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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

The Circle of Liberty (p. 485)

From chapter "Expanding the Frontier"

We don’t see many lynchings now in the United States. Even in cases where a black man murders a white man, mobs allow the state to do the imprisoning or executing, instead of taking the law into their own hands. And while interracial dating used to be an offense punishable by death, by now most everyone I know has dated at least one person of a different color than her or his own. And people have more free speech rights now than before, do they not? Schools are integrated, black people don’t have to sit in the backs of buses, and they can eat at restaurants with the white folks. For the most part, whites no longer slaughter them, at least in the United States.

Surely it’s true that the central movement of civilization is “a new world of individual rights, an ever-expanding circle of liberty,” as newspaper columnist Charles Krauthammer recently put it. First the men of Israel were the Chosen People. Or, from the perspective of male Mesopotamians, theywere the Chosen Ones. Then the Greeks, then the Romans, then Europe. Wasn’t all of this historical movement an expansion of the rights of those on the inside, a circle of liberty always expanding to include new groups of people, albeit, nearly always by force? Fast-forward to the United States. Have not blacks been enfranchised, and women, too (never mind that we get to choose between two factions of the same corporate priesthood)? Is not anyone now eligible to become the next Bill Gates, the next Colin Powell?

Here is what I know. I know that in Vietnam, the United States killed upward of three million brown people—people who had based their constitution on that of the United States—because they wanted self-determination, they wanted freedom from colonial exploitation. I know that persons who killed brown noncombatants from the air (at great physical distance) and from the ground (face- to-face, but from an equal emotional distance) in Vietnam have parlayed those actions into successful Senate careers and into serious runs at the presidency. I know that in the 1980s U.S.-backed troops in Guatemala killed ten thousand brown people per year, and systematically dispossessed one million of the nation’s four million Indians. I know that we can tell that same story a hundred times in a hundred places in Central and South America, in Africa, in Asia. I know that in the last year before he was deposed, the U.S.-backed dictator in Iran killed more than thirty thousand brown people—as many as he dared—and that in 1992 the United States killed between 250,000 and 500,000 Iraqi brown people—mainly civilians— in the “blood for oil” Gulf War. I know that eighteen thousand brown people a month, half of whom are under five years old, die in Iraq because of U.S. sanctions. Week after week I hear of union organizers or indigenous peoples—or merely brown people who might be union organizers or indigenous peoples, or who might know union organizers or indigenous peoples—who are beheaded, killed by gunshot wounds, killed by chainsaws, killed by machetes, by U.S.-backed death squads in Colombia. Three thousand trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the past fifteen years: To achieve an equivalent per capita death rate in the United States, 21,000 union members would have had to die. I know that for hundreds of years brown people in North America have been driven off their land and their land has been defoliated by unnatural fire and by hand. I know that in the 1960s and 1970s brown people in Vietnam were driven off their land and their land was defoliated by Agent Orange, and I know that today in Colombia brown people are driven off their land and their land is defoliated by Roundup and Cosmoflux. I know that on the home front, the rate at which women are raped remains at full throttle—or, if this is not full throttle, then God help us all—and I know that the same is true for the rate at which children are beaten.

Yes, black men may date white women, and white men may date black women. Black men may date white men, and black women may date white women. The same is true for other races. But I know also that nearly a third of all black men in this country are under criminal justice supervision.

And I know that a strong case can be made (and has been made by writer, academic, and activist Robert Perkinson) that today’s prisons evolved not so much out of the penitentiaries of the Northeast, where most historians mark their genesis, but out of the slave camps of the antebellum South. One reason, he argues, that the South had the “military tradition” that so helped it at the beginning of the Civil War was because of the antislave militias white men were forced to participate in to police the black population, doing many of the same things policemen do now: walking their “beats,” stopping black people; demanding to see papers, ransacking homes looking for contraband. Seeing this continuity, the incarceration rates for black males suddenly makes sense.

I know that the IWW free speech fights are over, and now we can say anything we want. But I know that journalists in Colombia who speak out against corporations die, and I know that journalists in the United States who do the same lose their jobs. And I know that when citizens today gather to speak out against corporations, they are met not by gauntlets of drunken citizens with wheel spokes, but by rows of gauntleted policemen with batons, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, fire hoses, and prisons at their disposal. I think I’ll take my chances with the drunkard and his wheel spoke.

Things have changed. Yet things are the same. The face of power has changed. It has changed, at least in part, for reasons of economy. Just as it’s cheaper to hire workers at starvation wages and dump them when you’re through than it is to own them as chattel, it is cheaper—once you’ve been able to so domesticate the people so that not only will they no longer rebel but they will no longer perceive your control as unjust and will in fact attempt to join you as one of the owners of others—to keep people in line through the iron cages of rhetoric—through internalized violence—than through outright violence. It’s Diamond’s line again: At the frontier you have conquest, and at home you have repression. Or we can again think of DuBois, and his observation that even before the First World War, the United States had gained the capacity to exploit the entire world.

All of this is simply to say that as people become consumed by the system, once they cease resisting it and become a part of it (that is, once they cease to be human and begin to identify with the inhuman, machine logic of the religion of production), they begin to be, and must be, treated differently by those who are even more fully consumed. What is seen by Krauthammer as an ever-expanding circle of liberty I would see as an ever-expanding circle of the living dead, the consumers of the living, of those who can be granted a certain form of liberty because they can be trusted to no longer resist.