Thursday, February 7, 2013

My answer to a police officer

On the subjects of whether police have privileged rights by the virtue of being "officers of the law".

In the history of the United States, before the document mentioning the three branches of the government, there were two other documents. One of them said: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men...".

Note that Mr. Jefferson did not write that the governments grant rights to their subjects. That was quite a popular view throughout the world at the time and is still popular in most countries (and probably among the most US citizens). But, Thomas Jefferson (and some of his colleagues) belonged to a legal, ethical, and social tradition that held that people receive their rights from their human nature of rational beings (which was granted to them by their Creator, evolution, or whatever one chooses to believe).

As a result, I have rights even outside of any government's jurisdiction. If the two of us meet on a deserted island, it is wrong for you to rob me of my life, liberty, or property. Likewise, it is right for me to defend those inalienable rights. (And, of course, the same goes for you.)

It is equally right for me to hire someone to protect my rights. If you attack me, why does a third person have a right to defend me (including with violence against you)? Because I have delegated to him my rights. Whatever I have a right to do, my guard can do on my behalf. Note that what I do not have a right to do, my guard cannot do on my behalf. For instance, he cannot rob or enslave you on my behalf; I could never delegate to him such a right, since I never had such a right a priori.

If the population of our island grows from 3 people to 300 million, nothing changes. We have a choice: to live in a constant state of violence or peace and cooperation. An agreement to  respect each other's rights and the mechanism for safeguarding them on a societal level is what law is.

Note, therefore, that in this view the government is not the people's sovereign. People are sovereigns. The government receives its rights from the people who delegate them to it. People who work for the government, including officers of the law, must have the same rights as all the other people, because they derive their rights from people's innate, natural rights.

Furthermore, there is no intrinsic difference between officers of the law and "regular" people. As one person said: "The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

Now, from my definition of what law is, it is clear that law is not "whatever the king/president/chief said", but "method for peaceful conflict resolution aimed at defense of people's natural rights". Sometimes the government can recognize people's rights and state them in a positive law (instructions for its officers), but sometimes the government's edicts can masquerade as law without being it.

For example, in this country (I do live in the US), there was a time when it was "legal" (per government's definition) to own slaves and illegal to help them escape. In 1920s, it was illegal to consume alcohol as today it is illegal to smoke weed. During FDR's times, it was illegal to hold on to gold or work outside a work quota. In Nazi Germany, it would have been illegal for me to be... I would have to be shipped off to a concentration camp, and someone hiding me would be a criminal. In US and UK, it was legal for a husband to rape his wife until early 1990s. Recently, someone leaked our Supreme Commander's team's view that it is legal to kill US citizens and innocent civilians with drone strikes. (And in the past, President Truman obliterated two cities and set a number of cities on fire all as a part of his legal position.)

But from my definition of the law, slave traders, terrorists (domestic or foreign), and Nazis were criminals, even though they were following the laws of their country. ("I was following the law" and "I was just doing my job" were the most frequent defense lines in Nuremberg Trials.) And so were the police officers enforcing those so-called "laws".

I know my view is not particularly popular anywhere in the world, even, unfortunately, in this country. But, there it is... If you want to know if anyone's actions are legal or moral, you should just ask: do these actions violate anyone's natural rights?

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