Even criminals call the U.S. criminal

If we consider the use of physical force to achieve self-serving ends to be criminal, then to look at the role of governing as an exercise in power over others is to look at an inherently criminal act. As Max Weber acknowledged, “Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.”[1] And as Gerhard Lenski acknowledged in his classic on social inequality, elites act principally in service to themselves.[2]

This is to say that, inherently, at some level, all compliance with governing authority in our system of social organization is somehow coerced with either manifest or potential physical force and that all displays of loyalty or patriotism to a country or its rulers demonstrate false consciousness and a valuing of hostile interests over one’s own.

So-called anarcho-capitalists are no better. Their obvious means of coercion are economic, promoted with an illusion of a “free market” which in fact privileges whomever has the greater power to say no.[3] And their less extreme cousins, capitalist libertarians, simply combine a large measure of economic coercion with a smaller dose of the physical coercion implicit with a political regime.

Given that compliance with economic coercion is necessary in order to meet physical needs, economic coercion is effectively violence, as David Barash and Charles Webel effectively recognize in their discussion of structural violence:

Structural violence usually has the effect of denying people important rights, such as economic well-being; social, political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; and so on. When people starve to death, or even go hungry, a kind of violence is taking place. Similarly, when humans suffer from diseases that are preventable, when they are denied decent education, affordable housing, opportunities to work, play, raise a family, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, a kind of violence is occurring, even if no bullets are shot or clubs wielded. A society commits violence against its members when it forcibly stunts their development and undermines their well-being, whether because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, or some other social reason. Structural violence is a serious form of social oppression. And it is regrettably widespread and often unacknowledged.[4]

This is an understanding, we might note, that any deprivation of human rights—broadly construed—is in fact an act of violence. And to finish painting the picture, human rights are recognized under international law[5]—violations of which become criminal at a point no later than when they become war crimes or crimes against humanity.[6]

Even by that standard, a standard in which “in almost every case in history, the dictator/president/head of state/military/leader responsible for carrying out these atrocities – despite in Nuremberg – has escaped punishment, justice and even censure,”[7] the United States is emerging as an egregious offender. To name, in no particular order, just a few of the  obstructions and crimes that United Nations investigators have reported:

  • “James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples,” noted an “oppression” of indigenous people that, in a Reuters paraphrase, “has included the seizure of lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the loss of languages, violation of treaties, and brutality, all grounded in racial discrimination. “[8] The Onandaga Nation “has filed a petition [with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] against the [U.S.] federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.”[9]
  • “A U.N. human rights expert accused the U.S. government Wednesday of sidestepping his questions on its use of armed drones to carry out targeted killings overseas.”[10]
  • A “report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture . . . expressed concerns about allegations of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly the Chicago Police Department’s treatment of blacks and Latinos. . . . The report also criticizes the U.S. record on military interrogations, maximum security prisons, illegal migrants and solitary confinement while calling for tougher federal laws to define and outlaw torture, including with detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Yemen. It also called for abolishing interrogation techniques that rely on sleep or sensory deprivation ‘aimed at prolonging the sense of capture.'” The U.S. is in violation of “the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which took effect in 1987 and the United States ratified in 1994.”[11] “The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a report slamming the United States on torture and surveillance . . . . for an array of concerns from harsh sentencing for juveniles to drone attacks to global surveillance,”[12] “including torture, drone strikes, the failure to close Guantánamo Bay and the NSA‘s bulk collection of personal data.”[13] “The United Nations‘ lead torture investigator [Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur] says he is worried about increased use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and wants access to California lockups to ensure that prisoners’ rights are being protected.”[14]
  • “The United Nations’ top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the ‘Special Rapporteur’) [Ben Emmerson] issued a formal report to the U.N. General Assembly today [October 15, 2014] that condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions.” This is, of course, in reference to spying by the U.S. National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.[15] “[The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay] has suggested that the United States should abandon its efforts to prosecute Edward Snowden, saying his revelations of massive state surveillance had been in the public interest.”[16]
  • Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, called mass water shutoffs to Detroit residents who are unable to pay a “retrogression” and added, “From a human rights perspective, any retrogression should be seen as a human right violation.”[17]
  • “Three weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published a report detailing how the United States has failed to fulfill its legal obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Convention).”[18]

All this from people who are committed to a criminal international order of nation-states whose sovereignty is defined by a monopoly on the so-called ‘legitimate’ right of violence. This is an order that largely overlooks the most massive crimes of all—wars—in which millions of people may be killed, all to perpetuate a contest among elites over which of them will exercise ‘sovereignty’ over which people, territory, or resources that has been going on since the Neolithic. It is an order that relies on classism, racism, sexism, and just about any division that can be concocted between human beings to maintain that control.[19] And it is an order in which elites are too concerned with their own short-term interests to respond meaningfully to urgent, existential threats to human survival such as climate change.[20]

In effect, even people committed to criminality are calling the U.S. criminal. But apparently, I’m a nutcase for insisting that this order is illegitimate and that anyone who voluntarily participates in this order, as even with voting, even in the illusion that this system can be reformed, is enabling criminality.

I’m a nutcase, it seems, because I insist that we look to ultimate causes, including a system of social organization that induces vast and multiple harms.[21]

But I’ll tell you why I’m really a nutcase: It is because I insist on seeking human survival despite an abject lack of evidence that the species is worth saving. In other words, I am a nutcase because I love humanity, despite all the ways in which it is suppressed.

  1. [1]Max Weber, “What Is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114.
  2. [2]Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).
  3. [3]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.
  4. [4]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), 7.
  5. [5]Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Human Rights Law, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/InternationalLaw.aspx
  6. [6]Robert H. Jackson Center, “The Influence Of The Nuremberg Trial On International Criminal Law,” n.d., http://www.roberthjackson.org/the-man/speeches-articles/speeches/speeches-related-to-robert-h-jackson/the-influence-of-the-nuremberg-trial-on-international-criminal-law/
  7. [7]Robert H. Jackson Center, “The Influence Of The Nuremberg Trial On International Criminal Law,” n.d., http://www.roberthjackson.org/the-man/speeches-articles/speeches/speeches-related-to-robert-h-jackson/the-influence-of-the-nuremberg-trial-on-international-criminal-law/
  8. [8]Reuters, “UN official: US must return control of sacred lands to Native Americans,” MSNBC, May 5, 2012, http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/05/11551618-un-official-us-must-return-control-of-sacred-lands-to-native-americans
  9. [9]Michelle Tullo, “US Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice,” Truthout, April 20, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/23191-us-tribe-looks-to-international-court-for-justice
  10. [10]Frank Jordans, “UN investigator: US dodging questions on drones,” Associated Press, June 20, 2012, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/un-investigator-us-dodging-questions-drones
  11. [11]John Heilprin, “UN: US police brutality violates anti-torture treaty,” Grio, November 29, 2014, http://thegrio.com/2014/11/29/un-police-brutality-torture/
  12. [12]Jonathan Turley, “United Nation’s Report Condemns The United States For Human Rights Violations, Including Blocking Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture,” March 28, 2014, http://jonathanturley.org/2014/03/28/united-nations-report-condemns-the-united-states-for-human-rights-violations-including-blocking-prosecution-of-those-responsible-for-torture/
  13. [13]Matthew Weaver, “US human rights record chastised in UN report,” Guardian, March 27, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/27/us-human-rights-record-chastised-un-report
  14. [14]Paige St. John, “U.N. torture investigator seeks access to California prisons,” Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-ff-un-torture-investigator-seeks-access-to-california-prisons-20131018,0,15846.story
  15. [15]Glenn Greenwald, “UN Report Finds Mass Surveillance Violates International Treaties and Privacy Rights,” Intercept, October 15, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/15/un-investigator-report-condemns-mass-surveillance/
  16. [16]Reuters, “Edward Snowden should not face trial, says UN human rights commissioner,” Guardian, July 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/16/edward-snowden-should-not-face-trial-un-human-rights-commissioner-navi-pillay
  17. [17]Laura Gottesdiener, “UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs,” Al Jazeera, October 20, 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/20/detroit-water-un.html
  18. [18]Marjorie Cohn, “US Slammed for Failure to Fulfill Legal Obligation to Eliminate All Forms of Race Discrimination,” Truthout, September 5, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25990-us-slammed-for-failure-to-fulfill-legal-obligation-to-eliminate-all-forms-of-race-discrimination
  19. [19]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works’,” March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2012/03/15/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  20. [20]Roberto Savio, “The Future of the Planet and the Irresponsibility of Governments,” InterPress Service, November 21, 2014, http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/
  21. [21]Wanda D. McCaslin and Denise C. Breton, “Justice as Healing: Going Outside the Colonizers’ Cage,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, eds. Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 511-529.

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