February 29, 2008

Read the News, Lose Your Mind

The New York Times, February 28, 2008:
President Bush was asked whether he agreed with Senator Barack Obama that the United States would be better off if the president were willing to hold direct talks with leaders of countries like Iran and Cuba.

Republicans, and some Democrats, have harshly criticized Mr. Obama for his original suggestion that he would be willing to sit down with people like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in order to explore important differences. Mr. Obama has since clarified his stance, saying he would do so only if adequate preparations were made for such talks.

Though the president has generally shied away from commenting directly on the presidential campaign, he launched immediately into a vigorous criticism of Mr. Obama's idea.

"Embracing a tyrant?" he asked, seeming worked up at the idea. "It'll send the wrong message. It'll send a discouraging message to those who wonder if America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners, it'll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity."
The Washington Post, February 28, 2008:
More than one in 100 adult Americans is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.
Add these further facts, from a study conducted only a few years ago:
In anticipation of Congressional consideration of revisions to federal sentencing policy, the following analysis provides an overview of the current federal prison population and sentencing trends of recent years. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that the federal prison population has reached record levels, that a high proportion of prisoners are non-violent drug offenders, and that racial disparities in sentencing and the proportion of lower-level drug offenders are increasing.


Overall, nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of federal prisoners are serving time for a non-violent offense and have no history of violence.
You see, in the liberty-loving United States of America, your body does not belong to you. Surrender your delusion that you are an autonomous being, free to choose what to ingest for sustenance or entertainment. It is of no moment that you do not violate anyone else's rights. What matters is that you recognize your body belongs to the state. If you fail to follow the state's edicts as to how you must treat your body, off to prison you will go. All of this is trebly true if you are such a miserable being as to have failed to be born into the privileged class -- that is to say, if you are not affluent, white and male. (With regard to distinct but related issues, women obviously are also such miserable beings.)

We must note one further fact of immense significance. As I discussed in several essays from a few years ago, the prison system in the United States represents nothing less than the institutionalization of brutality and torture on a vast scale. (See "'They Don't Represent America'? Not Quite, Mr. President," "The Real Scandal," and the other essays listed here under the heading, "About Prison Abuse and Torture in the U.S., and in Iraq.") That system embodies the depravity and degradation of extreme cruelty to a degree that is close to ungraspable, and it corrupts everyone who works in it, as it corrupts our nation. When is the last time you heard the horrors of the U.S. prison system -- including not only the non-crimes for which hundreds of thousands are incarcerated, but the cruelties that are inflicted on them when they are unjustly imprisoned -- debated seriously and at length by our major politicians, including the leading candidates for president? That's right: you can't remember, because it doesn't happen.

As you read the news, I suggest you replace major definitions as required, and invert most of the basic terms. (I recall that certain novels treat this idea in some detail.) For "liberation," substitute "enslavement" and "exploitation." For "crime," substitute "personal behavior demonized by the privileged class to maintain control." For "free market economy," substitute "military - industrial - congressional complex" and "prison - industrial - congressional complex." After all, what is the purpose of having a massive and growing prison infrastructure if you fail to have sufficient numbers of prisoners?

The news may be more tolerable if accompanied by the use of illicit drugs. It may even become understandable. And if you should be arrested and thrown into a torture camp for five or ten years or more, that is no reason to despair -- for slavery is freedom.

We must advance with the times. Your conceptions of liberty and peace are pathetically outmoded. You must adapt. It doesn't matter if you choose to adapt or not. We'll call your transformation "voluntary" in any case.

Life is much simpler this way. Yes, we still call it "life." Amusing, is it not?