This morning I was commuting to work on the Brown Line, and I had Olivia A. Cole’s The Rooster’s Garden to keep me company. I won’t give away anything of the plot (because you really need to read the book, after you’ve read Panther in the Hive), but I was given pause by Cole’s unflinching, chilling awareness of los hombres armados and their ubiquity along the borders of class and race.
That pause was filled by contemporary reports of excessive police violence against citizens; it let in the brutal, mercenary historical roots of organized law enforcement in the USA; it was joined by prodigious US support for death squads in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and the propping up of reactionary, even openly fascist regimes throughout the world. (If you are unaware of any of the things to which I refer immediately above, I suggest you get to searching. I’m not in the mood for hunting down links to things I accept as mundane.)
The USA has been a grand attempt to build a liberal, nominally democratic nation-state from exploitative and oppressive tools and materials. It follows that any stability in such a state could only be achieved and maintained by ensuring that certain classes have access to the blessings of liberty while others remained marked for oppression and exploitation. The genius of the evolving system has been its ability to revise as needed its mechanisms and protocols of reward and punishment in order to manage the inherent volatility.
The USA has reached a point where the volatility can no longer be successfully managed. We’ve approached such moments in the past, most notably and recently the sweeping civil unrest of the 1960s. The state responded then with civil rights legislation (which I prefer to characterize as ‘civic privilege reassignment’), COINTELPRO, and escalation of an otherwise fruitless conflict in Southeast Asia. The brightest, hottest flames of discontent were ruthlessly extinguished; and the unwashed, restless, fearful masses were placated with liberal half-measures that gave many individuals in the oppressed classes conditional access to the spoils of our global network of oppression and exploitation.
But the omnicidal greed that surges within the brain stem of this republic could neither be contained nor be calmed. It has continued to swell, because that’s what it does. The levees of the liberal half-measures are crumbling, and the raging discontent is spilling over.
The state has responded by beefing up and more heavily militarizing its domestic goon squads, even as it (along with its allies) contracts out much of its foreign aggression to ‘terrorist’ golems like al Qaeda and ISIS. This is a recipe for violent self-immolation. I find noble and admirable the attempts of BLM and the like to take to the streets and nonviolently face down this rising steroidal juggernaut. The young people at the core of the movement seem to understand the nature of the beast they are facing; I wonder if they comprehend how desperately single-minded the beast has become, and how it will try to tear apart and devour everything within its reach even as it suffers its death throes.
If the above prognosis seems overly dramatic to you, then you probably haven’t been paying sufficient attention to current events, and I claim cause to both envy and fear your lethal privilege.
Those of us who understand the fundamental nature of the state’s violence toward us cannot look away. I, for one, see the potential for a diversification of the peril as the liberal state continues its collapse (a collapse which will most likely pass through a ‘white dwarf’ phase of fascist contraction). Many of those who now shake their heads and feel pity (at best) for the long-favored targets of the state’s lethal violence will soon wail in horror as that distilling terror turns on them. By then, it will be too late.
As the prophets Cole and Butler and Atwood and many others have illustrated through their visionary fiction, violent exploitation will be all that remains after the last self-congratulatory fictions of the liberal state have blown away.