I would argue that that’s exactly what the new stage of the drug war (the last 2 years) on the US-Mexico border represents. As an historical institution, the nation-state has indeed been responsible for some of the most egregious violations of human personhood, the majority of genocides, and orchestrating the capitalist exploitation of labor. All of these things are well-documented. However, this in and of itself does not mean that the movement away from nation-states is an inherently good thing. It is entirely possible that the institutions that supplant nation-state authority, above all with respect to the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, will be much much worse. Indeed, the new found power of drug cartels on the border fulfills the function of the State according to Weber’s famous definition thereof, but without any mechanisms of legitimizing that violence other than the threat of violence itself. There is no due process. There is no appeal. There is no ideology. There is only: if you don’t like it, you’re dead. This is why I cannot in good conscience declare myself an “anarchist,” or at least not without serious reservations including and especially practical reservations regarding the utility of the nation-state at particular times and places. Hmm… if only someone wrote a book that provides a nuanced framework for us to view these issues… oh wait, I did, but to date, no one will publish it.
Okay, if you don’t believe me that the cartels have acquired de facto legitimacy to operate with impunity in their sphere of influence, i.e., to kill who they want to kill without being challenged regarding that use of force, then look at the case of Tiffany Hartley. I’ll recap the facts of the story briefly for those of you that somehow haven’t heard about it yet. Tiffany was jet-skiing with her husband David on Falcon Lake, on the Texas-Mexico border, when her husband was shot in the head by the drug cartel. Tiffany brings this fact to the attention of the relevant authorities on both sides of the border. How do they react? Initially, they do little if anything to investigate her husband’s death. The Mexican authorities even go so far as to doubt the credibility of her story openly. Why? Because of an understandable squeamishness with confronting the cartels in what is for all intents and purposes their legitimate sphere of influence. In other words, the very same reason that nation-states generally do not intervene in the affairs of other nation-states. Don’t believe me? Look at what the Texas Sheriff in charge of the investigation has said: “We cannot arrest anybody for what happened in Mexico, we cannot prosecute on the state level anybody for what happened in Mexico. We just want a body,” Gonzalez said.
We’re talking about the killing of a US citizen here. Mostly for worse, that often used to mean a life that mattered out of all proportion to any others. While perhaps it still means that in terms of media attention–we are after all talking about this case as opposed to so many other narco-terrorist deaths–it’s not clear that when such a killing happens within the cartel’s sphere of influence that the nation-states are either willing or able to obtain justice.
If this reluctance on the part of state authorities wasn’t in itself enough, then look at the initial reaction of the news media to the story. Tiffany tries to get attention for her husband’s murder and how does the media react? Peculiarly, they doubt her story. They wonder if she isn’t in fact pulling a Scott Peterson. A grieving widow is asked point blank on the Today show if she isn’t in fact making her story up! This is very curious. Has the media ever doubted the story of a white woman before ever about anything? Much less about a murder? Sure, they’ve gotten burned by white women’s lies in the past–I’m looking at you Miss Runaway Bride and all the rest of you–but that’s never stopped them from believing a white woman before Tiffany. Why now? Why did the media adopt a hermeneutic lens of suspicion until proven otherwise in Tiffany’s case, when in the past they would almost invariably assume from the outset that white women were telling the truth, no matter how ridiculous their stories were. And that’s the other thing, there’s little if anything about Tiffany’s story that seems very incredulous. Do cartels not operate with impunity on the border? Were there not 5 other established recent reports of cartels robbing fishermen on that very lake? Indeed, there were. So, once again, why doubt this white woman now and not others ever? The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that even the media is afraid to challenge the authority of the drug cartels. Somehow, without any of us really talking about it, it has become accepted popular wisdom that the drug cartels are their own legitimate sovereign force and that any attempt to challenge that authority, even on the level of an investigative inquiry, is unwise.
How do we make the killings on the border stop? How do we delegitimize the drug cartels’ sphere of influence? That’s easy. In the words of Bob Marley, “legalize it.” Now. And by it, I mean all drugs, and by now, I mean yesterday. And, at least that’s something that me and my “anarchist” friends can agree about.