Why we do not believe in obedience.
All Cops Are Bastards, they say. That’s shallow and it’s not even original! And there ARE good cops and really cool people behind these uniforms and shit. Really! There are. There are nice people in the police and in the armed forces. Lovely, caring people, even what some call heroes and yet, even though oversimplified, there is truth in this anarchist’s outcry: ACAB! Indeed they are bastards. Exactly in that moment when they become their function, they dehumanize themselves. Looking over to Turkey these days makes us understand that this isn’t theory, but a fact that can be observed, touched, smelled and witnessed in all its hellish glory. How is it possible that these people who vowed to protect their state and nation willingly injure, terrorize and kill the very people whose rights and well-being they are supposed to protect? Perhaps it’s just the ruling class? Those in command? Isn’t it all Erdogan’s fault? I think it is not. It’s our way of life, a little bit of love for fascism, the bliss of ignorance and one of the common side effects of hierarchic structures.
Hierarchies get things done. And that’s the problem. They get everything done.
We learned about obedience in shocking detail and color in 1963, when Milgram proved that ordinary people, like you and me, are capable of torturing and killing a human being as soon as they can make a higher authority responsible for their deeds, or are talked into conforming to the rules of the given situation. In his simulation, ‘harmless’ citizens slowly electrocuted a human, for being unable to memorize something. All that is needed for this astonishing behavioral shift is a pretext provided by a higher authority, no matter how shallow. Back then, it was merely something along the lines of, “you need to do it for science.” If you never heard about this stuff, click on the links above and read. This is probably the best piece of education you will get today. And even though the Milgram experiment is well known and well understood, most of us don’t think about it while looking at the news.
Building a riot police is like a Milgram experiment in the streets: Gezi.The woman in red wasn’t sprayed because of she was a threat. Not because that cop was an asshole, either. It’s because all the minds behind these helmets feel they were right. They felt it’s their job, their duty, their purpose to be strong and to be in command. They do not criticize each other because they want to conform. They are supposed to be on top of the situation and if this proves difficult, they will use whichever means they have to get it done. It’s not just over there in Turkey, on the edge of the Middle East, it is everywhere. In Frankfurt, German police kept Medics from treating the injured at the Blockupy demonstration, the same day as Taksim kicked off. During the Stuttgart 21 demonstrations, german police used massive force (warning, this links to something rather unpleasant) against kids and elderly people who posed a threat to anyone. The idea of their weapons being “non-lethal” reaffirms the cops’ perceived legitimacy for using them. The command structure removes responsibility, and even when a politician needs to go in the end, this will not change the way a riot police will operate. Give them water cannons, and they will try to hit as hard as they can. Give them gas grenades and they will shoot the canister at your head. Tell them they have authority and they will attack ruthlessly when you challenge it. When the chain of command is long enough, it will make people do anything. No matter how ruthless, no matter how cruel. (Warning, this link is even more graphic.) The only possible conclusion is this: never, ever trust a uniform. No matter if it’s camouflage, a lab coat or just a fancy suit. Talk to the person behind it only. The moment people decide to be their uniform, they leave common sense behind, become part of a hive: they decided to opt out from society and turn to something even more sinister. In this, Turkey is everywhere. No one is allowed to claim this one none of their business. Solidarity with the Turkish protesters is mandatory, for the sake of freedom and democracy itself. Show it wherever and whenever you can. And then, wherever and whenever you can:
Break their helmets and smash their faces with stones? No. Quite the opposite. This struggle isn’t won by force of arms. Every victory achieved by getting this enemy on the ground will bury the vision of a good life under a different layer of concrete, one more shade of grey. This isn’t only a message going out to the people who confront the police during protests. This is for everyone. No matter if you are wearing a uniform right now or whether you are looking at one or whether you are standing at a red light in an empty street. Ask yourself: do I need to do what I do? Will someone be unhappy for what I’ll do? What will spread the happiness? What will make me happy? If that’s too abstract for you, maybe try: Is this going to help me getting laid? If it’s not, consider doing something else. Do it little by little. Take sugar AND cream. Shave tomorrow. Don’t be a dick. Tell them what you think. Don’t be a dick. If a uniform tells you to jump, politely ask “why?”. If people expect you to hit them, blow them a kiss. Treat your superior so gently she’ll smell treason. Xerox flyers with ridiculous demands before you go out. If a uniform tells you to jump, politely tell you will not. Boycott something. Don’t be a dick. Get your ass on the street. Chant. Shout. Escape social norms whenever you can. Help someone in a uniform to get naked. Overthrow society. Escalate everything. One step at a time. The path of obedience leads into the pit. Escalation leads to another pit, but we have fancy lights and music and sexy people. Love, -j