How the US uses sexual humiliation for mass political control

Believe me, you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. And yet, it’s exactly what is happening

| The Guardian

Editor’s Note: I often write about raising sexual consciousness, and I often connect this to a political issue that’s difficult to describe, part of which involves what happens when we haven’t done what my friend Paloma calls “the freedom work” — that is, the necessary emotional work to feel free being yourself as a sexual being. Shame makes people easy to manipulate, and Naomi Wolf has written an article explaining the relationship between that particular fact and the way that the political system is now using peoples’ sexuality against them as a political control tool. Please let me know what you think of her article. –efc

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Bagram airbase was used by the US to detain its 'high-value' targets during the 'war on terror' and is still Afghanistan's main military prison. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

Bagram airbase was used by the US to detain its 'high-value' targets during the 'war on terror' and is still Afghanistan's main military prison. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices’ decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven’t been introduced into a prison population.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that “former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the “underwear bomber” to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the “pornoscanner”.

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8 Responses to How the US uses sexual humiliation for mass political control

  1. Lea Burning River says:

    Thanks for the post, Alexander. My realization is that fear is what controls most of us also (so going nude in public as a national movement, which was one of my thoughts, really wouldn’t address what is happening again on this planet as it has in “civilization” after civilization in the past. (Can we take the the word “civil” out of that word civilization and come up with another word that means the same thing without lying?)
    Anyway, some have overcome fear, in fact many, and they created guilds and societies and eventually “unions” which eventually again bowed to the weight of the siren song of power and bowed to fear en mass. The history of the labor movements tells these stories..
    And I am encouraged by the historical accounts of several Native American leaders (Chief Joseph to name one) who also led their people to resist behavior controlled by the fear of bodily harm, punishment and/or death. “(t is a good day to die” by Robbie Robinson is a stellar song recounting this spirit and this behavior.)
    Yes. We live in our “civilization” of this moment as we await and/or co-create our new models of true civility within it. That is my hope.
    +-+
    xo

  2. Alexander De Witte says:

    The issue here, for me, is precisely not one of shame! It is rather the external dramatization of the failure of shame to be adequate ‘mode of control’ in modern nation state governance.

    To understand this thoroughly I would recommend acquisition of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish – which charts how medieval jurisprudence originally inscribed punishment upon the body of the one punished and how the body politic were invited to watch proceedings to internalize fear within a conformist mob bloodlust (you can think similarly of lions and Christians or gladiators in Roman times).

    Foucault describes the process of psychological transformation of the fear landscape. He christens the word panopticon – meaning all-seeing-eye, and shows how the crude vehicle of fear of physical punishment became refined as self regulation/policing through mechanisms of reflex in installed guilt and shame.

    This was, in terms of the logistics of population growth, both sensible and inevitable in terms of the state’s perennial fear of coup. Logistically, the state was always going to struggle with exponential population growth. Inevitably, covert methods evolved to improve upon overt ones.

    Now, of course, we have come full circle. So we see clear return to punishment in the overt sense. The fear being generated as a control tool is much more drastic.. and it needs to be when you see the world of today with its more unified consciousness and sheer enormity. Of course, correspondingly, the techno-boom has yielded the capability of once unimaginable surveillance – we no longer need to police the herd through internal means, once we have the capacity and infrastructure to do so logistically… except in one key respect.

    No fear of any consequences makes the individual particularly threatening to the state. Once the principle of natural justice is seen to no longer function meaningfully within the public arena, there are no checks upon state tyranny. Nobody but a deluded fool sees a point in martyrdom that accomplishes nothing and which has been defined as an atrocity against the state for a generation now.

    So people will now get to experience the most primitive level of fear knowable – being disappeared by the state without any remedy in just processes. This is of course bestial behaviour by naked power.

    Resistance breeds resistance. Romans invented the Pax Romans and Vikings invented Parliament.

    What does it tell us when conquerors bureaucratize peace? That the human conqueror now eagerly desires consolidation of their gain.

    Human nature allied with power and privilege has always oppressed and sought to commit atrocities. You don’t ever successfully police that.

    The difference in 2012 is a matter only of scale.

    Perhaps the ancient apocalyptic writers about Armageddon and Ragnarok knew it well…

  3. shebear13 shebear13 says:

    I was also thinking along those same lines you’ve expressed here, Green-Star-gazer and that “if one has no internal “shame” about being publicly nude/naked, can one BE “shamed”?”
    Uranus squaring Pluto can shake the roots of your country’s deep sexual repression, a shake down that is vitally needed. The chilling perversity of this supreme court ruling can be challenged by people defusing its supposed power by their refusal to be ashamed of being naked in public. If everyone were to own their nakedness, be comfortable in their bare skin, they’d be supporting a necessary redressing of the balance of power, hopefully inviting a softening around the edges of those extremely severe lines of repression. I’d like to think that a pro nudity stance will fast become the norm.

  4. So let’s take this a step deeper… In Japan, (I am told) if you wish to partake in a public bath, first you remove all your clothing, in public… you scrub down…vigourously, in public. Then you walk naked as the day you were born, to the baths…squeaky clean, you get in, naked, with strangers of both genders. And this is all considered very traditional and normal. No one feels shame, they feel normal (except Americans, most likely). There are old people, young people, children and high=powered business men who wear expensive 3-piece suits out on the street. But in the bath, everyone is truly equal and there is no shame in being naked…only some shame if you don’t get the rituals done correctly!

    It makes me wonder…if one has no internal “shame” about being publicly nude/naked, can one BE “shamed”? I’m speaking strictly of nudity here, not sexual offending which often comes with the territory of a sexually repressed society. The idea of “privacy” is something that Americans have taken to some rather extreme levels mostly because we have been programmed to be ashamed of our bodies.
    I totally agree with the writer that a race is on and it is all about doing whatever it takes to control the (potentially unruly) masses. Yes, the internet and social media and mobile telephony give incredible power to the masses and yes, those who would want to control us are very, very afraid of what that means – FOR THEM. Perhaps this will be the summer to see the resurgence of a traditional form of protest, that of the protestors stripping-off as an act of shaming the powers-that-be! There could be some clever ads put out to the Occupy movements along these lines: “Strip before you protest so “they” won’t have anything to remove down at the station!” Can you imagine how much harder it is going to be to haul people off to the paddy wagon is there is noting to grab onto? How will the media cover the events? Lots of pixillated image s, I suppose. But the word would get out even faster, wouldn’t it, if those marching were in their all-together?

    Do you remember when people were protesting the Iraq war before it was launched? There were all sorts of naked events to mark our outrage because some of us KNEW we were being lied to…and now we know we were right. We are right to be outraged now with the further erosion of our civil liberties….so what better way to take back our dignity by laying it all bare? Can you imagine how powerful it would be to have a “protest” where everyone was naked and silent? Like the walk of shame that was brilliantly and organically organized after the pepper-spray event of last summer…remember how powerful that was?
    If the government is going to strip away our rights, what better way to make a statement than to go take charge and go naked! If the government is trying to silence us, then what better way to demonstrate than to do it IN silence.

    Just thinking outside the box in a Uranus square Pluto kind of way. ;-)

  5. Getcalm says:

    Think your local police couldn’t or wouldn’t do this? Think “Someone” will be watching out for you? Think again. The serial rape I have begun talking about was by the lead detective on a small police department in a department owned surveillance van. The dispatcher knew where the van was bc calls were made about a girl’s screams but since the van was known to be an unmarked police vehicle no officers were dispatched. The dispatcher didn’t want to interfere w a higher officer’s “private matters”. Think this law will only apply to violation of bad guys so you can look away? I was a 16 year old high school honor student. What if I was YOUR daughter? Even then, w egregious violence prosecution was derailed by officers protecting their own, imagine if the law says it is actually legal!

  6. Len Wallick Len Wallick says:

    Thank you for posting this, Eric. What i think is that Ms. Wolf has done her homework and is correct in every detail. Most, especially, Naomi has nailed the systematic nature of this situation – methodical, deliberate and long in the process (only now becoming obvious). Ms. Wolf astutely notes the profit motive behind turning the United States of America into the world’s largest minimum security prison. The question is, is that the reason behind the insidious phenomenon or a motivator to assure its sustainable growth?

  7. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    This is chilling — as it’s meant to be. Frankly, I thought better of Kennedy but he seems to be in the “post-911″ mindset, which has been used as the excuse to expand governmental power, coarsen the racial and/or immigration dialogue and encourage police brutality. There is every indication that this kind of intimidation is being put in place in case “we, the people” turn surly and that’s inevitable, so I suppose the nation now gets to review its sadistic medieval tendencies, long hidden behind the walls of our jails and prisons. Just f’ng dandy, eh?

  8. Lea Burning River says:

    Thanks for posting this, Eric. It showed up from one of my fb friends also just this afternoon. She commented that Obama asked the states to do something (different?) at the state level. Her point was that the public does have some wiggle room still left with this but this evaporation of our human rights is the logical trend in a society that does not give a shit about the ill, weak and poor among us, as is evidenced by the U.S. being the only industrialized Western nation without nationalized (Medicare for All) health care.

    My question is, as our rights are being eroded in front of the “public’s” eye–where is this being covered by any mainstream media? This insidious encroachment on everything we have learned to hold dear and permanent in “America” is about to be vaporized and no one is going to know how it happened. Until they have had to drop thier pants for 10 over the limit, I guess.

    I hold journalists personally accountable–for what they do cover and for what they do not cover. During the forming of this country the newspapers were under attack–but kept putting out the news–and were crucial to the success of the founding of this country. Every journalist’s integrity is now on the line as far as I am concerned. If your boss does’nt want to print the real news, get another job and start your own news blog. Journalists have been the eyes and ears of the public. Without these eyes and ears the public’s brain cannot make clear and timely decisions.

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