Posts Tagged ‘ law

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[1].

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.

  1. [1] This law is, apparently, still being debated.

The Bikecast Episode #35: The Immoral Basis of all Law

All law, commonly understood, relies on the fact that the state has the “right” to kill you. Law in the modern nation state is based on violence, and that violence, if resisted, will continue to escalate until the law-breaker submits or is dead. The key difference between a state law enforcement official and a citizen/subject is that the official can kill the citizen and it will be widely (and legally) seen as legitimate. Even if the citizen has hurt no one and is not even breaking a state statute, any excuse will be taken as a just cause for the official to have murdered the subject/citizen.

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Here are a couple exercises that attempts to create a pinprick in the mind to open it to the idea that the law of the modern nation state is based on violence.

Imagine that I have nothing to lose and am opposed to the US war machine, so I decide I’m not going to fund it anymore. I figure out how much of my taxes are going to the murder and oppression of foreigners (about 40%) and deduct that from the amount I send to the IRS. I also send a note letting them know what I’m doing–I’m polite like that.

There’s a very good chance that I will receive a letter in return. The letter will request that I pay the remaining 40% of my taxes, plus interest, plus fees. If I ignore the letter, I’ll get another, possibly a third increasingly insistent letters, and maybe a visit from an agent or a phone call. At some point, if I continue to refuse to pay, I will be seized by armed people. If I continue to resist, the violence will escalate until I am dead or unconscious. If I’ve been killed in the exchange, it will be “legal,” meaning that no one will be held accountable for my murder.

No matter the outcome, I will be made to pay. If I’m killed while resisting in the process, that is not a problem for the state. They will take my possessions after I am dead.

Here’s another one, from a conversation with a friend. He brought up the seat belt law as the best example of a harmless and probably beneficial law. I ran through an exercise parallel to the one above: I’m driving without a seat belt and and somebody flashes lights at me and orders me to pull over. If I refuse to do so, I will be stopped by any means necessary. If I’m murdered in the attempt to stop my car, the killer will go free because I resisted his attempt to ticket me for my seat belt[1].

Again, I will be stopped and ticketed, no matter the cost to me–even for something as silly as not wearing a seat belt. This law, like all others, rests on the immoral use of aggressive violence against me–even if I’m harming no one.

Of course, very few of us, especially after a childhood chock full of obedience training, will resist authority figures in this way.

Alisa came up with a more realistic seat belt example. Imagine I am flat broke and have just landed a job 20 miles from my residence. I’m not on a bus route, but I manage to get ahold of a car. Now say that the car doesn’t have seatbelts or that they’re broken or even that I forget to buckle up by accident one day. If I’m pulled over and get a ticket, it sets off a long series of life altering events. If I can’t pay the ticket, my license will be suspended. Without a license, I’ll eventually be ticketed again. Unless, at some point, I can pay the tickets, a warrant will be sworn out for me and I will have to go to prison (or die resisting).

This leads to another pernicious result of the immoral basis of law: most people are caught up and exposed to state violence as a result of their poverty. The rest of us are able, at least under certain circumstances, to submit and then spend our way out of trouble. We will expand on this point in the next bikecast.

We are repeatedly educated about the framework that allows these unfortunate circumstances to be avoided. The mind, when going through such a story, fictional or otherwise, leaps at every opportunity to highlight a path to a safe, submissive resolution. If we obey commands from public officials, pay what we’re told to pay, are quiet when we’re told to be quiet, follow the law, cooperate, and are courteous, then we’re fairly likely, assuming we’re not poor or ethnic, to get through life without encountering the business end of a police weapon.

That this is possible doesn’t have any bearing on the claim that the law is based solely on violence–it’s simply an indication of how desperate both rulers and subjects are to avoid a general awareness of that reality.

  1. [1] Assuming the guy with the flashing lights has a shield shaped chunk of metal and is on a list of authorized killers.

The Bikecast Episode #10: Fundamental State Failures; the Law

This podcast is assembled from a couple passes at discussing the law as it relates to the state. During one of these recording episodes, the memory card ran out of space because I’m a dumb-ass. I’ve tried to patch the pieces together in a non-jarring fashion. I jump in at one point whilst not riding my bike to explain a transition. Still and all, I think it’s OK.

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The most basic services that a statist will claim must be provided by the government are 1) defense and 2) arbitration of disputes. Leaving #1 for a future podcast, let’s imagine criteria by which we could judge the value of a legal framework.

I imagine that 1) I would want to be able to use the system to seek restitution for damages done to me in situations where I and the other party couldn’t come to a satisfactory agreement and 2) I would not want to be held accountable for damages I didn’t incur.

Because I, for no particular reason, lead with #2 in the podcast, I will also do so here. The very most basic understanding of what constitutes a “crime” is the concept of a “victim.” Crimes without victims are known as “crimes against the state,” and their existence–especially in abundance–are a marker of totalitarianism. The United States has more prisoners than the rest of the world combined. 1 in 4 people in prison on Earth are in a US prison (this number does not include the less-well-documented global US prison system). The majority of the people in prison have not committed a crime.

The memory card filled up just as I was getting warmed up, but I believe I make the case fairly plainly that the US legal system fails criteria 2 in an awfully spectacular way.

By criteria #1, the state fails no less completely. Robert Reich was lamenting the lack of regulations and the ways that corporations are taking advantage of the light penalties. He sited in particular the BP oil spill, the Massey Energy mining disaster and the Goldman Sachs financial collapse assist. As is often the case, I don’t really address the points he’s making, but get drawn off into a tangent. In this case the tangent is: why do we feel these corporations aren’t getting what’s coming to them? Why are there victims that aren’t receiving restitution?

The legal system should function very simply: damages are shown to have been incurred and the amount of the damage is paid for by the guilty party. This notion was abandoned with the rise of the corporation and the revenue they generated for politicians translated into favorable legislation. Now we are in a situation where the legal system rarely holds corporate entities accountable for the damages they incur. Rather, they create a whole suite of new victimless crimes that are supposedly intended to prevent corporations from committing the real crimes (with real victims), for which they aren’t held to account.

This serves to counter the claim that the law is unjust. Sure, victims aren’t compensated, but a whole raft of regulations are created or added to so that “this never happens again.” The tragedy is that these types of disasters would happen far less frequently if the corporations were required to compensate the victims of their accidents–simple greed would guarantee it.

I go on a bit of a tangent with respect to lawyers. Building a super-structure of paper that ensures no collection of power, wealth or privilege is held to account for its crimes while claiming that said structure is protecting people from corporate depredations requires lawyers. Lawyers are the priest class of the post-enlightenment, justifying with tomes of paper what was once justified by the voice of god.

This clear and demonstrable failure of the state to provide one of the two most basic services it claims monopoly power over should lead us to question the state’s ability and motivation (or the ability and motivation of any violent organization) to provide all wonderful things it promises.