Friday, October 12, 2007
The Age Of Torture
Before you take a look at this article about abuses at boot camps for "problem kids", be warned. It's very disturbing, particularly if you have or deeply care about children. The kinds of abuses described are typical of what I've come to think of as Absolute Power Zones: places where for whatever reason, those in charge wield their authority with no effective oversight and those in detention have no recourse to justice. It's a recipe for abuse, and for me is of a piece with Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, jihadi kidnappings/beheadings, and detainee/prisoner abuse and torture. The degree of violence certainly varies from one case to another, as does the justification. But the underlying dynamic -- the brutal and barbaric abuse of power -- remains the same.
It would be hyperbolic to suggest that this is a new problem. I'm not even sure it's worse now than it was 10, 100 or 1000 years ago. What is significantly different now is the existence and diffusion of photographic and video images of the abuse, a direct consequence of the internet revolution. In particular, the voyeuristic component of these abuse scandals perversely mirrors the explosion of internet pornography specializing in fetishized portrayals of violence and domination, and coincides with the appearance of S&M in mainstream pop culture (think Mel Gibson's Payback for the fetishized version, The Passion for the straight-up gore).
This is what I meant yesterday when I referred to ours as "an age where strength is increasingly fetishized as brutal dominance." And if this article is any indication, the indoctrination process begins early.