Power Corrupts   2 comments

As a writer, I think a lot about human nature. As a writer working on a book series about the destruction of society, I think a lot about how human nature and government interact.

So here I am living in this world and thinking about it, trying to find useful parallels for my fiction. In the last few days, I’ve seen a lot of reasons that explain why my apocalyptic is my bestseller. Cops are shooting civilians who seemingly did not earn such treatment. In the meantime, a lot of my friends (and truth to tell, myself) are appalled that the Director of the FBI has chosen not to charge Hillary Clinton with mishandling classified documents.

Yes, videos can be doctored and there is information presented to the jury that the public will never see. Also, yes, she knew these were classified documents because some of them were marked “classified” and there was a rule against using unsecured email servers in place for nearly two years before she became Secretary of State. I want to see her charged not because I hate Hillary (though I admit I have zero use for her), but because if you or I had done this thing, we would be jailed pending trial and probably not allowed bail.

The events of police brutality and the news that Hillary Clinton is not like the rest of us may appear unrelated, but at bottom, they concern the same fundamental problem: impunity.

Impunity is power which, Lord Acton observed, tends to corrupt. What is power? It’s not simply the capacity to exert unjust force or the ability to impress your will on the flesh or belongings of someone else. We fail to think critically when we don’t see that it is more than that.

Pretty much anyone can wield unjust force. Bullies do it all the time as do muggers and wife-beaters. Isolated incidents of aggression do not constitute power. The strong-armed thug tends to have a short reign until the community recognizes him as the menace to society that he is and neutralizes him.

Power is not so much about the exertion of unjust force as what follows the exertion. Some perpetrators go to jail and others do not. Systematically avoiding punishment for aggression ( impunity) is where power truly lies, which is what makes agents of the government different from other bullies. State agents can violate rights with reliable impunity because a critical mass of the public considers the aggression of state agents to be legitimate exceptions to the rule of law that says you may not abuse or kill another human being without consequence.

Impunity is power and power corrupts.

State impunity is the root of police violence. The police are seen as knights of safety and order. I like living in a safe community as much as the next gal, but the populace grants cops a dispensation to commit violence that would be considered criminal if perpetrated by anyone else. Most of us have heard of the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” but we don’t really know what it means. In a 1967 case (Pierson v. Ray), the Supreme Court created a special right for cops. If they were sued for constitutional violations, they could raise the defense of “qualified immunity” and escape paying for their violation of a person’s constitutional rights. When victims of police violence or their heirs seek redress and are awarded monetary payments, it is taxpayers rather than cops who pick up the tab. Additionally, police officers are rarely criminally prosecuted for violence inflicted while they’re on the clock. Occasionally one will offend so egregiously and publicly that he will be fired, but he will more likely be suspended with pay, which looks more like a vacation as a reward for bad behavior than a discipline.

Thus insulated from responsibility, officer treatment of ordinary people has grown predictably irresponsible. Confident in being sheltered from consequences by their “blue privilege,” officers are far more prone to indulge in violence and place “officer safety” so far above civilian rights that they are willing to gun down a stranger at the slightest whiff of potential danger. This week’s events are a prime example of this. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were exercising their natural right to carry a gun. Alton Sterling was a felon, but felons are also human beings and fellow citizens who deserve rights and due process. The neighborhood he lived in sounds like a place where a man might legitimately need a gun to protect himself. Philando Castile had a license for his gun. Neither threatened the officers with his weapon. There was no brandishment. In both cases, becoming aware of the guns sent a cop into a murderous panic that resulted in these men both being fatally shot multiple times in the chest.

Before you try to justify the cops’ actions – just hit PAUSE for a second. I know people who are armed at all times. I live in Fairbanks Alaska where every 10th person is concealed carry. I am sometimes armed myself. On Saturday, we were coming back from the woods (where the bears live) and the guy in front of me at the coffee shop reached for his wallet and I happened to see he had a gun in a back holster under his shirt. I don’t know what he was armed. Maybe he’d been out hiking too. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t doing anything violent so I didn’t pull my 45 and shoot him dead. He would have had to start shooting before I would have reacted to him with deadly force. Presumably, I am less well-trained in violent encounters than a cop, but I don’t have any impunity to exercise, so my gun stayed in my holster as did my fellow customer’s. We all got our coffee and nobody died.

State impunity applies to elite policy makers too and they are as corrupt as the regime’s low-level enforcers. The FBI let Hillary Clinton off the hook for secrecy violations she committed as Secretary of State, even though these were much more egregious than violations that have earned lower-level personnel decades in prison. She used technology that was more open to being compromised by spies and hackers in order to avoid legal and public scrutiny of activities that have caused untold death and misery around the world, including to Americans. Just because they let her off doesn’t mean she’s not guilty of what she was accused of. It just means there’s one system of justice for you and me (and Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden) and another system of “justice” for people running for president who are in same political party as the sitting president. Ooops, did I state a truth? I most certainly did.

Sovereign immunity has made Hillary Clinton reckless and cavalier about the havoc she has wreaked around the world. If she had even a thought she might be held accountable for upending entire countries, it’s likely she would have been far less warlike in her policies. She’s actually shocked that anyone cares that she put state secrets out on an unsecured email server that may have been hacked by Wikileaks. I don’t think that’s because she didn’t know it was against the rules. She was told multiple times by multiple staff members that there were rules against what she was doing. She did it anyway. My brother who can’t even text knows that an unsecured email server can be hacked. You can bet that a woman as sophicated as Hillary Clinton knew the risks of what she was doing. I’m willing to bet that someone told her about the risks while they were telling her about the rules against what she was doing. But it doesn’t matter. Thanks to her connections and her position in the government power structure, she faces no consequences for her crimes, and remains free to acquire even more immunity and power (impunity) as President of the United States.

Impunity corrupts and absolute impunity corrupts absolutely. This is true in police work, foreign policy, environmental regulation, the BLM … the list goes on and on. When outrages like this happen, the temptation is to address the wrong-doing (violation of State Department rules or police brutality), but in reality, that is just treating a symptom. The disease is impunity and you must treat that underlying condition if you ever hope to stop the abuse of authority. Make government agents subject to the same laws the rest of us are and cops will pause before they pump four bullets into a non-aggressive citizen’s chest and politicians like Hillary Clinton will have to run for President from a jail cell.

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2 responses to “Power Corrupts

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  1. Reblogged this on aurorawatcherak.

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