Monday, September 19, 2011

On Sovereign Dispossession

The financial crisis, the BP gulf oil spill and Fukushima disaster demonstrate that corporate and political decision making prioritize the interests of powerful economic actors over those of the general populace. The economic subject of the market, a corporatized and financialized behemoth, exerts undue sway over the political subject of rights. Citizens’ rights to security, whether codified constitutionally or not, are a legitimating premise of western government. However, the financial and public health crises resulting from these disasters demonstrate that idealized notions of human security have little to no role in political and economic governmental logics.
The interests and profits of the most powerful energy companies far outweigh considerations for the health and general welfare of populations. At the most basic of levels, the liberal security state has abdicated its obligations to social-welfare. This abdication is significant because the modern state’s legitimizing force stems from its promises to promote social welfare.
The state’s abdication is driven by the ascendant power of a complex of incredibly powerful corporations and financial entities that possess powers of sovereignty exceeding levels possessed by feudal lords. Contemporary sovereign corporations and financial entities and agents need not attract unwanted attention by engaging in public displays of sovereignty (e.g., public executions). Rather, by shaping the conditions of social and economic existence, by controlling governmental policies, and by exerting undue influence on the media, contemporary sovereign entities can conspire to let entire populations die when their interests are at stake. Indeed, entire populations in Japan and the US gulf coast are being allowed to die as a function of contemporary sovereign decisionality.
There exists in the American popular imagination a collective fantasy that elites are deliberately attempting to depopulate the planet. This fantasy is articulated on Internet websites by a wide array of citizens, all of whom are attempting to reconcile their government’s blatant disregard for public welfare in the arenas of energy policies, food and drug governance (e.g., as pertaining to GMOs and contaminants) and disaster management, in arenas ranging from Katrina to Fukushima.  While this paranoid fantasy resonates popularly, I believe it misses a more insidious logic that is operative in political and economic decision making: the logic of letting die. The politics of death (i.e., thanatopolitics/necropolitics) at issue here are not guided by a sovereign logic of deliberate execution. Rather, they are guided by a decision of exclusion, of dispossession, of fundamental disregard. The populace matters not to those who wield political and economic power. The sovereign decisionality revolves simply around a callous disregard for the biovitalities of the populace. This disregard is informing the economic policies of austerity and the cover-up of environmentally mediated perils to public health. Public welfare is simply eliminated from decision makers’ calculi.
Still, publics in severely impacted regions and political arenas are aware of this callous disregard. Protesters march in Greece. Activist communities emerged in the U.S. Gulf region, in Fukushima prefecture, and in global and national online communities such as E-Enews and Florida Oil Spill Law. As described by Stuart Murray these communities are organized by perceptions of imminent death. Murray argues death could be seen as socially, politically, and ethically “productive” in itself, in the ways that it binds together communities, galvanises political commitments, and so on.”[i]  Communities have been galvanized around perceptions of imminent risk to basic human security posed by the disregard, the "letting die" decisional calculus.
Let us hope that community awareness and activism can combat the dissolution of societal logics that value collective human welfare.

Murray, Stuart Thanatopolitics

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