By Colby Hess
On a clear, sunny September morning in the first year of the new millennium, a small group of radical Islamic terrorists, armed with nothing more than box cutters and a suicidal longing for dark-eyed virgins, hijacked four jetliners and used them to murder over three thousand innocent people. In reaction, the United States government declared a “War on Terror,” embarking on a ten-year imperialist adventure that has so far cost the American taxpayers over one trillion dollars, in addition to causing the direct and indirect deaths of tens of thousands of men, women, and children in foreign lands (the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the events of that September day). Adding further insult to injury, Congress saw fit to pass a series of highly repressive laws here at home, which have endangered, if not outright destroyed, many of the most cherished constitutional liberties of our own citizens.
With the clarity of 20-20 hindsight and a decade of reflection, it’s easy to condemn these numerous follies brought about by charging ahead with reckless abandon while not yet in possession of all the facts and still in a hyper-emotional state of mind. But even knowing what we did at the time, couldn’t much of the bloody, wasteful aftermath to this unthinkable national tragedy have been averted or diminished with a bit of calm and reasoned deliberation instead of cowboy unilateralism and Old Testament vengeance?
Too often the law of unintended consequences holds true because people haven’t fully thought through the potential repercussions of their ideas before putting them into action. In military terms this is called blowback, such as when the U.S. armed the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and then, twenty years later, we find ourselves battling against these same insurgents – often being shot at by our own weapons. America has a long history of such short-sightedness, starting with the French and Indian Wars preceding the American Revolution, and continuing down through the centuries since. Our motto always seems to be “Any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine.”
Domestically, we experience this same phenomenon in the form of reactionary laws – those proposed in order to solve some limited problem, but which then create worse problems in the process. Prohibition is an obvious example, and the misguided and hopelessly unwinnable War on Drugs is no exception. Other instances abound: three strikes rules meant to keep violent, repeat offenders locked up for life, instead end up sending third time petty criminals to prison without chance of parole for such relatively minor crimes as passing bad checks, gambling, or shoplifting; Alabama’s harsh new immigration law, which, on top of causing a mass exodus of agricultural workers, leaving many crops to rot on the vine, has already led to the inadvertent arrest of several foreign auto executives thereby threatening the future of that state’s most valuable source of employment. The list goes on and on and will only continue to grow. The lesson to be learned from all of these cases is that any proposed law, no matter how benign or necessary it might seem, is just so many empty words if not subsequently enforced, and therein lies the problem.
What people need to consider is that every time they cry out, “There ought to be a law against ___,” in response to some perceived threat to their worldview or to society’s well-being, what they’re actually saying, whether they realize it or not, is, “I want people with guns to force other people to ___.” I doubt that many people will enjoy this characterization but I fail to see how it’s inaccurate. Whether promoting a new tax – even for a very worthy cause like supporting education or protecting the environment – or banning the use of some new chemical substance for medicine or recreation, every law ultimately depends on enforcement through the implicit threat of violence or imprisonment. And this violence is happily brought about by the same people who have been so prevalent in the news lately; the ones breaking up Occupy encampments with batons and pepper spray; the same legally sanctioned bullies who arrest teenagers for the victimless “crimes” of smoking a joint or drinking a beer (which remains on their criminal record for life, even if they’re a minor at the time of the offense).
It’s the same people who revel in the chance to “crack a white guy over the head” while violating the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters assembled to air their valid grievances. It’s the people who, in Seattle, were just found by the U.S. Justice Department to engage in “a pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force,” and for whom similar investigations are currently ongoing in twenty other cities across the United States. These are the people who the mayor of New York City refers to as his “own army” (the seventh largest in the world); the same thugs who arrest activists for feeding the homeless or haul a woman to jail for filming a traffic stop from her front lawn.
These are the people who, when asked what the law is while they’re handcuffing a suspect for breaking it, reply, “I don’t know. I’m not a fucking lawyer,” or, when called to inquire about the status of a case of a stolen, nine hundred-dollar catalytic converter (an act which was caught on surveillance video, clearly showing the license plate of the perpetrator’s car) respond, “Sorry, we don’t investigate vehicle crimes.” These are the people who send six squad cars to take down a nineteen year old walking along an alley with a beer in hand. The people who barge into a hospital waiting room and Taser a sixty-five year old for demanding to be able to visit his cancer patient daughter. These are the folks who arrive in helicopters and Humvees equipped with night vision and infrared scopes just to bust up a high school keg party. I wish I could put hyperlinks on every single one of these outrageous (and seemingly unreal) occurrences I’ve just listed, but alas, they are not all documented news, merely anecdotes of firsthand experience.
The solution to these excesses does not readily present itself. Anarchists have certain ideas, Progressives others. Conservatives don’t even recognize that there’s a problem, while Liberals often contribute to it by calling for more and more regulation on everything under the sun. The truth is, there are no easy answers, as so much depends on any given individual’s personal values and life experiences. But nevertheless, it is incumbent upon all citizens who wish to live happy, healthy, prosperous lives, where freedom and justice can coexist in balanced harmony, to use the incredible brains we as humans possess and to think through their ideas before angrily imposing them on everyone else. Only in a world where laws are fair and democratic can we live without fear of oppression by those sworn to “protect and serve.” Only when members of one particular profession stop thinking of themselves as superior and above the law, will the rest of us be able to pursue peace and happiness unsullied by their violent interventions. Keep up the good fight, Occupy, and may this century proceed far better than it began.
Originally published as:
“Fools Rush In” on December 29, 2011 by Addicting Info > http://www.addictinginfo.org/2011/12/29/fools-rush-in/