Several years ago, and a few years before 9/11, the Tsunami, Katrina and the terrifying leap in petrol prices that followed them, Jacques Attali1 pondered the phenomenal financial triumph of the film Titanic which left behind all previous box-office records of apparently similar disaster movies. He offered then the following explanation — strikingly credible when it was written down, but a few years later sounding not short of prophetic: «Titanic is us, our triumphalist, self-congratulating, blind, hypocritical society, merciless towards its poor — a society in which everything is predicted except the means of predicting …[W] e all guess that there is an iceberg waiting for us, hidden somewhere in the misty future, which we will hit and then go down to the sounds of music …»
It has been mostly in Europe and its former dominions, overseas offshoots, branches and sedimentations (as well as in few other «developed countries» with a European connection of a Wahlverwandschaft — rather than Verwandschaft — kind) that the addiction to fear and the securitarian obsession have made the most spectacular career in recent years.
In itself, it appears to be a mystery. After all, as Robert Castel rightly points out in his incisive analysis of the current insecurity-fed anxieties,2 «we — at least in the developed countries — live undoubtedly in some of the most secure (súres) societies that ever existed.» And yet, contrary to the «objective evidence», it is the cosseted and pampered «we» of all people who feel more threatened, insecure and frightened, more inclined to panic, and more passionate about everything related to security and safety than people of most other societies on record. This is the puzzle that needs a resolution if the twists and turns of the popular sensitivity to danger and the shifting targets on which that sensitivity tends to be focused are to be comprehended.
With the benefit of hindsight, we may see the 1970s as a decade of not just another transformation, but (borrowing Karl Polanyi’s famous conception) of the «Great Transformation Mark Two» and a veritable watershed in modern history. That decade separated the «glorious 30 years» of the post-war reconstruction, social compact and the «developmental optimism» that accompanied the dismantling of the colonial system and the mushrooming of «new nations», from the brave new world of the erased or punctured boundaries, information deluge, rampant globalisation, consumer feast in the affluent North and the «deepening sense of desperation and exclusion in a large part of the rest of the world» arising from «the spectacle of wealth on the one hand and destitution on the other.»3
We have not fathomed as yet the full depth of that great transformation. Not for the lack of trying: given the brevity of time distance, all findings and judgments must be (and better be) seen as partial, and all syntheses as provisional. With the passage of time, successive layers of emergent realities come into view — each next one calling for a more radical revision of received beliefs and a further widening of a new, laboriously woven conceptual net. We have not yet reached «the bottom of things»; even if we did, though, we wouldn’t be able to decide for sure that we have.
One fateful aspect of the said transformation was however revealed relatively early and has been thoroughly documented since: namely, the passage from a «social state» model of inclusive community to the «criminal justice», «penal», or «crime control », exclusionary state. David Garland,4 for instance, observes that «there has been a marked shift of emphasis from the welfare to the penal modality …The penal mode, as well as becoming more prominent, has become more punitive, more expressive, more security-minded …The welfare mode, as well as becoming more muted, has become more conditional, more offence-centred, more risk conscious … The offenders … are now less likely to be represented in official discourse as socially deprived citizens in need of support. They are depicted instead as culpable, undeserving and somewhat dangerous individuals.»
Loïc Wacquant5 notes the «redefinition of the state’s mission»; the state «retreats from the economic arena, asserts the necessity to reduce its social role to widening and strengthening its penal intervention».
Ulf Hedetoft dwells on another aspect of the 20- to 30-year-old transformation, or perhaps describes the same aspect from a different angle.6 He notes that «borders are being redrawn between Us and Them more rigidly» than ever before. Following Andreas and Snyder,7 Hedetoft suggests that in addition to becoming more selective, bloated, diversified in their assumed forms and diffuse, borders turned into what could be called «asymmetric membranes» that allow exit but «protect against unwanted entrance of units from the other side.» «Stepping up control measures at the external borders, but just as importantly a tighter visa-issuing regime in countries of emigration. In “the South” … [Borders] have diversified, as have border controls, taking place not just at the conventional places … but in airports, at embassies and consulates, at asylum centres, and in virtual space in the form of stepped-up collaboration between police and immigration authorities in different countries.»
As if in order to supply immediate evidence for Hedetoft’s thesis, the British prime minister Tony Blair received Ruud Lubbers, the UN high commissioner for refugees, to suggest the establishment of «safe havens» for prospective asylum seekers near their homes, that is at a safe distance from Britain and other well-off countries that until recently served as their natural destinations. In typical Newspeak of the current Great Transformation, the then home secretary David Blunkett described the topic of Blair/Lubbers’ conversation as «new challenges for developed countries posed by those who used the asylum system as a route to the West» (using that Newspeak, one could complain, for instance, of the challenge for the settled people by shipwrecked sailors who used the rescue system as a route to dry land).
The most recent round of curbs imposed in Britain on immigration and asylum policies vividly illustrates that shift. As the new home secretary Charles Clarke spelled it out, «migration for work, migration for study is a good thing ... What is wrong is when that system isn’t properly policed, and people are coming here who are a burden on the society, and it is that which we intend to drive out ... So we will establish a system ... which looks at the skills, talents, abilities of people seeking to come and work in this country, and ensures that when they come here they have a job and can contribute to the economy of the country.» All the other claimants — prospective immigrants with not enough «brownie points» for professional education and experience in the kind of services in which the country suffers a deficit of homegrown professionals — are to be denied social rights and in due course deported altogether: just how one would, if only one could, proceed with the native «redundant» population, recently re-named, symptomatically, «the underclass». The prime minister, as the press reported, hailed the plans, arguing that they would address the public’s justifiable concerns about abuse of the immigration and asylum systems. They would, said Tony Blair, ensure that it is «only people you really need to come in and work that get work permits.»
As always in Tony Blair’s public statements, the words must have been rehearsed in focus groups, carefully chosen and weighed, with the view on striking a responsive chord in the mood of the electors. Ostensibly, they have been aimed only at the aliens knocking on Britain’s door, but they would not amount to a convincing case if they did not chime in with the way «the population at large», that is a decisive majority of the voters, think about the underdogs, or (what after years of cuts in social provisions amounts to much the same) about the «welfare recipients» (that is, people who do not just possess, but also use their «social rights»). Criteria for «external exclusion» (to deploy Christian Joppke’s distinction)8 are after all brewed and tested at home; they are but applications of the principles arising from domestic practices of «internal exclusion».
Social rights are now to be offered selectively. They ought to be given if and only if the givers decide that giving them would accord with their interests; not on the strength of humanity of the recipients. And the two sets of people— those who pass the second test and those who would pass the first — do not overlap. The sovereign right to exception is nowadays revived — and reasserted on the planetary scale. Unlike many other (most?) sovereign rights of the nation-state …
The new «fullness of the planet» —the global reach of the financial, commodity and labour markets, of the capital-managed modernization and so also of the modern mode of life — has two direct consequences.
The first consequence is the blockage of outlets that in the past allowed regular and timely draining and cleansing of the relatively few modernized and modernizing enclaves of the planet of their surplus and superfluous, supernumerary and redundant population (that is, the excess of the rejects of the labour market and the refuse of business-run economy over the capacity of recycling outfits) which the modern way of life could not but have produced on an ever rising scale. Once the modern mode of life stopped being a privilege of a limited number of selected lands, the «empty» or «no man’s» territories (more precisely, the territories that, thanks to the global power-differential, could be seen and treated by the already «modern» sector of the planet as void and/or masterless), which served for several centuries as primary outlets for human waste disposal, have vanished. As for the «redundant humans» currently turned out on a massive scale in the lands that have only recently jumped under or fallen under the juggernaut of modernity, such outlets were never available — and in the so-called «pre-modern» societies, innocent of the problem of waste, human or inhuman alike, need for them did not arise. In the effect of that double process — of blocking the old and non-provision of new external outlets for the «human waste» disposal — the modern and modernizing societies alike turn the sharp edge of exclusionary practices increasingly against themselves. Nothing else could be expected, as the «difference» encountered/produced in the course of the global expansion of the modern way of life but which could be treated for several centuries as a vexing, but temporary and curable irritant, and handled more or less effectively with the help of the «anthropophagic» or «anthropoemic» strategies (Claude Levi-Strauss’ terms), came home to roost; home — where the customary choices are not realistic and the tools to make them real are conspicuously missing.
As Clifford Geertz observed in his trenchant critique of the alternative of «application of force to secure conformity to the values of those who possess the force» and «a vacuous tolerance that, engaging nothing, changes nothing»9 such choice is no longer available (if it ever really was) when the power to enforce conformity no longer exists, while «tolerance» ceased to be a lofty gesture with which the high and mighty might placate their own embarrassment and the offence taken by those who felt patronized and insulted. In our times, Geertz points out, «moral issues stemming from cultural diversity … that used to arise … mainly between societies… now increasingly arise within them. Social and cultural boundaries coincide less and less closely ... The day when the American city was the main model of cultural fragmentation and ethnic tumbling is quite gone; the Paris of nos ancêtres les gaulois is getting to be about as polyglot, and as polychrome, as Manhattan, and Paris may yet have a North African mayor (or so, anyway, many of the gaulois fear) before New York has a Hispanic one. [T]he world is coming at each of its local points to look more like a Kuwaiti bazaar than an English gentlemen’s club … Les milieux are all mixtes. They don’t make Umwelte like they used to do.»
If the excess of population (that is the part that cannot be re-assimilated into the «normal» life patterns and reprocessed back into the category of «useful» members of society) can be routinely removed and transported beyond the boundaries of the enclosure within which an economic balance and social equilibrium are sought, people who escaped transportation and remain inside the enclosure, even if momentarily redundant, are earmarked for recycling. They are «out», but only for the time being, their «staying out» is an abnormality that commands cure and musters a cure; they clearly need to be helped «back in» as soon as possible. They are the «reserve army of labour» and must be put and held in such a shape as would allow them to return to active service at the first opportunity.
All that changes however once the conduits for draining off the surplus of humans are blocked. As the «redundant» population is staying inside and rubbing shoulders with the «useful» and «legitimate» rest, the lines separating «normality» from «abnormality» and a transient incapacitation from the peremptory and final consignment to waste, tend to be no longer reassuringly unambiguous. Rather than remaining, as it used to be perceived, a problem of a separate part of the population —assignment to «waste» becomes everybody‛s potential prospect; one of the two poles between which everybody‛s present and future social standing oscillates. The habitual tools and stratagems of intervention worked out when dealing with admittedly temporary abnormality, do not suffice to deal with the «problem of waste» in this new form; nor are they particularly adequate to the task. The new policies soon to be invented in response to the new avatar of the old problem will most probably start from subsuming the policies once designed to deal with the problem in its old shape. Just to be on the safe side, the emergency measures aimed at the «waste inside» will be preferred, and sooner or later given priority, over all other modes of intervention in the issues of redundancy as such, temporary or not.
Awesome as they may be in their own right, all such and similar setbacks and reverses of fortune tend to be magnified and made yet more acute in such parts of the globe as have been only recently confronted with the previously unknown phenomenon of «surplus population» and so with the problem of its disposal. «Recently» means in this case belatedly —at a time when the planet is already full, when no «empty lands» are left to serve as waste-disposal sites and when all asymmetry of boundaries is turned firmly against the newcomers to the family of moderns. Surrounding lands would not invite other people‛s surpluses nor would be, like they themselves were in the past, forced to accept and accommodate them. In opposition to the waste-producers of yore, who used to seek and find global solutions to problems they locally produced, the «latecomers to modernity» are obliged to seek local solutions to globally caused problems— and with, at best, meagre, but, in actual fact, non-existent, chance of success.
Whether voluntary or enforced, their surrender to global pressures and laying their own territory open to the unfettered circulation of capital and commodities made unviable most of the family and communal businesses which once were able and willing to absorb, employ and support all newly born humans and at most times assured their survival. Only now, in the 21st century, the newcomers to the family of moderns experience that «separation of business from households» with all the attendant social upheavals and human misery, which the pioneers of modernity went through hundreds of years ago, though in a form somewhat mitigated by the availability of global solutions to their problems: the abundance of «empty» and «no-man‛s lands» that could easily be used to deposit the surplus population no more absorbed by the economy emancipated from familial and communal constraints. Such luxury is, emphatically, not available to the latecomers.
Tribal wars and massacres, proliferation of «guerrilla armies» or bandit gangs and drug traffickers masquerading as freedom fighters, busy decimating each other‛s ranks yet absorbing and, in due course, annihilating the «population surplus» (mostly the youth — unemployable at home and prospect-less) in the process, is one of such twisted «local solutions to global problems» to which the latecomers to modernity are forced to resort or rather find themselves resorting. Hundreds of thousands of people are chased away from their homes, murdered or forced to run for their lives outside the borders of their country. Perhaps the sole thriving industry in the lands of the latecomers (deviously and often deceitfully dubbed «developing countries») is the mass production of refugees.
The ever more prolific products of that industry the British prime minister proposed to sweep under other people‛s carpets by unloading them «near their home countries», in permanently temporary camps (deviously and often deceitfully dubbed «safe havens») in order to keep their local problems local and so to nip in the bud all attempts of the latecomers to follow the example of the pioneers of modernity by seeking global (and the sole effective) solutions for locally manufactured problems — at the expense of exacerbating the already unmanageable «surplus-population» problems of the immediate neighbours who willy-nilly run a similar industry.
Let us note as well that, while refusing to share in the labours of «waste disposal» and «waste recycling», the affluent West does a lot to invigorate waste production; not just indirectly, by dismantling, one by one, all waste-preventing contraptions, but directly, through waging globalizing wars and de-stabilizing ever larger number of societies. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, NATO had been asked to mobilize its armies to help Turkey to seal its border with Iraq in view of the impending assault on the country. Many a statesperson of the NATO countries objected, raising many imaginative reservations — but none mentioned publicly that the danger against which Turkey needed (or so it was thought) to be protected was the influx of the freshly-made-homeless Iraqi refugees, not the attack by the battered and pulverized Iraqi soldiers.10
However earnest, the efforts to stem the tide of «economic migration» are not and probably cannot be made one hundred percent successful. Protracted misery makes millions desperate, and in the era of a global frontier-land and globalized crime, one can hardly expect a shortage of «businesses» eager to make a buck or a few billion bucks through capitalizing on that desperation. Hence the second formidable consequence of the current great transformation: millions of migrants wandering the routes once trodden by the «surplus population» discharged by the greenhouses of modernity — only in a reverse direction, and this time unassisted (at any rate thus far) by the armies of conquistadores, tradesmen and missionaries. The full dimensions of that consequence and its repercussions are yet to unravel and to be grasped in all their many ramifications.
One of the most sinister effects of globalisation is the deregulation of wars. Most present-day, war-like actions, and the most cruel and gory among them, are conducted by non-state entities, subject to no state or quasi-state laws and no international conventions. They are simultaneously the outcomes, and auxiliary but powerful causes of the continuous erosion of state sovereignty and continuing frontierland conditions in the «inter-state» global space. Inter-tribal antagonisms break into the open thanks to the weakening hands of the state; in the case of the «new states», of hands never given time to grow strong. Once let loose, the hostilities render the inchoate or entrenched state-legislated laws unenforceable and practically null and void.
Population as a whole finds itself in the lawless space; the part of the population that decides to flee the battlefield and manages to escape finds itself in another type of lawlessness, that of the global frontier-land. In addition, once outside the borders of the native country, escapees are deprived of the backing of a recognized state authority that could take them under its protection, vindicate their rights and intercede on their behalf with foreign powers. Refugees are stateless, but stateless in a new sense: their statelessness is raised to an entirely new level by the non-existence of a state authority to which their statehood could be referred. They are, as Michel Agier put it in his most insightful study of the refugees in the era of globalization,11 hors du nomos -outside law; not this or that law of this or that country, but law as such. They are outcasts and outlaws of a novel kind, the products of globalisation and the fullest epitome and incarnation of its frontier-land spirit. To quote Agier again — they have been cast in a condition of «liminal drift», of which they don‛t know nor can know whether it is transitory or permanent. Even if stationary for a time, they are on a journey never completed since its destination (arrival or return) remains forever unclear whereas a place they could call «final» remains forever inaccessible. They are never to be free from the gnawing sense of transience, in-definiteness and provisional nature of any settlement.
The plight of Palestinian refugees, many of whom never experienced life outside the camps improvised and patched hastily together more than 50 years ago, has been well documented. As globalisation takes its toll, though, new camps (less notorious and largely unnoticed or forgotten) mushroom around the spots of conflagration prefiguring the model Tony Blair wished the UN High Commission for Refugees to render obligatory. For instance, the three camps of Dabaab, populated by as many people as the rest of the Kenyan Garissa province in which they have been located from 1991 to 1992, show no signs of imminent closure, but more than a decade later still fail to appear on the map of the country — evidently conceived of as temporary features despite their obvious permanence. The same applies to the camps of Ilfo (opened in September 1991), Dagahaley (opened in March 1992), or Hagadera (opened in June 1992).12
Once a refugee, forever a refugee. Roads back to the lost (or rather no longer existing) home paradise have been all but cut, and all exits from the purgatory of the camp lead to hell… The prospectless succession of empty days inside the perimeter of the camp may be tough to endure, but God forbid that the appointed or voluntary plenipotentiaries of humanity, whose job is to keep the refugees inside the camp but away from perdition, pull the plug… And yet they do, time and again, whenever powers-that-be decide that the exiles are no more refugees since «it is safe to return» to their homeland that long ceased to be their homeland and has nothing that could be or is wished to be offered.
There are, for instance, about 900,000 refugees from the inter-tribal massacres and the battlefields of un-civil wars waged for decades in Ethiopia and Eritrea, scattered over the northern regions of Sudan (including ill-famed Darfur), itself an impoverished, war-devastated country, and mixed with other refugees who recall with horror the killing fields of southern Sudan.13 By the decision of the UN agency endorsed by the non-governmental charities, they are no longer refugees and so are no longer entitled to humanitarian aid. They refused to go, however; apparently, they do not believe that there is «a home» to which they could «return», since the homes they remember have been either gutted or stolen. The new task of their humanitarian wardens was therefore to make them go … In Kassala camp, cutting off water supplies was followed by the forceful removal of inmates beyond the perimeter of the camp which, just like their homes in Ethiopia, had been razed to the ground to bar all thought of return. The same lot was visited on the inmates of Um Gulsam Laffa and Newshagarab camps. According to the local villagers‛ testimony, about 8,000 inmates perished when camp hospitals were closed, water wells dismantled and food delivery abandoned. It is difficult to verify their fate; though what one can be certain of is that hundreds of thousands have disappeared from the refugee registers and statistics even if they did not manage to escape from the nowhereland of non-humanity.
On the way to the camps, their future inmates are stripped of every single element of their identities except one: that of stateless, placeless, functionless and «paper-less» refugees. Inside the camp fences, they are pulped into a faceless mass, having been denied access to the elementary amenities from which identities are drawn and the usual yarns of which identities are woven. Becoming «a refugee» means to lose the media on which social existence rests, that is a set of ordinary of things and persons that carry meanings — land, house, village, city, parents, possessions, jobs and other daily landmarks. These creatures in drift and waiting have nothing but their «naked life», whose continuation depends on humanitarian assistance.14
As to the latter point, apprehensions abound. Is not the figure of a humanitarian assistant, whether hired or voluntary, itself an important link in the chain of exclusion? There are doubts whether the caring agencies doing their best to move people away from danger, do not inadvertently assist the «ethnic cleansers». Agier muses whether the humanitarian worker is not an «agent of exclusion at a lesser cost», and (more importantly still) a device designed to unload and dissipate the anxiety of the rest of the world, to absolve the guilty and placate the scruples, as well as defuse the sense of urgency and the fear of contingency. Putting the refugees in the hands of «humanitarian workers» (and closing eyes to the armed guards in the background) seems to be the ideal way to reconcile the irreconcilable: the overwhelming wish to dispose of the noxious human waste while gratifying one‛s own poignant desire of moral righteousness.
It may be that the guilty conscience caused by the plight of the damned part of humanity can be healed. To achieve that effect, it will suffice to allow the process of biosegregation, of conjuring up and fixing identities stained by wars, violence, exodus, diseases, misery and inequality — a process already in full swing — to take its course. The carriers of stigma would be definitely kept at a distance for reason of their lesser humanity, that is their physical as well as moral dehumanisation.15
Refugees are the very embodiment of «human waste», with no useful function to play in the land of their arrival and temporary stay, and neither an intention nor a realistic prospect to be assimilated and incorporated into the new social body. From their present place, the dumping site, there is no return and no forward road (unless it is a road toward yet more distant places, like in the case of the Afghan refugees escorted by Australian warships to an island far away from all beaten tracks). A distance large enough to prevent the poisonous effluvia of social decomposition from reaching places inhabited by the natives is the main criterion by which the location of their permanently-temporary camps are selected. Out of that place, refugees are an obstacle and a trouble; inside that place, they are forgotten. In keeping them there and barring all spill-out, in making the separation final and irreversible, «compassion of some and hatred of the others» cooperate in producing the same effect of taking distance and holding at a distance.16
Nothing is left but the walls, the barbed wire, the controlled gates, the armed guards. Between themselves, they define the refugees‛ identity — or rather put paid to their right to selfdefinition. All waste, including the wasted humans, tends to be piled up indiscriminately on the same refuse tip. The act of assigning to waste puts an end to differences, individualities, idiosyncrasies. Waste has no need of fine distinctions and subtle nuances, unless it is earmarked for recycling; but the refugees‛ prospects of being recycled into legitimate and acknowledged members of human society are, to say the least, dim and infinitely remote. All measures have been taken to assure the permanence of their exclusion. People without qualities have been deposited in a territory without denomination, whereas all the roads leading back to meaningful places and to the spots where socially legible meanings can be and are daily forged have been blocked for good.
David Blunkett, the British home secretary, not to be outdone by the popular tabloids, proposed once to blackmail the refugees‛ countries of origin into taking back the «disqualified asylum seekers by cutting financial aid to the countries that don‛t».17 This was not his only new idea; Blunkett wished to «force the pace of change», complaining that due to the lack of verve among other European leaders «progress has still been too slow». He wanted the creation of an all-European «rapid joint operations force» and «a taskforce of national experts» to «draw up common risk assessments identifying weak points in the EU … external borders, addressing the issue of seaborne illegal migration and tackling human trafficking.»18
With the active cooperation of governments and other public figures who find in the aiding and abetting of popular prejudices the sole available substitute for confronting the genuine sources of existential uncertainty haunting their electors, the «asylum seekers» (like those who by the consensual opinion of politicians and tabloid editors gathered force in innumerable replicas of Sangatte preparing for an invasion of the British Isles, or those who were about to settle, unless stopped, in the madeto- order camps a few miles from the electors‛ homes) replace now the evil-eyed witches, ghosts of unrepentant evil-doers and other malignant spooks and hobgoblins of urban legends. The new rapidly swelling urban folklore with the victims of planetary out-casting in the role of principal ill-intentioned actors gathers in and recycles the transmitted lore of hair-raising horror stories for which the insecurities of city life generated in the past, as they do now, constant and avid demand. As Martin Bright suggested,19 the infamous anti-immigrants riots in the British town of Wrexham «were not an isolated event. Attacks on asylum seekers are becoming the norm in the UK.» In Plymouth, for instance, such attacks became routine. «Sonam, a 23-year-old farmer from Nepal, arrived in Plymouth eight months ago. His cautious smile reveals two missing teeth he lost, not in the violent conflicts in his own country, but coming back from the corner shop in Davenport.»
Hostility of the natives, combined with the refusal of state benefits to the newcomers who fail to claim asylum upon arrival and with trimming down the «humanitarian protection» as well as with the tough deportation policy aimed at «unwanted » refugees (10,740 deported in 2002, 1,300 detained pending their deportation in June 2003) has resulted in a sharp drop of asylum applications — from 8,900 in October 2002 to 3,600 in June 2003. The data have been triumphantly interpreted by David Blunkett as the evidence of laudable success of the government‛s policy and a clinching proof that «tough» measures, including the closing of the Sangatte Red Cross refugee camp, «were working». Indeed they were «working» — though the Refugee Council pointed out that «simply preventing people from entering the UK» can hardly be advertised as a «success» — considering that «some of these people may be in desperate need of our help.»20
Such migrants who despite the most ingenious of stratagems could not be expeditiously deported, the government proposed to confine to camps built in possibly remote and isolated parts of the country (a step that transforms into a self-fulfilling prophecy the belief that the migrants do not want to or cannot be assimilated in the economic life of the country) — and so, as Gary Younge observed,21 «effectively erecting Bantustans around the British countryside, corralling refugees in ways that will leave them isolated and vulnerable.» (Asylum seekers, as Younge points out, «are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.»)
Of those on the UNHCR register, 83.2% are placed in camps in Africa, and 95.9% in Asia. In Europe, so far only 14.3% of the refugees have been locked in the camps. But there is little hope so far that the difference in favour of Europe will be upheld for long.
Using the terms derived from Loïc Wacquant‛s analyses,22 we may say that the refugee camps mix, blend and gel together the distinctive features of both «community ghetto» of the Ford-Keynes era and the «hyperghetto» of our post-Fordist and post- Keynesian times. If «community ghettos» were relatively self-sustained and self-reproducing social quasi-totalities complete with miniature replicas of the wider society‛s stratification, functional divisions and the institutions required to serve the complete inventory of communal life‛s needs — «hyperghettos» — are anything but self-sustained communities. They are truncated, artificial and blatantly incomplete groupings of people, aggregates but not communities; topographical condensations unable to survive on their own. Once the elites have managed to run out of the ghetto and stopped feeding the network of economic ventures that sustained (however precariously) the livelihood of the ghetto population — the agencies of the state-managed care and control (the two functions, as a rule, closely intertwined) moved in. «Hyperghetto» is suspended on strings that originate beyond its boundaries and most certainly beyond its control.
Michel Agier23 found in the refugee camps the features of «community ghettos» intertwined in a tight network of mutual dependency with the attributes of the «hyperghetto». We may surmise that such a combination tightens yet stronger the bond tying the inmates to the camp. The pull holding together the denizens of the «community ghetto» and the push condensing the outcasts into a «hyperghetto», each a powerful force in its own right, superimpose and mutually reinforce. In combination with the seething and festering hostility of the outside environment, they jointly generate an overwhelming, difficult-to-resist centripetal force, making all but redundant the techniques of enclosure and isolation developed by the managers and supervisors of Auschwitzes or Gulags. More than any other contrived social micro-worlds, refugee camps come close to Ervin Goffman‛s ideal type of the «total institution»: they offer, by commission or by omission, a «total life» from which there is no escape while effectively barring access to any other form of life.
The permanence of transitoriness; the durability of the transient; the objective determination un-reflected in the subjective consequentiality of actions; the perpetually under-defined social role, or more correctly an insertion in the life-flow without an anchor of a social role; all such and related features of liquid-modern life have been exposed and documented in Agier‛s findings. In the refugee camp‛s territorially fixed extraterritoriality they appear in a form much more extreme, undiluted and so better visible, than they do in any other segment of contemporary society.
One wonders to what extent the refugee camps are laboratories where (unwittingly perhaps, but no less forcefully for that reason) the new liquid-modern «permanently transient » pattern of life is put to the test and rehearsed.
Refugees and immigrants, coming from the «far away» yet bidding to settle in the neighbourhood, are uniquely suitable for the role of the effigy in which the spectre of «global forces» can be burnt, and feared and resented for doing their job without consulting those whom its outcome is bound to affect. After all, asylum seekers and «economic migrants» are collective replicas (An alter ego? Fellow travellers? Mirror-images? Caricatures?) of the new power elite of the globalized world, widely (and with reason) suspected to be the true villain of the piece. Like that elite, they are untied from any place, shifty, unpredictable. Like that elite, they epitomize the unfathomable «space of flows» where the roots of the present-day precariousness of human condition are sunk. Seeking other, more adequate outlets in vain, fears and anxieties rub off the close-to-hand targets and re-emerge as popular resentment and fear of the «aliens nearby». Uncertainty cannot be defused nor dispersed in a direct confrontation with the other embodiment of extraterritoriality — the global elite drifting beyond the reach of human control. That elite is much too powerful to be confronted point blank and challenged, even if its exact location were known (which it is not). Refugees, on the other hand, are a clearly visible, and sitting, target for unloading the surplus anguish.
Let me add that, when faced with an influx of «outsiders», the waste of the planetwide triumph of modernity but also of the new planet-wide disorder in the making, «the established» (to deploy memorable Norbert Elias‛ terms) have every reason to feel threatened. In addition to representing the «great unknown», which all «strangers in our midst» embody, these particular outsiders — the refugees — bring home distant noises of war and the stench of gutted homes and scorched villages that cannot but remind the settled how easily the cocoon of their safe and familiar (safe because familiar) routine may be pierced or crushed and how deceptive the security of their settlement must be. Refugee, as Bertold Brecht pointed out in Die Landschaft des Exils, is «ein Bote des Unglücks» («a harbinger of ill tidings»).
For the time being, Europe and its overseas outposts (like the United States or Australia) seem to look for an answer to their unfamiliar problems in similarly unfamiliar policies hardly ever practised in European history; inward rather than outwardlooking, centripetal rather than centrifugal, implosive rather than explosive — like retrenchment, falling back upon themselves, building fences topped with a network of X-ray machines and close circuit television cameras, putting more officials inside the immigration booths and more border guards outside, tightening the nets of immigration and naturalization law, keeping refugees in closely guarded and isolated camps and stopping the others before they have a chance of claiming refugee or asylumseeker status — in short sealing their domain against the crowds knocking on their doors while doing precious little, if anything at all, to relieve such pressure by removing its causes.
Naomi Klein noted an ever stronger and more widespread tendency (pioneered by the EU but quickly followed by the US) toward a «multi-tiered regional stronghold ».24
A fortress continent is a bloc of nations that joins forces to extract favourable trade terms from other countries, while patrolling their shared external borders to keep people from those countries out. But if a continent is serious about being a fortress, it also has to invite one or two poor countries within it walls, because somebody has to do the dirty work and heavy lifting.
NAFTA, the USA internal market extended to incorporate Canada and Mexico («after oil», Naomi Klein points out, «immigrant labour is the fuel driving the southwest economy» of the US), was supplemented in July 2001 by «Plan Sur», according to which the Mexican government took responsibility for the massive policing of its southern boundary and effectively stopped the tide of impoverished human waste flowing to the US from Latin American countries. Since then, hundreds of thousand of migrants have been stopped, incarcerated and deported by Mexican police before reaching US borders. As to the Fortress Europe, Naomi Klein suggests, «Poland, Bulgaria. Hungary and the Czech Republic are the postmodern serfs, providing the low-wage factories where clothes, electronics and cars are produced for 20 to 25% of the cost to make them in Western Europe.» Inside fortress continents, «a new social hierarchy» has been put in place in an attempt to square the circle: to find a balance between blatantly contradictory, yet equally vital postulates: of airtight borders and of an easy access to cheap, undemanding, docile labour ready to accept and do whatever is on offer; or of free trade and pandering to the anti-immigrant sentiments, that straw to which the governments in charge of the sinking sovereignty of nationstates are clutching. «How do you stay open to business and closed to people?», asks Klein. And answers: «Easy. First you expand the perimeter. Then you lock down.»
The funds which the European Union transferred most willingly and with no haggling to the East-and Central-European countries applying for accession were those earmarked for the fortification of their Eastern borders…
Perhaps the two trends signalled here are but two related manifestations of the same enhanced, well-nigh obsessive concerns with security; perhaps they both can be explained by the shift in the balance between the perpetually present inclusivist and exclusionary tendencies; or perhaps they are mutually unrelated phenomena, each subject to its own logic. It can be shown, however, that whatever their immediate causes, both trends derive from the same root: the global spread of a modern way of life, which by now has reached the furthest limits of the planet, cancelling the division between «centre» and «periphery» or more correctly between the «modern» (or «developed») and «pre-modern» (or «underdeveloped» or «backward») forms of life — a division that accompanied the greater part of modern history, in which the modern overhaul of received ways was confined to a relatively narrow, though constantly expanding sector of the globe. As long as it remained relatively narrow, that sector could use the resulting power differential as a safety valve protecting it from overheating, and the rest of the planet as a dumping site for the toxic waste of its own continuous modernization.
The planet, however, is now full; that means, among other things, that the typically modern processes like order-building and economic progress take place everywhere and so everywhere «human waste» is produced and turned out in ever rising volume — this time, however, in the absence of «natural» refuse tips suitable for its storage and potential recycling. The process first anticipated by Rosa Luxemburg a century ago (though described by her in mainly economic, rather than explicitly social terms), has reached its ultimate limit.
Perhaps the tendencies signalled here are but two intimately related manifestations of the politicians pandering to (or beefing up) ever more obsessive popular concerns with security; perhaps they both stem from the shift of balance between the perpetually present inclusivist and exclusionary systemic inclinations; or perhaps they are mutually unrelated phenomena, each subject to its own logic. It can be shown however that, whatever their immediate causes, both trends derive from the same root: the global spread of a modern way of life, which by now has reached the furthest limits of the planet, cancelling the division between «centre» and «periphery» or more correctly «modern» (or «developed») and «pre-modern» (or «underdeveloped» or «backward») forms of life — a division that accompanied early stages of modernity, the phase in which modern transformations had been confined to a relatively narrow, though constantly expanding part of the globe, which for that reason could use the resulting power differential as a safety valve protecting it from overheating, and the rest of the planet as a dumping site for the toxic waste of its own continuous modernization. The planet is now full; that means, among other things, that the typically modern processes like orderbuilding and economic progress take place in every nook and cranny of the globe and so everywhere redundant humans earmarked as «human waste» are turned out in ever rising volumes, yet in the absence of «natural» refuse tips suitable for its storage and potential recycling. The process, first spotted by Rosa Luxemburg a century ago (though described by her in mainly economic, rather than explicitly social terms), has reached its ultimate limit.
Rosa Luxemburg25 said that although capitalism «needs non-capitalist social organizations as the setting for its development… it proceeds by assimilating the very condition which alone can ensure its own existence.»
Non-capitalist organizations provide a fertile soil for capitalism: capital feeds on the ruins of such organizations, and although this non-capitalist milieu is indispensable for accumulation, the latter nevertheless proceeds at the cost of this medium by eating it up.
A snake feeding on its own tail… Or we could say, referring to a practice invented later, when the distance between the tail and the stomach has become already dangerously small and the efforts to put off the critical point have grown truly desperate: the «asset stripping» that needs ever new assets to be stripped yet sooner or later must exhaust their supply or reduce it below the level required for its own sustenance. At the far (but not that far) end of that practice, loom wars with devastation of a country and creating thereby a new «virgin land» open for grazing. On 8th August 2004 (when nosy journalists were safely away exploring beaches or mountain paths), an office of coordinator for post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization was created by the White House. It has produced to-date, «post-conflict», five- to seven-year-long plans for 25 countries, most of which are still unaware that they have been placed on the list of future «rogue states» and is in the course of signing «pre-completed» contracts for the jobs with the largest, and closest to the White House, corporations («reconstruction», comments Naomi Klein,26 has been «revealed as tremendously lucrative» — though not for the natives, who may only expect new waves of «privatization and land grabs» likely to be, as before, «locked in before the local people know what hit them»).
Rosa Luxemburg envisaged a capitalism dying from the lack of food — collapsing through eating up the last meadow of «otherness» on which it grazed. A hundred years later it seems that the most awesome problem confronting global capitalism is social, not economic. A most fatal, possibly the most fatal result of modernity‛s global triumph is the acute crisis of (human) waste-disposal industry, the volume of human waste outgrowing the extant managerial capacity, and a plausible prospect of modernity (now planetary) choking on its own waste products which it can neither re-assimilate nor dispose of.
There are numerous signals of the fast rising toxicity of accumulating waste. The morbid consequences of industrial and household waste for the ecological balance and carrying capacity of the planet has been, for some time now, a matter of intense concern (though not much action followed the debates). We have not, however, arrived anywhere near seeing through and grasping in full the far reaching effects of the growing masses of «wasted humans» on the political balance and social equilibrium of human planetary coexistence.
Loïc Wacquant notes a paradox:27 The same people who fought yesterday with visible success for «less state» to set free the capital and its uses of labour force, arduously demand today «more state» to contain and hide the deleterious social consequences of deregulation of employment conditions and deterioration of social protection for the inferior regions of social space.
Of course, this is everything but a paradox. The apparent change of heart shares in the strict logic of the passage from recycling to disposal of human waste. The passage was radical enough to need a keen and energetic assistance of state power, and the state obliged.
First, by dismantling the collective insurance against the individual (assumed temporary) fallout of the productive treadmill — the kind of insurance that made obvious sense to both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum, as long as the fall-out (and thus the assignment to productive waste) was deemed to be temporary and was seen as a preliminary and brief stage of recycling («rehabilitating», returning to active service in industrial force) —, but which quickly lost its «beyond left and right» support once the prospects of recycling started to look remote and uncertain and the facilities of regular recycling looked increasingly incapable of accommodating all who have fallen or never risen in the first place.
Second, by designing and building new secure waste-disposal sites — certain to command ever growing popular support as the hopes of successful recycling fade, the traditional method of human-waste disposal (through exportation of surplus labour) ceases to be available, and the suspicion of universal disposability spreads wider and deepens as the horrors of «wasted humans» come home to roost.
The immediate proximity of large and growing agglomerations of «wasted humans», likely to become durable or permanent, calls for stricter segregationist policies and extraordinary security measures, lest the «health of society», the «normal functioning» of the social system, be endangered. Parsonian notorious «tension- management» and «pattern-maintenance» tasks which each system needs to perform in order to survive, presently boil down, almost entirely, to the tight separation of «human waste» from the rest of society, its exemption from the legal framework in which the life pursuits of that rest of society are conducted, and its «neutralization». «Human waste» can no longer be removed to distant waste-disposal sites and placed firmly out of bounds of «normal life». It therefore needs to be sealed off in tightly closed containers.
The penal system supplies such containers. In David Garland‛s succinct and precise summary of the current transformation, prisons which in the era of recycling prisons «functioned as the deep end of the correctional sector» are today «conceived much more explicitly as a mechanism of exclusion and control». The walls, not the things that happen inside them, «are now seen as the institution‛s most important and valuable element.»28 The earlier intention to «rehabilitate», to «reform», to «reeducate» and to return the stray sheep to the flock is now paid, at best, an occasional lip service — and when it does, it is countered with an angry baying-for-blood chorus with the leading tabloids in the role of conductors and leading politicians singing the solo parts. Explicitly, the main and perhaps the sole purpose of prisons is human-waste disposal — and a final, definitive disposal. Once rejected, forever rejected. For a former prisoner on parole or on probation, return to society is almost impossible — return to prison almost certain. Instead of easing and guiding the road «back to the community» for prisoners who have served their term of punishment, the function of probation officers is keeping the community safe from the perpetual danger temporarily let loose. «The interests of convicted offenders, inso far as they are considered at all, are viewed as fundamentally opposed to those of the public.»29
Indeed, offenders tend to be viewed as «intrinsically evil and wicked», they «are not like us» — all similarities are purely accidental… There can be no mutual intelligibility, no bridge of understanding, no real communication between «us» and «them»… Whether the offender‛s character is the result of bad genes or of being reared in an anti-social culture, the outcome is the same — a person who is beyond the pale, beyond reform, outside the civil community… Those who do not, or cannot fit in, must be excommunicated and forcibly expelled.30
In a nutshell: prisons, like so many other social institutions, have moved from the phase of recycling to that of waste disposal. They have been re-allocated to the frontline of the battle to resolve the crisis in which the waste-disposal industry has fallen as a result of the global triumph of modernity and the new fullness of the planet. All waste is potentially poisonous — or at least, being defined as waste, contaminating and disturbing the proper order of things. If recycling is no longer profitable and its chances (at any rate in the present-day setting) are no longer realistic, the right way to deal with waste is to speed up its degrading and decomposition while isolating it as securely as possible from ordinary human habitat.
Work, social welfare, and family support used to be the means whereby ex-prisoners were reintegrated into mainstream society. With the decline of these resources, imprisonment has become a longer-term assignment from which individuals have little prospect of returning to an unsupervised freedom…
The prison is used today as a kind of reservation, a quarantine zone in which purportedly dangerous individuals are segregated in the name of public safety.31
Building more prisons, making more offences punishable by imprisonment, the policy of «zero tolerance» and harsher and longer sentences are all elements of rebuilding the failing and faltering waste-disposal industry on a renewed foundation more in keeping with the new condition of the globalized world.
A recent survey of Britain‛s most widely read dailies, published by The Guardian (24th January 2003) was entitled: «Press whips up asylum hysteria. Editors dub Britain a gangsters‛ haven as they make direct links between refugees and terrorists». While the British Prime Minister uses every public appearance to warn the listeners that an imminent terrorist assault on Britain is certain, though its place and time are uncertainty incarnate, and his home secretary compares British society to a «coiled spring» because of its seething and festering asylum-seeker problems, tabloids are quick to link and blend the two warnings into an asylum/terrorist hysteria.
Were there a competition for the best political formula for the new current edition of the officially endorsed fear, the first prize would probably go to The Sun, which offered a most perfect combination — one that in addition to being eminently easy to ingest left nothing to conjecture or the imagination: «We have an open invitation to terrorists to live off our benefits». Indeed a masterstroke. The novel fear of terrorists merged and cemented with the already well-entrenched hatred of «spongers», which is in constant need of replenishment. The crusade against «welfare scroungers» has acquired a new indomitable weapon.
Whereas the war against economic uncertainty has been taken off the agenda by the state that fulminates against ignominious «welfare dependency» and exhorts individual subjects to individually seek and find individual cures for individually suffered existential insecurity, the new brand of officially inspired and whippedup collective fear has been enlisted in the service of the political formula. Concerns with personal safety have been thereby shifted away from the slushy ground of market- promoted précarité (onto which the state governments have neither the capacity nor the will to move), onto a safer and much more tele-photogenic area (where the awesome might and steely resolution of the rulers can be, for a time at least, effectively displayed).
Other tabloids promptly fell in line with The Sun, hotly contesting priority in unmasking the sinister connection of asylum seekers with terrorist conspiracy (The Daily Express reproduced 20 of its old front pages with the triumphant conclusion «We told you so!»), composing ever new variants of the choral motif and vying for most striking notes and highest pitches (The Daily Mail suggested that «had Hitler come to Britain in 1944 he would have been entitled to asylum»). As Steven Morris, the author of the quoted survey, noted — The News of the World «placed a column from David Blunkett warning about the myths surrounding refugees and terrorism opposite a report about the asylum seekers who live near the spot where D.C. Oake died».32 Indeed, no «t» has been left uncrossed, no «i» left without a dot. As Fazil Kawani, the communications director of the Refugee Council condensed the overall message: «These reports give the impression that all asylum seekers are terrorists and criminals.» In a bizarre mixture of clichés drawn from mutually incompatible value universes, The Sun (in its editorial of 27th January 2003) expounds: «This sea of humanity is polluted with terrorism and disease and threatens our way of life … Blair must say no more now, revoke the human rights law now and lock up all the illegals now until they can be checked.»
In his thorough study of the genealogy of modern fears33 Philippe Robert found out that starting from the early years of the 20th century (that is, by more than a sheer coincidence, from the years when the prospect of «the social state»34 first appeared on the political horizon), fears of crime began to subside and went on diminishing until the mid-1970s, when instead a «personal safety» panic, focused on the crime apparently brewing in the banlieues where the immigrant settlers concentrated, erupted. What did erupt however was, in Robert‛s view, but a «delay action bomb»: security concerns had been already put firmly in place by a «double whammy» of a slow yet steady phasing out of collective insurance which the «social state» used to offer and of the rapid «deregulation» of labour markets.
In Hans-Jörg Albrecht‛s view,35 it is only the link between the immigration and the public image of the causes of violence and fear for security that is novel; otherwise nothing much has changed since the beginning of the modern state, when basic folkloristic images of devils and demons that used to «soak up» diffuse security fears «have been transformed into danger and risks.»
Demonisation has been replaced by the concept and the strategy of «dangerisation». Political governance, therefore, has become partially dependent on the deviant other and the mobilisation of feelings of safety. Political power, and its establishment, as well as its preservation, are today dependent on carefully selected campaign issues, among which safety (and feelings of unsafety) is paramount.
Immigrants, let us note, fit better for the purpose than any other «issue». There is a sort of «elective affinity» between the immigrants — that human waste of distant parts of the globe unloaded onto «our own backyard» — and the least bearable of our own, home-grown fears. In the times when all places and positions are shaky and no longer reliable, the immigrants are bad news. They exude the faint odour of the waste-disposal tip which in various disguises haunts the nights of the victims and prospective casualties of rising vulnerability. For their detractors and haters they embody — visibly, tangibly, in flesh — the inarticulate, yet hurtful presentiment of their own disposability. One is tempted to say that were there no immigrants knocking on the doors, they would have to be invented… Indeed, they provide the governments with an ideal «deviant other», a most welcome target for the «carefully selected ... campaign issues».
Stripped of a large part of their sovereign prerogatives and capacities by the globalisation forces which they are impotent to resist, let alone to control, governments have no choice but to «carefully select» targets which they can (conceivably …) control and against which they can aim their rhetorical salvos and flex their muscles while being heard and seen doing both by their grateful subjects. As Adam Crawford explains, «community safety», insofar as it is concerned with «quality of life» issues, is saturated with concerns about safety and «ontological insecurity». It evokes a «solution» to crime, incivility and disorder, thus enabling the (local) state to reassert some form of sovereignty. Symbolically, it reaffirms control of a given territory, which is visible and tangible … The current governmental preoccupation with petty crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour reflects a source of «anxiety» about which something can be done in an otherwise uncertain world.36
And the (national, recast in the age of globalisation into local) governments of our days are «casting about for spheres of activity in which they can assert their sovereignty»37 and demonstrate in public, convincingly, that they have done so.
Associations may be murderous, particularly if hammered home with dull monotony and deafening loudness. They may also, for the same reasons, become self-evident — no longer calling for proof. Heeding Hume‛s warning, we may insist that post hoc (or apud hoc, for that matter) non est propter hoc 38 — but then Hume suggested that assuming the opposite is a most common fallacy and one most difficult to eradicate. Association of terrorists with the asylum seekers and the «economic migrants» could be over-general, unwarranted or even fanciful, but it had done its job: the figure of the «asylum seeker», once prompting human compassion and spurring the urge to help, has been sallied and lastingly defiled, and the very idea of «asylum», once a matter of civil and civilized pride, has been reclassified as a dreadful concoction of shameful naivety and criminal irresponsibility.
As for the «economic migrants» who have retreated from the headlines to give room for the sinister, poison-brewing and disease-carrying «asylum-seekers» — the fact that they embody, as Jelle van Buuren pointed out,39 everything that the dominant neo-liberal creed holds sacred and promotes as the precepts that should rule the conduct of everyone («the desire of progress and prosperity, individual responsibility, readiness to take risk etc.») did not help their image either. Already accused for years of «sponging» and sticking to their unprepossessing customs and creeds, they would not now, however hard they try, shake off the wholesale charge of terrorist conspiracy stuck to «people like them» — strangers who have come to stay.
The «social state», that crowning of the long history of European democracy and until recently its dominant form, is today in retreat. Social state based its legitimacy and rested its demand for the loyalty and obedience of its citizens on the promise to defend them and insure against redundancy, exclusion and rejection — against the consignment to «human waste» caused by individual inadequacies or misfortunes, and so to insert certainty and security into the lives in which chaos and contingency would otherwise rule. If hapless individuals stumble and fall, there will be someone around ready to help them onto their feet again.
Erratic conditions of employment buffeted by the market competition were then, as they continue to be, the major source of uncertainty about the future and insecurity of social standing and self-esteem that haunted the citizens. It was primarily against that uncertainty that the social state undertook to protect its subjects — by making jobs more secure and the future more assured. For many reasons (among which globalisation of markets and the global redistribution of the waste its prompts — the twin processes which the sole effective political agencies, nation states, can neither arrest nor even seriously influence — loom larger than most), this is however no more the case. Contemporary state cannot deliver on the social state‛s promise and its politicians no more repeat that promise. Instead, their policies portend yet more precarious, risk-ridden life, calling for a lot of brinkmanship while making consistent lifeprojects all but impossible. Politicians these days call their electors to be «more flexible» (that is, to brace themselves for yet more insecurity to come).
Under the circumstances, finding a new «legitimation formula» on which the self-assertion of state authority and the demand of discipline may rest is a most urgent imperative for every government presiding over the dismantling and demise of the social state. A «collateral casualty» of economic progress now in the hands of freefloating global economic forces is not a plight which state government can credibly vouch to stave off. But beefing up fears about personal safety threatened by similarly free-floating terrorist conspirators and then to promise more security guards, a denser net of X-ray machines and close-circuit television, more frequent checks and more pre-empting strikes and precautionary arrests to protect that safety, look like an expedient alternative.
Unlike the all-too-tangible and daily experienced insecurity manufactured by the markets that do not need any help from political powers except being left alone, the mentality of a «besieged fortress» and of individual bodies and private possessions under threat must be actively cultivated. Threats must be painted in the darkest of colours, so that not the advent of the foreboded apocalypse, but, on the contrary, the non-materialization of threats could be presented to the frightened public as extraordinary, a stroke of luck which they owe to the exceptional skills, vigilance, care and good will of state organs. What must be done is done, and to a spectacular effect.
Almost daily, and at least once a week, the CIA and FBI warn the Americans of the imminent attempts on their safety, putting them in a state of constant security alert and casting individual safety firmly into the focus of diffuse tensions — whereas the American president keeps reminding his electors that «it would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known». That strategy is eagerly, even if so far with a somewhat lesser ardour (lesser because of the lack of funds rather than will) copied by other governments overseeing the burial of the social state. A new popular demand for a strong state power capable of resuscitating the fading hopes of state-endorsed social protection against confinement to waste, is built on the foundation of personal vulnerability and personal safety, instead of social precariousness and social protection.
As in so many other cases, also in the development of that new legitimation formula, America plays a pioneering, pattern-setting role. There is little wonder that many a government facing the same task looks toward America with sympathetic anticipation finding in its policies a useful example to follow. Underneath the ostensible and openly aired differences of opinion on the ways to proceed there seems to be a genuine «union of minds» between the governments, not at all reducible to the momentary coincidence of transient interests; an unwritten, tacit agreement of state-power holders on a common legitimation policy. That this may be the case, shows the zeal with which the British prime minister, watched with rising interest by other European prime ministers, embraces and imports American novelties related to the production of a «state of emergency» — like locking the «aliens» (euphemistically called «asylum seekers») in camps, giving the «security considerations» unquestioned priority over human rights, writing off or suspending many a human right that has stayed in force since the time of the Magna Charta and Habeas Corpus, the «zero tolerance» policy towards the alleged «budding criminals», and regularly repeated warnings that somewhere, sometime, some terrorists will most surely strike.
We are all now potential candidates to the role of «collateral casualties» of a war we did not declare and to which we did not give our consent. When measured against that threat, hammered home as much more immediate and dramatic, the orthodox fears of social redundancy are hoped to be dwarfed and possibly even put to sleep. The news of educational or health-service troubles, of the relentless dilapidation of infrastructure and transport facilities, of a further curtailment of social provisions and a further growth of youth unemployment, are thereby relegated to the back pages of the dailies and chased away from public attention and (for a time at least) from the political agenda.
«Collateral damage» was a term specifically invented to denote human waste specific to the new planetary frontier-land conditions created by the impetuous and unrestrained globalization drive and thus far effectively resisting all attempts at taming and regulation. Currently, the fears related to that variety of modern waste-production seem to overshadow the more traditional waste-related apprehensions and anxieties. Little wonder that they are most eagerly employed in the construction (and so also in the attempts of deconstruction) of new planetwide power hierarchies.
Once visited upon the human world, fear acquires its own momentum and developmental logic and needs little attention and hardly any additional investment to grow and spread — unstoppably. In David L. Altheide‛s words,40 «it is not fear of danger that is most critical, but rather what this fear can expand into, what it can become … Social life changes when people live behind walls, hire guards, drive armoured vehicles …, carry mace and handguns, and take martial arts classes. The problem is that these activities reaffirm and help produce a sense of disorder that our actions perpetuate.»
Fear prompts us to take defensive actions, and taking defensive actions gives immediacy and tangibility to fear. It is our responses that recast the sombre premonitions as daily reality, making the word flesh. Fear has settled now inside, saturating our daily routines; it hardly needs any further stimuli from outside, since the actions it prompts day in, day out supply all the motivation and all the energy it needs to reproduce. Among the mechanisms vying to approximate the dream-model of perpetuum mobile, the self-reproduction of the tangle of fear and fear-inspired actions comes closest to claiming the pride of place.
It looks as if our fears have become self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing; as if they have acquired momentum of their own — and can go on growing while drawing exclusively on their own resources. That ostensible self-sufficiency is of course but an illusion, just as it was in the case of numerous other mechanisms claiming the miracle of self-propelling and selfnourishing. Obviously, the cycle of fear and fear-dictated actions would not roll so smoothly and go on gathering speed, were it not continuing to draw its energy from existential tremors.
The presence of such tremors is not exactly news; existential quakes accompanied humans through the whole of their history, as none of the social settings inside which human lifepursuits were to be conducted ever offered a foolproof insurance against the blows of «fate» (so called in order to set the blows of such a kind apart from adversities humans could avert, and to convey not so much the peculiar nature of the blows as such, as the recognition of human inability to predict them, let alone to prevent or tame them). By definition, «fate» strikes without warning and is indifferent to what its victims would do or would abstain from doing in order to escape its blows. «Fate» stands for human ignorance and helplessness, and owes its awesome frightening power to those very weaknesses of its victims. And, as the editors of The Hedgehog Review have written in their introduction to the special issue dedi cated to fear,41 «in the absence of existential comfort» people tend to settle «for safety, or the pretence of safety.»
The ground on which our life prospects are presumed to rest is admittedly shaky — as are our jobs and the companies that offer them, our partners and networks of friends, the standing we enjoy in wider society and the self-esteem and self-confidence that come with it. «Progress», once the most extreme manifestation of radical optimism and a promise of universally shared and lasting happiness, has moved all the way to the opposite, dystopian and fatalistic pole of anticipations: it now stands for the threat of a relentless and inescapable change that instead of auguring peace and respite portends but continuous crisis and strain and forbids a moment of rest. Progress has turned into a sort of endless and uninterrupted game of musical chairs, in which the moment of inattention results in irreversible defeat and irrevocable exclusion. Instead of great expectations and sweet dreams, «progress» evokes insomnia full of nightmares of «being left behind», of missing the train, or falling out of a window of the fastaccelerating vehicle.
Unable to slow down the mind-boggling pace of change, let alone to predict and control its direction, we focus on things we can, or believe we can, or are assured that we can, influence: we try to calculate, and minimize the risks — those uncounted and uncountable dangers which the opaque world and its uncertain future are suspected to hold in store — that we personally, or those nearest and dearest to us at the moment, fall victim to. We are engrossed in spying out «the seven signs of cancer» or «the five symptoms of depression», or in exorcising the spectre of high blood pressure and high cholesterol level, stress or obesity. In other words, we seek substitute targets on which to unload the surplus existential fear that has barred its natural outlets, and find such makeshift targets in taking elaborate precautions against inhaling someone else‛s cigarette smoke, ingesting fatty or food or «bad» bacteria (though avidly swilling the liquids promising to contain the «good» ones), exposure to sun, or unprotected sex. Those of us who can afford it, fortify ourselves against all visible and invisible, present or anticipated, known or yet unfamiliar, diffuse but ubiquitous dangers through locking ourselves behind walls, stuffing the approaches to our living quarters with TV cameras, hiring armed guards, driving armoured vehicles (like notorious SUVs), wearing armoured clothing (like «big-soled shoes») or taking martial arts classes. «The problem», to quote David L. Altheide once more, «is that these activities reaffirm and help produce a sense of disorder that our actions precipitate.» Each extra lock on the entry door in response to the successive rumours of foreign-looking criminals in cloaks full of daggers and each next revision of the diet in response to a successive «food panic», make the world look more treacherous and fearsome, and prompt more defensive actions. This will, alas, add more vigour to the selfpropagating capacity of fear.
A lot of commercial capital can be garnered from insecurity and fear; and it is. «Advertisers», comments Stephen Graham,42 «have been deliberately exploiting widespread fears of catastrophic terrorism, to further increase sales of highly profitable SUVs.» The gas-guzzling military monsters grossly misnamed as «sport utility vehicles» that already account for 45% of all car sales in the US, are being enrolled into urban daily life as «defensive capsules». SUV is a signifier of safety that, like the gated communities into which they so often drive, is portrayed in advertisements as being immune to the risky and unpredictable urban life outside … Such vehicles seem to assuage the fear that the urban middle classes feel when moving — or queuing in traffic — in their «homeland» city.
Eduardo Mendietta43 is yet more pungent in his analysis of the message the sudden American love for SUVs (or «Hummers») conveys: «Before the Hummer had been popularized, we already had the image of a vehicle that would be uniquely armoured and outfitted to engage the jungles of concrete and urban mayhem — this was the armoured car of the battlefield. The Hummer … simply capitalizes on an already produced need: the need to be prepared to move through the burning city, the collapsing city of postsixties urban unrest. [The SUV is] assuming and insinuating, not too covertly, that the city is a battlefield and jungle to be both conquered and escaped.»
The SUV is just one example of the commercial uses to which fears, as long as they remain «decoupled» from their sources, set afloat, diffuse, underdefined and unfocused, may be put; many people will pay an arm and leg for the comfort of knowing what they ought to be afraid of and the satisfaction of having done all that could be done to act on that knowledge. Like the liquid cash ready for any kind of investment, capital of fear can be turned to any kind of profit — commercial or political. And it is.
Personal safety has become a major, perhaps even the major selling point in all sorts of marketing strategies. «Law and order», increasingly reduced to the promise of personal safety, has become a major, perhaps the major selling point in political manifestoes and electoral campaigns. Whereas the display of threats to personal safety has become a major, perhaps the major asset in the mass-media ratings war, adding yet more to the success of both the marketing and political uses of fear capital. As Ray Surette puts it,44 the world as seen on TV resembles «citizen-sheep» being protected from «wolves-criminals» by «sheep dogs-police».
The most seminal distinction of the present-day avatars of the fears otherwise familiar to all previously lived varieties of human existence, is perhaps the decoupling of the fear-inspired actions from the existential tremors that generate the fear which inspired them. In other words: the displacement of fear — from the cracks and fissures in the human condition where «fate» is hatched and incubated, to the areas of life largely unconnected to the genuine source of anxiety. No amount of effort invested in those areas is likely to neutralize or block the source, and so proves impotent to placate the anxiety, however earnest and ingenious that effort might be. It is for this reason that the vicious circle of fear and fear-inspired actions rolls on, losing none of its impetus - yet coming no nearer its ostensible objective.
Let me make explicit what has been implied before: the circle in question has been displaced from the area of security (that is, of self-confidence and self-assurance, or their absence) to that of safety (that is, of being sheltered from, or exposed to, threats to one’s own person and its extensions).
The first area, progressively stripped of the institutional state-supported protections, has been exposed to the vagaries of the market and turned into a playground of the global forces beyond the reach of political control and so also beyond the ability of the affected to respond adequately, let alone effectively resist. The communally endorsed insurance policies against individual misfortunes, which in the course of the last century came to be known collectively under the name of social (welfare) state, are now being wholly or partly withdrawn and cut below the level needed to validate and sustain the confidence of security. The extant institutions embodying the original promise are no longer hoped, let alone trusted, to survive further, and imminent, rounds of reductions. With the state-built and state-serviced defences against existential tremors progressively dismantled, and the arrangements for collective selfdefence, like trade unions and other instruments for collective bargaining, increasingly disempowered by the pressures of market competition that erodes the solidarity of the weak — it is now left to the individuals to seek, find and practise individual solutions to socially produced troubles, and to do all that through individual, solitary actions while being equipped with tools and resources blatantly inadequate to the task.
The messages coming from the sites of political power exhort more flexibility as the sole cure for the already unbearable insecurity — and so paint the prospects of yet more uncertainty, yet more privatization of troubles, yet more loneliness and impotence in individual struggles for security — and indeed more uncertainty. They promise no hope of collective foundations of existential security, and so offer no incitement to solidary actions; instead, they encourage the listeners to focus on their individual survival in a fragmented and atomised, and so increasingly uncertain and unpredictable world.
Retreat of the state from the function on which, for a better part of the past century, its claims to legitimation were founded throws the issue of legitimation again wide open. New citizenship consensus («constitutional patriotism», to deploy Jürgen Habermas’ term) cannot be presently built, as it used to be built not so long before, on the assurances of constitutional protection against the vagaries of the market that play havoc with social standings and sap the rights to social esteem and personal dignity. Integrity of the political body in its currently most common form of a nationstate is in trouble, unless an alternative legitimation is sought.
In the light of what has been discussed before, it is not at all surprising that the alternative legitimation of state authority and another formula for the benefits of dutiful citizenship is currently sought in the state promise to protect its citizens against dangers to personal safety. The spectre of social degradation against which the social state swore to insure its citizens is being replaced by the threats of a paedophile let loose, of a serial killer, obtrusive beggar, mugger, stalker, poisoner, terrorist — or better still by all such threats rolled into one in the figure of an illegal immigrant — against whom the security state promises to defend its subjects.
In October 2004, BBC2 broadcast a documentary series under the title The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear.45 Adam Curtis, the writer and the producer of the series and one of the most acclaimed makers of serious television pro grammes in Britain, pointed out that while global terrorism is undoubtedly an alltoo- real danger continually reproduced inside the «no-man’s land» of global wilderness, a good deal, if not most of, its officially estimated threat «is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media». It won’t be too difficult to trace the reasons for such a rapid and spectacular career of that illusion: «In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power.»
Numerous signals of the imminent shift in the state-power legitimation to that of the Â«security stateÂ» (or, more correctly, the Â«personal safetyÂ» state) could be spotted well before 11th September — even if people needed, as it appears, the shock of the falling Manhattan towers reproduced in slow motion for months on end on millions of TV screens, for the news to sink in and be absorbed — and for the politicians to reharness popular existential anxieties to the new political formula. The presidential battle between Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin took a form of a public auction, with two political leaders vying to outstrip each other in the promises of yet more flexing of muscles in the war against crime, leading to more severe legislation and imaginative punishments for juvenile or grown-up delinquents and the naughty, alien and alienating «strangers in our midst». When George W. Bush used the toughness in the «war on terror» in his fight to repulse the challenge of his contender, and when the British leader of the opposition attempted to unsettle the «New Labour» government by focusing the diffuse existential anxieties arising from deregulated labour markets on the threats presented by Gypsy travellers and homeless immigrants, the seeds of fear they sowed fell onto an already well prepared soil.
It was not a mere coincidence that (according to Hugues Lagrange)46 the most spectacular «safety panics» and the loudest alarms about rising criminality, coupled with ostentatiously tough actions by governments, and manifested among others in the rapidly rising prison population («substitution of a prison state for the social state»), have occurred since the middle sixties in the countries with the least developed social services (like Spain, Portugal or Greece), and in the countries where social provisions were being drastically reduced (like the United States and Great Britain). No research conducted up to the year 2000 showed a significant correlation between severity of penal policy and the volume of criminal offences, though most studies did discover a strong negative correlation between «the carceral push» and «the proportion of market-independent social provisions» on one side and «the percentage of GDP diverted to such provisions» on another. All in all, the new focus on crime and on dangers threatening the bodily safety of individuals and their property has been shown beyond reasonable doubt to be intimately related to «the mood of precariousness », and to follow closely the pace of economic deregulation and of the related substitution of individual selfresponsibility for social solidarity.
Society is no longer protected by the state, or at least it is unlikely to trust the protection on offer; it is now exposed to the rapacity of forces it does not control and no longer hopes or intends to recapture and subdue. It is for that reason in the first place that state governments struggling day in, day out to weather the current storms, stumble from one ad hoc crisismanagement campaign and one set of emergency measures to another, dreaming of nothing more than staying in power after the next election but otherwise devoid of far-sighted programmes or ambitions, not to mention visions of a radical resolution to the nation’s recurrent problems. «Open» and increasingly defenceless on both sides, the nation-state loses its might, now evaporating into the global space, and its political acumen and dexterity, now increasingly relegated to the sphere of individual «life politics» and «subsidiarised» to individual men and women. Whatever of might and politics remains in the charge of state and its organs, dwindles gradually to a volume sufficient perhaps to furnish a largesize police precinct. The reduced state can hardly manage to be anything else as a security state.
Having leaked from the society forcefully laid open by the pressure of globalizing forces, power and politics drift ever further in opposite directions. The problem, and the awesome task that will in all probability confront the current century as its paramount challenge, is the bringing of power and politics together again. The reunion of the separated partners inside the domicile of nation-state is perhaps the least promising of the possible responses to that challenge.
On a negatively globalized planet, all the most fundamental problems — the metaproblems conditioning the tackling of all other problems — are global, and being global they admit no local solutions; there are not, and cannot be, local solutions to globally originated and globally invigorated problems. The reunion of power and politics may be achieved, if at all, at the planetary level. As Benjamin R. Barber poignantly put it,47 «no American child may feel safe in its bed if in Karachi or Baghdad children won’t feel safe in theirs. Europeans won’t boast long of their freedoms if people in other parts of the world remain deprived and humiliated.» No longer democracy and freedom may be assured in one country or even in a group of countries; their defence in a world saturated with injustice and inhabited by billions of humans denied human dignity would inevitably corrupt the very values they are meant to defend. The future of democracy and freedom may be made secure on a planetary scale, or not at all.
Fear is arguably the most sinister of demons nesting in the open societies of our time. But it is the insecurity of the present and uncertainty about the future that hatch and breed the most awesome and least bearable of our fears. This insecurity and uncertainty, in their turn, are born of the sense of impotence: we seem to be no longer in control, whether singly, severally or collectively — and to make things even worse, we lack the tools that could allow politics to be lifted to the level where power has already settled, and so enable us to recover and repossess control over the forces that shape our shared condition while setting the range of our possibilities and the limits of our freedom to choose: control which has now slipped or has been torn out of our hands. The demon of fear won’t be exorcised until we find (or more precisely construct) such tools.
1 See Attali, Jacques. «Le Titanic, le mondial et nous». In: Le Monde, 3 July 1998.
2 Castel, Robert, L‛insécurité sociale: Qu‛est-ce qu‛être protégé?. Paris: Seuil, 2003, p. 5.
3 Hall, Stewart. «Out of a Clear Blue Sky». In: Soundings, winter 2001/2, p. 9-15.
4 Garland, David. The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago ; Oxford: The University of Chicago Press ; Oxford University Press, 2001, p.175.
5 Wacquant, Loïc. «Comment la tolérance zéro vint à l‛Europe». In: Manière de Voir, March-April 2001, p. 38-46.
6 Hedetoft, Ulf. The Global Turn: National Encounters with the World. Aalborg: Aalborg University Press, 2003, p.151-2.
7 See Andreas, Peter ; Snyder, Timothy. The Wall around the West. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, (MD) 2000.
8 See Joppke, Christian. «Exclusion in the Liberal State: The Case of Immigration and Citizenship Policy». In: The European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 8, no. 1, 2005, p. 43-62.
9 See Geertz, Clifford. «The Use of Diversity», In: Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 68-88.
10 At the time of the Gulf War, «when Saddam turned his helicopter gunships on the Iraqi Kurds, they tried to flee north over the mountains into Turkey — but the Turks refused to let them in. They physically whipped them back at the border crossings. I heard one Turkish officer say, “We hate these people. They’re fucking pigs”. So for weeks the Kurds were stuck in the mountains at ten below zero, often with only the clothes they were wearing when they fled. The children suffered the most: dysentery, typhoid, malnutrition ... » See O‛Kane, Maggie. «The most pitiful sights I have ever seen». In: The Guardian, 14 February 2003, p. 6-11.
11 See Agier, Michel. Aux bords du monde, les réfugiés. Paris: Flammarion, 2002, p. 55-56.
12 Ibid., p. 86.
13 See Le Houerou, Fabienne Rose Émilie. «Camps de la soif au Soudan». In: Le Monde diplomatique, May 2003, p. 28.
14 Ibid., p. 94.
15 Ibid., p. 117.
16 Ibid., p. 120.
17 See Travis, Alan. «UK plan for asylum crackdown». In: The Guardian, 13 June 2002.
18 The new term designed to replace the once noble concept of «passage».
19 Bright, Marti., «Refugees find no welcome in city of hate». In: The Guardian, 29 June 2003, p.14.
20 See Travis, Alan. «Tough asylum policy “hits genuine refugees”». In: The Guardian, 29 August 2003, p. 11.
21 Younge, Gary, «Villagers and the damned». In: The Guardian, 24 June 2002.
22 Cf. Wacquant, Loïc. «The New Urban Color Line: The State and Fate of the Ghetto in Postfordist America», In: Calhoun, Craig J. (ed.). Social Theory and the Politics of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994; also «Elias in the Dark Ghetto», In: Amsterdams Sociologisch Tidjschrift, December 1997.
23 See Agier, Michel. «Entre guerre et ville». In: Ethnography, forthcoming.
24 Klein, Naomi, «Fortress Continents». In: The Guardian, 16 January 2003, p. 23. The article was first published in The Nation.
25 Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital, trans. Agnes Schwarzschild, London: Routledge, 1961, p. 387, 416.
26 See «Allure of the blank slate», In: The Guardian, 18 April 2005.
27 Wacquant, Loïc, op. cit, 2001, p. 40.
28 Garland, David, op. cit, pp. 177-178.
29 Ibid., p. 180.
30 Ibid., pp. 184-185.
31 Ibid., p. 178.
32 Shot in the course of arresting immigrant suspects.
33 Robert, Philippe ; Mucchielli, Laurent. Crime et insécurité: l‛état de savoirs. Paris: La Découverte, 2002. See also «Une généalogie de l‛insécurité contemporaine». interview with Philippe Robert. Esprit, December 2002, p. 35-58.
34 See Castel, Robert. Métamorphoses de la question sociale; une chronique du salariat. Paris: Fayard, 1995.
35 Albrecht, Hans-Jörg. «Immigration, crime and safety», In: Crawford, Adam (ed.). Crime and Insecurity: The Governance of Safety in Europe. Devon: Willan Publishing, 2002, p. 159-185.
36 Crawford, Adam. «The governance of crime and insecurity in an anxious age: the trans-European and the local». in ibid., pp. 27-51.
37 Zedner, Leon. «The Pursuit of security». In: Hope, Tim ; Sparks, Richard (eds.). Crime, Risk and Insecurity. London: Routledge, 2000, p. 201.
38 Meaning, roughly, that if A comes before B (or coincides with B) this does not prove that A and B are related as cause and effect.
39 Van Buuren, Jelle. «Le droit d‛asile refoulé la frontière»,In: Manière de Voir, March-April 2002, p.76-80.
40 Altheide, David L., «Mass Media, Crime, and the Discourse of Fear», In: The Hedgehog Review, vol. 5, no. 3, Fall 2003, p. 9-25.
41 Ibid., vol. 5, no. 3, Fall 2003, pp. 5-7.
42 Graham, Stephen, «Postmortem City: Towards an urban geopolitics», In: City, vol. 8, no. 2, 2004, p. 165-196.
43 Mendietta, Eduardo. «The axle of evil: SUVing through the slums of globalizing neoliberalism». In: City, vol. 9, no. 2, 2005, p. 195-204.
44 Surette, Ray. Media, Crime and Criminal Justice. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole, 1992, p. 43.
45 Cf. Beckett, Andy. «The Making of the Terror Myth», In: The Guardian, G2, 15 October 2004, p. 2-3.
46 See Lagrange, Hugues. Demandes de sécurité. Paris: Seuil, 2003.
47 See Barber, Benjamin R. «In conversation with Artur Domoslawski». In: Gazeta Wyborcza, 24-26 December 2004, p. 19-20.