Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, sites of increasing global inequality and laboratories for new forms of surveillance, policing and security. Yet, unlike our nineteenth century predecessors, deindustrialization has rendered a large part of the world’s population superfluous from the formal labor market, all the while forcing many others to accept low wages and a precarious existence. As capitalist classes scramble to maintain previous rates of profit, security has emerged as both an important political project, and site of conflict for millions whose very existence is closely monitored and surveilled by the various appendages of the security industrial complex. In recent years, George S. Rigakos and other scholars have contributed to a robust Marxist and materialist analysis of security through a critical examination of its role in forging a social order that is conducive to capitalist accumulation. In this process, pacification emerges as an alternative concept to the security project of capitalist elites, which helps us to make sense of how social order is maintained and reproduced. The theme of pacification is taken up in previous collaborative efforts, such as in a special volume of Socialist Studies (2013), select journal articles published by Rigakos, and more recently in his new book Security/Capital: A General Theory of Pacification (Rigakos 2016).
“Let us burn this motherfucking system to the ground and build something better.”
-Claire Vaye Watkins
In this article, the authors examine the ways in which the state, broadly understood as a technique, practice, and effect of modern governance and its optimization, creates impossible conditions for radical political transformation in the U.S. To illustrate these conditions, the authors show how the state relies upon notions of decency or civility to enact and elide blatant colonialism. The authors draw from the following examples to advance this argument: the “EPA Spill” or the ongoing environmental genocide shaping life across occupied Indigenous lands in the U.S. Southwest; the surprising, yet all too ordinary, election of President Trump; and the racist detainment of children from Central America in the name of humanitarian “law and order.” The authors contend that because these acts illustrate how Euro-American colonial norms continue to shape everyday violence, abolition as a praxis and vision must contend with how to burn down all of the mechanics of contemporary governance, to cooperatively dismantle the state as such, before promoting alternative social systems and political worlds. One way that the authors propose to accomplish this is to incinerate decency as an organizing precept for democracy, civic comportment, and political participation.
Increasingly critics of mass incarceration are confident that restorative justice is an alternative that will slowly replace or reform the state’s monopoly on “justice.” It is particularly of restorative justice as an “alternative” to state retribution that I remain skeptical. To my eyes, restorative justice has within it no revolutionary power remotely sufficient to undo the embedded ideology of retribution, nor does it bear any promise of truly challenging the material power of the state and the prison industrial complex. Restorative justice is a powerful, therapeutic practice that creates healing for individuals and exposes the stark failure of the state’s rehabilitative enterprise. However, we must cease to see it as a structural alternative that will take the place of incarceration. Though it is a useful tool for undermining the retributive narrative of the state, it is insufficient to meet the challenges of ever-encroaching state legality and mass incarceration.