Solitary Confinement and the Totalitarian Abyss


Chalk up another victory to the dark forces of the hegemonic demiurge, the unrestrained, irresistible thrust of monopoly capitalism in the throes—we are speaking here of the US, because, as a world system, capitalism is still capable of thrusting up new centers of global power—of its senescence.  As America starts downward, sunk in the morass of the privatization and financialization of its political economy, it instinctively turns to the militarization of culture, manners, understanding, with the result of barbarism in confronting the devils of its own creation.  Anyone who is vulnerable will do.  Today’s report of placing immigrants in solitary confinement on the slightest pretext is hardly surprising—except surprising that the news even gets out.

The USG is in lock-down mode, secrecy valued highly in its own right, to hide the violations of national and international law.  Public policy and the commission of war crimes, specifically the amoral use of overwhelming force in Iraq, without, on this tenth anniversary, the slightest remorse in official circles, as a window into policy-making contemptuous of world opinion, and seeking further fields of conquest in the financial, commercial, and ideological realms, always backed by the threat or actual employment of military power.  What the US does abroad, it increasingly feels safe to do—and in measured steps now does—at home.  Even on such a straightforward matter as assassination of Americans on American soil, there is vacillation at DOJ and the scrambling for more legal memos justifying just about anything under the heading of National Security, memos nonetheless, of course, kept secret.

Nothing appears to phase the American public, here, solitary confinement as practically automatic in response to perceived disobedience, as though dogs not fully housebroken.  Willie Sutton taught us bank robbers go where the money is:  perhaps Authority, from homeland security officials to prison guards (and why not, up to the top, POTUS), goes where sadism is honored, and self-satisfaction in tyrranizing over others guaranteed.  What a feeling of power, stripping the individual of his/her rights, identity and self-respect!  Yet immigrants are only one example of the larger attempted destruction of the person, sanctioned by the doctrine of indefinite detention, implemented by the denial of habeas corpus, and further extended, as the logical end-state, of targeted assassination, indefinite detention carried to infinity.

We seem, as a nation, to be on a collective death-kick, bodily inflicted on others, spiritually on ourselves.  I include now my Comment to the New York Times (Mar. 24), not because I want to take issue with this newspaper, but because it is the source of the reporting, and because the facts provided enable one to formulate a statement on current abuses.  Merely critiquing The Times is unworthy of CP space, whose writers have better things to do.  But the touchstone for one’s analysis, deriving from the investigative reporting, seems to me a different matter, furnishing the basis for a one-two punch, non-repetetive in content, which carries the discussion further.  If readers feel the NYT Comment is inappropriate or mere padding, I find the format indispensible to clarifying my ideas and recommend disregarding the citation and viewing what follows as simply an Addendum:

Rule of law? Respect for human dignity? America is fast sliding into the abyss of totalitarian ways. From solitary confinement, as here, to indefinite detention, to targeted assassination, to–however controversial to say this–the role of John O. Brennan in the councils of government, the nation forfeits all claims to speaking out for human rights in the world. We see extreme punishment, in these case studies, for minor infractions–or simply, for individuals asserting religious beliefs or wanting to preserve their autonomy. The sadism exhibited by Authority reminds one of the southern chain-gangs laboring in the hot sun–or the gulags of the frozen North.

What has become of America? Why the hate? Why the fears? Why the psychopathological embrace of guns on the individual level, interventions on the international level? We despise the poor among us; in reality, we despise ourselves and, mounting ever stronger defense mechanisms, displace these feelings onto others. or The Other, whomever the designated enemy du jour is.

America has become pathetic–a Leviathan clothed in fool’s gold, its military budget standing in inverse relation to its social safety net. The ramparts of freedom have been breached by both major parties, a bipartisan consensus enjoying popular support for last-ditch efforts at unilateral hegemonic influence and control in the world system, as the world itself slowly and surely is becoming decentralized–hence the stridency for remaining on top.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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