The Bikecast Episode #36: Spiderwebs for the Rich, Chains for the Poor
Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of the government.
–Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Confessions of a Revolutionary
Expanding on the previous podcast, this episode focuses on the most conspicuous victims of the law, the poor. No matter how well intentioned a law appears to be, the people imprisoned for its violation are inevitably those that 1. can’t afford legal representation 2. can’t afford to pay the levied fines 3. can’t relocate to avoid being charged or avoid punishment 4. can’t afford to come into compliance and 5. can’t afford to stop breaking the law. In other words, the poor and most vulnerable in society will be the jailed victims of any law.
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The advocate of a law, then, is not only advocating violence against strangers in order to enforce their preferences, the targets of the violence they advocate will invariably be poor and politically powerless.
This contention is most easy to see in my punching-bag laws: those regarding drugs and immigration. It is more challenging with regard to laws that “make sense,” in that they criminalize what is widely held to be reckless behavior, such as the seat-belt law I mention in this and the previous podcast.
Yet more challenging are laws that have as stated intention the protection of animals. A good example can be found in this San Francisco law that is supposed to stop the practice of puppy-milling by making pet sells illegal.
Always, though, these laws require the crime of threatening limitless violence against human beings. Aside from this basic and irrefutable moral objection, in practice the goal of coercing seat-belt use or closing down puppy mills translates inevitably into incarcerating the poor, and only the poor.
Via POSIWID (defining the purpose of the system as that which the system does), we can say that the purpose of the law in the modern nation state, despite the intentions of individual legislators, police, or court officials, is the incarceration of millions of disempowered people.
Institutions founded on violence, even those related to societal necessities such as social rules, inevitably result in grotesque perversions of their initial intention. Certainly the intention of protecting citizens equally from harm at the hands of other citizens has reached its polar opposite in the case of American “justice.” We see a state of affairs wherein millions of people, who haven’t committed a crime against anybody, have been forced at gunpoint by their fellow citizens into cages where they are kept in isolation for years at at time. Surely this is the opposite of any reasonable definition of justice.
This clear-eyed view of the American legal system–that all laws are violence against humans; and the people, usually strangers, who will be targeted by the law will be uniformly the poor and powerless–can help shield the mind from the ceaseless deluge of state-proposed, violence-backed solutions coming from all manner of media and casual social interactions.
-  This law is, apparently, still being debated. ↩