Reflections on the Militarization of the United States From a Former Punk Rock Kid Living Well In Singapore
by Adam Staley Groves
When my friends and I were growing up, many of us worked while in high school. In fact in my senior year I held two jobs and played in a band. We were constant targets of the police, often getting pulled over for reasons beyond us. Most of us thought we fit the profile of a young kid in crappy car and nothing more than that (I can assure you we really had no clue!). We learned this first by riding skateboards — that the police would target us and ticket us for being skaters no matter if we rode or not. “Jocks” would chase us too. Really all we wanted to do was to play music, skate, draw, and for the most part, enjoy life.
Now I cannot imagine the magnification of that feeling if I was not white in the context of my small Midwestern city, this I have come to understand acutely years later. And I can tell you I was the type of kid who had to live it to know it, so I wasn’t going to act like I understood what it was to be another ethnicity or “race”. However, I also had several friendships from my early teens that still teach me today. That is, I think empathy is powerful, metaphor is too, yet more than anything these require imagination and even in that thought one cannot know the other fully.
Certainly white may not have mattered to me then, but it might have mattered to those who policed me. It might have mattered to those who felt that being white would have been the answer to their problems. True, you may say the essence of privilege is to deny its existence, yet there are people in this world who seek to move beyond such a simple rationale or logic of existence. Maybe they lack the imagination to see beyond a simple logic to define their lives? There is also a privilege of exclusion from ‘privilege’ for there are pleasures in denying the law exists given the law is invisible to begin with (unless represented by a bullet, prison or menial paycheck). Denial is also a function of belief, and belief is an important phase of overcoming challenges. And there are vocal haters of a general state of belief today that seem to no longer have a view of how their denial functions. Religious organizations and atheists seemed to have lost their imagination, to have lost respect for those who believe, and more importantly command of their denial which I see as the ethical task of belief. Belief is the view of evidence and functionality, and belief is certainly part of dysfunction — used properly one can navigate the paradoxes others hold over them.
At any rate when I was a kid the police would often fine us or search our vehicles looking for drugs. The rationale they used was similar to this video: they make things up. However I don’t think any of my friends were abused like this man or (of the man in this video) however the accumulation of fines and tickets can lead to higher insurance costs which is difficult when you are poor. We also had Ice T and “Cop Killer” as well as Dukes of Hazzard. The bottom line we drew was that cops would always find something to fine you for. You can learn a disrespect for the law at an early age and find yourself figuring out new ways to disrespect as a means to escape its reality, eventually, as considered above — to attain privilege of some sort (in the old days one would just escape to the hinterland). That is, the institutional mindset begins with these interactions you identify with and perhaps spend the rest of your days trying to avoid. That is the profundity of identity, so it seems. I think the overall fundamental was the weak family structures shared with my friends that already put us at risk — and we recognized in one another the necessity of family. And the reason for this varies, but I can assure you that the erosion of good paying jobs and the permeation of market society values are part of this more than any other. Those who have been so brutal and convoluted to blame poor people and minorities for their stagnation must have brains in the shape of stalagmites. Family is not valued when numbers equal society. The inane abstraction of the spreadsheet created a worldvision of pure observation — detached from life, where rules are invented and rarely followed.
Policing these rules and laws has fundamentally changed, and there seems no way out of this for the United States. Policing it draws its ire out of deep problems of inequality, from ethnicity to earning a living. In fact the proliferation of military-style rifles in the U.S. are only signifying this change. In the past, gun ownership had less to do with identity that it does today. If it was once part of hunting culture it has long since transcended or transpositioned with a military purpose. Hunting was a fine culture with ethical depth. Erected as an institution in the context of environmental stewardship and wildlife management it was a modernistic reform of hunting. Yet hunting is not a military experience, if anything it is commutation for an ethos of both the urban and natural world. It is also a white institution that did not open itself. These are, of course, land politics (farmers and hunting are synonymous) and I can assure you that has much to do with it. Yet the hinterland of today seems to be more of technoculture with guns.
Policing, by its very definition and as understood under “U.S. Constitutional Law” requires that the welfare, safety, morals and health of others is maintained. If you watched the first video with the motorcyclist you will observe none of this, and here the same rationale is placed on the pedestrian in the second video. The stop is in both erroneous, as is the rationale. The treatment is martial or “warlike” even predatory as the swarm of officers gather around one motorcyclist.
In light of the recent incidents and the militarization of policing that seems to be obvious. Coupled with the strong repression of demonstration in the United States since the Miami Model of 2003; I cannot help but think — with a decade plus of reflection — that something is terribly wrong regarding the means and ends of liberties I once felt the United States offered as an idea, if not a fact for some people.
I have always felt this was systemic and economic more than any racial or ethnic reason, though certainly these categories had effected or exacerbated one another, and certainly play into how the system is built in the first place. Yet the array of reasons themselves are lopsided when we believe in one or two reasons as the primary cause over another. It is indicative of a lack of imagination which is a problem engorged by technological proliferation. I do not mean as an instrument of policing with a camera, or an instrument of playing a song with your computer — rather in the way we encounter one another and the problems we face in the hinterland of technology.
Institutionalization is a state of mind and technological experience has drastically changed this. So reactionaries to the current problems should, in my view, move beyond that problem. There has to be a completely different way of thinking, a thinking for which no evidence exists. For what is technology good for if not producing endless evidences? This thinking I call belief, a belief that opens the view upon the dys/functionality of technoculture logic. A belief without the stability of identity, that is a vulgar and ignorant belief that is good.
Yet writing that sentence about no evidence needed I realize I am still eighteen years old, playing punk rock songs with my friends, throwing ignorance and ideals around like bullets. I am still living with the same challenge to myself and others from twenty years ago.
How one achieves that transcendental position while living in the place that imposes itself on them is difficult to ponder. I do not live in the United States. Twenty years ago it was still possible to think I could do better if I had a chance there. I guess what I am trying to say is that in retrospect I could not see the misery around me, yet I cannot sit here and make it up either. I just did not see it. Maybe because I was feeling it and it did not stand out?
Maybe the question is whether or not I feel it around me now? Maybe the point is that one creates a world by living it and making no excuses? Maybe the lesson was the following: one must be willing to keep sight of a life they have no evidence for, but was willing to live. Don’t tell me being detached from ‘reality’ is also not part of reality. I will not accept criticism about my imaginative world. One has to present it I suppose, no matter what.
Image of Ferguson Protest by Amir Aziz
About the Author:
Adam Staley Groves is a postdoctoral fellow with Tembusu College, National University of Singapore where he currently teaches the Humanities of Climate Change and Biomedicine. Adam holds MA and PhD degrees from the European Graduate School, and is pursuing a second PhD with the Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen. His research engages poetry and technology. Co-editor and contributor with the online journal continent., Adam’s investigation of politics seeks the dignity and nature of human imagination to confront our technological age.