Saturday, April 20, 2013

Authority Worship

The situation in Boston seemed to spiral into the weeds yesterday as more and more of the city and its suburbs were placed on enforced lockdown (euphemistically called "shelter in place"), public transport was suspended, and all citizens, except those directly involved in the manhunt for "Suspect #2"  were forbidden to go outside or engage in normal activities like walking their dogs, taking their children to school or checking their mail.

The incident of the Naked Guy was just one of a number of examples of police going bonkers because of some generally inadvertent citizen rule breaking or police suspicion of something. There was semi-live blogging at dKos of some of what was going on by someone who lived close to the house where "Suspect #2" was thought to be cornered (though he was apparently hiding in a boat a number of blocks away) -- people were being dragged from their homes in handcuffs and questioned, others were being taken away. Gunfire was erupting periodically. A neighborhood in Watertown resembled a war zone while the entire city of Boston and its suburbs were shut down -- and there was no escape.

Yet within mere minutes of lifting the lockdown, a lockdown which had lasted all day (and in some areas since the previous night), an alert citizen noticed blood on a tarp covering the boat in the backyard of his house, opened the tarp and saw the bloody body of "Suspect #2" inside, a sight which he promptly reported to the authorities leading to more intense gunfire and the eventual apprehension of the suspect.

In other words, the lockdown was completely ineffective in locating the suspect; it was only when people were allowed out of their homes that he was found. But the lockdown was extraordinarily effective in inspiring fear and dread in the public -- who knew where this suspect could be and OMG! what he might do? -- and in enforcing compliance with orders -- who knew what the police might do if you didn't comply?

The people of Watertown  burst into spontaneous and rapturous applause once the suspect was apprehended and citizens we allowed to freely congregate outdoors once again. They cheered the police, they even cheered the ambulance that drove the suspect out of the neighborhood and to the hospital -- where he is apparently recovering satisfactorily from whatever wounds he sustained in the numerous shootouts that took place through the streets of Watertown. It felt like a war zone to at least some of those caught in the midst of it.

Some people, however, were very troubled by what they witnessed. It wasn't martial law, but it was like martial law in that more than a million supposedly free citizens were under the orders of armed and itchy fingered authorities, orders which they were compelled to obey or face -- at minimum -- humiliating consequences, perhaps deadly ones. It's unknown how many citizens were suspected or arrested and man-handled, or forced to strip naked in the streets, or how many housing units were forcibly entered and inspected -- or how many were voluntarily opened to inspection.

It's unknown and unremarked what the consequences for those on lock down were -- a prison control tactic that's been extended to schools and businesses and now for the first time in American history to an entire major metropolitan area -- but if generating and sustaining fear and dread, and compelling compliance to arbitrary authority were intentions, they sure worked like a charm.

The lock down did not help at all, in fact it hindered, the search for and capture of the fugitive.

Yet today I've seen plenty of authority worship on the teevee and the internet, worship that should be a cautionary and disturbing to everyone who values the idea of true liberty -- as opposed to the libertarian ideal of liberty to impose authority without interference from... anyone.

After each of these awful events, whether it's another one of America's unique mass shooting incidents or a domestic or foreign terrorist attack of some sort, the domestic security ratchet is tightened just a little more (sometimes a lot more). Fear is ratcheted up. "Safety" becomes paramount, but always with the idea that some authority figure (preferably in a RoboCop outfit) will provide safety from peril rather than enabling the People to do it themselves.

Ultimately, the People become passive.

And who benefits from that?

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