Police state

The last three entries serve as an introduction to the general rationale behind the formation of a police state. Order must be maintained, loyalty sustained. The barbarians are at the gate, and unless every effort is put into keeping them out they are sure to overrun us all. Whether the barbarians are humans or mind worms makes little difference – survival hangs in the balance either way. It is therefore essential to build sturdy gates situated in imposing walls, to keep everyone where they belong.

These walls can be both physical and metaphorical. When it comes to physical walls, their necessity is obvious, and it might even be possible to rally popular support in their construction – especially if there really are barbarians out there. Over time, however, the walls are internalized. There are us and them, and it is imperative beyond everything else that the difference is maintained with rigor and swift ruthless severity. As with physical walls, it is impossible to be on both sides at once; either you are with us or against us.

In Modernity and Ambivalence, Bauman explores the mindset of modernity by taking a detour to the humble act of gardening. Gardening is a very ordered and structured activity, especially when it comes to large garden. There is a plan to things – these plants grow in these spots, and this other area is reserved for these other plants. Everything has a designated place. The art of keeping the grounds is making sure that everything is where it is supposed to be, whilst at the same time keeping out the things that are not supposed to be. Weeds, in particular, are to be rooted out with swift efficiency – if they are left unattended, they will grow exponentially and ruin the carefully laid out plan. If the designated plants are to live up to their full aesthetic potential, every other plant must die. There is and can be no ambivalence on this point. Just ask the Caretakers.

The same line of thinking is present in society as a whole, albeit for the most part in subtler forms. Modernity is keen on making plans and policy documents describing how things are supposed to be. Once these blueprints are made, the work of making them manifest in reality begins. Whatever happens to slow down or hinder the progress of the work is removed, like so much weed in a well-kept garden. Progress must be made, order must be maintained. Those who do not comply are the enemies of progress, who must be removed and taught a lesson in how the future is going to take shape.

It might seem something of a leap from removing weeds in a garden to removing politically inconvenient opponents, but both are born from the same impulse to maintain order. The only difference is in what the impulse is directed at. In both cases, the end results might very well be impressive works of art: a well-tended garden and/or a well-ordered society. If the only thing you have to go on is the end result, both might even speak to the same sense of aesthetic enjoyment. As William Gibson said of Singapore: it is Disneyland with the death penalty.

The point of this detour is to point out that few police states are ends in themselves. They are almost always motivated by some external pressure or future telos. If the barbarians are at the gate, it makes sense to crack down on internal dissent so as to be able to focus the entirety of society’s resources on keeping them at bay. If society needs to be radically restructured to meet the demands of the future (be they economic or aesthetic), then allowing luddites and anti-future elements to have full political freedom is counterproductive. Progress must be made. The ends justify the brutality of the means.


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