Law and Order: A Collective Illusion

Steve Carter, writing for the LA Times, opens a piece with this astounding bit:

On the opening day of law school at Yale, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.

Then he warms my heart by agreeing with us wacky libertarians:

It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right.

Finally, he concludes, circling back to that above opening paragraph:

Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is the same as the advice I give my students on the first day of classes: Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

Now, I want to add my own thoughts. All too often with these cases, whether it’s Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or … you get the idea, there is this side that always says, “Obey the law. Comply.” But does anyone actually consider or contemplate where the authority for the law derives from? Collective illusion.

Consider, paper money, the $1’s, $5’s, $20’s and if you’re a rich bastard, the $100’s, you carry in your wallet or your purse only have value because we say it has value. That is, the only reason that green paper that would otherwise be relatively worthless actually means something is because we collectively have bought into the idea that it does.

Likewise, the reason the government has the authority of the law is because we have bought into the monopolistic idea of state-sanctioned law and enforcement therein. Nobody actually considers where they derive the authority to do what they do — they just accept it the same we accept that when I pull out a $20 bill in exchange for a large pizza, the pizza delivery guy accepts that green paper money as a valued exchange.

So, when say, a couple officers in New York roll up on Eric Garner and accost him for selling cigarettes illegally, we accept that they have the authority and Eric Garner must acquiesce to it. He must comply. These authoritarian types are frightening — obey authority, they tell you. Yet, in the same breath they will tell the government, “You’ll have to pry my guns from my cold, dead hands.”

But I say again, where does the government derive this authority? From our collective illusion, from our collective compliance with it. Without it, when the majority flips it, there is no state-sanctioned monopoly on law and order; there is no government. The illusion feeds the power of the government.

Even worse, the illusions gets the busybodies on the side of it, defending it and protecting it, “Comply or die.” As Carter says, it doesn’t matter what the law is, enforcement will be done by fallible police officers shielded from accountability and like in the case of Garner, they could die if they don’t comply.

It’s fucked up, to use more slang parlance. Why does the government have the authority to tell me I can’t sell another individual cigarettes? It shouldn’t. But we let it…because.





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