Bleaching the public sphere clean

Jules Boykoff, author of Beyond Bullets, described this cleansing work as it now appears in London:

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the London riots. In the wake of last summer’s destruction and the flurry of finger-pointing about who was to blame, London’s Metropolitan Police launched what they called “Total Policing.” A peculiar brew of creepy branding and wishful thinking, “Total Policing” has always been freighted with fuzziness — no one’s quite sure what it really means.

But with the recent outburst of political activism during London’s Olympic moment, Scotland Yard’s hazy notion has come into sharper focus. In the Olympics-induced state of exception, “Total Policing” means total paternalism plus political preemption.

A state of exception will come into being when a sovereign power places itself beyond the rule of law in order to achieve a self-given goal. Those subject to the state of exception can only hope that the exceptional moment is brief, peaceful and warranted by the situation at hand. They must depend upon hope, as mercurial and ineffective as hoping may be, because they will lack the legal means for opposing the imposition of the state of exception. The act of the sovereign in this instance is decisive. A frivolous declaration of a state of exception can be a milestone on a path that ends in a dictatorship of some kind.

Thus to the skeptical mind, a state of exception always appears specious. Besides being a component of a strategy meant to avoid state failure, there never ought to be a situation a government uses to justify imposing a state of exception.

Does London’s total policing project amount to a declaration of a general state of exception? I believe it does. According to my interpretation of Boykoff, the total policing idea results in the use of the government’s police powers to suppress dissent and to create an image of an orderly, happy and well-integrated society. It creates an image which occludes the complexity of London’s social and political situation. The image thus created is that of a Potemkin Village. The Olympic reality as lived by the majority of the spectators and viewers is akin to a Disney World, a place defined by light, magic and excellence.

Rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death were greatly exaggerated… (updated)

…until now, according to the New York Times.

Sadly, one part of the world, the Potemkin Village some call the United States of America, will be amazed to find that bin Laden’s demise will change nothing of importance, just as Saddam Hussein’s execution changed nothing.

Updated (5.2.2011)

Glenn Greenwald takes a position akin to mine:

But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden’s head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we’ve started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?

Those are rhetorical questions. None of those things will happen. If anything, I can much more easily envision the reverse.


And then there’s the notion that America has once again proved its greatness and preeminence by killing bin Laden. Americans are marching in the street celebrating with a sense of national pride. When is the last time that happened? It seems telling that hunting someone down and killing them is one of the few things that still produce these feelings of nationalistic unity. I got on an airplane last night before the news of bin Laden’s killing was known and had actually intended to make this point with regard to our killing of Gadaffi’s son in Libya — a mere 25 years after President Reagan bombed Libya and killed Gadaffi’s infant daughter. That is something the U.S. has always done well and is one of the few things it still does well.

There is, it seems, real political value in killing the Boogey Man. The men and women living in the Village can enjoy their servitude and celebrate their fate when someone different dies horribly. Blood flows and the guileless are intoxicated by it.