Sunday, December 26, 2010

Facebook And The Paramilitary

  The English soldier drinking out his Christmas leave in Budapest is leaning over my shoulder, asking what I am reading. I am reading about security sector reform in Afghanistan, the place in fact where he is stationed. The article was sent to me by a scholar who studies war and peace for a German think tank. A peacekeeper like him. No, he says, his job is killing.

Just before a student had been telling me about social media. She doesn't really like it, but her friends don't have time to use the telephone. I ask her if her friends respond to her messages, because I have found recently than when I use Facebook to find someone I don't have any other address for, getting a response is uncertain. One in ten responds, she says. Why write then? It is a kind of publishing, she explains, a demonstration of skill and place in the world.

The article I was reading makes a distinction between military and police. Police live in the community, and are not normally in an adversarial relation to it. The military by definition are opposed to an enemy, and prepare in advance to meet their attacks. Police are promoters of order by their presence, are educational in that sense, preventative. The military study existing or potential enemies and make preparations to meet them, have a self protective group loyalty, are mobile, and make displays of their power.

It occurs to me that there is a connection between paramilitary policing and Facebook, where users encounter each other on an internet overlay of civil control in the war zones of modern greed, duplicity, mindless ambition. They establish a group loyalty, a choice of friends based on collective anticipation of the safest possible or most powerful position. Dispersed geographically, they communicate by an order established outside of a local community. They make a display of their own isolated community.

Paramilitary police are not trained to collect evidence, distinguish between the guilty and innocent. They are trained to fight the guilty, who have been self identified by certain criteria or have been identified by others for them as their enemy. They live in a community of identifications of those who are friends. They do not search out reasons for friendship, or question the accuracy of the decision to accept someone as a friend. That is not the world they live in.