From Repression To Barbarization.

Tipping from one to the other.

From the Editorial of the New York Times Board on the California prison system (August 10, 2013): “The state claims that releasing any more inmates would be a threat to public safety, as if the problem were too little prison space. In fact, California’s problem is not excessive crime, but excessive punishment.

I could not agree more.

Is California Texas in denial? Or is it already beyond? California is a place of immense wealth and power. Silicon Valley reigns with its dozens of thousands of software engineers, mostly exploiting fundamental research done elsewhere.

California is also already quite a bit as in the science-fiction movie Elysium. The science may be fiction in Elysium, but the society is not. We are getting there, real quick.

Elysium: Already Here?

Elysium: Already Here?

Elysium came out August 9, 2013, and I went to see it. That was the first time I saw a movie on opening day; I was appreciative, although far from amused: the movie criticized what is already going on, medical care for the rich. And what is going to be institutionalized even more with the much vaunted, and grossly misunderstood, Obamacare.

I personally observed two cases of great police violence just in the last 2 months, within a few hundred feet. Perhaps it was justified in the first case (I saw only the final action, with a man in tank top thrown on the ground; there he was on his belly, writhing, handcuffed in the back, police in science-fiction gear all around). But I saw the second, from start to finish, and I know the brutality was completely unjustified.

In the movie Elysium I saw two or three eerily similar scenes.

Police hyper violence is part of a general strategy to terrorize the general population. This is why mass protests in the USA have been rare and far between, ever since 1968. When they happen, protesters die more or less mysteriously, and that’s it. The general population calms down mighty quick and goes back to counting the scores of sport teams, and the lives of celebrities, as they are encouraged to do.

It’s even considered unbecoming a citizen in good standing to mention any systemic trouble in the society at large (one is immediately labelled a “conspiracy theorist”).

That a law such as 3 strikes, & you are out could be passed and hold sway for years tells a lot of the (lack of) civilization in California, just below the silicon. That’s the law that, upon conviction of a third offense, whatever it is, one gets put in prison, forever.   

A place like California should be cracked upon, and for once, the Supreme Court of the USA (SCOTUS) is doing its job: it ordered California to free more inmates from prison.

At its peak in 2006, California had 163,000 inmates in prison. That does not count the inmates in county jails, such as those who spend one year in Los Angeles County jail before seeing a judge. Nor does this number count the thousands of California prisoners sent to other states to serve their sentences (as a “state of emergency” had been proclaimed! Now rescinded…).

By comparison the French Republic, with twice the population of California, holds 63,000 prisoners, total.

At some point someone went to jail for life in California for stealing a pizza slice. In some European countries (among them France) one cannot send people to jail for stealing food.

That’s because legislators there read Victor Hugo “Les Miserables”. The hero in that novel is sent to hard labor for 20 years, because he stole a bread. In California one can be jailed forever for much less. Extends that deterioration in the human condition over another century, and we will be back to the Middle Ages.

Although they were used by the United Kingdom even before the American Revolution, private prisons reappeared in the modern era under Reagan’s influence.

Inconceivably for civilized Europe, the prison system of the USA has been turned into a for-profit business. Shares in prison companies are bought and sold on Wall Street. In the well-chosen year 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded a contract to take over a prison. A whole industry has been created. Already a judge has been sent to prison, for creating clients for his friends in the prison industry. Just three of the prison companies hold more than 200,000 prisoners. Some overseas. “Guanatanamo” is just the name of a syndrome (of loving to put people in prison).

More than 3% of the adult (more than 18) population of the USA is presently emprisoned or under judicial supervision. This is the highest rate in the world. It’s nearly twice Russia, nearly thrice Iran, more than five times China. So why is  president Obama criticizing human rights in, say, Russia? Because it’s anti-American not to do so?

The New York Times article was accompanied by all sorts of advertizing for the private industry that gravitates around incarcerating people (“Save 80% on prison calls!”). In many American cities a whole system of making money from money lent to get out of jail exists. (Ah, yes, because if one has enough money, one walks out of jail; probably what the esteemed American “philosopher”, Harvard’s Rawls, called “justice as fairness”.)

The USA had largely ended solitary confinement at the end of the 1800s, when the Supreme Court almost declared it unconstitutional in 1890. However, cruel, long-term solitary confinement has been reintroduced in recent decades.

Winston Churchill said that one can best judge a society by the state of its prisons. In solitary, a prisoner is kept in a small cell for 22-1/2 hours per day without human contact, fresh air, or sunlight. A toilet and sink are in the cell, and food is slipped in through a slot.

“Exercise” consists in wandering in shackles in another solitary cell for an hour.

Nationwide, 81,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement. In California 2% of the prison population is in solitary. In Pelican Bay prison alone, 500 prisoners have spent more than a decade in solitary. 78 have been there for more than 20 years. Long-term solitary confinement ought to drive prisoners insane, and it often does. 42% of California prison system suicides are by inmates in solitary. For those who survive, rehabilitation and successful reentry in society is close to impossible.

This is indeed “America’s Awful Terrible No Good Very Bad Prison System”.

Solitary may be appropriate for limited duration with truly dangerous prisoners. But evidence shows that it is far too often being used to punish, or minor infractions.

Thus we may be already in a worse situation than in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, indefinite detention was viewed as inhuman.

In an inhuman society where revolt is impossible, an answer is… drug addiction. That’s why drug addiction is so developed in California: methamphetamine labs are all over the huge tracks of California without police presence. Those in turn bring a lot of theft. Hence more savage repression. A vicious circle.

Freud famously said that:“Repression is civilization”. Right, in some ways. However, savage repression does not bring civilization, it brings barbarization.


Patrice Ayme

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18 Responses to “From Repression To Barbarization.”

  1. richard reinhofer Says:

    Beautifully written. Thank You


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      dear Richard: I am happy you like it. Thanks! I was going to tinker with it (there is always more to say!), but then, as i have now the proof one person is pleased with it, I am going to leave “beautiful” alone…


  2. Old Geezer Pilot Says:

    As a resident of California, I appreciate your timely wisdom regarding the prison industrial complex. It is one of our biggest industries, right after weed, which of course is not officially counted. “Three strikes you’re out” was popular because people understand the baseball metaphor. But there is no LOGIC to it other than for baseball. Lately, judges have been lowering third offenses to more minor ones to avoid having to sentence some poor offender to a life sentence. Even though judges have been severely restricted in the latitude of any leniency they might dispense, no judge wants such a heavy weight on his conscience.

    Enough, already. Let’s get some of these over-sentenced inmates out of prison.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, dear OGP, there is suddenly a huge population of seniors in jail, in California, doing their life sentences. Be it just economically, it’s grotesque, as they cost over 30,000 dollars a year to keep in cages…


  3. Paul Handover Says:

    From the BBC News website:

    12 August 2013 Last updated at 16:53 ET

    The Obama administration has unveiled major changes to the criminal justice system, dropping mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug cases.

    Such terms will not be imposed for non-violent drug offenders with no gang or cartel ties, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech.

    The US has one of the world’s biggest prison populations, despite a 40-year-low in the country’s crime rates.

    Critics say that heavy drug sentences have hit minorities hardest.

    “We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate – not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” Mr Holder said in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco on Monday.

    More from

    Looks like someone read your latest post, Patrice!


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, Paul, but I am still on my knees begging that the Lord would answer all my prayers in all ways! The dark Side is still very strong out there, so strong those who try yo look inside can’t see a thing…

      Dear Paul (Krugman) is also progressing at an outstanding clip. What he said today was astounding, and very encouraging. More in my next essay, hopefully coming out tomorrow…


      • Paul Handover Says:

        A thought about the ‘dark side’ comes to mind, in a metaphorical sense, which is that the night is always darkest just before the dawn.


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Hope springs eternal… But there is tremendous beauty in it.

          Seriously, I think the dearth of intellectual activity at the edge is the real problem. It’s hard to blame Obama, when all he hears from the likes of Harvard, Princeton and Stanford is the exact opposite of what i have been saying…
          That’s why Krugman’s change of heart, made explicit this week, is so important! He is the first of the major thinkers reigning today to make the switch. Even Stiglitz did not.


          • Paul Handover Says:

            I see that Krugman has three pieces published today, making that 11 articles since the 10th. Which one was the explicit change of heart?


          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            Well, Paul, I have the link in the very begining of the essay I just published, “Synthesis Found”, to answer Krugman’s “Synthesis Lost”… (It’s actually the first part of a longer essay… But I decided to be smart, and shorten, ;-)!)


  4. Lovell Says:

    “IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

    Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.”

    Rest of article is here:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Lovell: Thanks for the link. I read the story. I had had no time to read it, although I had seen the title… well, I think it’s not as mild as Kristof puts it in conclusion at the end. I think this justice and police system in the USA violates human rights, in a deliberate process of fascization and terrorization, driven by plutocratization.

      It’s not just another innocuous scandal, far from it: it changes mentalities quickly, and in depth, as the powers that be wish it to.

      It’s clear that spending 180,000 dollars per teen sent to jail (in violation of UN law), and 5% of that on education for the average child means that crushing rebellion is 20 times more valuable than education… And it does not just mean it, it’s mean to imprint people with the notion.

      Maybe the crime rate then goes down, but so do the minds…


  5. Patrice Ayme Says:

    The reigning economic paradigm is entangled with the reigning political and social paradigm.

    Example: If the free market is god, should not the emprisonment industry, and society at large, profit from it becoming part of the free market? Is buying and selling people, again, not far behind?


  6. danieltheodore Says:

    As a Silicon Valley engineer who participates in a sport that is heavily populated with LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) as well as a few corrections officers there is an important point I’d like to make concerning the cost of our criminal justice system (it is criminal and there is little justice.) The salaries, pensions and healthcare offered these California officers is mind boggling.

    A personal friend, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, worked for a while and then got a GED and then spent 6 months in a Junior College training to be a prison guard, in a state prison, was making $100,000/year with overtime after just 8 years as a guard. That was back in 2000. He will retire soon with a pension that is over $100,000/year plus excellent health care after only a little over 20 years of work. He lives and works in a very low-cost part of the state.

    Several police officers I know, that are soon to retire or already have, also have what I’d have to call lavish pensions. And, as I’m sure you well know, CA gutted its public education system, once the best in the nation. For what?…more LEO’s, prison guards and more prisons and jails. I guess we also need to throw in Prop 13 to be fair.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello danieltheodore, and welcome to the comments! Your comment is very courageous. It’s rarely pointed out how outrageously high the salaries of Law Enforcement are in the USA. Somebody I know (family) is retired in LE, and makes well above $200,000 from his retirement. He drives a mighty BMW 5 series. Silicon Valley too!

      This is all very transparent: the plutocratic system needs very well paid, very ferocious watchdogs.

      If you told a young French, British or German that there is a country where one makes much more in Law enforcement than in engineering, they would be baffled…

      Prop 13 has turned into the plutocratic device par excellence, indeed… It strikes the middle class, but not the hyper wealthy (who organize crafty trusts: the stanford shopping center’s owners pay nearly no property tax…)


  7. Martin Lack Says:

    You may well be right, Patrice – and Karl Marx may have been wrong: Police brutality is the opiate of the people (for the people by the plutocrats).

    Sadly, too, I think you are right to single out the USA for particular condemnation. The World’s greatest superpower has been built on meritocratic principles that include the freedom to die if you cannot afford to get medical treatment – and state-sanctioned murder on an almost unrivaled scale. Will the latter stop because one prisoner had a heart attack before he could be executed (as a result of being injected with an unknown cocktail of drugs)? I doubt it.

    Here in the UK, an excellent series of programmes entitled ‘Life and Death Row’ was recently shown on BBC Three (itself a condemned TV channel). It included interviews with prisoners on death row and their families; relatives of victims of crimes; prison and police officers; state prosecutors and defence attorneys. Do watch it if you can. Here is what the Independent newspaper had to say about it:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Martin: The worst problem in the USA is not the death penalty, it’s the increasing importance of money. A study in Princeton has just shown legislative and political decisions are all about what the rich wants, and nobody counts.

      Judicial and police brutality in the USA, under a cover of formality, is extreme. It all works according to a Prussian system, corrected with Pluto’s kind advice (don’t stop the guy with the spank new BMW, but the one in the Ford). Not respecting police orders (like not putting the hands on the wheel in a traffic stop), can get one summarily shot.

      It’s not so much that Americans are brutes, but how the USA holds together.

      That’s a dimension that escapes Western Europeans (including the Brits), totally. And which is not apparent during a short stay.


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