One of the biggest issues I’ve always had with conspiracy theorists is that they get so wrapped up in the fantasy and paranoia it induces that it blinds them from seeing the real issues that they often skirt around. Mind you, not every conspiracy theory has its hidden merits, principal among them the ones involving faked moon landings and NASA photoshopping pictures to hide “space elevators.” Note – remind me sometime to tell you aboutthe world I ventured into when a friend introduced me to an absurd documentary that claims, amongst other things, that the moon is simultaneously home to ancient civilizations and ruins, alien visitors, and terrestrial governments. But then there’s those like Naomi Wolf’s claim that the police crackdown on Occupy protestors was an organized effort and mandate from the federal government.
Thing is, it wasn’t, and Naomi got most of her facts wrong in her overzealous effort to paint an exciting espionage thriller where the government isn’t as dumb as you think it is. Worse, though, is that it’s exactly this kind of grand fictionalizing of the system that distracts from what’s really wrong: in particular, that corruption is right in your own back yard.
Like many critics of state coercion in America, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralized direction from the feds. But as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf], that notion gets it wrong.
From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century to the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow, state repression in America has often been decentralized, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking of course about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: if the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?
I urge you to read the article in full, because it’s a fascinating piece and hits the nail right on the head.
Wolf’s theory isn’t as outlandish as the 9/11 Truther ethos, but it is every bit as logically flawed and tragically misguided. They rely on a theory of a hyper-competent government, creating the image of a powerful and invisible central force; sometimes a small group of people but more often than not an impractically large group that can somehow manage to all keep quiet about it against all semblance of human nature. But it’s a self-induced ruse that distracts from real problems.
As Robin notes, the repression isn’t centralized at all. It’s systemic and sociological, built into our system and spread across a microcosm of municipal, county, and state institutions. In New York City, it’s Bloomberg who said enough was enough. In Albany (to a far lesser and much less violent extent), it’s Andrew Cuomo using OGS guidelines and a knowingly eager group of pseudo-activists to engage in a dick-waving contest with political boss and Albany mayor Jerry Jennings. Did they conspire to do it at the same time? Or did they receive their mandate from a higher power that may or may not be the President or Congressman Peter King or the Department of Homeland Security or the Bilderberg Group?
No and no and no and no. They did it because they have the commonality of being a part of an American system of democracy that is littered with money from the very institutions that the Occupy Movement is railing against. But even simpler than that, political oppression and/or reactionary pushback always occurs when, right or wrong, there is a perceived threat to stabilization.
This is key to understanding our system and what needs to be done to fix it, particularly if you’re part of the Occupy movement or even sympathetic to their leanings. You owe it to yourselves, your compatriots, future generations, and anyone that might benefit from the reforms you seek to know the what, how, and the why of events happening around you. That includes both being able to distinguish the real corruption from the imagined conspiracy and being engaged enough at a local level to know that government isn’t some mysterious far-away force. It is literally in your own back yard.
In a weird way, I think many find the idea of a central government force issuing a mandate to crack down on protesters comforting. It’d mean that the “bad guys,” so to speak, are limited to a small group of men. It also makes the problem much simpler to comprehend. But the sadder and ultimately worse truth is that it isn’t.
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