The United States’ Police is Solely Based on Power
Over the centuries the use of force has universally decreased. Underlying all laws, there is the threat of power. Laws are enforced by the government, ultimately at the end of a barrel. A mark of our progressing world is that we bear power against less of the world than our fathers, and especially our father’s father — but there is still room for improvement.
The expanding circle of empathy — those we choose to care about and share an identity with — is the reason for this. It has come to cover those in our own city, state, nation, and soon every other individual in the world. Those in the circle of empathy subscribe to common laws of the world, and need very little power exerted over them to stay in line. There is the still pressing matter that not all citizens are as much of a member of this circle of empathy, and certainly certain nations are not — either through fault of their own tyrannical nature or through neglect from the world.
Power threatens this progress at every turn, and once we shrink the circle of empathy, expanding it back to its former state will be no easy task.
The justification for the use of power is couched in necessity. The necessity of one agent to move another it its will. The ability to impose a will, is itself the justification for it. The circularity is noted. Power comes down to this: I can exert my will upon you. That is all, there is no other appeal to any authority besides that. The justice system does this, but only after appeal to the legal system, which is based on a system of morality, legal precedent, and customs.
The problem should be readily apparent, a society or government whose main social currency is power is a despotic one. One where you have to fear not just violence from the government, but violence from every citizen. This is a kind of hellscape, where the weak must deal with their natural disadvantage with no hope of standing on equal footing with the rest of society. As Hobbes would say, a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Why must force be used in a limited capacity, and not used it in any mass sense?
An organization that is solely ran by power undermines its own authority very quickly. Why? When the standard of solving problems is violence, the person with the most power in any given situation is the sovereign of that interaction — irrespective of any appeal to the law, morality, or custom. This is not always guaranteed to be the government, and when it loses, it has no other way to appeal to the world, because it has operated under power alone. An organization that has operated solely by imposing its will upon any other organization or people, has no other appeal, and must submit to being subjugated the moment another, more powerful entity subverts it.
A despotic organization or people, subjugated by another, more powerful entity can cry that its subjugation is unjust or immoral, but the fact of the matter is that it never tried to operate in that structure until it lost the power struggle. Therefore, when it is bent and bloodied before the gallows, it cannot cry for legal justice, pray to God, or appeal to any natural rights, it must climb the scaffold, and slip the knotted rope over its bloodied head. There are no other appeals at this juncture because it denied the validity of those appeals in those it oppressed.
This would be like asking to play a tennis match instead of chess right before being check mated. That is not permitted.
This is the tragedy of despotic power: there are no winners, even those lucky enough to hold the power will eventually lose it to another.
Organizations must appeal to other modes of influence, power is all corrupting, as the Greeks knew. In the Iliad the great warriors sometimes bemoaned being so great, because they knew a bloody death eventually awaited them at the hand of another, more powerful enemy. In this way power used them. Like a virus jumping from host to host, only caring about the health of the host inasmuch as it serves it. They knew they would have no appeal left after the end of a bloody career that left hundreds of dead in their wake. Power spites morality because it places people on equal footing, something that is antithetical to the success of power.
Power must underlie society at some level, it is necessary, but it poses an existential threat when it starts to be taken up by even a small number of citizens, or law enforcement as the sole means of navigating problems. We are now seeing this unfold in riots being quelled by police across the nation.
The gunslinger who shot his way across the wild west, taking what he pleased, when caught, should remain silent in his chains. He threw the world of words and reason by the wayside when he took up arms. In asking for mercy he appeals to a morality that he denied his victims, and in this way he passes his own guilty sentence. Power is poison for the human soul, no matter who uses it. It is a type of appeal without words, without a court, without a jury, and with one lone judge.
And so, the words of those that wield power become hollow. They become only means to an end, and once this is known, when words cannot be trusted, when they are deprived of their logic and only used to attain consequences, what is left to right this but violence?
The trade of power is the trade of war. This trade is not concerned with the metaphysics of a loving God, ethics, precedent in the law, empirical truth, or any other trade. It is only concerned with itself.
Cormac Mccarthy’s Blood Meridian illustrates this in a couple elegant lines:
“A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views.
Here are considerations of equity and rectitude and moral right rendered void and without warrant and here are the views of the litigants despised. Decisions of life and death, of what shall be and what shall not, beggar all question of right. In elections of these magnitudes are all lesser ones subsumed, moral, spiritual, natural.”
Why else did the founding fathers of America couch power in so many chambers, and put so many limitations on the way in which power can be wielded? Because one unified authority without being checked by another, equally powerful authority, will cast out considerations of moral, spiritual, and natural law in favor of that one that answers to nothing but itself.
A police force not concerned with morality, and that only uses power to persuade, is destined to eat its own tail.