be immoral.

The media will help you with all of this.

Extremism in the service of the citizens’ safety is no vice. Moderation is no virtue.

**

The similarity of all this to the German experience of the early-1930s cannot be gainsaid.

In that prior Post I named the type of government that would pursue such a programme as the “National Crime State”, a mode of governance based on warring-against-crime the same way that the National Security State is based on preserving “national security”.

But I don’t think that’s adequate. Grammatically, “Crime” still looks too much like "crime”. And we are all by now conditioned – and not inappropriately – to hiss and claw when we encounter the subject of crime.

I’m going to call it Krime. I define Krime as the use of criminal activity – real or imagined – or victimization by criminal activity – actual or feared – by the government as a pretext for expanding its powers within our society and our culture, by manipulating the acquiescence of the citizens through fear and/or outrage.

I am not thereby plumping for a return to the 1960s’ idea that criminals are simply misunderstood or that crime is simply activity that the police disapprove of or the French idea that crime is so crazy to begin with that a perpetrator is by definition too whacked-out to be held responsible and prosecuted.

But I am asserting that crime must be dealt with through intelligent and effective law enforcement and criminal justice praxis and social policy, after due deliberation by citizens widely and accurately informed by a responsible media, and after some consensus has been reached by the citizenry in its vital Constitutional role as The People.

And I am asserting that in consequence of the foregoing, such enforcement and praxis must conform to the traditional Western principles of Justice enshrined in the Constitution, and that the Integrity of Constitutional Process must take priority over the immediate furtherance of any tactical cause through the implementation of any programme, however well-intentioned or worthwhile.

That being said, I’d say that Krime is the greatest threat this country faces right now.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

Michael Shank interviews Chomsky on 2-26-07 Alternet on the 'mafia style' of foreign policy which is the neocon template: a primitive focus on punishment with no interest in collaboration or positive reinforcement. Rule by fear not moral suasion.

After 9-11, Bush pounds Afghanistan and then abruptly leaves, for all intents and purposes, after the 'punishment' has been inflicted. What would have happened if we had treated al Qaeda cells as a police problem and worked to bring Afghanistan into the world economy?

I suspect the entire world would not be arrayed against us as it is today. What 'allies' we have are only as reliable as our bribes. What the near future holds for us is enough to make even a Christian believe in karma.

Our exclusive focus on infantile rage in furtherance of immediate self-gratification makes us unfit company in the community of nations. When will we grasp that we have become denizens an international pariah state?

12:30 PM  

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