(By: conjuncture magazine)
I always had this feeling but now there is proof (thank you, mass media) that we are living in dangerous times. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the flood that endangers Fortress Europe but that is only the beginning. Carefully tending my fears and paranoia, I frequently spend my time on conservative news blogs and examine articles that come to my attention due to “creative” warnings.
Last week, one of these readings was influenced by an expression a dear friend told me about, that is, the famed “cockroach effect”. Some newspapers used it when they talked about the violence in Mexico. My dear friend was wondering if the cockroach is the only image US Americans can conjure when they speak about Mexicans. As cockroaches scare me, research had to be conducted.
The origins of the effect as a theory seem to be rooted in economics. Following an online dictionary, the cockroach effect is: “A market theory that suggests that when a company reveals bad news to the public, there may be many more related negative events that have yet to be revealed. The term comes from the common belief that seeing one cockroach is usually evidence that there are many more that remain hidden.“
But what does that have to do with Michoacan? In an online article from the LA Times published on January 21st, Richard Fausset expressed worries about the named effect. He said this “well known” expression means, the possibility that a heavy government crackdown in one part of Mexico will simply send the bad guys scurrying off, cockroach-like, to some other place and cause new trouble.” In the online magazine “The News”, an unnamed author used the same expression a week later referring to the same problem.
This was the point where I asked myself if I’m really the only person that does not know this expression, but I found out that in various web forums many other people were asking the very same question.
Aside from this calming information, I found out that it is not the LA Times, nor Richard Fausset that deserves the fame for replacing money with people in this concept. Already in 2011, the Economist used the expression in a blog entry related to the “war on drugs”. Maybe this is the beginning of the transfer from a market theory to a description of a human society?
The reinvention of the expression related to Michoacan seemed to come out of Jalisco. Its governor wants to prevent an “efecto cucaracha”. Looking at the caotic conflict in Michoacan, he might have been reminded of the former experiences with the war on drugs? In the article itself, there is no further explanation, why he decided to pick these words. Nevertheless, in the following two days, the expression is used in various Mexican newspapers without a further explanation (Journada, Excelsior and others).
Provisional conclusion of my research: companies are as cockroach-like as drug-dealers in Mexico. It is not clear, what is exactly meant with the expression, but there is the feeling that it is something gross or scary.
Then, I finally found an explanation. Written in April 2013 by Stefanie Schappert, who describes herself as a ‘Lipstick Conservative’. (In case you are wondering what that is, as I myself did, she provides an explanation. Two supportingly equally important jobs: a freelance journalist and a military wife. Additionally, she is “a staunch conservative in a city of liberals” … That’s almost heroic.,. It also unnecessary to mention that she was a cheerleader…)
Aside from making a joke, her quotes also function as a frame for her logic. Stefanie explained to me that the cockroach does not just refer to Mexicans or money, but also to “Islamic militants“. She starts to explain the roots of the expression. The roots lay in the moment “when you spot that creepy crawly out of the corner of your eye, scrambling into a dark crevice as you flip the light switch on“. In case that this will ever happen to you, this is what she thinks you will do: “you will try in vain to stomp, smash, or squish the grotesque leathery shelled creature before it disappears out of site.” The colorful language already gave rise to the suspicion that the story will not have a good end and this is what will happen next: “you will fail“.
Ms. Schappart explains that after discovering the existance of these “leathery” intruders, your home will never be the same. A deep knowledge about the danger will thus grow. I will not talk about the fact that such a paranoia is a total overreaction (even for someone like me who is very understanding and supportive about fears) because the article is too quickly getting worse.
Somehow, she makes the link between “war on terror” and replaces the “creepy crawly” or “the grotesque leathery shelled creature” with jihadists. I have to say somehow because she just says: “Cue the American military stage right, radical Islamic jihadists stage left and a map of the Middle East as the set… Ahh, you get the analogy”.
Ok, thank you for the explanation – but no – I really do not get the analogy. What I do get is the parallel to the articles about Michoacan and this opinion of the Lipstick Conservative and after just one week I can give a short definition of the cockroach-effect: If the government trys to kill a group of people and this group of people (partly) manages to escape – thats the cockroach-effect. I think the way you look at it depends how badly you want to work for Fox News: you can either express “worries” about this reaction (at which case your chances for employment are slim) or from now on you live in a constant fear (increasing your chances of employment exponentially). According to such a viewpoint, the simple wish to survive becomes something these dehumanized beings in Michoacan or the mountains of Pakistan is suddenly adopted from cockroaches.
Another parallel became clear – these people are victims of extremely brutal wars that will never end with any kind of victory. The war on terror and the war on drugs are political strategies that do not have the goal to be won but that are developed into alternative economic structures. The military wins importance, the drug-cartels can sell for higher prices, no need to talk about the arms industry.
The only bad things are the victims – human beings that die due to violence are usually a bad for the image or public relations. A helpful alternative is a strategy of dehumanization. The victims are not human any longer but cockroaches, and come on, no one really like cockroaches! As the Lipstick Lady explained: “you will try in vain to stomp, smash, or squish the grotesque leathery shelled creature before it disappears out of site.”
There is a distance created between my life, my values, and the general rule not to kill and the victims of the wars that are so profitable. A similar dynamic is visible in the expression of the “flood” that will come over Europe. Dehumanization seems to make brutal policies acceptable.
After becoming an expert in the cockroach-effect I had to call back my friend.
“It doesn’t just refer to Mexicans: it seems to be used on anyone outside of the US who doesn’t want to get shot. It is the same dynamic of dehumanization like in the expression ‘illegal aliens.’”
“Yes, but.. ‘illegal’ can’t be said any longer.”
…. I don’t know who is the person I have to yell at now, but in case you see this: “REALLY, ILLEGAL IS THE ONLY PROBLEM IN THIS EXPRESSION???”
I told you so: we are living in dangerous times. A flood of extra-terrestrials pours into the fortress while the soldiers are hunting cockroaches that are too quick to get them all. I’m jealous of my parent’s generation. During the cold war, they just had to fear a nuclear threat, but at least, the nuclear bombs were able to kill cockroaches.