A Modest Argument About Police Culture Culminating in a Reference to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist
In the comments to Ken's excellent post on the recent repeated digital anal rape of a citizen by government employees, commenter
@Ryan took me to task:
On Nov 7 at 7:51 AM you wrote:
Prenda et all have no more harmed the reputation of "all lawyers" than OJ Simpson harmed the reputation of "all African Americans" or Bernie Madoff harmed the reputation of "all Jews".
People are individuals. Pick any set and you'll find sinners and saints.
Then at 4:54 PM on Nov 7, you said:
Dogs are people, but LEOs – by pinning on a badge and pledging that they'll enforce the law – even when the law says that innocent people should be jailed or dogs can be shot – have opted out of the human race.
Fuck them all, and may they die slow horrible syphilitic deaths.
Which makes me wonder how the eminently reasonable Clark of this morning got replaced and when. The juxtaposition is astounding.
It's remarkable that you can, in the span of less than 12 hours, move from a statement that assigns blame to people as individuals and not the profession they belong to, to the polar opposite, just because the latter happens to spout hate and vitriol toward a group you vehemently dislike, while the former forgives people who are in a profession that you at least partially respect because of a few individuals you know who are a part of it.
This is a good point, and it deserves an answer.
My response has two prongs:
1) the inherent evilness of the full job description of law enforcement
2) the overwhelming default culture of law enforcement
Point One: inherent evilness of the job
I already addressed the first prong in an earlier comment, where I said:
It is wrong to discriminate against Blacks or Jews or Hispanics or Gays because people are born into those groups and do not pledge any sort of allegiance to them, nor does their inclusion in a group show that they have opted into the dominant ethical pattern.
Is it right to discriminate against Jihadis or SS members or KKK members or Bloods or Crips because (a) people consciously opt into said group, and (b) do so knowing their norms and and behaviors.
The War on Americans Who Use Drugs has been going on for decades. It is a very rare LEO who pinned on the badge before the War.
In 1944 I'd hold no ill will (or not much) to a German who was drafted…but if a German signed up to go throw Jews out of their homes, then screw him.
In 2013 I hold no ill will (or not much) to an American who is drafted into the American police…but if a man or woman signs up to go shoot dogs and digitally rape anuses, then screw him. He's bought what Screwtape is selling.
tl;dr: The job description is evil. Only evil people sign up for an evil job.
Point Two: The LEO Culture Turns Good Men Bad
The second prong of my argument is the culture of law enforcement.
Let's assume that that 5% of humans are power-mad thugs, psychopaths, whatever you want to call them.
A priori we can assume that these people are distributed evenly throughout professions…but perhaps that's not true. Maybe the field of lawyering attracts these people. I don't think so, but say it's true, and 10% of lawyers are Prenda-rific and routinely lie, cheat, steal, etc. 10% is still a minority of all lawyers, and there are no network effects that turn 10% into 90%. The opposite is true: lawyers are split into factions and they work against each other all the time, not just in the courtroom but in the marketplace. The adversarial nature of the profession means that any bad acting lawyer is always risking exposure from others.
Law enforcement culture, on the other hand, does have network effects. Cops work together as a team, whether they're in the same squad car, the same department, or just in the same country. The culture is deeply insular with special ID cards and bumper stickers promising special treatment, and a culture that routinely and harshly punishes anyone who breaks from the party line. This is a system almost custom designed to let moral and procedural rot run rampant. (Recall that as much as cops like to wash their hands of a fellow cop who was caught doing a crime by calling him "one bad apple", the full phrase is "one bad apple spoils the bunch".)
Whites have sinners and saints.
Blacks have sinners and saints.
Oregonians, Texans, and New Yorkers have sinners and saints.
Accountants, hairdressers, and coal miners have sinners and saints.
Law Enforcement, though, is unlike all of these – the job description is organized bullying, and that (a) attracts psychopaths and (b) converts non-psychopaths into – at worst – psychopaths, and – at best – into those who merely tolerate, absolve, and cover up for the psychopaths. For fun, run down the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and compare the bullet points to the typical cop's personality. Glib, grandiose, lying, manipulative, remorseless, lacking empathy, needing stimulation, parasitic lifestyle … the list goes on and on.
The police are a monopolistic organized gang that – as an emergent social entity – delights in violence, repression, and control, and is made up of members who are resemble it in miniature. It is no more morally complicated to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the police than it is to fear, disdain, and hate people who choose to join the KKK.
That said, one should hate the sin and not the sinner.
I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard.
UPDATE: The always awesome Maggie McNeill points me to an old blog post of hers that bears on this topic:
If a cop is tasked with enforcing a law he knows to be immoral, it is his duty as a moral man to refuse that order even if it means his job. If he agrees with an immoral law then he is also immoral, and if he enforces a law he knows to be wrong even more so. The law of the land in Nazi-era Germany was for Jews and other “undesirables” to be sent to concentration camps, and the maltreatment of the prisoners was encouraged and even ordered by those in charge; any German soldier or policeman enforcing those laws was the exact moral equivalent of any soldier or policeman under any other democratically-elected government enforcing the laws enacted by that regime. Either “I was only following orders” is a valid defense, or it isn’t; either we agree that hired enforcers are absolved from responsibility because “they’re just doing their jobs”, or we don’t. You can’t have it both ways, and sometimes Nazi analogies are entirely appropriate.
Last 5 posts by Clark
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