Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Utility of Force

Ando Arike has a sobering piece in this month's Harper's, "The Soft Kill Solution," regarding a sort of non-lethal arms race: the development of weapons that sicken and repel, but do not kill. Guns that shoot electro-magnetic radiation to heat the skin of their targets, sound cannons, chemical weapons that incapacitate you, foams, sprays, weapons similar to tazers, and lasers to blind or stun you.

Notably, they are designed for use against unarmed civilians. Good, in that it gives soldiers an alternative to lethal assaults on crowds of protesters. Bad, insofar as it can give political repression a media-friendly face. Potentially ominous, insofar as it indicates preparation for non-military targets -- such as, perhaps, an angry civil population rising up in response to what is happening to us right now, with respect to ecological strain and economic injustice.

[It] speaks to rising anxieties about crowd control at a time when global capitalism begins to run up against long-predicted limits to growth. Each year, some 76 million people join our current 6.7 billion in a world of looming resource scarcities, ecological collapse, and glaring inequalities of wealth; and elites are preparing to defend their power and profits. In this new era of triage, as democratic institutions and social safety nets are increasingly considered dispensable luxuries, the task of governance will be to lower the political and economic expectations of the masses without inciting full-fledged revolt. Non-lethal weapons promise to enhance what military theorists call "the political utility of force," allowing dissent to be suppressed inconspicuously.

I will return to this in subsequent posts, as the article fleshes out some important points. There truly is a crisis emerging as population growth and ecological balance intersect with the way human beings metabolize their environment. There is the possibility of waking up to these realities and changing the way we use our resources, produce things, and distribute them. There is another possibility, as well, a scenario we might call "the fortress," where those with the means wall themselves up and protect what they have, and shoot arrows through the loops and crenels of their battlements at the have-nots.

Transformation or fortress? The human being is capable of either.

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