Free Citizens and Police States

One of the bitterly funnier moment I’ve had in my life was when a long-time friend who had just recently become a Chicago judge told me in all seriousness that what the world needed was more lawsuits.

Hammer, meet nail.

He seemed to seriously (and arrogantly) think that society’s problems would get solved if only people submitted them to the adjudication of right-thinking people such as himself. No other options existed in his mind, as far as I could tell, such as a personal commitment among citizens to resolve their differences peacefully, or suck it up and take minor injustices for the team. No acknowledgement that, if the court system is what’s holding your polity together, that polity is already dead.

Or, checking in on Scripture:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.

Matthew 5:25
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Attempting to solve more and more issues in court is not a road to social improvement, but rather a sign of an already dead society – the twitchings of a culture’s corpse.

The function of laws. We have long had the notion of the law-abiding citizen. That’s a person who understands that laws need to be obeyed, especially when there is no one there to enforce them. The laws work, when they work, because of a consensus of the law abiding. In a such a culture, responsibility and enforcement are ultimately personal, not a function of the enforcement arm of a legal system.

Much more important, law abiding citizens can only exist within a strong culture. Personal relationships and obligations, personal honor and virtue, must be highly valued by a large enough group such that those who do not value them are forced by social pressure to conform.

A law-abiding society is the only kind of society in which people can have any real freedom.

The alternative is the police state. A police state is here defied as a situation where laws matter only to the extent to which they are enforced.

We tend to think of totalitarian dictatorships when police state is mentioned, with official thugs lurking everywhere, but I will here contend that insofar as an individual’s relationship to the law depends merely on enforcement, police ‘states’ are ubiquitous.

These ideas came up as I discussed the state of local schools with people who have had children in them or had friends who have had children in them, or otherwise had experiences in them. It has gotten to the point, according to these folks, where it takes literal physical assault of a teacher to call down any disciplinary action on a student – and even that might not be enough. Teachers tend to get whatever percentage of the students who are interested in learning into the front few rows, and simply let chaos reign in the back rows and try to teach over it. Admin and teachers are at war – the idea that admin would take steps against the students for the teacher’s sake is laughable. The schools rules are ignored until they are enforced. Exhausted teachers have little interest in enforcing them. Any teacher who does enforce the rules is instantly an outsider, more likely to draw the ire of admin than its support.

The students in this environment divide themselves or are divided into feral tribes. In the No Rules tribes, attempts to flaunt whatever norms do exist drive behaviors. Who can wear the most scandalous prom dress? Who can utter the most filthy profanity? Who can defy the teachers most obviously? Such behaviors increase the standing of students in their tribe.

Is this all true? I don’t know, but the people telling me this are not the kind of people given to melodramatic exaggeration. I therefore assume so.

But even if reality is not quite that bad, anything like such a situation illustrates not so much the Law of the Jungle as an at least nascent police state. In the jungle, you win or you lose, there is no appeal. In a police state, you get away with whatever you can – until you can’t. In the jungle, no one is there to stop you if you try to burn it all down, while it is likely someone would try to stop you from burning the school down.

And here is the crux of the matter: what happens to the fine young arsonist in this latter case? Since all violations of the laws have been ignored so far in his young life, what does he expect to have happen? Will it be ‘fair’ in his eyes? We can easily imagine a modern principal simply letting him go due to assumed mitigating factors – and we can just as easily imagine the child (if old enough) thrown into jail. The reader can insert the variables that might influence such different outcomes.

Similarly, a student holding views unpopular with his teachers can become the target of abuse. The teachers’ vendettas become, in effect, the law – and there is nowhere within the school system for such a student to turn.

While it may seem fun, after a fashion, for young hooligans to do whatever they think they want, eventually, all boundaries have been pushed too far, and something must be done. The school system is an organism, and as such wants to live. It is a police state in which there is no real freedom and no escape – and our children are being raised in it.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Free Citizens and Police States”

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