Is Income Inequality More Dangerous Than We Imagine?
This is the second installment in a series of three posts about one of Peter Frase’s Four Futures — exterminism. The purpose of this second post is to examine some examples that lead authors and scholars such as Frase to believe that exterminism is a possible outcome for our future. Again, please note that I do NOT believe that we will see this future or live in this type of world; in fact, I envision a much brighter, more prosperous future. I am writing this post for the sake of argument, and to ensure that we look at the future from all angles. To read more about exterminism, see last week’s post. And to read about all four of Frase’s futures, check out Anthony Signorelli’s critique of Four Futures.
A Bleak Theory
“So what happens if the masses are dangerous but are no longer a working class, and hence of no value to the rulers? Someone will eventually get the idea that it would be better to get rid of them” (Frase, 124).
This is a scenario that many postcapitalist authors and intellectuals either give a brief mention to or avoid entirely because it truly is an extremely sour subject. Frase mentions a few other authors and scholars who, in the past, have posited similar developments, such as Marxist historian E.P. Thompson and Wassily Leontief, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. But the most interesting theory comes from sociologist Bryan Turner, who wrote The Enclave Society: Towards a Sociology of Immobility in 2007.
Frase explains Turner’s argument by stating that today, we live in an “enclave society,” in which the masses — including you and me — are essentially corralled through and toward regulated spaces. According to Turner, the elite are trying to seclude themselves from the rest of society because they have the means to do so. For example, he mentions gated communities where those who can afford a home in this sectioned off piece of the city choose to do so as a means of keeping the “rabble” out. Private islands are a more extreme version of this example, but similar nonetheless. The elite, whether it’s a well-known human, or just someone who has a lot of money, truly fear that the masses are waiting for the perfect time to start an uprising; as if everyone in the country, or in the world meets once a month to plan this mutiny without the elite’s knowledge. Please.
Many of the residents living in gated communities also spend exorbitant amounts of money on the latest and greatest security systems, fully-equipped with facial recognition software, infrared sensors, and innocuous gasses ready to detonate in the faces of any unwarranted solicitors. I mean, my only defense against the “outside” is a key to the front door with the words “do not duplicate” engraved on it. But in their eyes, we want what they have, so they think we’re going to try stealing it from them. While most people probably do want what they have, only a very small, select few have the guts to try robbing a home — and those people, if desperate enough, would probably trying robbing my home, too, sans fancy security system.
The Disposition Matrix
On a global level, we see biological quarantines, strict immigration laws, and the construction of massive crude oil pipelines that either force natives off their land or expose them to horrendous elements, putting their health at risk. Our leaders encourage us to “fight against terrorism,” or rather, the terrorists themselves. By “following the leader,” this fear is instilled into citizens across the nation and the globe, causing us to question and report anyone who “looks suspicious.” But who actually determines what “suspicious” looks like?
Well, according to US counterterrorism policies, terrorists don’t have to look like anything; that’s why we now have a disposition matrix in place. Until recently, I was not aware that this matrix even existed. The Washington Post came out with a series of articles in 2012 that brought America’s attention to the Obama administration’s new way of mapping out targets and eliminating terrorists using drone attacks.
“Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war,” writes Washington Post journalist Greg Miller. “Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul.”
Post-9/11, a counterterrorism “kill list” isn’t unusual — in fact, it would be concerning if we didn’t have some way of finding and tracking highly suspected terrorists. What’s troubling about the disposition matrix, however, is that it’s a collection of all target lists from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Names are added to the ever-evolving “terrorist database,” and these additions are rarely objected by top officials at the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the State Department, the Pentagon, and the NCTC.
“The review process is compressed but not skipped when the CIA or JSOC has compelling intelligence and a narrow window in which to strike, officials said. The approach also applies to the development of criteria for ‘signature strikes,’ which allow the CIA and JSOC to hit targets based on patterns of activity — packing a vehicle with explosives, for example — even when the identities of those who would be killed is unclear.”
Even when the identities of those who would be killed is unclear.
A Real World “Sci-Fi” Scenario
Now, what I’m about to explain is definitely a long-shot, but I believe that in the not-so-distant future, this theoretical scenario could absolutely take place. In the Netflix series Black Mirror, there is an episode called “Men Against Fire,” in which the US military hunts for and exterminates mutated humanoids, which they (so cleverly) call “roaches.” Unbeknownst to them (well, they don’t remember agreeing to this arrangement, anyway), every US soldier was implanted with a neural transmitter (named MASS) that changes how they process their own senses, such as sound, smell, and sight.
Long story short, these implants skew the soldiers’ perception of humans who have “less than perfect” DNA. They perceive any human whose DNA contains potentially harmful genes (cancer, muscular dystrophy, autism, addiction, etc.) as grotesque, squalling creatures. Upon seeing these “creatures,” it’s the soldiers’ first instinct to kill them. The way these figures are depicted, it would be anyone’s first instinct to kill them. But that’s just it, they are human — they only appear to be monsters to the soldiers who have the MASS implants. Later in the episode, we find out that the soldiers are part of “a global eugenics program to ‘protect the bloodline’ of humanity…” (Wikipedia, “Men Against Fire”).
In a way, the disposition matrix is kind of like the MASS implant. The matrix makes killing a “suspect” as easy as pressing a button. Remorse, extreme guilt, depression — these are some of our human responses to harming another person. But when the thing we’re “meant” to harm appears to be extremely dangerous— a monster or a suspected terrorist (we’re led to believe that they are one in the same, anyway) — it’s easier for humans to defend themselves, as if that dangerous thing isn’t another human, but maybe an animal. Humans can disassociate themselves from the reality of what they’ve just done if the only action they truly did was press a button. They don’t have to try to imagine the impact that pressing that button actually had, especially if the button was pressed in Washington D.C., but the drone attacked in London, or Baghdad.
But many of the people whose names appear in the matrix aren’t actually a threat to national security; in many cases, their names are added based on a hunch. Remember the quote I referenced above: “The review process is compressed but not skipped when the CIA or JSOC has compelling intelligence and a narrow window in which to strike, officials said.” So, similar to the soldiers’ situation, innocent people (please note that people in the matrix could be innocent — I’m not saying that they are or are not, but because they were killed, we will never actually know), including bystanders, are killed by blind attackers, those who will feel no remorse because they aren’t actually present, in one way or another.
Is this what we’re coming to? Are gated communities, private islands, immigration laws, forced removals of populations of people from their land, disposition matrices, are these seemingly minuscule instances just theory? Are Peter Frase and Bryan Turner just looking too far into things; are they just exaggerating? Am I simply paranoid? Perhaps. Perhaps the idea that mass extermination could occur in the future is absolutely preposterous. But even if there is only a fraction of a possibility that this could happen, is our inaction today worth the cost of potentially exterminating a majority of the human race in the future?
It is not. And that is why I am writing this post today.
Check out next week’s post, the final installment in this series, to read a few more specific arguments as to what could potentially lead us toward and exterminist future.