Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Prison System, the "Other" and Violence as a Poor Deterent

Here are some articles I was rambling about in class (a looong time ago) if anyone would like to read them in their entirety.

The Shame of America's Gulag focuses on the Regan administration/militarizing the police

...and here is Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete

I am reminded to repost them today in light of a ridiculous Facebook argument I got into at work. My friend who produces Al-Jazeera: The Stream (an internet community based news show) linked this article:

It's about the ten worst prisons in the United States. This guy comments almost immediately,  " I heart doesn't bleed for prisoners" which he followed up with this stream of cogent analysis:

"I mean really aren't there better causes to fight for out there than this?
Do you guys know how many puppies are put to sleep in America each day? I mean.... Hello?
Prison is hard, whats the first think people say to you to warn you not to go to prison
You will be raped. Thats why people dont want to go. Lets all just move to Norway, Right? "

After a few minuets of vainly searching for sarcasm in his puppies comment (I found none), I could not help but feel like this guy could never conceive of the idea that he could go to prison. If he really thinks prison is a place where rape should be institutionally allowed (either by authority ignoring it or engaging in it), he must really view people in the prison system as sub-human. I asked him if fear of rape is the only thing that keeps him from wanting to go to prison; not the loss of freedom, or any of the negative social or fiscal externatlies time in jail/criminal records bring. His reply:

"Exactly the fear of rape (among other things) IS the primary reason you Don't want to go to prison. Is that a real question?"

Here I was stymied: obviously this guy is an idiot. But that doesn't excuse him of his bizarre defense of rape. I know plenty of idiots who are have enough contact with humanity to realize rape is not something that should be allowed in society under any circumstance, and a whole other tier of idiots who at least recognize the hypocrisy and lunacy of suggesting rape as a legitimate factore in deterring criminal activity: violent criminals probably don't fear prison rape, THEY ARE ITS PERPETRATORS!

(deep breath)

I came to realize this guy viewed prisoners as such "other" members of society, he dehumanized them completely.  It was impossible for me not to think of the massive incarcerated African American population, the trope of the hyper-sexualized black man, and lynching in connection to his beliefs. I don't want to go around accusing people of racism for disagreeing with me in facebook arguments (or rape support for that matter) but I feel like there is a strong case for both here. If I even need to say it, the guy is white, and also importantly, a guy. As a white male, he seems to be giving the okay for the legitimate rape of incarcerated peoples (ratio of Black/Hispanic incarceration to white incarceration 2/1in 2009) and also has a twisted faith in the hyper-sexualization of these "others"--pretty shocking evidence that the lynching mindset is still alive and well in 2013 the age of "post racial" America. All I could think to do was mock him; arguing or trying to convince a person so mired in lynch mentality seemed like a waste of time. Thankfully other posters (mostly women, or not white) were also letting him have it/rebuffing his opinions more eloquently than I could.

 I was also reminded of author Richard Wright's lecture series turned book White Man, Listen! as he explained Western European philosophy's cold focus on rationalism turned to rationalizing the "other" (aka people suffering under colonization in Africa and Asia) into a site of latent sexual and violent impulse; by rationalizing that people from other cultures are different or somehow lesser, dehumanizing them served the sick violent and sexual impulses Western Europeans had to inhibit in their society, for fear of violent punishment. In African and Asia these Europeans saw a "Land's End" or "Shangrila"; a world as Wright put it "inhabited by [what W.Europeans saw as] shadow people" where there was no police force or stratified pecuniary system to punish their sicker impulses and no claim of immorality because they had "convinced" themselves that they were harming bodies not people. That pecuniary system didn't teach them rape was wrong, it just told them "if you get caught you go to jail and might have the same done to you"; I hear echos of that thinking and that system in trivial facebook arguments even today.

I guess the moral is: violence can't teach people not to be violet--and that the lynching mentality of otherness and sensational punishment still exists in white American today. We have to be careful to spot cold rationality being used to justify dehumanization; even if it is dehumanization of someone who has done something wrong or violent. The reason we are "better" than the perpetrators of violence is because we abhor it, not because we fear it more.