Last week I wrote about institutionalized brutality and there is a good chance that cases of insomnia dramatically reduced in Kigali as a result.
For those who managed to stay awake, I cannot resist the temptation to return to the topic as I feel I left some ideas unexplored (although some may argue they deserve to remain in that state)
I discussed some possible motivations in the last article- nationalism and religion taken to shocking extremes- but I’m also interested in the mechanism for entrenching brutality among the ‘ground troops.’
How is it that the propensity for violence seems to increase rather than decrease from the dictator at the top to the enforcer at the bottom? This is not to say that the dictator does not employ violence, but he is merely the one who gets the ball rolling.
He creates a template and then steps back to let others do the grunt work, while he postures on TV. A good dictator will not micro-manage how his enforcers will respond. I doubt Gadaffi spends his leisure hours updating the Libya police torture handbook.
However the rules are later created by those whose stated mission is to prevent chaos. And their mission is not only to keep the people in check, but to break up any large manifestations of the people’s desire to change.
To achieve this, deterrence has to be a key feature and this is where mass torture and violence comes in. the dissidents are being punished and punishment is important to the torturer, but the violence is also sending a signal that the state will do anything it takes to preserve the status quo.
The state knows that realistically not every dissident can be punished, and doing so would be an inefficient application of resources.
It goes without saying that you can’t round up everybody you suspect of being a dissident. Which is where deterrence comes in- the higher the deterrence level you want to enforce, the more brutal you have to be. And your levels of brutality are an expression of how desperately you want to stay in power.
But how do the enforcers create the rules among themselves? From what I’ve read about the suppression of protests in the Arab world, it pays to think of the enforcers as less of a single unit and more of a group of cells (not cells in the ‘prison’ sense).
The different groups of security agents may have similar objectives, but they need to be split up to more efficiently break up protests and enforce the norms of the state, however twisted those norms may be. And it seems to me that meting out violence would be difficult unless each cell had a de-facto-or actual- ‘leader’ to set the tone. Men are not naturally inclined to violence even if their job encourages it, and situations like mass protests can weaken their resolve. The men will probably look to someone as a focal point to create the template for them to carry out the brutality that is required of them.
How the enforcers choose this person is something that is intriguing to me (after all, the person in question doesn’t actually have to be their boss).
Perhaps the most violent member(s) of the group are the more likely to be active, and as such the rest of the group will be drawn towards the activity.
However it seems that in totalitarian states, cells of enforcers perpetuate brutality when the men in the group gravitate towards a man (or men) who can raise their levels of violence to one that is capable of meeting the requirements of the regime. The men do not even have to be forced or bribed into doing so.
The every same ‘herd instinct’ that is present in the dissidents or protestors could be present in the enforcers as well, but like the protestors they need a focal point to strengthen the other factors that would motivate them to perpetuate violence. Their ability to do so may be a crucial factor in the institutionalization of violence.