The value of an effective police organization
August 4, 2015 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Unlike the soft forms of social control — meaning the ameliorative and redistributive welfare programs of the Great Society — the new model of social control does not come with dangerous notions of "equality" and "social inclusion." Today, the poor are thoroughly locked down, as is our political imagination about what poverty means. Law enforcement has moved to the center of domestic politics; state violence is perhaps more than ever a constant, regular, and normal feature of poor people’s lives.The Making of the American Police State, Christian Parenti
posted by jammy (12 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A great historical summary of important histories and trends in political economy. Brings to mind a synthesis of Monica Prasad and Loïc Wacquant's work.
posted by clockzero at 6:15 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

This was a fascinating persuasive piece. I hadn't really ever considered the rise of the police state as a reaction to the social riots and strikes of the 70s.
posted by dejah420 at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that most African Americans would object to the idea that racism is "false consciousness" and that the real issue is "class".

Anti-blackness is a reality, regardless of the socio-economic system of our country. The Cuban government is anti-black as hell and they have a fully operational socialist state, and have had one for 60 years.
posted by Avenger at 7:16 AM on August 4, 2015 [15 favorites]

I could be wrong, but I think the intent of the "false consciousness" passage is to call racism among white people, and not the struggle against white supremacy, an instance of false consciousness. I'll definitely read that article on Cuba, though.
Looking back we can see clearly the effects of this generalized project of repression: mask the real causes of poverty with racist fearmongering and victim-blaming. Keep once-rebellious communities in America’s cities fragmented and tied up in the criminal justice system. Secure central cities for gentrification and redevelopment. Keep labor cheap by hounding immigrants. And, in a pork-barrel strategy, build new local support via publicly funded prison construction, service contracts, and employment as guards.

In other words, among the important things criminal justice does is regulate, absorb, terrorize, and disorganize the poor. At the same time it promulgates politically useful racism. Criminal justice discourse is the racism circus; from courts to reality TV it is the primary ideological site for producing the false consciousness that is American racism.

Why is racism false consciousness? Because it divides the working class and causes people of all races to misunderstand their real material conditions. It creates, via racialized scapegoats, pseudo-explanations for poverty and exploitation, deluding and frightening downwardly mobile voters.

Most important, the criminal justice crackdown and overuse of incarceration allows capitalism to have the positive effects of mass unemployment (lower wages due to an economically frightened workforce) without the political destabilization that mass poverty can bring. Unlike a robust social safety net, incarceration and militarized policing absorb the poor and working class without empowering them or subsidizing their rebellion, as was the case during the sixties and seventies.

Unlike the soft forms of social control — meaning the ameliorative and redistributive welfare programs of the Great Society — the new model of social control does not come with dangerous notions of “equality” and “social inclusion.”
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'll agree that his wording is ambiguous ... it could be interpreted as saying that racism is encouraged among whites to keep them from joining with blacks in class struggle.

It could also be interpreted as saying blacks "misunderstand their real material conditions" - that their misfortune is due to capitalism rather than white racism.

He is intentionally vague on this point, I think.
posted by Avenger at 7:31 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that Parenti's wording is mealy-mouthed, and there's a bad history behind that "people of all races." I still think the point of the passage as a whole is that white supremacy dupes us white people into ignoring class struggle, but that sentence is a swing and a miss with two strikes and one out at the bottom of the ninth.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:44 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

He is intentionally vague on this point, I think.

I'm not convinced the two can readily be teased apart into two separate things. They seem kind of inextricably mixed to me. Race is clearly a discriminator in American culture but it's not the only one. Class is a huge one, and because of our particular history, race and class are very strongly (though not perfectly) aligned. I'm not sure you can ever just adjust for one and consider the other in isolation.
posted by Naberius at 8:00 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Well of course a Marxist is going to privilege class over race or gender in his analysis. It's like a given. Parenti is not vague about it at all.

Whether or not that discredits his analysis...?
posted by notyou at 8:23 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Avenger: "I'm pretty sure that most African Americans would object to the idea that racism is "false consciousness" and that the real issue is "class".

There was an earlier FPP (that I can't quite find for at the moment) which linked to this Medium article about the creation of "whiteness". The premise of that article is that the notion of "whiteness" didn't really exist (as presently understood) in America until Virginia slaveholders codified the distinction between whites and blacks, granting rights to the former and taking them away from the latter, and lumping in the white slaves and indentured servants with the white slave owners and separating them from the African slaves. Previously, the natural divisions would have been between the owners and the owned, between the powerful and the powerless. I would think that this origin story of American racism is more or less a textbook case of false consciousness in the Marxist sense -- i.e.: an ideology and/or social construct that acts to obscure class interests.

I'm sure there are people (Marxists, even) who would argue that it's all about class and not about race. However, I think this would be a woeful reading of what false consciousness is all about and how such things shape society. And, my personal interpretation is that that's not what this particular author intended.
posted by mhum at 10:25 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just pointing out that Prashad's Karma of Brown Folk, and other writing, takes on class and race in the context of the USA.

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is devoted to Prashad's analysis of the recruitment of desis in the war against black America. Desis, according to Prashad, are viewed as a "perpetual solution to what is seen as the crisis of black America" (6). Prashad is conscious that he is a "weapon in the war against black America." He asks, "How does it feel to be a solution?" (6). Desis, according to Prashad, initially "came as techno-professionals to a land that emancipated its state from direct racism, transferred antiblack racism to civil society, and used them as a weapon to demonstrate U.S. blacks' inability to rise of their own volition" (171). One of the more tragic consequences of this form of racism is that it erases a tradition of solidarity between South Asians and black Americans, a tradition that has existed for over a hundred years. Prashad points to the collaboration between Haridas T. Mazumdar, a Gandhian, and Marcus Garvey, Kumar Ghoshal and Paul Robeson, Dubois and Tagore. Of course, many more alliances were formed during the anti-colonial struggles, especially because of India's support of African and Caribbean decolonization movements. Although Prashad does not mention alliances in the popular realm, one could also comment on the tremendous popularity of black athletes such as Muhammed Ali, Pele, and Viv Richards amongst South Asians. As C.L.R. James has shown, these alliances are equally important in understanding the anti-colonial sentiments of colonized nations. Prashad does, however, offer us hope for a renewal of these forms of solidarity in the practices of the younger generation of desis who are turning to black culture to express their disenchantment with the model minority myth. Although he warns us that "musical fusion allows for a certain amount of social fusion, but one must not mistake it for political solidarity" (181).

The potential for political solidarity is also problematic because of the complex class system within the desi community. Many of the post-1965 immigrants were state-selected professionals, but the "stereotype of the Indian American as techno-migrant is blurring" (82). He adds that "since the 1980s the percentage of technical workers among South Asian migrants has steadily decreased, and the percentage of family members who come to make their lives in the United States has grown" (78). For instance, almost fifty percent of the cab drivers in New York City are of South Asian origin. Their growing presence in the metropolis is reflected in the staple of racist jokes on the David Letterman show. Although middle and upper class South Asians may try to distance themselves from their less fortunate brethren and seal themselves away from the direct acts of violence visited upon South Asian workers, they are not unaffected by the policies of white America. Prashad points to a Glass Ceiling Commission report from 1995 that indicated that South Asians did not rise within their firms or institutions. Prashad hopes that diverse alliances can be formed to combat institutional racism. For Prashad, there is promise in solidarity and in "the translations of our mutual contradictions into political practice" (197).
posted by infini at 11:23 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, glad to see such an article exists and is published and now shared. Thanks.
posted by infini at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

This whole argument about whether "class" is really the uber-oppression (or "patriarchy" or "race" or whatever) is pretty much what intersectionalism grew out of. The idea that there are many different axis of power, oppression, and privilege that each person can exist on,and that they can be oppressors in some situations but oppressed in others, has always felt to me like a theory with a stronger predictive fit.

The fact that class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on all bump up into each other, muddling in "real world" situations, always seems to be used to Kool-Aid into a discussion about one to argue that another is realllllllly the actual issue.
posted by verb at 2:21 PM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

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