AntiNote: More and more people are beginning to notice and remark upon the rapidly intensifying nature of state authority in the United States, typified by the militarization of local police forces but also noticeable in related areas of the penal and immigration systems. Phrases like ‘prison-industrial complex,’ ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ and ‘the carceral state’ are finding their way into mainstream discourse. More familiar terms like ‘political prisoners’ and ‘show trial’ appear to have regained some of the resonance they had lost through years of overuse or their near-exclusive application only to Other contexts.
Perhaps it is just a matter of my own perception, but I find it is becoming more common to encounter news stories and public figures—not to mention friends and family—looking askance at manifestations of state authority that in the past were, for most people, an unremarkable feature of an unremarkable status quo.
Of course, the authorities aren’t doing themselves any favors. The media is still hesitant to use appropriately critical terminology, but we are being ever more frequently confronted with concrete instances of obvious and frankly appalling overreach, misconduct, abuse, and illegality of authorities, from high profile police killings of unarmed black men to refugee internment camps to cruel experimental executions.
People are beginning to draw parallels and make unfavorable comparisons to historical systems of authority that we have been taught to despise and condemn out of hand. The Gulag. The Stasi. Jim Crow. It is no longer necessarily a violation of Godwin’s Law to refer to brownshirts.
This is a sign that many people are not merely calling into question previously accepted (or, more likely, ignored) aspects of the system—like solitary confinement, child prisoners, forced deportations, and the War on Drugs, to say nothing of surveillance—but also its fundamental underpinnings: most famously capitalism, but also prisons and borders as such, or the state monopoly on violence.
We are living in a crucial time. The American state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people is in decline at the same time that its capacity for violence against these same people is increasing. Of course this is true of many states, currently, and has been true of the United States for longer than many of us more privileged (read: white) Americans may realize. But as dissent increases and also becomes increasingly dangerous, there needs to be a clear-eyed and open discussion about what to do when we inevitably come face to face with the terrible power we would try to dismantle.
Peter Gelderloos is not satisfied with the current boundaries of this discussion. In an interview with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West last fall, he explained why. Á propos of the current debate about ‘proper’ responses to state violence that was sparked by the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the ‘riots’ that continue, Antidote presents the second in our series of authorized Smiley and West transcripts. Enjoy!