...at a time when global capitalism begins to run up against long-predicted limits to growth… 6.7 billion [people currently live] in a world of looming resource scarcities, ecological collapse, and glaring inequalities of wealth; and elites are preparing to defend their power and profits.
Stated like this, the premise may sound cynically crackpot – the author would (and most likely will) be glibly dismissed on Fox News and spin as someone that “hates America” – but the many, many facts and events referenced in the article are proof enough that the problem is a real one. Real enough, in fact, to sprout a whole industry devoted to research and development of “less-than-lethal” weapons, the description of which takes up most of the article, touching upon some of my favorite modern-era US absurdities: the enclosed and barricaded “free-speech zones” and the use of Taser-enduced electroshocks as “pain compliance”. It’s an enlightening article and one that, like the best of Harpers articles, takes an unpleasant subject or truth and provides the necessary yet disturbing big picture.
The closing paragraph of the article is telling, and provides excellent context for the subject of non-lethal crowd control, so I hope he won’t mind if I quote it in full here. He closes by pointing out that no less than four former US secretaries of defense testified before Congress against the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention which would make the research of and use of things like “non-lethal calmative techniques” (read: spraying entire crowds with Prozac to calm them down) illegal. After noting that James Schlesinger said “The failure to use tear gas meant that the government only had recourse to the massive use of firepower to disperse the crowd,” Arike concludes:
It is striking, of course, that a former American defense official would so publicly identify with the leaders of an authoritarian Communist regime. Perhaps even more striking, though, is that the formulators of our policy of pain compliance feel so limited in their options—confronted by citizens calling for change, their only response is to seek control or death. There are many other possible responses, most of them far better attuned to the democratic ideals they espouse in other contexts. That pain compliance seems to them the best alternative to justice is an indictment not of the dreams of the protesters but of the nightmares of those who would control them.-----
A few follow up points: For more on the surprising acceptance of Tasers in American society despite their obvious dangers and misuses (Arike notes that “mounting evidence shows that the weapon is routinely used on people who pose little threat: those in handcuffs, in jail cells, in wheelchairs and hospital beds…”) Digby’s writing is an invaluable resource.
I should also note that I would love to link to Ando Arike's article, but Harper's only provides online copies of its magazine to its subscribers. And you really should be subcribing. It's the best magazine being published today. Top-notch investivative reporting, hysterical "state of the nation" exerpts, the infamous index, new short fiction, and an in-depth literary review section. What are you waiting for?