Last night, I watched Barbara (2012), a movie that’s set in East Germany in 1980. It captures the police state atmosphere of that country fantastically, the suspicion, spying, distrust, the lack of privacy, ordinary people coopted into spying on one another, feeling of constantly being observed, no music, everyone guarding their statements and conversations, gloominess.
The main thought I have is that an American or British or you-name-it country’s police state of 2014 doesn’t have to look like the East German one; and yet it can still be a police state. Life, history, people, societies, technology, aims and circumstances are all so variable that the outcomes need not mirror precisely the past. And yet there can be enough that is common to produce the same result: fear, suppression of the person and personality, control and other negative feelings and consequences in people.
One IMDb reviewer from Norway visited East Germany and writes
“I visited Eastern Germany 1988, before the wall came down…I visited the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and I experienced the railways where there was no smile to see, the feel of total depression and bleak or hardly any colored lights, as an opposite to the sparkling neon lights of the West, and the total surveillance of the center of Berlin. No western lyrics and western music was allowed, hardly any Western cars. If it could have any kind of opposition interpreted into it, or dreams of the Western freedom, it was disallowed. If you tried to flee to the West, you would be instantly shot! I was terrified for four hours in my last trip back to Western Berlin was halted for four hours when they took my passport and ran away with it.”
This person then makes a comment about today, presumably in Norway:
“Today it seems we’re not afraid of being under constant surveillance. This is just another reminder of how terrible it is not to have a free will, and not have the right to your own life. It’s so inhumane and humiliating. But we’re in our way right into the same kind of society.”
Another thought is this: Why does a police state occur? Why are a number of western countries going in that direction? Why in America specifically?
I haven’t thought about this question much. Some first thoughts.
The East Germans who ran the government had an idea about how society should be organized, and contrary ideas could not be tolerated as they set about constructing it. Utopian blueprints derived from the ideas and intellects of various people, alive and dead, were implemented by a set of us imperfect human beings in inhumane and coercive ways. Bureaucracies and police forces were built up. A spying apparatus was set up. After a while, this takes on a life of its own as these organizations secure their finance. Their parasitism becomes institutionalized. The individual can’t fight them. All of this is evil and motivated in a variety of ways inside those building the police state. We don’t get all that far in stopping it, however, in labeling it as evil or seeking to understand their evil motives. It has to be stopped institutionally.
I actually believe that the process is even more insidious in America. The ideas are implemented through laws and courts in which justices at lower levels see them as “right” for society. In other words, there is a diffusion of wrong rulings that replaces the right rulings that a healthy society requires. Justice is turned upside down. In fact, the very idea that there exists a “right justice” loses currency. Instead, the justices think they are being pragmatic and benefiting society as they attempt to shape society’s rules. It doesn’t take many important but perverse decisions, however, at the highest levels of the courts that endorse bad laws, in order to undermine a society.
This police state growth is happening in America, and there is no doubt in this assessment, I believe. There are people in control of governments and businesses who have strong ideas about how America should be guided and they have the power to implement their visions and suppress contrary visions. There is enormous spying. There are secret courts. There is continual chipping away at rights by major courts. There is confusion about right justice. There are now numerous police forces, including some national ones. They are well funded. Major segments of society are increasingly being regimented and controlled: media, education, travel. Speech is under attack. Assembly is under attack. See John Whitehead’s article “Free Speech, R.I.P.: A Relic of the American Past.”
Among the worst processes is the control of education and indoctrination of young people. Wendy McElroy’s post on the Common Core is a terrific eye-opener. She has a stunning excerpt of a teaching material that is teaching about possessive nouns but uses political indoctrination in doing so. It has these sentences:
1. The job of a president is not easy.
2. The people of a nation do not always agree.
3. The choices of a president affect everyone.
4. He makes sure the laws of the country are fair.
5. The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all.
6. The wants of an individual are less important than the well-being of the nation.
This process and its outcomes are not going to look exactly like East Germany. That is the deceptive part of it. People will constantly shrug off warnings because there is still so much freedom. However, in both cases, what happens at the foundation of the police state is that bad laws are put on the books and approved by the courts. The people at large either are powerless to overturn these laws due to the political arrangements or else tolerate them or even endorse them. The American system has hardened into a case where overturning bad laws through the ordinary process of electing people dedicated to that task is well-nigh impossible. It’s going to take some extraordinary processes to wipe the bad laws off the books and reset the basic political arrangements. In the meantime, the police state is growing.9:32 am on March 9, 2014 Email Michael S. Rozeff