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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Friday, May 06, 2005

Snitching for Fun and Profit

Hat tip to Ken MacLeod. Keep Your Coils Clean links to a story about the latest intersection between the authoritarian state and the human resource processors in the publik skools.

For a growing number of students, the easiest way to make a couple of hundred dollars has nothing to do with chores or after-school jobs, and everything to do with informing on classmates.

Tragedies like last month's deadly shooting at a Red Lake, Minn., school have prompted more schools to offer cash and other prizes — including pizza and premium parking spots — to students who report classmates who carry guns, drugs or alcohol, commit vandalism or otherwise break school rules.

"For kids of that age, it's hard for them to tell on their peers. This gives them an opportunity to step up if they know something that will help us make an arrest," said James Kinchen, an assistant school superintendent in Houston County, Ga., which earlier this month started offering rewards of up to $100 for reporting relatively minor crimes like vandalism or theft and $500 for information about a crime, or plans for a crime, involving a gun.

But of course! There's so much less stigma involved in snitching when you're doing it for thirty pieces of silver, than when you just do it because you believe (however misguidedly) you're doing the right thing.

The traditional social mores by which snitches and informants are held in contempt, it goes without saying, are viewed with extreme disfavor both by the police state and the publik skools. This is just the latest in a series of initiatives, following on the heels of such programs as DARE and WAVE, aimed at removing the stigma associated with being a dirty little sneak who betrays family and friends to the authorities.

A few years back, I heard a story on NPR about the effect of TV violence on children. The story included an interview with an elementary school teacher who was nearly sobbing as she related her frustration at the reluctance of her wards to report each other's conversations to her. So she solved the problem by planting a mike to tape their conversations without their knowledge. Of course, the admirable quality of snitching and the obvious rightness of electronic eavesdropping weren't even at issue in the interview; they just set the background for the main point of the story, which was the extent to which children's playground conversation was taken up by the violent TV shows they'd watched the night before. As you might expect, this had the lachrymose teacher approaching near-Sally Struthers levels of hysteria about "the children."

The Screw the Kids blog (apparently defunct, alas) put it quite well: "Every time some syphylitic drip-dick of a politician or public policy wonk wants to pass a stupid new law, they cry 'It's for the children.'"

The article continues:

Critics call them "snitch" programs, saying they are a knee-jerk reaction to student violence. Some education professionals fear such policies could create a climate of distrust in schools and turn students against each other.

"There are very few things that I can think of that would be more effective at destroying that sense of community," said Bruce Marlowe, an education psychology professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.

Ah--but that's the point! A sense of community is just what an authoritarian state doesn't want. A cohesive society, functioning independently of the state, can become the basis for resistance; an atomized society is so much easier to control.

Some students fear classmates with a grudge or set on making some quick money may level false accusations or plant drugs or weapons in their lockers.

But Houston County's Kinchen said: "That will sort itself out. Our officers deal with these kind of things every day; they can find out which kid is being set up and which kid is telling the truth."

Well, of course they deal with them every day. In the drug war, cops are often the very ones doing the "setting up." All it takes is a jailhouse snitch to make an accusation in return for better treatment, and that fancy speedboat the cops have been coveting can be seized without any need for criminal prosecution. It might be auctioned off to buy tasers, kevlar vests and gas-masks; it might be sold to a cop for $5 in a "private auction"; or it might just disappear from inventory.

It's especially ironic, in the light of such surveillance programs, that the cops object so strenuously to organizations like CopWatch that attempt to turn the tables by keeping an eye on them. CopWatch observers who monitor local police forces for civil rights abuses are frequently prosecuted for "obstructing police work" simply for quietly videotaping police stops and arrests. I don't know why the cops are so upset about such monitoring: as the saying goes, if you haven't done anything wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about. What do they have to hide?


Blogger Deleted said...

Another knock against it is it teaches cops contempt for the people they're supposed to serve. There's no way to respect a stool pigeon.

I don't think the supporters of the scheme realize there's an important distinction between schools, however dangerously flawed, and prisons.

May 06, 2005 9:31 PM  
Blogger Gretchen Ross said...

These snitch programs were prophecized by Orwell. Every day we just descend further and further into the Fourth Reich.

My 18 year old brother told me something scary the other day. He isn't like the other kids, thankfully, but he had some observations to offer me. I was asking him about his prom and his prom party. And he told me that it would be boring, because the prom party had changed. Now, there are like 200 adults super-vising it and there is an age cap.

I said, well, that's silly. You try to stop kids from having fun and they'll find a way. He informed me that no, they wouldn't. He said things are much different now compared to when I was in high school in the late 90s. He said kids like their teachers, and like obeying them along with their parents.


The Nazis figured out that if you give a population small amounts of fluoride over an extended period of time, that populace would eventually become docile, it would actually change the chemistry in the brain to make one resist the urge to rebell.

Everyone says the Nazis lost WW2 and no one continued on with their plan. I hope they are right.

May 08, 2005 6:21 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

I read an interesting letter in Time magazine that proposed a way to fight bullying in a manner that creates a stronger community among the kids.
The author suggested that kids be taught that it is up to them to show solidarity and protect those who are being picked on. She claimed that when she was a kid, she would regularly discourage bullying by openly showing disapproval towards the bullies.
It could work, but parents and teachers need to stress this lesson to the kids and ditch the BS that we should appeal to authority whenever we have a conflict.

I think this is the original article:

May 09, 2005 5:05 PM  
Blogger ReasonInRevolt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

May 10, 2005 7:03 PM  
Blogger ReasonInRevolt said...

"Ah--but that's the point! A sense of community is just what an authoritarian state doesn't want. A cohesive society, functioning independently of the state, can become the basis for resistance; an atomized society is so much easier to control."

This is exactly the essense of how our society is designed. Seperation perfected. Nevertheless, communities continue to spring up. Like weeds, we will choke out the concrete of civilization with our very humanity.

May 10, 2005 7:05 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


What schools and prisons have in common, though, is captive clienteles-- "customers" that the "service provider" isn't accountable to, and who can't take their business elsewhere.


Now that is scary! Reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer went to college and tried to liven up a party by spiking the punch. Some guy announced that the punch contained alcohol, but reassured the students that their parents had been notified and were on their way. A mass sigh of relief followed.

Adult-supervised leisure starts in at a very young age. If you haven't seen the book "Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing.", I strongly recommend it. It's a (PG rated) reminiscence by a guy who grew up in the '30s, about the kinds of stuff kids did back when they built forts from stolen construction site lumber, played vacant lot baseball, etc., without professional supervision.

As for fluoride, I know that's supposed to be an obsession of elderly right-wing nuts, but I try to drink filtered water whenever possible. I also don't do flu shots.


Unfortunately, a stronger community is just what they don't want. That kind of self-policing might teach them how useless the teacher was, and they'd go on to apply the same lesson to dealings with their boss.

Reason in Revolt,

It's ironic that the neocons talk so much about "civil society" when they want to professionalize so much of life. In practice, their "ownership society" rhetoric applies only to the realms of consumption and reproduction of labor-power. Any attempt at forming an autonomous civil society in the realm of production or self-government will get you a full-facial jackboot massage at Gitmo.

May 10, 2005 9:56 PM  

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