Weapons of Mass Silencing

This post is concerned with a neat ideological inversion: isn’t it fantastic that bona fide protestors now only face the possibility of permanent damage to their hearing, or perhaps a fatal aneurysm?

If this comment makes no sense, you may want to read about the news that U.S. police used sonic cannons, also known euphemistically as ‘Long Range Acoustic Devices’, to disperse a relatively small group of protesters during the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh.

Four thoughts:

First, we see yet again how a technology ostensibly developed for U.S. military purposes is used against that country’s own civilians.

Second, how appropriate that the Obama administration, which must have sanctioned the use of this politically sensitive technology, chose to literally drown out the protests with noise—sheer, deafening noise. EcoLogics is reminded of Obama’s repeated claims that he is all about ‘listening‘. Nothing like listening with sonic cannons.

Third, U.S. police use of the cannons implies that there is little difference between someone protesting in Pittsburgh, Iraqi insurgents, and someone hijacking a ship near Somalia—the sonic cannons have reportedly been used by the U.S. military in Iraq, and by cruise ships against the Somali ‘pirates’ as well.  Note, though, that this technology-based ‘equalization’ has a rather interesting discursive implication: if protesters can be treated like insurgents or pirates, then insurgents and pirates can be treated like protesters. A government that terrorises dissent does so at its own peril.

The fourth and final thought concerns the representation of what EcoLogics describes as technologies of non-death. Weapons such as the sonic cannon, produced by the blandly named American Technology Corporation, and the more and more widely used TASER, are being represented as being somehow ‘responsible’ weapons—in fact, not weapons at all. The TASER Corporation has developed a discourse that neatly dissimulates the offensive nature of its guns, even as it reveals the economic motivation behind the development of the weapons: the ‘About TASER’ section of its website claims that ‘We are committed to protecting life by providing innovative, high quality products and services that exceed customer expectations every time’. ‘TASER technology protects life’.

As if to prove its earnestness, the company suggests that ‘most employees and all of our senior management have taken voluntary exposures with our various TASER ECD devices. This includes Rick Smith, CEO; his brother Tom Smith, Chairman; Kathy Hanrahan, President; and Dan Behrendt, CFO; as well as all vice presidents of TASER Interational’ (quoted verbatim).

EcoLogics wonders if it wouldn’t be more realistic to perform involuntary exposures of senior management?

Lest there be any claim of facetiousness, ideology is defined in much the way that Cambridge sociologist John B. Thompson proposes: as meaning that serves to develop and sustain relations of domination between, and of course also within, social groups. Here’s a rather easy prediction: as the accountability of governments in Western democracies is eroded more and more by the agents of neo-liberalism, we will see increased deployment of sonic cannons and other weapons of mass silencing.