Jesus, this week has been a bad one. A pre-apocalyptic sense of inevitable full-spectrum doom seems to have gripped The West, for whatever that epithet is worth anymore. Asymmetrical hooligan warfare and the ISIS-inspired stabbing of a police chief in France, vicious and desperate Brexit vitriol and the ugly killing of Labour MP Joe Cox all combined in an atmosphere of degeneration and angry futility. The Trumpification of civilization has spread like terminal gangrene across the Atlantic and is bringing out the savages in all of us, and the last straw for the full of manifestation of this disease may well have been Orlando.
It is as if the visceral hideousness of this so hopelessly complex atrocity has shattered whatever was left of any pretense at an intelligible and intelligent consideration of our problems. The vile and so brazenly fascist responses from all around the world are a harsh indicator of how far we are from grasping the intersectional nuances of oppression and hate. Watching CNN struggle to mention such basic terms has LGBTQ+ or latinx while harping incessantly about Mateen’s Afghan heritage made that all to clear. All in all it was a spectacle of such retrograde and primitive bigotry in response to an act made all the more tragic for its predictability that all I could do was sit in despair and horror with the TV on mute and The Clash blaring at random. One man’s cure…
However, the only thing necessary for the triumph of parochiality, fear and hate is for average people to do nothing. So today I turned the sound back on and read through all the coverage and opinion pieces. It was as horrifying as expected, but there are perhaps seeds of a spreading, tentative awareness of the overlapping complexities of minoritarian issues, battling valiantly against the belligerent patriarchal cooption of LGBTQ by the islamophobes repeating their chauvinist appropriation of ‘feminism’ in Europe after Köln.
There are many far better qualified than I to spearhead this fight. As such I offer my full-throated support, and turn to my beat of security and its perversion by power-hungry wannabe despots and securocratic law & order nazis. Hillary Clinton’s response (I’m an not going to dignify Trump’s with an analysis. He makes Kissinger & Cheney look like humanitarians. The fact that the 2nd amendment gun psychopaths haven’t killed him as a “threat to democracy” is the only proof necessary of their hypocrisy and barbarous authoritarianism) epitomises a dangerous reflex to assume a ‘failure’ and demand an increase in ‘security’ as the automatic answer.
This knee-jerk reaction was on sublime display in her speech: claiming in her condolences “But today is not a day for politics” only to segue straight into her plans for “an intelligence surge,” increased militarisation of the police and more fusion centers. I can barely begin to list the number of problems with this suggestion, but this is not about the individual policy suggestions, as bad as they are (seriously, there’s little difference in security logic between an ‘intelligence surge’ and screeching “BUILD THAT WALL”).
No, my point here is that the idea upon which Clinton and Trump so unspokenly agree, the expansion of ‘security’ measures as a ‘solution’ to an apparent ‘failure,’ is being rendered explicitly and implicitly as unpolitical, uncontested, natural.
I had long wondered about this oddly prevalent axiomatic; it had reared its militaristic head in Europe after each and every attack, and initially I just put it down to craven and opportunistic politicians pandering to a public demand for actionism. This is definitely a component, just look at the kind of moral fibre on display in Cameron or Hollande, but there’s more to it than that. Something is fundamentally broken in the way we conceptualise security and terrorism. Reading through the op-eds by ex-intel or police a repeated metaphor struck me: The Gap.
Much like the MADness that gripped the fevered brains of cold war warriors, the Gap is back. Instead of missiles it is now the “intelligence gap:” the horror that there is this insufficiency, this inadequacy, at the heart of American Security. Both Obama and Clinton repeated the same stupid sentence, word for word, after Orlando: security “have to be right 100 percent of the time. A terrorist only has to be right once. What a heavy responsibility.” An utterly impossible responsibility, as simple statistics prove.
However, statistics aren’t consulted here. Instead a concept of security is being pushed in which it is seen as easily cumulative. Something ‘gets passed’ our security? There must be a ‘gap’ in our capabilities. We’ll just double down: more surveillance, more armed police, fewer checks and balances.
The utter insanity of The Gap was already laid bare by the early 60s. Not just that it was a lie, but also the hysteria of the very idea that if each side has thousands of nukes a ‘gap’ of a hundred makes any kind difference.
MADness is guaranteed.
As then, so now.
The Gap implies that more of the same can fill it. But it is, for many reasons, utterly impossible to prevent every attack.
The problem is that security rationality cannot think its own limit, the point of its own sufficiency, the point at which the rate of return for each new measure not only becomes negligible but actually sinks below the increase in insecurity it causes.
Simple example: Paramilitary police units like SWAT were introduced to secure against armed bank robberies. While security in that respect was undoubtedly improved, the prevalence of heavily armed police also massively elevated the risks of inadvertent deaths.
Security isn’t something that can simply be increased. It is not a homogeneous thing, instead a composite of a myriad of different technologies and practices whose deployment not only require the weakening of civil liberties (more surveillance weakens privacy laws and warrant requirements), but also increase the dangers, especially to specific societal groups like protestors or ‘suspect communities.’ While the first point has been notably absent in natsec speeches after Orlando, the latter is never fucking mentioned at all. A security policy’s deployment can have both negative and positive effects, and these are almost always distributed unevenly.
It’s the class warfare, stupid.
The thing that very few are saying is that these types of increases in ‘security’ have long passed the point of zero returns on counter-terrorism. There are other solutions, but their very premises – from multi-cultural integration to a cessation of neo-colonialist, neo-imperialist ‘interventions’ in the Middle East — are anathema pretty much every single country from China to the UK.
What almost no one is saying is that these attacks are perfect opportunities to expand and solidify legal state violence, which while maybe preventing terrorism certainly finds its uses against dissent and minorities. This stockpiling of domestic power should make everyone very scared, but for some reason we all believe that our governments could never ‘turn bad.’ I’m not sure when, exactly, the public discourse in Europe and the US starting assuming this, but the fact that it is so is perhaps the most staggering realisation I’ve had in a while. Ask the LGBTQ+ community, ask the Black, Latino, Indigenous, Roma, Sinti, Jewish, Muslim or the poor if they believe the security is for them too, and the degree to which this smiling acceptance of ‘more security’ is predicated upon pure privilege will become utterly apparent.
While there may well be aspects in which domestic counter-terrorism can be improved, in fact there certainly are, these two dynamics, further fed by the ignorant public cry to “Do Something,” hide behind that nauseatingly platitudinal demand “never again” to edge us step for step towards the surveillance society and police state.
Security is not unpolitical. It is extremely political.
And it’s a lot more than your fucking metadata.
ho fucking ho.