When I was a little snot-nosed kid, and my Grandfather was alive and well, rather than dead and buried, I used to visit him often. He used, on rainy days, to show me his collection of old (and fairly knackered to be honest) pocket watches. We'd open the backs, and he'd try to explain what all the little cogs and springs and fiddly bits were, and I'd try his patience by asking endless questions, all along the lines of: "Hey Grandad, what's this bit do..?" These were, I hasten to add, the days before playstation™ - hell, even Pong was just a twinkle in some to-be-programmer's eye. We had to make our own fun.
To drag myself back to something resembling a point, there was always this one bit. It was usually made of a greyish dull metal, spike-toothed and asymetric, never really seeming to fit well with the more shiny, aesthetically-shaped pieces - and Grandad never knew what it was, nor its purpose. And yet, there was one in every watch. He used to say, eh - maybe just for ballast - but I always held the view that, since it was in every damn watch he had, without fail, it had to be good for something.
Verb (used with object): to Re·press
1.to keep under control, check, or suppress (desires, feelings, actions, tears, etc.).
2.to keep down or suppress (anything objectionable).
3.to put down or quell (sedition, disorder, etc.).
4.to reduce (persons) to subjection.
1.describing the state of trousers, or other such garments, upon their having been ironed twice.
1.the act of coercing; use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.
2.force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.
I read a lot of history generally, and watch the news everyday, while I'm chowing down on breakfast. From what I've seen and read, you'd be hard pushed to find any example of a social system, Western, Eastern or wherever-ern, that doesn't or didn't contain some element of repression. I mean I'm not saying repression is a good thing, only that it's good for something
, like Grandad's mystery watch-piece. It must be - it's everywhere. Ubiquitous.
No new regime starts out meaning to repress the very people who sponsored it. Usually when things change, and some new guy with gold braid on his epaulettes and his predecessor's blood on his shoes stands up and takes the mike, there's lots of cheering and clapping and general jubilation. People faint, hankies get flapped in their faces and small sandwiches are passed around. Free sandwiches even. It's a joyous event. Hope and faith restored after an oppressor has fallen.
All is good. Promises are made, prosperity is ensured, people rub their hands and count all the imaginary money they are sure they'll make. And maybe it happens. The good times roll. How long they roll exactly, and for whom they roll, varies. Then it happens. Slowly but surely, the screws begin to tighten. Along with people's belts usually. And so it goes. At best, you get er, reasonably transparent crackdowns on some sections of society - communists during the cold war for example - or terrorists™ now. Those held are kept somewhere, perhaps indefinitely, perhaps not - but at least not killed. At worst you get holocausts, massacres, pogroms: the midnight disappearances, the media blackouts, intrafamillial denunciations the whole horrific nine-yards of blood and terror.
Why always this drawn-out, blood-soaked interim of repression..? Wouldn't it be a better world, wouldn't things progress more speedily - if defunct regimes just chucked down the reins of power when they knew they were done, or if populations went straight from reasonably law-abiding citizens to a ravening mob at the first whiff of corruption..?
Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be better at all.
A good system of governance is effective. It can get shit done for the benefit of its populace. The systems of infrastructure, social control and guidance it engineers shape those they govern from loose collections of disgruntled individuals, at odds with eachother, ideally, into reasonably well-behaved, equally opportuned, productive and competitive (with respect to their neighboring states), happy populaces. The degree to which any government or ruling class achieves this, also reflects directly
their (future) ability to repress, exploit and generally fuck-over that self-same populace at a later date, when or if things go bad, and they feel their pre-eminence slipping, because both modes of governance, supportive and repressive, use pretty much the same tools of power, albeit for different ends - that which once watched the borders, turns inward; that which once protected, persecutes.
Repression is a filtering device - ensuring the fitness of the next ruling body to surplant it.
At base, the job of governance is to provide social stability. Even if that system is corrupt, unfair, and downright cruel sometimes, the stability, the day-to-day predictability it brings is still preferable to utter chaos. Those repressed have at least some idea of what kind of behaviour, or which minority of them, is currently, erm, frowned upon, and either avoid it, or denounce it. And from this smidgin of predictabilty the majority can eke out some kind of living, some kind of future. If there is no stability at all, the halls of power empty, the barracks deserted and bandits on the streets, then pretty much everyone is fucked. If a governing body did just throw in the towel at the first bump in the road, the first grumblings of dissent amongst the punters, all hell, rather than some post-human egalitarian heaven, would break loose.
A period of repression weeds out the factions who would take over. And the last one standing - usually just beneath the gently-swinging corpse of the last ex-presidential bully-boy - have proved themselves competent enough to rule in their place, competent enough at least in potential, to rule a state or other form of collective and provide the stability critical to its function. Simply by virtue of having the ability to organize a force of sufficient power to overthrow, or otherwise undermine, the pre-existant regime. Without this resistant period of repression, the body-politic would change its head too often, and get grid-locked in a "this way - no-no - this way damnit" to-ing and fro-ing - fall behind its less egalitarian neighbors, and get invaded, raped, pillaged and generally wiped out of the pages of history.
And btw. that bunch of noobs who do
eventually escape out from under the claws of repression, must do it themselves
. If they get too much outside help, then they'll either topple as soon as that help goes home, or if that help never goes home, become simply the puppets of that help. [Cough] Afganistan. [Cough-cough] Iraq.
Anyway, I'll do coercion later, when I've worked out what it is exactly. And leave you with this for now: Repression - Not nice, not aesthetically pleasing, but useful as a social construct, working to control the quality of those who come later, to new waves of applause and small sandwiches.