Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The missing ingredient to robust progressive analysis of police abuse is libertarianism

(This has been in my In Progress folder for a while but I didn’t get around to finishing it until now.  My apologies for the outdated subject matter from about one year ago.)

In response to the Korryn Gaines shooting, the far-left Crunk Feminist Collective wonderswhy don’t we know how to talk about this?  They then proceed to justify the assumption inherent in their question, by demonstrating just how ill-equipped to talk about it they really are.

For example, their next question is “why do SWAT Teams serve traffic warrants?” They eventually deduce that it’s because of white supremacy’s intersection with the patriarchy. 



…but maybe it has to do with how sometimes, the person being served the warrant is waiting on the other side of the door with a shotgun?

This is the problem with getting too reflexive with a single ideological analysis.  When your only tool is a hammer, everything is a nail.  And when you’re a member of the far-left blogosphere, the only way you’re allowed to analyze events is by layering new axes of privilege on top of the old.  OF COURSE the “Crunk Feminist Collective” thinks Korryn Gaines death was caused by white supremacy’s intersection with the patriarchy.  What else do they know how to say?

The tragic part of their insistence on cramming everything into a gender dichotomy is that I AGREE with them on the issue of militarized police.  It’s a real problem!  They’re right to identify it.  It’s just that whenever the problem isn’t racism or sexism or some other form of institutional bigotry, or is more complicated than merely “some combination of those things”, they lack the tools through which to fix it. 

In this case, without any real familiarity with libertarian theory, the left is completely blind to how this particular case cuts the other way on militarized police.  Korryn Gaines is the exact person for whom SWAT teams were invented, not because she was a black female, but because she was willing to shoot policemen before she was willing to submit to arrest.  In fact, there’s no evidence the Baltimore police were decked out in SWAT gear at all until they found themselves on the wrong end of her barrel!  To insinuate that bullet-proof clothing and helmets (really the only thing separating SWAT officers from regular officers) were deemed necessary not because she had a gun, but because she was a black female, is exactly the sort of unfounded and counter-evidentiary claim that makes the right wing so fed up with the race card: after a certain point, it becomes a bit of a stretch.

A more robust progressive analysis might point out that civilians wouldn’t face nearly so many SWAT teams if there weren’t nearly so many warrants to serve.  It would point out that in a world containing many people who are willing to die before they submit to police, we should be mighty selective about which offenses are dire enough to justify calling their bluff.  It would argue passionately that things like unorthodox driver’s licenses, or smoking pot, or evading cigarette taxes, or even evading most other kinds of taxes are not so morally outrageous that they justify violent force, much less lethal force on those who resist violence.  And it would carry that argument to its logical implication: that things like driving without state permission and smoking pot should be legal; that we ought not enforce taxes on cigarettes or most other things, and should not enact taxes we ought not enforce.

But progressives don’t make that analysis.  Rand Paul makes that analysis, and progressives mocked him for it.

CFC continues: “Apparently, the only armed Black folks we can be outraged for are men like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  But isn’t the logic the same though?  Submit or die…The state kills Black women and all Black people who don’t submit.” Meanwhile, Black Girl Dangerous argues that “Non-compliance is not an unreasonable response to oppression.  Murder is an unreasonable response to non-compliance.”

….Well I hate to say I told you so!

I can’t begin to describe how long I’ve been waiting to hear progressives say that sentence, because it’s the first step to enlightenment.  It’s particularly refreshing because ordinarily, when libertarians lament how all government amounts to “submit or die,” we are laughed out of the room. 

There is an elephant in the room here, and it isn’t misogynoir.  They aren’t acknowledging it, but white men who resist traffic laws with guns are also told to submit or die just the same, because THAT’S WHAT GOVERNMENT IS!  Government is a collection of laws, enforced by “law enforcement” agents, who are instructed to induce submission and kill anyone who resists that submission for long enough.  That’s literally their job description.

But to most people, and especially most progressives, it still all appears so benign.  “Support funding for reproductive justice!” they say of Planned Parenthood.  They don’t ask the follow up questions.  With what resources? “Tax dollars!” What if I won’t pay?  “They’ll just deduct it from your bank account.” What if I’m paid under the table, or empty my bank account and put it all under my bed? “Then they’ll just come take it there.”  And what if I lock my door?  “They’ll kick it down.”  And so on, until:

“And what if I put up a sign that says “Trespassers Will Be Shot!”, and defend my property from any armed invaders who I believe have no right to be there, to include people in funny hats who dare call themselves ‘the police’ without even showing me any “Delegation of Authority Orders”?

Eventually, the statist becomes so frustrated at my stubbornly principled noncompliance that they admit the heart of it: “Well…then they’ll probably kill you.” Submit or die.

If you are okay with laws saying vehicles have to be registered, that means you are okay with killing people who resist arrest for not registering their vehicles.  If you are okay with cigarette taxes, that means you’re okay with killing people like Eric Garner, who refuse to be punished for circumventing those taxes.  That’s the definition of a law:  a thing law enforcement will make you do at implied gunpoint, until you call their bluff, at which point it becomes literal gunpoint.  The list of things I find so morally imperative as to justify that threat is extremely small – which is why I’m a minarchist.  To argue that “murder is an unreasonable response to non-complianceacross the board is to lay the groundwork for anarchy.

The reason people on the left “don’t know how to talk about this” is that people on the left don’t get that yet.  BLM activists are happy to talk about dismantling patriarchy because they GET how it intersects with racism.  Feminists are happy to talk about dismantling white privilege because they understand how it intersects with sexism.  Both are happy to talk about dismantling homophobia or transphobia, because they see how that can overlap as well.  And they’re all eager to talk about dismantling capitalism, because it comports with this same leftist identity-politics thought pattern: just another layer of oppression people must navigate.  But the moment I start talking about dismantling the state, the entire progressive community exiles me to the far-right hate-group loony bin.  They’re so deeply invested in statism as the quickest perceived solution to those other problems that they cannot identify the largest, most deeply rooted, and most consistently oppressive force of all human history.

I understand the historical reasons why they react this way – libertarianism has been a deceitful hiding place for too many closeted racists in the past – but those reasons don’t make the reaction any more productive or any less stupid.  The state is  the  primary  instrument  of human oppression.  It is not some neutral body which could be used for good if only it were captured by the right people, any more than patriarchy is a neutral institution which could be salvaged if we’d only work out the kinks. The state is the most deeply entrenched of all oppressive structures, and libertarianism is its antidote. Consistently applied political liberty is the most potent force for anti-racism we can possibly unleash. At the very least, it deserves a seat at the table in these conversations.

The CFC concludes: “when we pursue a social analysis that fails to robustly consider patriarchy alongside challenges to white supremacy and capitalism, we’ll miss the convergence of violent logics.”  They got two of three!  But, unfortunately for them, when we pursue a social analysis that fails to robustly consider statism alongside challenges to patriarchy and white supremacy, we miss the most violent logic of them all.

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