Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I continue my look at Roger Lancaster’s (henceforth “RL”) book*.

RL considers one of the most significant social trends of the post-1960s era to be the “rise of the carceral state”, the government that imprisons its Citizens almost as a matter of policy. (p.141)

There are, he says, three conditions required for such a state: First, incarceration “becomes the preferred sanction for a growing number of infractions”. (p.141) There had been a growing tendency to create more felony-level crimes, or to felonize more activity throughout the post-1960s era, I would say. This shouldn’t have been too surprising and should have been seen as ominous: there was all the personal and internal ‘liberation’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘empowerment’ going on, aided by a general philosophical and politically-abetted trend not to be ‘judgmental’ (in the 1970s) that then morphed into the much more toxic assertions in the 1980s and 1990s that there was no ‘objective reality’ (or ‘God’) upon the authority of which personal liberation could be interfered with.

And yet – at the same time – more and more activity was made felonious, and – especially under the pressure of the assorted victimist and radical-feminist advocacies – more and more activity was claimed to be ‘oppressive, dominant, violent, and hegemonic’. The working-definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘victimization’ were increasingly expanded.

There was only one direction this mix of stuff could go, and increasing incarceration rates – and an increasingly ‘carceral government’ - was going to have to be a result and a consequence.

Second, “official bureaucracies and civil society collude to intensify enforcement, enhance penalties, and keep the prison system growing”. (p.141) Two powerful dynamics merged here: a) the unsleeping tendency of Leviathan to expand and engorge its power over its Citizens, which is an eternal threat posed by governments, as even Hobbes saw and that the continually haunted the Framers in 1787.

And b) the post-1972 Beltway strategy of solving the increasingly dangerous and profound economic challenges the country faced (competitor nations and their economies were now out-producing us, goods and capital could now travel the world more quickly and cheaply, the Dollar was becoming increasingly unstable) by employing more Citizens itself and using the federal budget to create Leviathan-useful ‘business’ (military production, prisons) while also keeping business and corporate and investment-capital interests happy by letting them pursue cheaper labor costs overseas. (And if the well-remunerated unionized American labor force of the 1950s was a substantial expense against profitable production, then government-required regulations that went supernova in the 1970s and 1980s with hiring and anti-discriminatory and affirmative-action practices expanding like Topsy simply intensified that difficult reality hugely.)

But also: a Citizenry many of whom now relied on government as their employer or major source of salary or entitlements was not going to be in any position to stand in judgment over that government: it was a practical and psychological impossibility. The consequences for the most essential requirements of the Framing Vision (a Citizenry that supported itself financially and was thus independent of the government) were ominous and lethal and should have been recognized as such even thirty or forty years ago.

Civil society “colludes” in that by demanding more government employment and entitlements financially (to compensate for the failing ability of the private business sector to keep them reliably and gainfully employed).

But also: the various Identity-advocacies, now spear-headed by radical feminist concerns and agendas, become mainstream political ‘players’ in the new Beltway operating philosophy. And they thus start to rely on criminalization of their ‘victimizers’' actions and the criminal prosecution of those ‘victimizers’. Thus, as we have seen for so long now, victimism and radical-feminism become allies of Leviathan, demanding intensifying levels of police and prosecutorial authority and scope in order to more quickly rid the country and the society of what they consider their ‘oppressors’ and ‘victimizers’. And thus, from the sensitive and liberal and progressive Left, a Leviatha is created to be the mate for Leviathan.

This, precisely, fed the Beltway collusion – against all reliable facts and figures – in the SO Mania Regime: it kept the new victimist and radical-feminist political ‘bases’ happy, while creating jobs in prison and law enforcement, while also engorging the scope and depth of the government’s intrusive and coercive authority.

We have seen (in essays about Victimism on this site from a couple of years back) that the original world-victimist insight that placed it against governments’ own victimizing tendencies against their Citizenries, morphed in this country into an unholy alliance with government, using the expanding criminal-law to sweep away this and that ‘victimizing’ activity. Which then, given the requirements of a media-friendly and emotionally-gripping ‘scripting’ of the overall plight of this or that type of ‘victim’, resulted in a melodramatic Good-vs-Evil script that itself required – of course – somebody to get stuck with playing the role of the Evil one(s).

Radical-feminism, politically embraced whole-hog by the Beltway, had a ready-made candidate for that role: men. And thus the DoVi and then the SO Mania Regimes were pretty much guaranteed to take the course they have taken and continue to take. Nor can it be fig-leafed by the pious claim that the Regimes are not designed to be gender-specific: a comparison of the numbers of males as opposed to females caught up in the snares of these laws quickly reveals that ‘men’ are the targets.**

Third, “a bloated prison system begins to supply norms for other institutions of government: surveillance becomes routine and a crime-centered approach shapes the activities of functionaries working in offices unrelated to the penitentiary”. (p.141)

Here, RL grasps the lethal reality of a paradigm that simultaneously migrates and mutates as it spreads into a general social and political way of framing reality. Once this ‘frame’ or this ‘narrative’ are generally accepted  as the Frame and the Narrative, then nobody looks twice at them and most people accepts them as pretty much normal. And good.

 Further, RL’s research leads him to note that in the 1960s, incarceration rates in Western democracies were in the 60-120 per 100,000-inhabitant range. Until the 1990s, when they began to climb. This, I would say, is no coincidence:  the 1990s ascendancy of radical-feminism (re-branded as ‘governance feminism’) in the era of the Clintons coincided not only with the DoVi and SO Mania Regimes but also with increasing (and increasingly increasing) rates of Citizens (now re-branded as ‘perps’ and ‘victimzers’) being imprisoned.

Until at this point, “in less than thirty years the United States has more than quadrupled its total prison population”, reaching in 2010 753 per 100,000 of populations. (p.142) And thus this country now imprisons its Citizens (mostly male) at a rate “five to ten times” greater than other developed democracies (one in every 99 adult Citizens are now behind bars, he observes), reaching a total of 2.3 million. Which, he continues, is higher than China (Communist or Red China, although that point is politely disregarded in public discourse these days) and Russia (still staggering under the totalitarian legacy of the USSR). Thus, “with only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States claims about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners”. (p.142)

And it all got rolling in the 1990s, which can be no coincidence. This is a lethal consequence of the unholy alliance of victimism/radical feminism and the Beltway that has resulted in Leviatha-Leviathan being raised up as the new iron (rather than golden) idol in this country.

I had mentioned some of the hidden ‘advantages’ (and RL will also discuss thus further on): males are removed from voting-lists and unemployment rolls and no longer compete for ‘jobs’ (such as that term has been re-defined nowadays), while the prison and ancillary ‘industries’ are engorged (with tax-dollars) as ‘decent’ Citizens are employed to profit from the incarceration of all the ‘perps’ and ‘victimizers’. And then there are all the cottage industries of ‘experts’ and ‘therapists’ who are also living off it. And the now-highly organized ‘advocacies’ that are doing their best to keep the ball rolling, continually discovering fresh victimizations or creating deceptive new re-definitions of terms in order to keep up ‘the numbers’ and the government cash that has been pouring into their agendas and activities.

This has been, in RL’s almost too-polite description, a “remarkable social transition”; and if you are old enough to be reading this essay and his book then you are probably old enough to have seen it rise and develop ‘on your watch’.

Further, he rightly observes, this development is “inimical to the spirit of a free society” and “occurred under formally democratic conditions”. (p.142) [italics mine]

I italicized ‘formally’ in order to reinforce the gist of RL’s insight: as the SO community knows, the laws grounding this “transition” were passed on the basis of grossly inaccurate legislative ‘Findings’, under legislative rubrics that derail or utterly avoid public and even legislative debate and publicly-recorded legislative votes.

But this type of lethally ominous dynamic was built-into the awful synergy of victimism and radical-feminism from the get-go: if you already ‘just know’ that your agenda is right, then facts don’t matter and since most folks ‘just don’t get it’ (or can’t ‘get it’ because they have never been victimized like you have been) then why bother wasting precious time persuading them or letting them deliberate about what you want? Strike your deals with the (too-willing) pols, get the laws passed, and keep the media happy with an unending supply of ‘scare stories’ about the ‘horrific’ things that must be erased immediately by any means necessary.

And RL rightly notes that this started on the Right with a “get tough on crime” approach. (p.142) But of course, the Question never asked but lying at the heart of that urge was: what kind of government will it take to do that? Which is also the Question that has always lain at the heart of the Left’s insistence that victimization of this or that type is soooo horrific that you can’t let ‘law’ stand in the way; to be concerned for law (or the Framing Vision or the Constitution) in such an emergency is merely to ‘fetishize’ law and Constitution. Yah.

RL recalls both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty – no enemies of Stalin’s USSR back in the day – observing ruefully that “there is no socialism when one out of every twenty citizens is in a camp”. (p.143) (Although Sartre, certainly, had been exuberant in his support of the Communist project, and also in support of the fact that eggs would have to be broken to make Lenin’s marvelous omlette.)

RL then does the math and points out that “if recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, 1 in every 15 Americans will serve time in a prison during his or her lifetime”. (p.143) Statistically, that’s true – but again, the vast vast majority of incarcerees are male and I don’t see that proportion changing. This is a country whose government has declared war on its own males (in a far more fundamental and ominous way than any currently popular assertions about the ‘war on women’).

And RL does recognize that reality immediately thereafter: “for men the rate is more than1 in 9”. (p.143) (Nor does this figure include all those – close to a million now, not counting the results of AWA’s huge changes – on SO registries.)

We have recreated a form of the Soviet Gulag. And we have done it in the past two or three decades of ‘progressive liberation’ under the auspices of victimism and radical-feminism.

Nor does the system let go of you once you have served the time. There are 5 million Citizens on probation or parole; added to the 2.3 million behind bars, that comes out to one in every 32 adult Americans. (p.144) And he even here recognizes that this doesn’t include the registered sex-offenders (he uses the number of 705,000 – but that doesn’t include the AWA additions which, if I read AWA’s definitions rightly, would at least double that number).

Further, that extended periods of parole “virtually assure future infractions of the reporting conditions”. (p.144) And the SO community has seen more than enough of that type of thing, where many ‘re-arrested’ (and thus technically ‘recidivist’) SOs were re-imprisoned merely for violations – not always deliberate, by any means – of the increasingly (and quietly) intensified residency and other conditions added onto probationary and/or Registration requirements. A truly self-licking ice-cream cone for Leviatha/Leviathan.

“Such numbers have stark implications for the integrity of the political process.” (p.144) Especially, I would add, in the matter of the SO Mania Regime laws and their effects and consequences. And while he specifically notes Republican efforts at ‘felon disenfranchisement’, that result in “a considerable portion of the public” being “excluded from democracy” (p.145), yet I would point out that the DoVi and SO Mania Regime laws also result in a very very large number of men being thus excluded. Which, from the point of view of certain radical advocacies, is probably seen as a good thing and as exactly what they were aiming for when they got their politically-indentured pols to vote these laws in.

Worse, Americans are becoming not only tolerant of punishment but actually are coming to “adore it”. (p.145) It seems to many like a good thing, giving people a sense that at least something is working right in this country.  And – I would add – provides a type of ‘entertainment”; perp walks, photos, lurid stories plastered around the news. And who can forget the various crime and cop ‘reality’ shows and the Court-TV shows?

Here and there I have run across this observation in regard to the now-standard reports of ‘terrorists’ being killed by military action in the several unhappy venues of current American military misadventure, although such ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’ include women and children and in some cases it seems like the standard of judgment has been lethally reversed: if you are killed, then you must have been a terrorist. A migration/mutation from the SO and crime-fighting arena: if you were arrested, then you must have been guilty.

And that intensifies as you reach the ‘spectacle’ of the old public-shaming rituals: having to wear signs, or post a sign in front of your house, or put special warning plates on your vehicle, or have a license or ID-card stamped with a special signifier (who knows what happens on no-fly lists and passport lists?).

Many Americans are lulled by the pious assertion that all this is simply for ‘public protection’ and not intended as a regressive and hoary throw-back to medieval social and legal practice, but that’s a smokescreen; just as SO jurisprudence is nothing less than a functional regression to medieval witch-craft jurisprudence, so too ‘marking’ the convicted is a regression to very undemocratic, totalitarian government praxis.

We’ll continue looking at RL’s book in the next Post.


*Lancaster, Roger. Sex Panic and the Punitive State. Berkeley: U/Cal Press (2011). ISBN: 978-0-520-26206-5 (pb). 246pp plus Appendices, Notes, and Index.

**Curiously, if the now-established principles of anti-discrimination law were to be applied to all this, then the simple reality of such hugely disproportionate numbers would be considered prima-facie evidence of ‘gender discrimination’, wouldn’t they? And yet, they are not looked-at in such a way; instead, the Regime laws are seen as ‘progressive’ and ‘liberating’ and the entire gender of Citizens thus discriminated-against are considered merely Evil eggs to be legitimately broken if the omlette of liberation is to be perfected.

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