So I’m reading this book called Bird by Bird by one Anne Lamott, subtitled Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Those familiar with my attempts at putting pen to screen will now be sorely tempted to enthusiastically exclaim how urgently I require not just some but truckloads of instructions in both areas. Be that as it may. (To quote James Thurber, “When I split an infinitive, it is going to damn well stay split!” And, to quote myself, when I split hairs, split they damn well shall remain.)
On page 98, in a chapter on understanding people and how to tap into our quintessential oneness with our fellow citizens so as to be able to convert them into real and recognizable characters on the page, Ms. Lamott writes the following:
But it’s even possible to have this feeling when you see–really see—a police officer, when you look right at him and you see that he’s a living breathing person who like everyone else is suffering like a son of a bitch, and you don’t see him with a transparency over him of all the images of violence and chaos and danger that cops represent. You accept him as an equal.
Violence, chaos, and danger? That’s quite a flattering lineup of cop associations. Verily, one would think Ms. Lamott is referring not to police officers but to members of MS-13.
I seem to be wired backwards, because when I see a cop, he represents order and security, not “chaos and danger,” and to the extent to which I see him shrouded in a transparency of violent imagery, then only insofar as–at least in that world which I generally inhabit–cops are the ones called upon to quell it upon occurrence. To her credit, Ms. Lamott is willing to admit, albeit after some conscious effort, law enforcement personnel into the exalted ranks of those men that are created equal–after all, who would want to be arrested by one of Lord Voldemort’s Inferi? (A Harry Potter reference, in case you aren’t up on your Rowling.)
We all know there are bad apples in every lot, so there’s no need to expand upon this threadbare aspect of pomology. A certain percentage of spoiled fruitage notwithstanding, many folks seem to loathe badged apples altogether. They just despise the police as an institution. One gets the impression that if it were for them, law enforcement ought to be abolished wholesale, and, thus emancipated of the oppressor’s yoke, in short order all of humanity would peaceably assemble around a giant campfire and spend the remainder of eternity roasting marshmallows and chanting James Taylor tunes on loop.
In an illuminating discussion on crowd psychology, a psychologist on WBAI (a small NY radio station once reportedly referred to by New York Times Magazine as an “anarchist’s circus”) recently explained that crowds were inherently pacific unless subjected to physical confinement; to wit, unless corralled into a confined area by the police, in which case violence was liable to erupt. In other words, the police are causing aggression by exerting an oppressive force upon a population. This characterization, while undoubtedly valid under specific conditions, most likely lies at the heart of the general anti-cop-itude of many: if there were no police and no military, the global bloody nose count would decline dramatically, as violence would slowly give way to the natural flow of illimitable love and compassion among all living creatures. By golly, even a snake would rather hug the mouse than kill it.
A while ago, Rosie O’Donnell, upon being asked whether she wanted the United States to win in Iraq, cryptically responded by pointing out that she wanted America to be what the Founders had wanted it to be. Unfortunately, she stopped short of disclosing what exactly that may have been and whether the Founders would have rooted for victory or defeat in Iraq. Now, I have no idea how Ms. O’Donnell feels about cops, and from her public commentary on current issues it is difficult to tell whether the lady knows James Madison from Archie Bunker. (Maybe she does. Maybe she can recite the Federalist Papers from memory like a blindfolded hafiz can recite the Holy Qur’an.)
The point being, it seems that virtually everybody–from flaming liberal to raging neocon–wants America to be what the Founders wanted it to be, and according to whoever happens to be in possession of the microphone at a given moment, the degree to which the country is going to hell in a haversack is exactly proportional to the extent to which the pernicious opposition has caused it to diverge from the Framers’ vision.
While no one can accuse the Framers of having skimped on ambiguity, their take on law enforcement is rather clearly expressed in the following power which they bestowed upon the government (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8):
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
Although I cannot say with certainty what they meant by “calling forth,” I would venture to guess that they didn’t picture the militia walking around unarmed and politely asking the people to follow the laws in exchange for cookies and flowers. The Framers envisioned a nation of laws, and–knowing full-well that merely enacting laws without enforcing them was an exercise in futility–they fitted the government with the power to enforce them by, alas, force if necessary. (The word is law en-force-ment, not en-ask-ment.) In fact, they created an entire branch for that very purpose. The president heads the executive branch. To execute what? The laws of the land.
So now there’s a segment of our citizenry who, on the one hand, extol the Founders and their vision, yet, on the other hand, holler bloody oppression every time they see a cop who looks like he may not merely stand there like a bearskin-hatted redcoat in front of Buckingham Palace but who comes off as so utterly violent, chaotic, and dangerous that he may conceivably go so far as to engage in active attempts at enforcing the law. What to make of such dichotomy?
In truth, we all want the laws enforced, but only the ones we like, not the ones we disagree with. Obviously, no one agrees with every law, and people amongst each other will always clash over which are the smart laws that should be enforced and which are the dumb ones that should be ignored. Our natural tendency is to proudly proclaim we’re “a nation of laws” every time a law we like is being enforced and to scream “police state” every time a law we dislike is being enforced. In the end, every law constitutes a limitation upon our liberty to act as we please and hence is a potential obstacle to our pursuit of happiness. If nude shopping makes you happy and you show up at the supermarket in your birthday suit, you’ll be arrested. So there’s your police state, Mr. Thoreau.
Even though members of all political persuasions are constantly confronted with laws that are antithetical to their respective world view, it seems that only the left has elevated hostility against law enforcement to an Olympic discipline. This is somewhat understandable, as the liberal mindset, by its very nature, is highly averse to rules and “force” of any kind. What’s unclear, though, is by what mechanism exactly liberals expect the non-liberal percentage of society to comply with liberal policies unless such policies are backed up by the specter of uncomfortable compulsion in case of insubordination, be it forcible detention or the forcible confiscation of property.
If Obamacare passes, for instance, Rush Limbaugh and his dittohead acolytes are unlikely to contribute their share unless they sincerely believe bad things will happen to them if they don’t. To my knowledge, as of yet no one has figured out how, using nothing but the twin powers of love and persuasion, to cajole large numbers of people into voluntary compliance with laws they don’t like. People don’t follow laws because they get a kick out of following laws. They follow laws to avert cuffs and the slammer. And that includes laws enacted by liberal legislatures.
Think of it this way: who is an anarchist going to call for help if Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin–hunting rifles in hand–are staging an illegal pep rally on his front lawn? The cops. You betcha. And if anarchy were the law of the land, who would enforce it and prevent non-anarchists from forming illicit police units?
No one who sincerely believes that police officers represent violence, chaos, and danger, should have to fund such a despicable enterprise. These people should get a tax reduction, and in return the cops won’t show up when they call them.
No doubt Ms. Lamott would be very much in favor of such exemption for herself and her family. After all, upon being burglarized and attacked by a masked intruder, why escalate the situation and invite even more chaos, violence, and danger into your house by calling the cops?