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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Third Class of People (p. 532)

From chapter "The Closing of the Iron Cage"

This brings us to the third class of people, and how they must be treated by the system. If class one is the rulers, and class two is the laborers, that is, the people who’ve bought into (I mean this literally) the system, the third class is those who either do not buy into the system or who are unable to. They are the ones with nothing to lose. They are the ones radical criminologist Steven Spritzer calls “social dynamite.” They are the ones who feel they’re owed more by the system or who believe the system must be destroyed, the ones with the potential to do something about it, the ones who could possibly resist, organized or alone. They are the ones who, in the 1870s, would have refused to let themselves be whipped, and because of that would have been hanged. After World War I, they might have refused to take off their uniforms, and for that they might have been beaten to death. They’re the ones who see through the myth of egalitarianism, see through the myths of social mobility and opportunity. They are the ones who, like Ham, see the social structure for what it is.

How do you deal with them? Christian Parenti put it well. “Controlling them requires both a defensive policy of containment and aggressive policy of direct attack and active destabilization. They are contained and crushed, confined to the ghetto, demoralized and pilloried in warehouse public schools, demonized by a lurid media, sent to prison, and at times dispatched by lethal injection or police bullets. This is the class—or more accurately the caste, because they are increasingly people of color—which must be constantly undermined, divided, intimidated, attacked, discredited, and ultimately kept in check with what Fanon called the ‘language of naked force.’”

Those in power have always known that the way to win battles, as Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest put it, is to “Get there first with the most.” This is no less true in battles for the mind as it is in battles for physical territory. It’s far more efficient to repress people before they begin to exercise any sort of political freedom, before they begin to even perceive the system might be unfair, than it is to wait until the deferred dream explodes. What this means today is that it’s far more efficient—expensive as incarceration might be— to lock up poor people (or non-Whites) before they have a chance to become politically active, or revolutionary. By the time they gain any sort of full political awareness (and many of my students in prison are among the most politically astute people I’ve ever met) they’re already locked away, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

Let me put all of this a different way. For some people, the system uses carrots and a propaganda based on inclusivity and a belief in rights: I like my computer, my stereo and CD collection, my shelves full of books. I like going to my mom’s and watching baseball games on her television. I like my inalienable rights to the property where I live. And if I owned property somewhere else, even if I never saw it, why, I’d like my inalienable rights over that, as well.

For others, the system uses force, and a propaganda based on terror. If group one is kept in line through inane and insane luxuries, and by a propaganda that, at one time, told them they ruled by the divine right of kings, but now tells them they rule by the divine right of money (or because that’s just the way things are), and group two is kept in line through propaganda tying self-worth to industrial productivity (which means tying identity to the very system that exploits them), as well as the provision of enough comforts and elegancies to keep them in the game, then group three is kept in line through the use of force, and, more importantly, by the spectacle of terror. You don’t need to see many of your neighbors castrated, burned to death, or hanged before you decide that you might just be better off not voting, and that, the next time you sell your crops, it would probably be a good idea to take whatever the white man offers. Similarly, you don’t need to see many of your people’s villages burned before you realize your best chance to live free might be to accept whatever treaty the white man offers for you to give up the land where your ancestors have lived since the beginning of the world, and move west, away from him, his guns, and his torches. And you needn’t see many of your neighbors pulled from their beds and sent to prison, some for the rest of their lives (three strikes, boy, and you’re out) before you decide that McDonald’s just might be your kind of place to work, indeed, it might even be, you say with more of a grimace than a smile, a hap-hap-happy place.