Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eichmann in Manhattan, Part One: Introduction and Some Definitions

This is just some thinking aloud for something that I'm trying to organize over the next few weeks. If all goes well, I'll have a decent enough draft worked up shortly.

First, Eichmann in Manhattan is the working title for reasons that I hope will be apparent as we proceed. In the chapter, I plan to go into the genocidal nature of neoliberal policies, focusing on the organizational and structural violence perpetrated from major financial centers such as Manhattan, enforced by politicians in places such as DC, and organizations such as World Bank and IMF.

The title also has some symbolic relevance. Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, characterized one of the more notorious perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust as a strikingly ordinary bureaucrat who seemed more prone to conformity and non-reflective thought than some sort of psychopathology. The title also riffs on Ward Churchill's characterization of many of the people working in the World Trade Center (and Pentagon) as "Little Eichmanns" - initially in the form of a brief polemic essay, and later expanded in his book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Consequences of American Conquest and Carnage. I have written on why I find the characterization of "little Eichmanns" perfectly understandable elsewhere. To the extent that many working for the corporations housed in the WTC were unreflective careerists who had given nary a thought to the impact that they and their employers were having on those affected by their decisions, I find the term to be dead-on accurate. I would say the same for the technocrats working for the IMF, to the extent that many unreflectively pursue actions that lead to starvation, disease, displacement, and social death for many in the Global South, as well as to those working for the US government and those in the academic and punditry classes who give them intellectual cover.

Now, what I hope to provide in short order is a portrayal of neoliberalism, in both its corporate and governmental guises as genocidal - even in those cases in which not a bomb is dropped. As in the past, I rely heavily on Raphael Lemkin's definition of genocide:
The origins of the term genocide come from the Greek root genos (meaning "type" - think along the lines of tribe or race) and the Latin word cide (meaning "killing"; Lemkin, 1944; see also Churchill, 1997). Lemkin describes genocide as having “has two phases: destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and colonization of the area by the oppressor's own nationals." Lemkin states further that, “genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves (even if all individuals within the dissolved group physically survive). The objectives of such a plan would be a disintegration of political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed at the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed at individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group" (p. 79). Genocide could thus be seen to include a wide array of actions that contribute to the annihilation of a target group, including destruction of the target group’s crops (e.g., via fire or chemical agents), destruction of the target group’s infrastructure, the mass murder of women of child-bearing age and children, forced sterilization of members of the group, indoctrination into the dominant group’s cultural practices at the expense of the target group’s own traditions, forbidding the target group from engaging in its traditional religious and cultural practices, etc. (Churchill, 1997, 2003, 2004; Sartre, 1974).
Although what usually gets labeled genocides are those incidents in which one group engages in the mass slaughter of another group or groups (e.g., the Nazi Holocaust of Jews, Roma, Slavs, homosexuals, socialists, etc,; the American Holocaust perpetrated against First Nations peoples by Spanish, British, Portuguese, and French settlers, as well as by the US government; Rwanda in 1994), there are other facets of genocides that are far more insidious. My focus will be less on the interpersonal violence inherent in genocide (although I certainly will not dismiss its importance), but rather on organizational and structural violence. As I wrote a few weeks ago:
Interpersonal violence is perhaps the form that we are most aware of, since involves identifiable individuals who injure their victims. Certainly, any imposition of neoliberal economics will require a certain amount of interpersonal violence insofar as someone has to do the dirty work of torture or "disappearing" dissidents, the displaced, the indigenous. That of course is the terrorism that is not called by its proper name since it is done in the service of the corporate and ruling elites. Also included is the violence between members of oppressed groups, often divided based on artificial classifications, who perceive one another as "threats" (e.g., border vigilantes who perceive displaced migrant people as "taking away their jobs").

Organizational violence involves explicit decisions made by individuals as part of their formal roles in organizations, such as the military, police, CIA, or a corporate bureaucracy. Although the decision-makers involved in organizational violence might have no direct interpersonal role in the harm caused to their victims, and in fact may even be abhorred by the actual process of violent actions such as torture and murder (e.g., Arendt, 1963), they are nonetheless committing a form of violence.

Structural violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Those who are displaced would be considered victims of structural violence - in this case due to the collapse of their baseline socio-economic situation as a result of the whatever changes have been imposed upon them in the form of invasions or "free trade" agreements. Structural violence is often the most deadly and insidious forms of violence. To take a few words from the book, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985):
Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]

Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]
The displaced are systematically deprived of the basics for survival, resulting in poverty, malnutrition, premature death. That's what structural violence is. The physical harm suffered in this case usually falls underneath the mass-media radar because it is less salient, less spectacular than deaths due to IEDs or aerial bombing raids, less shockingly noticeable than the mass killings by death squads. The structural violence in this case (as is true of various colonial genocides of the past) will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. Starvation and malnutrition for example are simply written off as "those savages cannot take care of themselves." The more liberal of the oppressors might even acknowledge such phenomena as partially their responsibility, but cheerfully contend that in the end "it was worth it" as Madeleine Albright said of the half million Iraqi children under five who had died as a result of economic sanctions during the 1990s. The deaths caused from the stress of being displaced, and without access to fundamental human needs for survival are no less real, even if they don't make their way to the front page of New Pravda.
I also made some mention of one of the tragic outcomes of all of the above forms of violence:
Intrapersonal violence should also bear mention. Here we'd include self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. Usually such behaviors are merely written off as "moral weakness" or as the result of some sort of "mental illness" which couldn't possibly have anything to do with the extreme stress that comes with being displaced or being threatened with displacement. And yet such hyperindividualistic explanations would fail to account for the massive increase in suicides among displaced subsistence farmers in India during the present decade or among factory unemployed factory workers during the Yeltsin regime in Russia in the 1990s.
So the violence is multifaceted as well as the various sources from which these forms of violence spring. My perspective draws on a number of sources, including some theories in the social sciences dealing with aggression and violence, as well as the writings of Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt, and Naomi Klein.

More to come...

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