Monday, April 09, 2012

Ari Kohen: Well-meaning but naive apologist for state brutality

So, my good friend A. Kohen concedes there is a problem.

But the problem is not with the state (because how could there be a problem with the secular God you worship?). The problem has to be with the acolytes, who are confused and not in touch with the true spirit of the loving God-state that, really, deep down, cherishes us all. Dr. Kohen is opposed to capital punishment, which majorities love. But that's just a mistake. Dr. Kohen is opposed to amendments against gay marriage, which majorities love. But that's just a mistake, too. All the rest of the time we should be forced to obey the majority, at gunpoint*. At least, when the majority agrees with Dr. Kohen (because, being a political theorist with absolutely no political experience, he has a special connection to the truth.)

[*"Gunpoint" means the guns held by the state. Dr. Kohen does not believe the rest of us are smart or responsible enough to have guns. Fortunately, as soon as you take a job with the state, Dr. Kohen believes that you become much, much smarter!]

So, let's try it again. It's not like the random strip search of innocent citizens is rare, or anything. The events I have in mind:

1. Little girl draws picture of her dad with a gun. Not shooting the gun. Not a picture of a child with a gun. A picture of an adult man with a gun, drawn in crayon.

2. Teacher goes nuts. Calls the police. Police interrogate 4 year old girl. Police say, "Kid seemed scared." They conclude that the home was unsafe. Alternative proposed explanation: 4 year old girl being interrogated by strange, scary men with uniforms would be enough to explain "Kid seemed scared." That would certainly explain, "Mungowitz seemed scared."

3. Because child was able to describe gun (meaning, presumably, she had seen it?), police arrest father when he comes to pick up daughter. Police STRIP SEARCH the father, arrest him, and jail him. Their "probable cause"? Daughter had drawn a picture of the gun, and could describe it in detail.

4. Police break into house, search house, find gun. It is a clear plastic toy. TRANSPARENTLY fake, if you will. Not remotely resembling a real gun.

5. Even if it were a real gun, there is no reason to believe that it was loaded or handled unsafely. Again, the picture was of the DAD holding the gun. The little girl admired her dad, so she drew a picture of him. Said that her daddy was going to shoot the "bad guys and monsters."

Now, the point. You state lovers will, as always, say that you fall out only with the abuses. And you will likely point to the fact that guns are in fact misused.

But the more constant misuse, the daily, immanent misuse, is the state's misuse of power over its citizens. Dr. Kohen wants to argue that the problems are minor compared to the many advantages of the state forcing everyone to do what Dr. Kohen and his "liberal theory" has decided is good for us.

That separation is an illusion. It is intrinsic to the state to be abusive. And it is the nature of the majority to sanction that abuse, to abet it, even to foment it. I was a little surprised (no, that's a lie, I'm not at all surprised) to learn that school officials defended the arrest/strip search/home invasion without probable cause on the grounds that "you can't be too careful."

No, in fact, you must be too careful. The 4th amendment used to tell us so. Canada, where the events above transpired, doesn't have a 4th amendment, of course. But neither does the US, because we have come to worship the state and its infallibility.

When the dad was released, the little girl was crying and crying. "Are you mad at me, Daddy? What did I do wrong?"

Nothing, child. You just had the misfortune to be born in a modern democracy. I'd say "police state," but that would be redundant.

UPDATE: A lot of the comments here are amazing. Interesting to see how Dr. Kohen's peeps think.


Michael said...

The Democratic Underground comment section really made this post. Apparently, it's wrong to let a child ever lay eyes on a firearm in your house.

"Cleaning, and transferring into a secure transportation container, are the only situations in which anyone in a household should see a legally possessed handgun. I have no idea why a parent would want their child to see the handgun in either situation."

It's like a portal into a dark fantasy land.

Anonymous said...

So I have a 4 year old who loves Star Wars (we only let him watch Episode 4, and we skip the scarier parts). He also loves to talk about "bad guys" and even pretend to be a bad guy (like a storm trooper) when he's not being Superman.

Am I totally screwed when he starts Kindergarten this year? Surely, one day he's going to start drawing Storm Troopers or Luke Skywalker with laser guns. I know I did as a kid.

akon said...

Your point is very well taken and I agree with the major ideas.

I think the 4th amendment is still strong enough to prevent much of this from happening in the States, but the trend is surely moving in a troubling direction.

The home search requires a warrant, and testimony for a four year old isn't going to cut it.

Probable cause for arrest here may differ by jurisdiction, but you'd have a tough time finding it. Usually you are looking for information the officer has first hand, so you may run into trouble finding it even with credible adult informants. Once arrested, now, any search of his person and subsequent seizure is "reasonable."

He almost definitely could be stopped and frisked though, under Terry, since that reasonable decision has been stretched beyond comprehension in many jurisdictions.

Tom said...

Here is yet another reason to rescue your child from the government's schools.

Anonymous said...

I am sympathetic to your post. Unfortunately, even a libertarian utopia requires procedures for resolving disagreements over the proper interpretaion of moral/political principles (unless, of course, your utopia presupposes unanimity in all aspects of every moral principle governing interpersonal relations). Because that is the case, we must endorse either democratic decision-making procedures or guardianship by the moral knowers (such as dr. Kohen). You may lie in bed with Bryan Caplan and rule by a moral elite, but my libertarian utopia is partly constituted by democratic procedures to solve moral disagreements.

Tom said...

To Sympathetic Anon: why the restricted choice? Free societies don't constrain the ways to choose goods other than dispute resolution.

You may be surprised to learn that much work has been done on this topic, some of it scholarly. See, for example Benson's
The Enterprise of Law.

Anonymous said...

(1) Side A in libertarian utopia believes that libertarian principles (LPs) require adverse possession, Side B claims that LPs require no such thing. (2). Side A believes that LPs require rights against risky behavior (think Lomasky's thought experiment of playing Russian roulette on an unaware party), Side B believes that risky behavior never violates rights, only physical invasion does. (3). Side A believes LPs require the protection of intellectual proprety rights, Side B believes that LPs require no protection at all of intellectual property.

These issues must be resolved in some way, and these are incompatible yet reasonable views held by serious libertarians. One possible solution is to provide The Knowers with the power to decide. In other words, leave it to the courts to "work itself pure." It is time for serious libertarians to come to grips with the implausibility of natural law theory as a serious theory of the world as it actually exists. Law is a social practice. Law exists. HLA Hart was correct. Common law decision-making is in reality law *making*. To leave these decisions to the courts is to leave seriously important decisions to the authority of a select few. That may be one's position, but it is to be honest and clear about the nature of the situation.

Doc Merlin said...


People can live under both. They can in libertopia, live under the legal system they wish, and their respective legal bodies can make agreements between each other for how to handle the situation where the two conflict.