"Then what is freedom? It is the will to be responsible to ourselves." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Valor and Discretion
Exclusive to STR
Once upon a time I worked a second shift job and regularly walked home from the train station during the later hours of the evening. One night as I was making my way home, a police cruiser pulled up alongside me and the officer asked me where I was headed. I said I was going home, and he then asked me where that might be. I gave him the name of my street, and with that he bid me good night and went on his way.
Probably the most common interpretation of the officer's motives would be that he saw someone he did not recognize walking the street during one of the hours when most crimes occur, and he wanted to make sure I wasn't out to wreak havoc on the territory to which he was assigned to patrol. Of course, whether this police action is actually justified or not is another question altogether.
I don’t mean to say that the officer, a fellow human being, didn’t have the right to speak to me. The point is that by initiating a conversation such as he did, he expected a response. I of course had no obligation to answer, but what are the probable consequences of ignoring a police officer who wishes to communicate with a person who refuses to respond?
But at the time, the rightness or wrongness of his actions was not something that entered my mind. I had not yet even suspected the existence of true human freedom which forms the foundation of the posts that regularly appear here on STR--I was your typical Average American Citizen. The exchange with the officer, at the time, seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I cooperated fully with his requests for personal information without a second thought.
Well, I am no longer an AAC, and am actually writing for STR. It is safe to say that I interpret reality in a significantly different manner now that I better understand the concept of human freedom.
So how would I now interpret such a relatively benign police encounter? What ideas might go through my head if an officer, tomorrow, made uninvited inquiries as to where I might be going? None of your business. Watch me ignore you and keep on walking. I do not need your or anyone else's consent to move about upon the face of the Earth. Stuff like that, I suppose.
But now comes the $64K question: What would I actually do?
While I cannot be 100% sure, I believe I would do exactly what I did previously, albeit with my teeth clenched just a bit.
What up with that? you ask. All talk and no walk? You gotta stand up for your rights!
Permit me to explain. I take quite seriously the assertion by Murray Rothbard that the State is “a gang of thieves writ large.” The State is not like a gang in some respects, it is a gang. And writ large. Don't think gangbanging punks, think Mafia, only much bigger. A gigantic and extremely dangerous criminal organization staffed with ruthlessly dedicated enforcers.
Given this perspective, let's restate the previous equation with some terms rewritten using equivalent values:
One night as I was walking home, a dangerous looking gentleman in an Armani suit walked up to me, making absolutely sure I saw the large gun tucked into his waistband, and asked me where I was going. Well, it appeared that I might be in a bit of a tight spot, and so upon quick review of my options, I decided the safest response would be to respectfully answer the question and deal with whatever might come next as best as I could, as the situation was not really mine to firmly control. I told him I was headed home. Oh yeah? And where might that be, tough guy? he then asked. Over on Sumter, I replied. He looked me up and down for a moment, evaluating what I might represent, and said: Aiight. Get on home safe now. Run along.
Did I handle that situation in an unreasonable manner? Should I have pointed out that Hey, you do realize that your coercive threat is a violation of my human rights, yes? You have no authority to behave in such a manner. I am going to continue on my way and ignore both you and your unethical actions. Good day to you, sir.
If my goal is to get home to my family and to continue on with my life, then I submit that it is not unreasonable that I attempt to maneuver my way through such a situation by making choices that will maximize my chances for success. And if I had been carrying a weapon myself, I don't believe the strategy changes. If, in the defense of my right to life and liberty, I manage to justly put down Don Corleone's nephew mano a mano, what would I have to look forward to in the future?
When you find yourself facing an enemy who has vastly superior firepower, then in some battles discretion is the better part of valor and diplomacy trumps the implicit request for a beat-down or worse.
To claim that a police officer ought to be held to a higher standard than a thug is to legitimize the State. It is to expect respectfulness of human rights and justice through the arm of the State's laws, and this is giving undeserved moral and ethical credit to a gang of thieves. No State has ever done more than provide lip service to inalienable human rights, in that the State's very existence depends upon it violating those selfsame rights. Standing up for your rights does not include making a State employee play by the rule of unjust positive law that the State itself has created.
Freedom advocates of all flavors and labels rightly evoke Lysander Spooner’s idea that the Constitution holds no authority over the citizenry. The flipside of this is that the parchment holds no authority over those it proposes to restrict--the government.
Memorizing the State’s laws and quoting Constitutional scripture as a strategy to make the State’s enforcers behave is worse than productive. It gives credence to the positive laws that the State has put forth, the vast majority of which do not deserve anyone’s attention. It is an attempt to fight the system by working within the system, which, like voting, will never work to affect the desired change, which is the elimination of the system itself. As a practical matter, the State will always be able to interpret the law, Constitution included, in its own favor whenever it deems it necessary, no matter how outrageously its employees may behave.
After all, does it really need to be written out on hundreds of pages in legalese that I have the inalienable right to be left alone as long as I am not aggressing against anyone else? It’s a pretty simple concept, isn’t it?
Unwarranted encounters with police officers are unfortunate run-ins with powerful thugs, and one needs to recognize that there is a grave and immediate danger of being assaulted or kidnapped if the officer determines that you need an attitude adjustment.
Yet I still do not draw any hard and fast conclusions here, as there are a myriad of interacting factors to consider, and every individual will weigh each of the various factors differently. I believe there are many right answers here. Many brave individuals have decided to stand up for their human rights in the face of police aggression, and I have nothing but admiration for their actions, as they are undeniably just actions.
It all boils down to, I think, human dignity. How much abuse can you take? How much should you take? Humiliations abound in our society for the freedom-minded individual. He needs permission to do just about anything. He is prohibited from possessing certain items and performing certain actions even if no one else is harmed. He is robbed every time he earns or spends a dollar. Where is the line between hunkering down and springing into action? Will the ultimate winner be the one who dishes out the punishment, the one who fights back against very long odds, or the one who can take the abuse and remain standing?
I believe that selfishness may be the most important value for the believer in individual freedom. If everyone acts to safely maximize his own personal freedom, and supports others in their attempts to be free while as much as possible denying support to government’s freedom-limiting aggression, then I don’t believe criticism is warranted in situations where one decides not to risk what others might. Or am I merely attempting to justify my own personal character weakness here?
As far as action is concerned, I currently advocate and practice the education of “non-believers” and non-support of the State wherever possible, and a very healthy and selfish concern for the one and only precious life I have to call my own.
Tricky stuff. I would like very much to hear your comments on this one.