The dehumanizing rhetoric aimed at the Occupy protestors will lead to increased violence
My first impression when I saw the video from which this indelible image was taken was ‘my god, this person is showing absolutely no affect over what he is doing.’ An emotional or empathic understanding of a process that inflicts intense pain, and perhaps even permanent injury is missing from Lt. Pike’s demeanor. He might be spray-painting a fence post for all of the emotion that he is demonstrating. Look at his posture, his face. If you separate it from the context of the moment there is no way to discern that Lt. Pike is in instigating intense violence on other human beings.
One possible explanation is that Lt. Pike is a psychopath, completely void of an understanding or appreciation of the consequences of his actions on others. I think, however, that such an individualistic explanation is too easy, and not entirely fair to Lt. Pike. It’s more likely that Lt. Pike is an average guy, just like anyone else, who was out doing his job. Except his job happens to be enmeshed in a psychopathic sociology that motivates his behaviors and the behaviors of all involved. A psychopathic environment begets psychopathic behavior.
A symptom of psychopathy is the inability to recognize the humanity of others. Well, a psychopathic social environment is one in which the humanity of a group is denied, or in which the group is defined as being less than human. This is done discursively by expressly emphasizing inhuman or dehumanizing qualities when referencing the subject group. For instance, the establishment talking point among conservatives when discussing the Occupy Movement is that of “the dirty hippy.” This is a discursive formation designed to frame our knowledge of Occupy protestors as deviants. “Take a bath and get a job,” is the advice of such luminaries as Newt Gingrich and his crew. They try to define this courageous movement as nothing more than a bunch of deadbeats trying to sponge off the rest of us who are working hard through this economic crisis.
Other such formations link the action of the Occupy Movement with groups identified as being threats to the American way of life, communists and anarchists. Conservatives attempt to convince us that somehow, this democratic movement is the first step to a Stalinist dictatorship. When I attended my first Occupy rally there was one gentleman who admonished our actions as being what he fought against in Germany in the 1940’s.
Yes, the argument can be made that the above frames, dirty hippies, deadbeats, even anarchists are all humans. Indeed, but they are humans who are, culturally, not subject to the same level of respect of deference that would otherwise be granted to the groups of people who really are representative of the Occupy Movement. Therefore, they have less claim to the guarantee of rights and respect that might be expected of any other citizen.
In many cases, the movement is being defined as a “health hazard.” Instances of police brutality and vandalism are nothing more than the unfortunate necessity of the establishment having to move in and clear out the protestors for the sake of the public health. This is easy to believe if the protestors are defined as “dirty hippies.” After all, what would you expect from dirty hippies all camping out in the same place but for a huge health catastrophe in the making. Interestingly enough, though there is countless hours of footage revealing police brutality, I could find no footage demonstrating the health hazards of an Occupy encampment. I spent the first six years of my career in campsites. The last couple of weeks I’ve scoured videos of Occupy camps, specifically studying the background for any indication that the camps were haphazard or possibly hazardous to the health. I found nothing. Nobody has posted footage of health hazards in an Occupy camp that I’ve been able to find. Yet every time there’s a police crackdown on the camps it’s excused by the authorities as necessary due to public health reasons.
Disease is a central theme of many criticisms of the Occupy Movement, from an outbreak of TB in Occupy Atlanta (which was actually from a homeless shelter
imagine that) to the spread of STD’s, all of which are of dubious evidence. Regardless, linking a group of people to the spread of disease prompts the justification for any number of actions that dehumanize the target. After all, diseases do not respect the Constitution, so the Constitution is not a factor in attacking disease.
Of course, the next discursive formation to develop is to define the movement itself as a disease, which many commentators seem to be tiptoeing around, and a couple of blogs have stated expressly. This is the ultimate dehumanizing tactic. One that I’ve elaborated on this concept before. If a certain group can be defined as a disease, then the “eradication” of that group is justified, so a little teargas here and there is certainly excusable.
The dehumanization of protestors is the typical strategy of the establishment. Indeed, the establishment is strategizing the demise of this group as evidenced in this memo to the American Bankers Association. In order for this movement to be effectively silenced, those doing the speaking must be defined as less than human. Dehumanizing tactics provides the contexts in which the Occupy Movement can be ignored, marginalized and ultimately attacked by the power of the state/corporation.
Lt. Pike is just one tiny gear in this great, psychopathic machine. Within this machine he has a job to do. He recognizes teargas as nothing more than one instrument at his disposal for accomplishing this job. So there’s no remorse, no empathy for the human suffering that he is perpetuating. He’s doing nothing more than his job. However, this job is by its very nature psychopathic. Instead of recognizing the rights of students and citizens, instead of finding alternative means to achieve a satisfactory ends with regard to the Occupy protestors, the protesters themselves must be made to obey a system which exists to disenfranchise and exploit them. It is Lt. Pike’s job to make them obey.
Social psychopathy ensues.
Unless this psychopathy is addressed, expect the violence to increase. When it does, it is up to us to point out the humanity of those victimized by the state. That has been the rule so far. The young people being sprayed by Lt. Pike are demonstrably not “dirty hippies.” They are college students who, in any other context, should be hanging out at the frat house eating pizza and trying to pick up girls. We’ve seen Iraq War veterans getting the skulls smashed in. We’ve even seen veteran police officers hauled away for supporting Occupy. It’s hard to dehumanize our friends and neighbors. It’s our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters, who are trying to make themselves heard by occupying public spaces. If you hear someone refer to the Occupiers as “dirty hippies” make sure you let the speaker know that they are hating your brothers and sisters.
Police need to ask themselves, “what if children were watching us right now?”
I found myself in an awkward situation today. I was watching footage from the Occupy movement at Berkeley. Young men and women were linking arms in a line before a contingent of police officers. Suddenly the police erupted in a wave of blue violence, pummeling the protestors with their night sticks. Girls screamed and the crowd shouted in protest, but the line of young protestors held together despite what must have been damaging strikes about the head and rib breaking blows to the body. At least the line held as long as the footage ran.
In the meantime, my children were at the kitchen table doing an art project with mom. When I saw the broad blue line approach the protestors, night sticks in hand, I turned the computer screen away from the children’s view. I couldn’t get the volume down quickly enough, however, so the screaming was very audible. My wife asked me what was going on. “I’ll tell you later,” I responded.
My children have always been taught to respect the police, that the police were “community helpers.” They have been taught that if there is every any trouble that they can trust the police to help them. I haven’t changed my position on that. I still think that’s great advice because I know that it’s unlikely that the troubles my children may face will probably not run contrary to the whims of the corporate class.
Still, it’s a sad testament that I have to turn my children away from the actions of the police who are, quite obviously, not protecting or serving anyone but their corporate overlords. Anyone can see that the actions of police in these many examples, beating protestors with sticks, pepper spraying protestors who are doing nothing more than sitting on a sidewalk. Sometimes the actions of police are nothing more than gang behavior, heavily armed bullies pounding outnumbered young men and women for nothing more than a vague concept of “disobedience.”
My children are young, but they know what bullying is. So now, I’m in a position in which I have to hide actions of the police from my children lest they become confused about the role of “Officer Friendly” in their lives. I have to lead them through a situation in which police are admonished by a crowd to “stop beating students!”
It is the position of the Journal of a Mad Sociologist that the police are the 99%. We must help them understand that when they are beating, dispersing or “pacifying” Occupy members, they are hurting their brothers and sisters. Perhaps they need to understand that, in this postmodern, surveillance society where everyone carries their own security camera, it’s very likely that children may be watching their actions. I’d like to think that the police, in spite of the ingrained socialization through which they do their “jobs” would be inclined to do so differently if they knew that children were watching them.
To the police: In the first video I referenced above it appears that an order was given to strike out at peaceful, non-threatening young people. Perhaps you feel that you are just following ordersjust doing your jobs. You do not have to obey. You do not have to raise your clubs or fire your tear-gas or rubber bullets when you know such actions would be reprehensible in the eyes of children. Like the Occupiers when commanded to leave and stay out, you can say “no!” You can join your brothers and sisters on the right side of history. You are the 99%. Serve and protect.