G-20: the New Normal

“Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights–

What did they think the politics of panic would invite?

Person on the street shrugs–‘Security comes first!’

But the trouble with normal is IT ALWAYS GETS WORSE!”

–Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble With Normal”

Greetings, citizens, and welcome to the New Normal here in Canada! Just when you thought the bad news from the G-20 fiasco had reached its nadir, guess what? “Normal” got worse:

The 57-year-old Thorold, Ontario resident – an employee with Revenue Canada and a part-time farmer who lost a leg above his knee following a farming accident 17 years ago – was sitting on the grass at Queen’s Park with his daughter Sarah and two other young people this June 26, during the G20 summit, where he assumed it would be safe.

As it turned out, it was a bad assumption because in came a line of armoured police, into an area the city had promised would be safe for peaceful demonstrations during the summit. They closed right in on John and his daughter and the two others and ordered them to move. Pruyn tried getting up and he fell, and it was all too slow for the police.

As Sarah began pleading with them to give her father a little time and space to get up because he is an amputee, they began kicking and hitting him. One of the police officers used his knee to press Pruyn’s head down so hard on the ground, said Pruyn in an interview this July 4 with Niagara At Large, that his head was still hurting a week later.

Accusing him of resisting arrest, they pulled his walking sticks away from him, tied his hands behind his back and ripped off his prosthetic leg. Then they told him to get up and hop, and when he said he couldn’t, they dragged him across the pavement, tearing skin off his elbows , with his hands still tied behind his back. His glasses were knocked off as they continued to accuse him of resisting arrest and of being a “spitter,” something he said he did not do. They took him to a warehouse and locked him in a steel-mesh cage where his nightmare continued for another 27 hours.

“John’s story is one of the most shocking of the whole (G20 summit) weekend,” said the Ontario New Democratic Party’s justice critic and Niagara area representative Peter Kormos, who has called for a public inquiry into the conduct of security forces during the summit. “He is not a young man and he is an amputee. …. John is not a troublemaker. He is a peacemaker and like most of the people who were arrested, he was never charged with anything , which raises questions about why they were arrested in the first place.”

Read the whole thing. It’s truly horrendous.

This is just one of the more egregious cases to emerge from the G-20 débâcle. While not everyone there was treated quite this badly, enough of the activists experienced serious psychological effects that they realized they had to do something. That’s why they’ve formed a support group for those traumatized by the violence. (Other support resources can be found here.)

What’s worth looking into is why this is happening at all. When did it become “acceptable” for cops to rip off an amputee’s prosthesis while falsely accusing him of a slew of illegal acts?

Stageleft tackles this question by examining the National Post’s coverage of the story, and the readership’s responses to it.

I entered into a discussion about the suspension of generally taken for granted civil rights/liberties at the G8/G20 meetings on a Conservative site and stated as part of the discussion with someone who made no bones about his support for whatever the police did:

As long as there are people like you who defend this sort of police action and attitude the greater the likelihood that you will ultimately become the recipient of it.

The reply came back:

Until it becomes a problem for the average citizen, expect no action on this front.

The thing is, this was a problem for the “average citizen”. Hundreds upon hundreds of average citizens were detained in cages in Toronto, not because they broke any law, but because they were caught up in large number sweeps, because the authorities didn’t like the look of them, because they weren’t deemed cooperative enough by the authorities, or simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Judging from the general response from the blue corner to these sorts of instances the reply I received to my comment should more properly have been, “until it becomes a problem for me, expect no action on this front”.

This is precisely the sort of thinking that worries ME. Does it take a Bad German like your humble keyboard-rat to see how similar this is to the way “Good” Germans thought in Nazi times? This “fuck them, as long as I’m all right” attitude is precisely what prevailed then.

It’s a good thing I don’t own a scanner, or I’d haul out the picture of my grandfather in his SS uniform and post it here. His expression in that photo is the same one I feel stealing over my own face when I’m scared shitless and can’t do anything about it. Opa was not a political animal in the least. He was certainly not a Nazi. He had no antisemitic views and no special ambitions. He was just a shoemaker. But because he was six feet tall, had done obligatory service with the Yugoslavian army, spoke three languages (German, Hungarian and Serbo-Croat), and was an “Auslandsdeutscher”–an ethnic German from outside of Germany–he was “offered” the “choice” of joining that “elite” force.

It was, need I say, hardly a choice, unless you really wanted to choose between joining, and watching your family be shot before it was your turn. Opa was married and had three small daughters; the youngest was less than a year old. Who would shoot a baby? The forces of the “New Normal” in the Third Reich, that’s who. And it didn’t matter if the child was German or not. They were more likely to kill a Jewish baby than a German one–but if the German one had a father who wasn’t willing to knuckle down and accept the New Normal, that baby was toast.

And this is what Canadian soldiers were ostensibly sent overseas to fight against in not one but two world wars. This is ostensibly why the Canadians took Vimy Ridge in 1917, when the British and the French–supposedly their “superiors”, coming as they did from the two “mother countries”–could not do. This is ostensibly why the Canadians were in those two wars long before the laggards in the United States finally caught the war bug. Canada, we good Canadian schoolkids were taught to believe, cared so much about freedom that its young men were willing to sacrifice their lives–not for their own country, but for others! The world had to be saved from Hunnish imperialism, and saved it was. (Never mind
that the real Huns were not, in fact, Germans. The world was saved from those Mongol hordes, and that’s all you need to know, eh?)

Only, of course, it wasn’t really that. Canada, as a “child of Empire” (yes, that was the actual phrase!), was told it was her duty to go to war for Mother England. It was, in both wars, a battle of imperialisms, not a battle for human rights as the soldiers were led to believe.

Of course, if you said so at the time, you got brutalized in all kinds of ways. During the Great War, pacifists (or suspected “slackers”) got the demeaning “gift” of a white feather, often from some anonymous sender, implying cowardice and all kinds of other nasty aspersions on the recipient’s manhood. If you weren’t hot for war, and ready to jump without even asking how high, you were a nancy-boy. And in World War II, “conscies” (conscientious objectors) were also looked down on as slackers and probable homosexuals, and all sorts of other unmanly things. They were also sent off to labor camps. The fact that Canada, that human-rights beacon (along with its neighbor to the south, and Mother England for that matter) wasn’t taking in Jewish refugees (unless they could demonstrate their strategic value, as did the physicists who went to work for the Manhattan Project) was conveniently glossed over. Even today, nobody wants to talk about it much, unless they’re Bad Germans–or Bad Canadians–like me.

I bring this history up for a reason. People really badly WANT to think that what happened at the G-20 is some kind of aberration, and that on the whole, Canadian history hasn’t been THAT bad. And for them, I guess it hasn’t. Were their ancestors among those who got their heads bashed in by Mounties during the general strike in Winnipeg in 1919? Did they, like Tommy Douglas, risk losing a leg for lack of money to pay a surgeon? Were they hired as virtual slave labor by the railroads, like the Chinese, but later made to pay a head tax–no women allowed, lest that Yellow Peril start reproducing here as it did in China? Were they interned during World War II for no good reason at all, like the Japanese-Canadians in Obasan?

I guess not. Unless it touches THEM personally, they just shrug it off. “Security comes first!”

But there’s no small amount of self-deception inherent in that position. As Stageleft writes,

They say that, on the whole, we are a more empathetic species than we used to be. That once upon a time we cared about what happened to our immediate families, and then, as we became more urban and technology allowed for better communications we became more caring more about our extended families, and our communities… and then that was extended to people who shared a geographical location like “our country”, and ultimately, to those far from us, as we saw (for example) after the tsunami in Indonesia, or the earthquake in Haiti.

Unfortunately that empathy doesn’t seem to extend to people who we don’t agree with politically, or who experience things that make us uncomfortable.

There are a lot of people who have consciously suspended any empathy towards their fellow citizens because they do not agree with them politically, or because something happened to them that, if acknowledged, means that abuse happened – and this is Canada, a shining example of peace and democracy, possibly the greatest country on earth, and the authorities would never, ever, abuse their authority, because if they did that would mean…….

….. no…. no its better not to think thoughts like that…. if those people hadn’t been where they were, even if they had a perfect right to do so, nothing would have happened to them – so whatever befell them is really their fault isn’t it?

It’s either that. or they’re just plain lying.

I’ve heard it said that a Liberal is a Conservative who just hasn’t been mugged yet, if that’s the case a “we unconditionally support the authorities Conservative” is a non-authoritarian/anarchist who hasn’t yet had their run-in with the police.

— and as I said, the longer people support what we saw happen in Toronto, the greater the likelihood that it will happen to them as the authorities discover that there are few, if any, consequences for their behaviour.

It’s disturbing, isn’t it, to think that we have something in common with Nazi Germany, here in Canada, today. But it’s true. What happened to the Germans did not come overnight; it didn’t swoop down on them all of a sudden. It was a gradual, incremental frog-cooking. What would have been unacceptable if imposed all at once is quite acceptable as long as it only happens to others and not YOU.

Better still if those others are somehow visually identifiable; it makes the shunning, the singling-out, the persecution, so much easier; it also makes it easier to say “won’t happen to us”. You wore black in Toronto that day? You must be an anarchist, just asking for it. You wore a vinegar-soaked cloth over your face to protect against the gas? That’s a bandit disguise! You have an artificial leg? Tough, we’re not giving it back. What’s the matter with you, can’t you hop?

And so on.

The trouble with this “normal” is that it really does get worse. Just ask the Argentines how it went for them when they leaped from the frying pan (the quasi-fascist rule of the inept Isabel Perón) to the fire of the junta:

Of course, the eliminationist rhetoric coming from a lot of conservatives in this country would have us believe that “elimination of all leftist opposition, forever” is a worthy goal. No more of those rock-throwing hooligans in black disrupting our nice complacent corporate-capitalist order, yippee!

Only, of course, there’s something a lot worse, something that won’t be eliminated when all the so-called hooligans are gone. The real hooligans, the real thugs, are not those seeking to overthrow power, but those looking to seize and maintain it:

…and they will do anything, even stuff a rat up a young woman’s vagina in order to kill her and thus maintain their “order”. Utter barbarity like this is not beneath them, it is but one of many weapons in their arsenal.

I really do recommend that you watch this movie in its entirety and learn from the Argentine junta. One of the things that should really grab you is the incremental nature of their eliminationist policies. They didn’t just make 30,000 victims go poof overnight. They did it little by little. Frog-cooking, as it were. A disappearance here, a random arrest there. Little horrors from time to time would come to light; a refrigerated truck might be found by a roadside, filled with human corpses hanging like sides of beef. Or the infamous green Ford Falcons favored by the Argentine secret police would race through the streets, blaring their sirens; all traffic would hastily move aside to let them by so they could “arrest” an
other “criminal” or dozen or so. It might seem random, but there was a method to the madness:

“First we kill the subversives; then we kill their collaborators; then…their sympathizers; then those who remain indifferent; and finally, we kill the timid.”

–General Ibérico St. Jean, member of the Argentine junta

Gee, what does that remind me of? Oh yeah: this. Only inverted.

But you can see that the order is roughly the same. They don’t come for everyone at once. First, they come for the “communists”…

You think this barbarism is just some kind of Argentine thing? Wake up. They got their training in torture partly from the CIA, and partly from old Nazis who emigrated from Germany shortly after the war, when things started to get hot and the big show trials and executions at Nürnberg were starting up. The fact that the US literally helped subsidize this atrocity should stand as proof positive that the so-called “champions of freedom” in this world, whom the right-wing jingoists always hail as heroes, are the worst villains of all.

And yes, it IS fascism when “we” do it. It is no less fascism when “we” do it than when the Nazis terrorized their fellow Germans under Hitler, or the junta its fellow Argentines. I don’t care whether your excuse is “order” or “racial purity” or what. IT IS FASCISM NO MATTER WHO DOES IT OR WHY.

Fascism is not an ideology but a methodology. It is the art of frog-cooking. It is a matter of getting the people to accept, by degrees, an ever tighter controlling hand from above.

And that hand is not just the state, but an amalgam of the state and the corporate sector. So all you conservatives and right-wing libertarians can shut the fuck up about the “evils of statism”. And fuck you, too, for trying to snatch the banner of freedom from the hands of those who were carrying it back when you were still sitting around with your thumb up your ass, babbling bullshit about “anarchists”. If you want to talk intelligently about fascism, you have to accept Giovanni Gentile‘s definition of the word. Mussolini’s speechwriter/ideologue made it abundantly clear that fascism isn’t merely the iron heel of the state, and it most certainly isn’t socialism, it is corporatism–the running of the state in the same top-down manner as any big business. The state is not the ruler, under corporatism; a dictator, with bundled masses of thugs at his command to enforce “order”, is. And corporatism has a lot of self-declared “enemies”:

After socialism, Fascism trains its guns on the whole block of democratic ideologies, and rejects both their premises and their practical applications and implements. Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society; it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations; it asserts the irremediable and fertile and beneficent inequality of men who cannot be leveled by any such mechanical and extrinsic device as universal suffrage. Democratic regimes may be described as those under which the people are, from time to time, deluded into the belief that they exercise sovereignty, while all the time real sovereignty resides in and is exercised by other and sometimes irresponsible and secret forces. Democracy is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive, tyrannical, and destructive than one, even if he be a tyrant.

Ah yes. The tyranny of democracy. Why would anyone classify democracy as a tyranny, unless it stood in the way of his own ambitions and held him accountable? People who know how to recognize an autocrat from his earliest baby-steps instinctively reject his rule, voting him out of power or, if he somehow makes it to the parliament, they get their representatives to nullify his influence or otherwise make sure that he goes no further. People who are fully informed would not vote for a dictator, knowing what he holds in store for them. They would, however, be out to overthrow him if he did manage to get the reins in hand. Little wonder Mussolini didn’t care for democracy (and neither did his close successor, Hitler, and neither does his more distant one, Harper.) If we accept the Mussolini/Gentile contention that “real sovereignty resides in and is exercised by other and sometimes irresponsible and secret forces”, who better to take control than a dictator, commanding the police forces of a nation? That way, the pesky “delusion” of democracy can be abolished once and for all.

Or so the would-be dictators think. The fact that democracy keeps sprouting again from their rubble, like a weed from a salt-strewn roadside, must be terribly galling to them. Why else denounce the democrats as “thugs”, even when it’s manifestly clear that, as in the case of John Pruyn, there is not the most remote whiff of thuggery about them, and that it’s the cops who beat the innocent amputee who are the thugs?

That’s another thing about fascism–it has the most marvellous power to reverse things. Black is white, day is night, wrong is right. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. And woe betide you if you don’t love Big Brother and hate whomever he (who is not a literal he) wants you to hate. Fascism is not definable for what it is, but rather for what it sets itself against.

And its first casualty, as in war, is still truth. That’s why an Angus Reid poll found support for the police thuggery appallingly high among ordinary Canadians (who are by no means fascist, and in fact a solid majority aren’t even conservative). That’s why Dalton Fucking McGuinty has no problem making political hay off the trauma of the people who had to watch all that, but doesn’t oppose police brutality or the G-20 tyranny which occasioned it. The truth is that the G-20, and all other elite undemocratic governing bodies, must go. But that’s not getting out there. The going narrative is still “THEY are not like US; THEY are lawless, WE are good”.

As long as that narrative pertains, “we” do not see “them” in us. We may be momentarily lulled by that warm feeling, but the water all around us is getting hotter. And that puts all us all in great danger. Nazi Germany and fascist Argentina are not so far away after all.

This entry was posted in Canadian Counterpunch, Confessions of a Bad German, Crapagandarati, Don't Cry For Argentina, Fascism Without Swastikas, Filthy Stinking Rich, Isn't That Illegal?, Law-Law Land, Not So Compassionate Conservatism. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to G-20: the New Normal

  1. chris says:

    Thanks, very well said.
    You might find Peter Watts’ latest post interesting too. http://www.rifters.com/crawl/

Comments are closed.