In the United States, we believe in free markets. Anything a person needs or wants provides an opportunity for someone to make a profit. Another industry exists solely to increase those needs, or to increase the intensity of those needs, or to direct them this way or that, thus increasing demand.
In Communist China, there are far fewer people incarcerated than there are in the U.S., despite a significantly larger population, and the pervasive narrative that the U.S. is free, and the Chinese are oppressed. Why does this narrative persist? Because we bought that narrative, that’s why.
In the United States, private companies profit from building and operating prisons. Their corporations lobby political leaders to create ever harsher laws, the kind of laws that end up sending a man to prison for life for selling marijuana. What a bonanza, what a revenue stream that poor sucker is for the people who will profit from building the barbed wire fence that will protect us from him, and those who will profit from feeding him and clothing him and keeping him warm and fed.
Some people belong in prison, to be sure. The bullies who use violence or duplicity to take from their victims precious dignities, properties, health and life itself. But we are allowing industries to create demand for products that are immoral. We are consuming oppression like it was just another service provided, like a spray on tan. The stories we love and export around the world that romanticize violence, crime, and reinforce our fears of each other market the need. It’s an industry that thrives on paranoia, and popular culture is only too happy, inadvertently or not, to assist.
Today you can turn on your cable television and find two examples of how deeply we have been conned. One is “Storage Wars,” in which vultures descend upon abandoned storage units and bid for sometimes pathetic, and sometimes shockingly valuable collections of possessions left behind by unfortunate souls. If you’ve seen a minute of this show you realize how sad our fixation on consuming material goods can be. We build storage unit after storage unit to store these endless purchases, these things that were needed, but are no more, and in a pinch, can be left behind. And now we make television out of their salvage.
More disturbingly, we make television out of the incarceration of our fellow citizens. Prison porn provides huge blocks of programming for MSNBC. Perhaps some clever lobbyist will lobby for a law that will make it illegal to be entertaining, move the comedians into the storage units and force them to create designer condominiums out of the contents. Then the circle will be complete.