Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Orleans Blues.

It is a dismal, cool, rainy day in New York. A perfect day for sad music, which is reflective of my mood. Maybe Schubert and Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf or Olga Guillot.

Yesterday I wondered about America's national identity; today I must speak of some horrible images of police violence in New Orleans. A man in his sixties, whose life must have been turned upside down by the hurricane, went out to get a pack of cigarettes and was attacked by several police officers, who punched, kicked and abused him. This was before, during and after he was handcuffed. All of this was captured on videotape. Otherwise, the police would deny what happened and some judges would pretend to believe them.

How does one explain to people in the affluent suburbs of America that this is a daily occurrence in their -- no, our -- country? How does one make it clear to them that the peace and quiet that they treasure is both purchased and threatened by such incidents every day?

Racism and violence are so deeply entrenched in the national psyche that there are people, judges perhaps (Sybil R. Moses?), who will see that videotape (unless it disappears) only to conclude that the victim was somehow responsible for what happened to him, that he resisted arrest after he was beaten unconscious, or that when he awoke -- with his head in a pool of his own blood on the sidewalk, as a man in uniform approached him and kicked him again -- that even then this obscene violence was appropriate. The bias in favor of police and against minority defendants in the American legal system is that overwhelming.

I believe that the Holocaust is not only an event in human history, but a persistent possibility for all societies because it is based on sinister ideas or principles reflective of what is worst about human beings. My question to Poritz, Rabner and Moses today and always is this: "What have you become?" Perhaps the same can be said of slavery -- for the same reason -- there is a shared assumption with regard to both horrors, torture and slavery, that some persons are subhuman. Thus, they may be treated as "things." In this way, the perpetrators of violence, unknowingly, relinquish some of their own humanity, even as they seek to denigrate or deny the humanity of others. I have known persons capable of such inhumanity.

What have you become, Mr. Rabner? Behaviorists reduce persons to their external behavior, so that no need for consideration of inner lives or experiences will arise. Persons' "patterns of behavior" can simply be "corrected" with positive or negative reinforcement. This "correction" is a dehumanization of the other person. The beating that we saw on television may be regarded, accordingly, as a dose of "negative reinforcement," defensible by a hired psychologist on the grounds that it will help the victim to quit smoking.

This is what I mean by a loss of humanity on the part of those (in this instance, the hired therapist and cops) who seek to deny the humanity of another person (the victim of a heinous assault).

Every society generates the ideology that it requires to legitimate its worst evils. For Americans, I believe, that ideology is now "therapism" combined with "scientism" -- both of which are incoherent, as thought systems or political theories, yet effective as propaganda and obfuscation on behalf of the powers that be (the therapeutic establishment very much included).

The power structure (through its experts) seeks to have us see, but not see -- really, misperceive -- this horrifying assault on that helpless old man as somehow justified "for his own good." Next week it may be one of us who is assaulted, so that it will help to have us believe, at some level, that if we get screwed over by the powerful, then we probably deserved it. Don't buy into that bullshit. Guilt is just another of their weapons.

I say this even as I recognize my own faults and flaws in character, even as I am relieved that the evil represented by the actions of psychologists in Abu Ghraib and in comparable places within the United States is not possible for me, not even at my worst could I enslave and deliberately rape or torture another person. It is but a short step from this induced misperception in victims of oppression to the lethal assaults and tortures in too many of America's prisons, and to the CONTINUING abuses of Iraqui detainees in those infamous prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, or in New Jersey's foul-smelling territory.

What have we become?

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