Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Social Junk" vs. "Social Dynamite"

In his book, "Lockdown America," Christian Parenti analyzes a criminologist's breakdown of "Social Junk" vs. "Social Dynamite," and how it relates to social control.

"Years ago criminologist Steven Spritzer described the cast-off populations produced by capitalism as either 'social junk' or 'social dynamite.' A rather blunt and painful nomenclature to be sure, but Spritzer makes useful distinctions. These different segments of the 'surplus population' require uniquely tailored strategies of social control.

'Social junk' are those whose spirits and minds are shattered; they are the deinstitutionalized mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts, and cast-off impoverished seniors; the lonely, beaten drifters with no expectations of a future and little will to fight. This population- the collateral damage of unchecked market economics- is managed through spatial and social containment. They must be driven away from beaches, malls, and tony shopping areas of resort towns, financial districts, and the pleasure zones of theme park cities. They are, as Mathiesen put it, 'sand in the machine.' They pose an ontological threat to market social relations but they rarely coalesce into an organized political threat.

The other segment of the surplus population- 'social dynamite'- are those who pose an actual or potential political challenge. They are that population which threatens to explode: the impoverished low-wage working class and unemployed youth who have fallen bellow the statistical radar, but whose spirits are not broken and whose expectations for a decent life and social inclusion are dangerously alive and well. They are the class that suffers from 'relative deprivation.' Their poverty is made all the more unjust because it is experienced in contrast to the spectacle of opulence and the myths of social mobility and opportunity. This is the class from which the Black Panthers and the Young Lords arose in the sixties and from which sprang the gangs of the 1980s. In the 1930s this same class provided the brawn for the Communist Party-organized Unemployed Councils that forcibly sttoped evictions in New York's Lower East Side.

Thus social dynamite is a threat to the class and racial hierarchies upon which the private enterprise system depends. This group can not simply be swept aside. Controlling them requires both a defensive policy of containment and an aggressive policy of direct attack and active destabilization. They are contained and crushed, confined to the ghetto, demoralized and pilloried in warehouse public schools, demonized by a lurid media, sent to prison, and at times dispatched by lethal injection or police bullets. This is the class- or more accurately the caste, because they are increasingly people of color- which must be constantly undermined, divided, intimidated, attacked, discredited, and ultimately keep in check with what Fanon called the 'language of naked force.'" -From, "Lockdown America" By: Christian Parenti

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