AuthorTopic: Building Our fences Ever Higher  (Read 969 times)

Offline Surly1

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 14602
    • View Profile
    • Doomstead Diner
Building Our fences Ever Higher
« on: April 03, 2012, 09:22:22 AM »
Was reading some Dmitry Orlov today and came across a couple of links to articles about gated communities in the comments section. Went down that rabbit hole...

I have always been put off by gated communities, by their self-satisfied smugness, by their implicit retreat from a shared sense of sacrifice, obligation or purpose on the parts of their inhabitants. . .  Feffer actually distills that inchoate loathing in a few words: "We are building our fences ever higher. We are patrolling our borders with ever more sophisticated weaponry. And we are punishing any and all who trespass."

Some very good insights here.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/28/three-killings/

March 28, 2012
France, Florida and California
Three Killings
by JOHN FEFFER

The note left next to the bloodied body of Shaima Alawadi read “go back to your country, you terrorist.” Alawadi, who died on Saturday after being taken off life support, was an Iraqi-born mother of five living outside of San Diego. Someone had delivered a similar note to the family earlier in the month. It was likely the same person who returned with a tire iron and struck her repeatedly on the head. Alawadi had lived in the United States for 17 years. Several family members reportedly provided cultural training to U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East. In a very sad coda, Alawadi is indeed going back to her country – to be buried.

There were no notes that accompanied Trayvon Martin’s death at the end of February. But he was also killed for a perceived trespassing. An African-American teenager, Martin was guilty of “walking while black” as he carried iced tea and Skittles through the Florida community of Sanford. The self-appointed head of the community’s neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman, identified Martin as a threat. Zimmerman didn’t wait for the police to arrive. He chased after the young man and, in circumstances still very murky, shot him dead. Because of the “stand your ground” law that permits shooting in self-defense, the police did not arrest Zimmerman.

In the middle of March, Mohamed Merah went on a killing spree in Toulouse, France that left seven people dead. The victims were a rabbi, three Jewish children, and three French soldiers. Two of the soldiers were Muslim. Merah, who identified with Islamic extremism, specifically targeted Muslim soldiers for being“traitors.” The French-born Merah better fit the profile of a serial killer than a political extremist. But his Muslim victims are an important reminder that ordinary, everyday Muslims, even more so than Jews or Americans, figure as the most potent threats to the worldview promoted by al Qaeda and its ilk. The overwhelming majority of al Qaeda and Taliban victims are Muslims.

These deaths are, on the face of it, quite different: a hate crime, a serial killing, and an act of vigilantism. But underlying these three tragedies is a notion of violated borders, of trespass. The message behind all three is this: you should not be here, you are not one of us, and your death shall serve as a warning.

Trespass is originally an economic term intimately connected to evolving concepts of public and private space. In the late medieval period in England, wealthy landholders began to fence off common lands to increase the pasturage for their flocks of sheep. This enclosure movement, privatization avant la lettre, created a new class of dispossessed, of those who did not belong. The word “trespass” – to enter private property without permission – comes from this period of late Middle Ages. Fences marked off the newly enclosed property. You could not enter without the permission of the owner or his agents. And scaffolds appeared throughout England to punish those thrown off the land who were forced to steal because they had no other means of subsistence.

In his captivating book The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt describes how the violence and oppression of this system drove theologian Thomas More to create his famous “utopia” of commonly held property.

“Utopia begins with a searing indictment of England as a land where noblemen, living idly off the labor of others, bleed their tenants white by constantly raising their rents,” Greenblatt writes, “where land enclosures for sheep-raising throw untold thousands of poor people into an existence of starvation or crime, and where the cities are ringed by gibbets on which thieves are hanged by the score without the slightest indication that the draconian punishment deters anyone from committing the same crimes.” Greenblatt cites the statistic of 72,000 thieves hanged during the reign of Henry the VIII, when More was composing his tract.

We too are living at a time of gibbets and enclosures, of death penalties and gated communities, of state violence and privatization. The United States has become a country of wealthy enclaves, neighborhood watches, and charter schools. Widening inequality has directly contributed to the deterioration of any sense of the public good. The drive for minimal government has reduced the capacity of public servants to ensure basic services and security. The erosion of the middle class has not only reduced the tax base, it has weakened political support for programs that aspire to universality. “Ill fares the land,” wrote Oliver Goldsmith in his 1770 poem “The Deserted Village,” “to hast’ning ill a prey/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.”

Colorado Springs, a sort of anti-Utopia, is a case in point. There, the city council responded to state and federal budget cuts by radically reducing public services. In its place, the city set up an extortion racket. If you want the electricity restored to all the streetlamps in your neighborhood or the Parks Department to take care of your local park, you have to pony up the dollars yourself. Most disturbingly, as a recent This American Life episode on Colorado Springs detailed, residents are willing to pay more money to maintain services in their own little patch of earth than they would have paid in additional taxes to keep the services running for everybody in the city.

Trayvon Martin was killed in a modest gated community in Sanford, Florida, a suburb of Orlando hard hit by the recession. The name of the community, tellingly, is The Retreat. As in Colorado Springs, the residents of Sanford must band together to compensate for what a diminished public sector fails to provide. The Retreaters, who live in townhouses priced around $100,000, have recently been concerned about a rash of burglaries. According to one resident, there had been eight cases in 15 months, and the culprits were mostly African-American males (or so he said). There are no signs at The Retreat that read: No Poor People or No African-Americans or No People Wearing Hoodies. The rules regarding trespass are unstated, shaped by fear and subject to the worst kind of stereotyping. Trayvon Martin was a victim of profiling but also of the insecurity that accompanies the decline of the middle class, an insecurity that especially plagues those of modest means, for they cannot afford all the perquisites of the wealthy. Vigilantism is the byproduct of a failed state. And the austerity measures promoted during our current mean season result in such a failed state.

Shaima Alawadi and her family recently moved from Detroit to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the country. Alawadi, like so many Iraqis living in El Cajon, took refuge in America from the human rights violations and the subsequent sectarian violence of Iraq. But they also found themselves in a city close to the Mexican border and therefore on the frontlines of the immigration debate in the United States. The economic crisis has produced a spike in anti-immigrant sentiment: “they” are taking “our” jobs; “they” are a burden on “our” city services; “they” are not assimilating into “our” culture. Hate crimes against immigrants have been on the rise. Alawadi was not only an immigrant. She wore a headscarf and so was identifiably Muslim. As such, she was a target for all those who conflate Islam with terrorism. Religious freedom and respect for ethnic diversity are still core American values. But a certain tribalism has crept into American discourse. A tribe of xenophobic Christians is fearful that demographic shifts and economic malaise will undermine their precarious cultural status. A small but growing minority within this tribe will resort to violence to maintain this status.

The politics of immigration, multiculturalism, and Islamophobia take on a very different character in France. In this election year, President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to steal the fire from an unabashedly xenophobic right wing. He has stated that there are “too many foreigners” in the country. He has strenuously backed the French ban on the hijab. He has gone after halal meat (which has also raised concerns in France’s Jewish community that Kosher food will likewise be stigmatized). What had once been on the margins of French debate is now in the very mainstream. Muslims are somehow under suspicion for challenging a mythical unitary French identity through what they eat, what they wear, and how they pray. Mohamed Merah, meanwhile, believed that some Muslims had become too French and should be punished for their transgression. French Muslims find themselves in an increasingly difficult position. They trespass on French culture if they attempt to retain their identity. Or they trespass in the imaginations of religious extremists if they identify too closely as French — by, for instance, joining the army. If France and the European Union were enjoying an economic uptick, these culture wars would retreat into the background. As it is, Muslims have become a convenient scapegoat.

The European Union was supposed to be a borderless space. But the old dream of an ever more prosperous and economically equitable regional arrangement has come up hard against economic downturn and polarization. The United States was supposed to be a country without the class barriers of feudal Europe. But the old dream of a growing middle class and the relatively stable politics that accompany it cannot survive in the austerity liberalism and anti-government conservatism of the 21st century. When our notion of the common good, of commonwealth, begins to disintegrate, all that is left are tribes defending their turf, standing their ground, enclosing their land.

We are living now in a new world of enclosures. We are building our fences ever higher. We are patrolling our borders with ever more sophisticated weaponry. And we are punishing any and all who trespass. The victims of these recent killings are the collateral damage of these border wars.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column. His latest book is Crusade 2.0: the West’s Resurgent War on Islam, published by City Lights.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 14602
    • View Profile
    • Doomstead Diner
Son of Building Our fences Ever Higher: Welcome to gate-minded America
« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2012, 09:24:52 AM »
More on gated communities. This time, the writer is a black man.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/opinion/the-gated-community-mentality.html?_r=2

The Gated Community Mentality
By RICH BENJAMIN
Published: March 29, 2012

AS a black man who has been mugged at gunpoint by a black teenager late at night, I am not naïve: I know firsthand the awkward conundrums surrounding race, fear and crime. Trayvon Martin’s killing at the hands of George Zimmerman baffles this nation. While the youth’s supporters declare in solidarity “We are all Trayvon,” the question is raised, to what extent is the United States also all George Zimmerman?

Under assault, I didn’t dream of harming my teenage assailant, let alone taking his life.

Mr. Zimmerman reacted very differently, taking out his handgun and shooting the youth in cold blood.

What gives?

Welcome to gate-minded America.

From 2007 to 2009, I traveled 27,000 miles, living in predominantly white gated communities across this country to research a book. I threw myself into these communities with gusto — no Howard Johnson or Motel 6 for me. I borrowed or rented residents’ homes. From the red-rock canyons of southern Utah to the Waffle-House-pocked exurbs of north Georgia, I lived in gated communities as a black man, with a youthful style and face, to interview and observe residents.

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics. Since you can say “gated community” only so many times, developers hatched an array of Orwellian euphemisms to appease residents’ anxieties: “master-planned community,” “landscaped resort community,” “secluded intimate neighborhood.”

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls.  A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms.

Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor.

Mr. Zimmerman’s gated community, a 260-unit housing complex, sits in a racially mixed suburb of Orlando, Fla. Mr. Martin’s “suspicious” profile amounted to more than his black skin. He was profiled as young, loitering, non-property-owning and poor. Based on their actions, police officers clearly assumed Mr. Zimmerman was the private property owner and Mr. Martin the dangerous interloper. After all, why did the police treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant? Why was the black corpse tested for drugs and alcohol, but the living perpetrator wasn’t?

Across the United States, more than 10 million housing units are in gated communities, where access is “secured with walls or fences,” according to 2009 Census Bureau data. Roughly 10 percent of the occupied homes in this country are in gated communities, though that figure is misleadingly low because it doesn’t include temporarily vacant homes or second homes. Between 2001 and 2009, the United States saw a 53 percent growth in occupied housing units nestled in gated communities.

Another related trend contributed to this shooting: our increasingly privatized criminal justice system. The United States is becoming even more enamored with private ownership and decision making around policing, prisons and probation. Private companies champion private “security” services, alongside the private building and managing of prisons.

“Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws like Florida’s expand the so-called castle doctrine, which permits the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home, as long as the homeowner can prove deadly force was reasonable. Thirty-two states now permit expanded rights to self-defense.

In essence, laws nationwide sanction reckless vigilantism in the form of self-defense claims. A bunker mentality is codified by law.

Those reducing this tragedy to racism miss a more accurate and painful picture. Why is a child dead? The rise of “secure,” gated communities, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds — private, private, private —exacerbates biased treatment against the young, the colored and the presumably poor.

Rich Benjamin is the author of “Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America” and a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research center.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline RE

  • Administrator
  • Chief Cook & Bottlewasher
  • *****
  • Posts: 34962
    • View Profile
Re: Building Our fences Ever Higher
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2012, 09:48:09 PM »
I'll be real interested to see how long the "Gated Community" paradigm continues to function once we get to the kind fo point Egypt already seems to be at, where you can't even get hold of Gas or cooking fuel.  Except for the VERY top end of Gated Communities, I doubt most of them can afford Private Police forces and will have any more access to limited fuel than other communities do.

Such Gated Communities aren't exactly Medieval Castles with 5 foot thick Stone Walls.  Also, if the local Water Treatment facility fails, they are just as screwed as the cheaper McMansions outside the Gates.  Similarly with the Electric Grid, few of these Uber-McMansions are Off-Grid ready.  They will be the MOST obvious targets for Robbery and Home Invasions.  I think you would probably be a lot safer living in a Hooverville encampment with lots of other people who have close to nothing worth stealing.

Of course, once EVERYBODY is starving, nobody is safe anywhere except of course in the fortified Underground Bunker with the Hitachi Micro Nuke power source.  Out come the Zombies!



RE
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline Surly1

  • Administrator
  • Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 14602
    • View Profile
    • Doomstead Diner
Re: Building Our fences Ever Higher
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2012, 03:10:52 AM »
My favorite "Orwellian euphemism" for gated communities is "prisons-in-waiting." When the grid goes off, these places will become as veal-fattening pens for the surrounding zombie hordes. How quickly we forget that the fences and gates that shut out "the other" can also shut us within!

Not that I'm to spend a great deal of time worrying about the fate of those who choose to live inside of gated communities. Today, gated communities represent a retreat from a common enterprise, and turning of the back on one's fellow citizens. I do imagine that we are the same people who built the Eisenhower interstate system. Now we can't agree together to go build a bridge.

I recall seeing my first gated community in Florida in the 1980s when I was working on a video project. I marveled at what it meant that that time. Unfortunately, now I have a better idea. The perfect suburban incarnation of the libertarian dream. I'm afraid the story ends much the way the one in Somalia does-- with warlords. And zombies, if you will.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

 

Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
1 Replies
520 Views
Last post June 27, 2016, 08:54:20 PM
by Palloy
5 Replies
484 Views
Last post April 20, 2017, 02:48:52 PM
by Eddie
18 Replies
430 Views
Last post September 11, 2018, 02:47:12 AM
by Meshami