Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The problem with police states

Yesterday I mentioned that the 1% have squeezed the turnip that is the 99% so thoroughly to extract wealth that it is taking exponentially greater amounts of state-supported violence to extract each additional increment. Think about it. When you're wringing water out of a wet rag, it's easy to get plenty of water out with the first few twists. But to get additional water out, you have to wring it tighter and tighter. And with 6 million people -- 2% of the population of the USA -- currently in prison, and another 3% out on parole or probation, the amount of wringing that is being done to squeeze those last bits of juice out of the turnips, err, the 99%, is getting pretty dire indeed.

So what's the end game? The first possibility, and the one that I give an 80% chance of happening, is a police state. It's simple: Once you require so much violence on your behalf against such a large percentage of the population, once keeping down the inevitable riots and demonstrations and disorder takes so much power that the police are basically omnipresent, the police end up with so much power that eventually they look at each other and ask, "Why are we doing this on behalf of *those* schlubs?!" and simply take power themselves. They might do so openly, or they might do so quietly by suggesting to the departing power brokers that it'd be a good idea to anoint the secret policeman as their successor, but take power they do, and then work the levers to make sure they *stay* in power. Just ask yourself who the wealthiest and most powerful man in Europe is right now. Hint: he's a secret policeman.

The second possibility, and the one to work toward, is peaceful revolution. Luckily our founding fathers wrote a peaceful revolution into our Constitution. It happens every two to four years, and it's called the vote. Every single one of the bastards in Congress or any other elected office got there because the majority of voters in his or her district or state voted for him. If the majority of people vote for the candidate with the best attack ads rather than the best candidate, if the majority of people vote for the candidate they'd like to have a beer with rather than the smartest candidate, they get what they want -- and deserve. But if things got dire enough that people were willing to engage in the political process rather than dismiss it as something irrelevant to their lives, the mechanisms are there for a peaceful revolution *without* the sort of risks that people in Egypt and Tunisia had to take to bring a peaceful revolution to their nations.

One thing I will warn you about, however, is violent revolution. Violent revolution almost 100% leads to a police state. The reason is that violence scares the majority of people. Sociopaths love violence, but it makes ordinary people queasy to their stomachs. And police states are very good at promising safety from violence -- and delivering. All it costs you is your freedom.

One outcome that is *not* going to happen, however, is that the current oligarchy manages to persist for another generation. The amount of government force needed to even maintain their current positions on top of the heap are of a nature that one of the prior two events -- a police state or a peaceful revolution -- are going to happen because the current level of violence simply isn't sustainable in the long term. Our oligarchs are generally pretty dim, the majority having "earned" their wealth by being members of the lucky sperm club rather than via any effort or intelligence on their own behalf (the Walton family members, for example, "earn" more income from their inheritance than the bottom 25% of American *combined*), but the fact that they've overreached is starting to slowly sink in, and they're panicking. To calm down the tornado and extend their rule another generation would require letting loose the screws a bit, letting some of that wealth they've forcibly extracted from the 99% trickle back down into the hands of the 99%. Yet this goes against everything they believe in, which is a toddler's version of the universe, "mine, mine, mine!". My prediction is that they will *not* be able to overcome this conditioning and loosen up the reins. I don't see any FDR's among the current crop of oligarchs, I don't see any of them under the age of 50 (FDR was elected at age 50) with enough sense to walk and chew gum at the same time.

But could it happen? Well, cows could fly, I suppose. Don't count on it. Just plan for one thing: That at some point in time, the discussion will likely change from how to bring about peaceful change in America, to how to maintain an underground pro-freedom resistance movement in the face of a police state that is awe-inspiring in its ability to monitor our every movement. I hope that it never comes to that. But looking at the possibilities, that seems all too probable.

-- Badtux the Gloomy Penguin


  1. I very much like this post, Badtux. Well written, informative, and concise. I've had the same "police state" fear for awhile now, reinforced by the video of the people getting arrested at the Jefferson Memorial for quietly dancing and, in the case of one couple, sharing a lovely kiss.

    Keep up the good work, Badtux!
    ~Shaun From "A Sane Break From The Insanity"

  2. fyi - http://nymag.com/news/features/gop-primary-chait-2012-3/

    and this too -

    "but ... until we achieve our demographically certain majority for all time, the socially conservative white Republican majority can do a lot of damage"

  3. There's another option you haven't discussed -- Collapse.

    Peak Oil, peak many other things, especially Peak Complexity in the way society functions, is going to mean the current system is not sustainable. It's going to be impossible to run a vicious police state and keep people coming to work on time, performing at peak productivity, etc. And so many things have been process-engineered to work at maximum efficiency that they are also at maximum fragility. The "just-in-time" inventory delivery system for businesses is one example, but that same dynamic is at play in other ways.

    F'rinstance, at my workplace in socialist Canada, where they're not ALL about lean 'n' mean staffing levels, a recent reorganization eliminated the positions or drove away many of the part-time nurses who were available if someone called in sick. It used to be that on some days, we'd have one more nurse show up than was needed, because there was fat in the schedule. Now it's "just right" with staffing levels, unless there's a glitch. And with humans, there are always glitches. So I get calls pretty much every day I'm NOT working, asking me to come in and work overtime, because the efficient system has no room for error. (I almost never work overtime, because I don't need the money and I prefer my free time. I also never call in sick, so I figure I'm holding up my end of the efficiency.) So the unit works short and over-stressed, or it pays expensive overtime, or some willing worker stays for longer hours and gets closer to burnt-out.

    My workplace is but a small example of an efficient, fragile system. Writ large, that dynamic is everywhere from air traffic control systems to stocking the shelves of the 7-Eleven. When there are police state officers checking you at five points before you can enter the control tower at the airport, and sometimes preventing you because there's a problem with your security verification, that reduces efficiency. When the truck driver can't make it to the store before his diesel runs out and the frozen food thaws because there's a 3-mile backup after a mistaken shooting at the police roadblock, that reduces efficiency. A police state in a complex society will quickly sow the seeds of its own destruction. Who's going to deliver the food to the people who make the components for the bullets and chemical weapons? If they don't show up for work because they haven't been paid, you won't have the ammo to threaten them with when you go to their houses to say "Down to the factory, slave!"

    On and on, little grains of sand thrown in a complex machine. When it starts shuddering and buckling, it's not going to be a slow reduction from 100% functioning down to 92% in two years, then 86% functioning the year after. Dmitry Orlov, Jim Kunstler and other doomsters have plausibly described how it's going to be a system of rapid cascading failures. Think of falling down the stairs, instead of slow sliding down a ramp. BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!

    I think the solution is to try and become as self-sufficient as I can be. Learn to do what I can, like grow a little food, and work on acquiring hands-on skills like building greenhouses. I'm making friends with more people of the same mindset, especially those who own farmable land. You're handy with tools, Tux, so you should be in better stead when the collapse comes than people who excel in cubicle farming only.

    Anyway, I hope (if it can be called "hopeful") is for an implosion rather than a police clampdown. The result will be brutal either way. But if it's disorganized falling-apart instead of crushing, directed violence, more people who have the savvy will be able to muddle through.

  4. I lived in a police state for a bit as a youth. My High School was located in a declared 'war zone' in Berkeley Ca.
    The public bus let you off on the edge of the barricades and you had to walk a couple blocks to get to the campus. On the way were at least two squads of National guard with fixed bayonets. It was like 'traffic' , had to stop and let them pass to cross an intersection. And the helos flew a big circle night and day so that even my home outside the war zone had a regular helo patrol.
    Not pleasant, made me move as far to the hills as possible. Don't want NO more!

  5. Sounds like an energy-intensive police state there, W3ski, especially the helos. In a more energy-constrained future, the police state is going to have to make some hard choices about where to use their diminishing and more-costly fuel. They'll still have more of it than we proles do, but it won't be unlimited. Things will have to go back to more hands-on repression, rather than eye-in-the-sky.

    OTOH, it's cheaper to fly a drone than a chopper. You can't have a squad of copgoons leaping out of a drone, but you can fire explosives from it at your targets. Choices, choices... We're going to have to have a whole new way of thinking to adapt to the futurepolicestate -- both sides, the cops and crimcivilians.


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