A Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One

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Few people in the world seem to appreciate just how awful it is to be a government police officer. It's not that the job involves particularly physically demanding work, or that the job is particularly dangerous. In fact, the work is not nearly physically demanding enough (as the cop fatness problem demonstrates), and neither is it particularly dangerous (being a cop doesn't even make the top ten most dangerous jobs). Nor is the job terrible because of the unstated obligation to wear a tawdry mustache in public. Instead, what makes the job so horrific is the fact that it requires living a completely contradictory moral life.

Unlike normal human beings, whose jobs require adherence to the same moral standards that apply in their private lives, police officers are required to act in ways they would never even consider in their private lives. For forty hours a week (or more, if they are trying to milk their departments' overtime rackets), police officers are required to forget the moral standards that govern their private interactions with their own friends, families and neighbors and adopt the moral outlook of the sociopath and the gangster.

Specifically, the job of the police officer involves giving orders to strangers and locking them up in cages if they choose not to obey. Unless the police officer is a complete sociopath, he would never consider acting in such a way in his private life. With his blue polyester in the closet, for example, the off-duty police officer would never consider putting his grandpa in a cage if he refuses to obey orders. He would never consider electrocuting his children or his grandmother for refusing to do what he tells them. He would never consider beating up his neighbor if she refused to stop her car and show a picture of herself embossed on government plastic. But he is expected to do precisely these types of things to people he doesn't even know in his "professional" life if they refuse to do what he and his bosses tell them.

The fact that many, many police officers are indeed complete psychopaths should thus not come as a particular surprise. Indeed, the job is tailor made for the psychopath and the sociopath who is comfortable with feelings of cognitive dissonance. People with normally calibrated moral compasses would shudder to think that they would be required to lock people up in cages, electrocute them, or beat them with clubs for not doing as they are told. It would confuse and trouble the normal person to think that by putting on a blue polyester suit, mustache, and riding boots it was suddenly morally acceptable to order people around at the point of a gun (not to mention the icy shudder they would feel at the thought of wearing the ridiculous kit itself). It would horrify the normal person to think that part of his job involved smashing down strange people's doors, taking their children, shackling them, locking them in cages, stealing their drugs and guns, and shooting them if they happen to resist.

The man with a normally calibrated moral compass is equally disturbed to contemplate that the purported justification for acting in these barbaric ways was that politicians, of all people, told them to. It is not as though God Himself or the Pope gives the police officer sanction to lock people in cages and to order them about. Quite the reverse, the sanction comes from people of such sterling moral character as the coke-snorting drunk driver, Bush II, and the drug-cartel-connected perjurer, Clinton I. The sociopath and the psychopath are not troubled by the fact that their only justification for ordering strange people around is that a pack of corrupt millionaires in Washington or Denver told them to, which is what makes such people sociopaths and psychopaths in the first place. The normal person, in contrast, is not willing to do things to other people that they clearly resent or despise, or to order them to do things they oppose, just because a politician says so.

The person with a normally calibrated moral compass would begin to wonder why the moral standards that govern his private life with friends and family, and which produce relative peace and harmony in that sphere of his life, do not apply to all situations. Why, the normal person will inevitably wonder, is there any peace in his family, when no one wears a special blue suit or has the right to order everyone around and shackle resisters? How is it possible that he can get along with his friends at the bowling alley, when none of them is assigned to break into cars to search for substances the politicians dislike, and none of them has a right to steal anyone else's children? In short, the normal person will begin to wonder why the people who claim to "protect us" are not held to the same moral standards as everyone else.

The answer to these questions is simple, even if the person with a normally calibrated moral compass often cannot see it through the clouds of propaganda that have been spewed over police officers and politicians. The answer is, quite simply, that the defense of people's lives and property is a job just like any other, and it ought to be provided on the free market just like every other good and service by people who are held to exactly the same moral standards as the rest of the civilized world. The uneasiness that the normal person feels when confronted with the existence of a group of fat blue-polyester-clad thugs who are not bound by normal moral standards is completely understandable and justified. There is no need for these thugs at all, and there is definitely no justification for exempting them from the moral standards we hold every other person to.

The provision of bread and chairs and computers does not require exempting anyone from moral standards, or empowering them to beat people up and order them around. All that is required is to open the door to competition, and people fall over backwards trying to please customers in their quest to make money. The same is just as true of defense services, which can and ought to be opened to competition between private providers so that consumers of these services can choose what kinds of defense services they want to purchase. In that case, the providers of the services can be held to exactly the same moral standards as everyone else. Their sole purpose would be to protect their customers' lives and property — not to enforce arbitrary and unjust rules written by rich politicians on unwilling strangers.

The key to liberating the police officer from the contradictory and perverted moral life he currently leads is simply to privatize the provision of defense services. Freed from the need to push arbitrary and unjust rules written by rich politicians on strange people, the police officer would then be a moral equal to everyone else in the world who was striving to make money by serving consumers. He would also, one hopes, be liberated from the requirement to wear the most ridiculous bureaucratic costume ever devised by man.

Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.

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