Issue 180, Spring 2007
It is an interesting subject: superfluous people in the service of brute power. A developed, stable, organized society is a community of clearly delineated and defined roles, something that cannot be said of the majority of third-world cities. Their neighborhoods are populated in large part by an unformed, fluid element, lacking precise classification, without position, place, or purpose. At any moment and for whatever reason, these people, to whom no one pays attention, whom no one needs, can form into a crowd, a throng, a mob, which has an opinion about everything, has time for everything, and would like to participate in something, mean something.
All dictatorships take advantage of this idle magma. They don’t even need to maintain an expensive army of full-time policemen. It suffices to reach out to these people searching for some significance in life. Give them the sense that they can be of use, that someone is counting on them for something, that they have been noticed, that they have a purpose.
The benefits of this relationship are mutual. The man of the street, serving the dictatorship, starts to feel at one with the authorities, to feel important and meaningful, and furthermore, because he usually has some petty thefts, fights, and swindles on his conscience, he now acquires the comforting sense of immunity. The dictatorial powers, meantime, have in him an inexpensive—free, actually—yet zealous and omnipresent agent-tentacle. Sometimes it is difficult even to call this man an agent; he is merely someone who wants to be recognized, who strives to be visible, seeking to remind the authorities of his existence, who remains always eager to render a service.