November 25, 2007

A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent (III): Obey or Die

Part I: Glimpses of the Horrors to Come

Part II: A Culture of Lies, and a Desperate Need for Action

To reestablish one critical aspect of the cultural context relevant to this series, perhaps it will be most efficient to reprise a brief passage from Part II:
In the last several years, [the United States has] caused the deaths of a million or more innocent people. The United States has committed crimes on a scale that defy comprehension. This fact is almost never mentioned by our leading politicians and commentators. And now all our leading politicians lay the groundwork for another act of still worse, monstrous, criminal aggression -- but we discuss it as if it is our "right" to wreak destruction, suffering and death, in the name of "self-defense" and "civilization." Lies, on top of criminality, on top of genocide, both accomplished and planned. Lies and destruction without end, and facts and reality are banished altogether.

And yet we talk about none of this. If you do, you're a crazy troublemaker. No one should pay attention to you, and you will be shunned.

It was in this cultural setting that Andrew Meyer asked his questions.
In cultural terms, and with regard to the mythic conception of the United States that we refuse to surrender or even to question seriously, America is like the crazy uncle whom relatives unsuccessfully attempt to confine to the attic. Just for amusement's sake, let's call him Uncle Sam, shall we? Uncle Sam mumbles incessantly and often incoherently about how young and strong he is, while his body rots and decomposes. Sam endlessly insists that his way is the best way -- his way in everything, mind you. Sam yells that if only everyone would listen to him and do exactly as he says -- in everything, mind you -- the world would be a beautiful and peaceful place.

To realize this beautiful and peaceful dream, Uncle Sam periodically goes on notably bloody and vicious killing sprees. He's been at this a very long time. Although a few people try to keep him upstairs (very few these days; most have given up, driven away in large part by the stench of decaying flesh), Sam regularly breaks out, taking with him a substantial part of his weapons collection. Tragically, Uncle Sam has the largest such collection in the region. Sam travels to a town some miles away, a town inhabited by people he's never met and about whom he knows nothing, people who have never considered harming him. Yet Sam insists they aren't obeying him. This cannot be allowed to continue. So Uncle Sam slaughters a lot of them. He's found such means to be the quickest way of ensuring obedience in the future. When his blood lust is sated, Sam returns home -- until the next time.

America's self-induced trance of mythic self-conception leads not only to denial and lies on a massive scale, but also to the institutionalization of role reversal and projection. In the increasingly terrifying reality we inhabit, Sam cannot be confined to the attic, or anywhere else. Sam owns the house containing the attic, the entire town, most of the state, and most of all the surrounding states. Sam's weapons collection has never been matched, and he is determined to make it still larger and more deadly. Uncle Sam also controls all the major news outlets, through various kinds of pressure and also through the enthusiastic willingness of news reporters and commentators to tell Sam's story in terms most favorable to him. So Sam isn't crazy at all, although he might make "mistakes" or commit "blunders" occasionally -- but if you dare to question his sanity or his tactics, you are. Your particular kind of craziness might upset others. This, too, cannot be allowed. One way or another, all such questioners must be silenced.

Thus we come to the primary virtue in a culture of this kind: obedience. And thus we come to the only fundamental alternative allowed to those who live in such a culture: obey or die.

I phrase the alternative in these stark terms for two primary reasons. First, it is true; second, to name the truth in the bleakest terms while being fully accurate, is the only possible means of breaking through the forbidding wall of resistance most people have erected. More and more, I am very doubtful that even this will penetrate the refusal to recognize the truth.

In Part I, I noted that most commentary about the tasering of Andrew Meyer studiously avoided any discussion of what a taser is and what it does. From Part I, and from an article from 2005 -- since such information has been available for some time -- I remind you of the relevant facts:
Feb. 17, 2005 – The death of a 54-year-old and the hospitalization of a 14-year-old after police stunned them with a controversial weapon last week in Chicago are the latest in a growing number of debatable uses of the potentially deadly Tasers, which is sparking community outrage across the country. The teenager went into cardiac arrest last Monday after police shocked him with the 50,000-volt weapon, and although he survived, another man died after police shocked him on Thursday.


Since June 2001, more than 70 people have died in police custody in the US and Canada after being struck with Tasers, with the number of reported cases rising each year, according to a November 2004 report by Amnesty International, a worldwide human rights organization. In five of these cases, an autopsy found that the Taser shock was a main cause of death. In several others, coroners' reports identified the Taser as a likely contributing factor.


The guns typically work by firing a pair of pronged darts that latch onto clothing or skin and send a 50,000 volt shock into the body in five-second bursts, which overrides the subject's central nervous system, causing uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue and instant collapse. The darts are attached to wires, which can reach up to 21 feet. People who have been "tased" report extreme, debilitating pain.
But the true evil of the manner in which tasers are now typically used is provided in the earlier summary I offered:
In brief: tasers can kill people, or cause very serious injury; tasers are "commonly gain compliance" -- from people who are usually unarmed and who pose no serious threat whatsoever; and tasers are frequently used on suspects who have already been subdued and immobilized.
Two recent incidents prove the point.

Obey or die, Exhibit One -- Robert Dziekanski: This story is a perfect, almost fictionally perfect, example of how the state kills. The state's total incompetence drove Dziekanski to distraction, to desperation, and to immense anger. Once he had become sufficiently disoriented and angry, the state had only one recourse: kill him. And that is precisely what the state did:
Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old construction worker, arrived in Vancouver on Oct. 14 to begin a new life with his mother. After a 10-hour delay caused by immigration processing, Mr. Dziekanski became upset when he could not find his mother, Zofia Cisowski, who waited several hours before returning to her home in Kamloops, British Columbia, under the mistaken impression that her son had not arrived in Canada.

Unable to speak English, Mr. Dziekanski became distressed and began shouting in Polish, moving furniture around, shoving a computer off a desk in an arrival area and, at one point, throwing a chair. His actions soon attracted the attention of other passengers and security officials.

The recording shows that when airport security officials first appeared, passengers could be heard shouting to them that Mr. Dziekanski did not understand English.

Moments later, four members of the Mounties arrive in the waiting area wearing bulletproof vests. Mr. Dziekanski repeatedly shouted either the Polish word for "help" or "police," which sound similar, before walking away with his arms raised in the air. There was a brief conversation followed by a loud sound, apparently a Taser shot, and Mr. Dziekanski fell to the ground screaming in pain.

The recording captured what appeared to be a second Taser shot as three officers piled onto Mr. Dziekanski to subdue him. One minute and eight seconds after the police arrived, Mr. Dziekanski appeared to have stopped moving, and the recording ended shortly afterward.
Other accounts provide further details that amplify the horror: for example, Dziekanski had never flown before. So he undertook what was a unique, and perhaps frightening, experience -- and then he was confined to a secure area in the airport for ten hours because of a bureaucracy unable to deal with the simplest of tasks, and unable to provide an interpreter or offer assistance of any kind. One account noted that Dziekanski and his mother were within several hundred feet of each other for some period of time, separated only by a wall. Finally the authorities told his mother that he had not arrived, so she went home. Not too long after that, her son was dead.

If you can bear to watch it, here is a video of Dziekanski's final moments of life. Please note that, when the Mounties arrived and while they were there, Dziekanski was no threat to anyone (not that he had been that serious a threat before). He had nothing in his hands, and he had no means of seriously harming anyone. He was in a secure area of the airport. Like Andrew Meyer, he was significantly outnumbered. If the authorities believed he had to be "subdued," they had any number of other means of achieving that end -- means that would not have been fatal. But for the state, such calculations are irrelevant. Dziekanski was too much trouble; easier to eliminate him. The fact that he had become "too much trouble" as the direct result of the state's own criminal incompetence is forgotten.

Here's a bonus exhibit for you.

Obey or die, Exhibit Two -- Jared Massey: The story:
A man was tased and arrested on a Utah highway after being stopped by an officer and refusing to sign a speeding ticket because he did not understand what offence he had committed or why he had been pulled over.

The encounter, captured on the police car camera on September 14th and released this week, is the latest in a long string of incidents involving the unacceptable use of Tasers by officers on citizens whom the evidence reveals are in no way threatening, acting unlawfully or resisting co-operation.

The video shows the Utah Highway Patrolman pull over Jared Massey and his pregnant wife who also had their baby with them in the car and ask for Mr Massey's license.

Mr Massey tells the officer he does not understand why he has been stopped or what he is being charged with, at which point the officer orders Massey to get out of the car. The officer then puts down his clipboard and immediately takes out his Taser and points it at Mr Massey without any provocation whatsoever, yelling "Turn around and put your hands behind your back" as Massey attempts to point out the speed limit sign and engage the officer in conversation.

A shocked Massey asks "what the hell is wrong with you?" and backs away, turning around as the officer had demanded, at which point the officer unleashes 50,000 volts from the Taser into Massey's body, sending him screaming to the ground instantly and causing his wife to jump out of the car and yell hysterically for help.

Lying face down on the ground a shell shocked, Mr Massey says "officer I don't know what you are doing, I don't know why you are doing what you are doing" to which the officer replies "I am placing you under arrest because you did not obey my instruction."

Mr Massey then once again asks the officer several times why he was stopped and what he is being charged with. He then asks for his rights to be read and points out that the officer cannot arrest him without doing this. Instead of reading Massey his rights the officer then addresses another patrolman who arrives on the scene sardonically commenting "Ohhh he took a ride with the Taser" to which the other officer answers "painful isn't it".

The icing on the cake comes at the end of the video when the officer LIES to his own colleague about the encounter, clearly stating that he verbally warned Massey he was going to tase him, as is the law, when there was no warning whatsoever.
The story goes on to state:
In the last year over 300 people have died in admitted cases in the US alone from being tased. In the last week alone we have posted three separate stories of Taser deaths. Every week we post stories of incidents, which often feature old women, children and disabled people as the victims. The weapons are even being used in schools.

The police are now trained that "pain compliance," a euphemism for torture, is acceptable in apprehending anyone even if that person poses no physical danger. If you electrify any person, they suffer extreme pain and stand a high chance of being killed.
Even though these particular incidents occurred after the Andrew Meyer tasering, the general facts have been well-known for several years. Remember: "In the last year over 300 people have died in admitted cases in the US alone from being tased." We will never know what the actual number is.

You might think that writers and radio hosts would be familiar with the basic facts: that tasers can kill and often do; that tasers are frequently used in the absence of any physical danger presented by the person approached by the police; that tasers are used to gain compliance, and often for no other reason at all.

Obey or die. That is your alternative. Andrew Meyer did not die -- but he could have. Watch the video again. Keep in mind the critical facts. The campus police had approached Meyer when he pushed to the head of the line and when he insisted on asking his questions -- questions, I repeat, that no one else was going to ask, especially the second one about Iran. But once Kerry indicated that he wanted to hear the questions and Meyer stepped up to the microphone, the table was reset, if you will. At that point and for the duration of this incident, Meyer posed no threat to anyone (not that he did before, which he did not), and his conduct did not constitute even a serious disruption. If it was a disruption, it was one Kerry was willing to countenance. (I will have some comments about Kerry's despicable subsequent conduct in the next installment.)

In the midst of his third question, Meyer's microphone was cut. Still, Kerry wanted to answer the questions, and he started to do so. Meyer said, more than once, that he wanted to hear Kerry's answers. If the police had done nothing, it is highly likely that the entire business would have concluded without further incident of any kind. But the police descended on Meyer -- and then they tased him, also more than once. Remembering the facts set forth above -- facts which were easily ascertainable by anyone who wished to be basically informed on this subject, surely not a prohibitive requirement for public commentators and radio hosts -- the campus police could have killed him.

In the comments made in the immediate wake of this incident and documented below, no one that I heard -- with one exception -- mentioned what tasers are and what they can do. No one mentioned that they kill people. With regard to the comments from various radio shows, I do not claim that these are exact transcripts of what was said. But when I realized the significance of what I was hearing -- which was almost immediately upon hearing the first commentaries -- I began taking notes. So while these are not exact quotes, they are very close to exact for the most part. In certain instances, they are exact, and I have indicated that by using quotation marks.

Commentary One, on a radio talk show (delivered on the day of the incident or the next day; my notes are unclear on the exact date): For the most part, the commentary was joking in tone. There was no recognition at all of the possibly lethal effect of tasers, and no mention that tasers kill people. The producer, who functions as a co-host, said at one point: "If I saw someone being tasered, I would assume they'd done something wrong." She went on to say: "If everyone who was an ass got tasered, no one would be an ass anymore." Both the primary host and the producer said several times that Meyer "was asking for it." The host distinguished the behavior of Code Pink members from what Meyer did. He said that when Code Pink members are asked to leave, they leave. But, he went on, if they refused to leave and "resisted," then "maybe a taser would be appropriate."

Commentary Two, on another radio talk show (also in the immediate wake of the incident): "Tase him hard, and tase him often."

Commentary Three, from a newspaper column:
[T]he kid was loud, obnoxious, rude, disrespectful - and asking ridiculous questions. I think I even heard him mention President Clinton's blow-job. In fact, he did. [Yes, he did -- but the context in which he did is of crucial importance.] When one officer approached him during his first question, he rudely snapped "He's been talking for two hours, I think I have two minutes." Well, you don't walk into an event and start telling authority figures what YOUR [sic] going to do.

Then he rudely says: I'm gonna inform people and then I'm going to ask my question!" That's a sweet gesture, but there's a time limit and he knew that!


They TRIED to remove him peacefully, but instead he DEMANDED the officers put him down because he's "not gonna do anything". Ok, killers say that. Please, people...SPARE ME!

It's not like the taser even hurt THAT bad. Is it 50,000 volts of electricity? Yes - but he acted like he was shot in the eye several times while being ripped limb-from-limb... "OWWW!!! OWWW! HELP!!" C'mon, you actually bought that act? I'm sure it hurt - but the pain does not compare to many other MORE PAINFUL things.


This is not a Free Speech issue.. This dolt could have walked across the street, got a bullhorn and said whatever he wanted.

If you disagree, then try resisting an officer in any other instance, even a speeding ticket, and see what happens to you then!
On that last point, the story about Jared Massey above tells us what happens if you even question a police officer about a speeding ticket: you may be tortured, and even murdered. This writer thinks this is a wonderfully good idea.

Commentary Four, another radio talk show: As in the first example, the tasering of Andrew Meyer was the subject of much merriment. Again, there was no mention of what a taser is or what it does, or that tasers kill people. The host said that Meyer "was deliberately provocative." He was "asking for it." "He's obviously a rabble rouser." And he "should have done what the police told him to do," no questions asked.

Commentary Five, one widely read blogger's view:
[H]e cut in line, kept asking question after question, resisted police when they tried to shoo him out (and yes, I do think it was appropriate for security to move him on since his mike had been cut off), kept resisting and making a ridiculous scene, kept fighting after they decided to arrest him, kept on struggling even after they pulled out the taser, and then finally got tased.

Good for the campus police because Meyer deserved what he got.
If you were reading blogs and newspapers in the days following the Andrew Meyer incident, you saw comments like these numerous times. Exceptions to these views were extraordinarily rare.

Note the common themes: the authorities are almost always right and they must always be obeyed, even on those supposedly infrequent occasions when they are not. Being rude and disruptive and not "following the rules" is impermissible, and is even criminal -- and it is a crime that deserves swift and harsh punishment. Above all, there is one central, axiomatic, unquestionable virtue that we are all to embody at all times: obedience.

But for reasons I have discussed, in a culture like ours today and at a time of great historic peril such as the present, to "Break the Goddamned Rules" is our only hope. Yet very few people agree with this view; certainly none of the commentators described above does.

Perhaps you should take a deep breath. Here are the sources of these views, in the order they appear above:

Commentary One: This radio show, a nominally "progressive" one presented on a "progressive" radio station.

Commentary Two: This radio show, a proudly, viciously ignorant conservative one.

Commentary Three: This newspaper column, which I included because it presents the "he asked for it" line of thought in an especially crude manner. The unquestioning worship of authority is also notable -- but I emphasize that it is no different in principle from identical views offered by the other commentators, even the "progressive" ones.

Commentary Four: Another radio show, and another self-identified "progressive" one, on the same "progressive" station. (Stephanie Miller seriously compounded her own intellectual crimes and irresponsibility when, after Meyer's "apologies" were extorted by threat of prosecution and the destruction of his life, Miller used Meyer's statements to confirm her earlier, ignorant views. She said, in effect, that Meyer "admitted" he was a rude, disruptive ass who got what he deserved -- which was, she unapologetically announced, all she had said in the first place.)

Commentary Five: From a self-identified "rightwing" blog: "Andrew Meyer Deserved to be Tasered."

To state what is painfully, terrifyingly obvious: as a culture, we are in very serious, profound trouble. These messages are conveyed to all of us many times a day -- just as they were conveyed in the strongest terms to the peacefully protesting high school students in Illinois.

Next time, we will consider some of the sources of this terrifying trouble, how and why it manifests itself in the particular forms it does -- and the ultimate results to which it may lead. (A preview of certain of these issues will be found in "When Awareness Is a Crime," particularly in my discussion of Lesson Five.)

As I wrote at the conclusion of, "Careful the Things You Do":
The wish for unquestioning, unresisting obedience is coming true in America, more and more each day.

May God help us all.
AND Part IV: A Country Ready to Follow Orders -- Even into Hell