Meaningless Human Life in Neoliberal America
The whole thing is now a ritual. White cop kills unarmed Black man. His family and friends and neighbors are outraged. Public officials, white people mostly, promise to look into the matter. The leaders of the Black community call for peaceful protests, and tell everyone to give the System time to work. Then the System announces that a careful investigation has been made (always using the passive voice), and that the System is quite satisfied with the actions of the White cop. The news media surrounds the family of the dead man, and the family asks that any demonstrations be peaceful. It works pretty much the same way when cops kill poor White men, and poor Hispanic Men, at least if their friends and families can work up any public support. The system is just fine with killing poor people, but the families are expected to call for peaceful protests.
We got a full dose of this in the killing of Michael Brown. After the ludicrous secret trial of the killer cop, represented by the Prosecutor’s office, with no one representing the dead, or the public interest, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, played her role, but Brown’s father didn’t. As the outside agitators at CNN report:
As throngs in front of the Ferguson Police Department listened to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement on cell phones and radios, Louis Head stepped onto a platform above the crowd and embraced his wife, Brown’s mother. He then turned to the demonstrators — some of them shouting “F— the police!” — and yelled, “Burn this motherf—er down!” and “Burn this bitch down!”
Then the foul excuse for a police department announced that it was investigating Head for inciting to riot. That forced Head to renounce his righteous anger in a depressing apology.
“Something came over me as I watched and listened to my wife, the mother of Michael Brown Jr., react to the gun-wrenching news that the cop who killed her son wouldn’t be charged with a crime,” Head’s statement said. “My emotions admittedly got the best of me… I was so angry and full of raw emotion as so many others were, and, granted, I screamed out words that I shouldn’t have…. It was wrong and I humbly apologize.”
Mr. Head isn’t allowed his anger. He has to play the role of peacemaker after his son is killed by a coward. The System tells him “Our cop killed your kid fair and square, and you can’t do anything about it.” Then the System says: “So suck it up, and protect Property”, and if you don’t, we’ll sic the legal system on you. Why? Because everyone knows Property, not human beings, is the thing cops and the System Serve and Protect. When cops hired by the System to Serve and Protect Property kill your son, you are required to join in and Serve and Protect Property yourself. Your feelings don’t count. You don’t count. What counts is Property.
That’s just the way it is here in the neoliberal US. Human lives are only of interest in their transactional form. Just being alive is meaningless unless you are doing something with money or property. Just walking down the street enjoying the day is nothing. What matters is what you buy. What matters is who you do business with. What matters is working at some job, preferably for next to nothing. What matters is your investments, in financial capital, in human capital, in social capital, and how you manage those investments. Nothing about you as a person with a loving family, a rooting interest in some sports team, a deep faith, a love of graphic novels or the works of Harry Potter, none of that. Only what you buy and sell. That’s just the way it is. Just ask the soi-disant Public Intellectual, Richard Posner, judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals:
“I think privacy is actually overvalued,” Judge Richard Posner, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, said during a conference about privacy and cybercrime in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
“Much of what passes for the name of privacy is really just trying to conceal the disreputable parts of your conduct,” Posner added. “Privacy is mainly about trying to improve your social and business opportunities by concealing the sorts of bad activities that would cause other people not to want to deal with you.”
See? You use privacy to defeat the market, so it’s bad. It’s bad for the market, and that’s the only kind of bad that matters in the neoliberal US.
I started writing for FDL six years ago at the height of the Great Crash. Every Sunday since, and some weekdays, I’ve turned out a short essay on these matters. When I started, it seemed possible that we could bring about a change in economic structures. The theoretical economics framework, neoclassical economics, was an obvious failure, and that failure brought horrific damage to the middle class and even some members of the upper class, and of course, made the lives of the lower class miserable. I figured politicians would have to respond to that damage. Barack Obama was about to be elected, and though I knew he was a centrist, it was utterly impossible for me to think that he and his Attorney General and the regulatory agencies would refuse to investigate, let alone prosecute, the criminals on Wall Street. Every time a new report came out on the Great Crash, I had a momentary relapse into optimism for prosecution. Nothing. Nothing changed. It was clear that the Posners of the world were running the show, and that the economic system was beyond the reach of angry voters. Then those angry voters turned against the victims of the frauds and liars on Wall Street. That was incomprehensible to me.
Nothing I’ve written has made any difference.
This will be my last regularly scheduled post here at the Lake. I’m starting on a new project, and will be writing at Naked Capitalism and Emptywheel as I work out the tedious details. Jane and her staff, and particularly Ellie Elliot, have been great, and this is a marvelous place to think about policy and actions to affect policy. But the economic system is beyond the reach of any of us right now. That has to change.