Recently by Butler Shaffer: Schools as Black-Holes
"He knows what he's doing — we trained him."
~ Charlie Beck, Los Angeles Chief of Police
Los Angeles police officers and administrators continue to look over their shoulders, fearing the sight of one of their former comrades, Chris Dorner, who has threatened to retaliate for his firing from the department in 2008. His contention is that his employment was terminated without required due process, for the offense of reporting an alleged act of brutality by a fellow officer upon a suspect. Dorner — also a former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy — is alleged to have killed three persons with ties to the police system. Angry that his name was tarnished by the LAPD action taken against him, Dorner has written: "You're going to see what a whistleblower can do when you take everything from him, especially his NAME!!!"
For a number of days, Americans have been fixated on this story, which has received far greater attention than would have been the case had a former police officer killed a few teenagers. Indeed, so irrational has been the reaction of some LA area cops that two women delivering newspapers — one a 71-year-old grandmother — had their pickup truck riddled with 30 to 40 bullets fired at them by police officers! Shortly thereafter, another pickup truck was fired at by other police officers who apparently had mistaken the driver for Dorner.
There is nothing comical about people being wounded or killed, but this saga does have a superficial theater-of-the-absurd quality to it, something one might expect from a low-budget Hollywood film. The police system and its lapdog media take seriously any threats or embarrassments to that system or any of its members. According to Dorner, it was his crossing of the "Blue Line" (the unspoken offense of reporting police wrongdoing) that led to his dismissal from the force. Police officers who brutalize or kill what Will Grigg calls the "mundanes" are rarely called to account for their actions.
But the Dorner/LAPD drama goes beyond just the inherently vicious nature of all police systems. The state is, by definition, an agency that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory. As such, those who act to enforce governmental action — be they police officers or the military — are necessarily wrapped up in the exercise of institutionalized violence against people. Grade-school children are trained to chant the mantra "the policeman is your friend" which, out on the streets, is interpreted as "the policeman will probably not hurt you if you obey his every whim and call him u2018sir.'"
It is the entire political system that is characterized by the arbitrariness of violence. While states like to hide behind such abstractions as "constitutions," "bills of rights," "habeas corpus," and other pretended "limitations" on their powers, the harsh reality is that such language is always subject to interpretation, and government officials insist upon being the translators. This is how — and why — the powers of government are given expansive constructions, while supposed limitations on government authority are interpreted very narrowly.
The Bushobama years have revealed to millions of thoughtful minds — particularly those of the younger generation — the fraudulent, corrupt, vicious, and destructive nature of the state. It is increasingly difficult to find young men and women who can recite, with a straight face, the catechism "we are the government." Gandhi's observation that "nonviolence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another" is more widely understood by today's youth than by their grandparents.
I am reminded of the closing scene in Orwell's Animal Farm, where the livestock who had been systematically exploited by the pigs look in the farm house window to see their swinish rulers living it up with the humans from whom the animals thought they had been liberated. Every political system is a conspiracy, enforced by legally-defined violence, by which the few are able to promote their interests at the expense of the many. The Chris Dorner/LAPD theater has become a road-show, allowing many more people to discover the destructive nature of the game being played at their expense.
Dorner's lengthy manifesto is no challenge to Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Paine's Common Sense, or Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. To minds unaccustomed to complexity — minds that are unable to distinguish explanations of events from justifications — no purpose will be seen in reading his words, or considering them in the context of the political environment in which we live.
In case anyone should fail to understand my point, let me emphasize that there is no justification for Mr. Dorner's physical attacks — or threatened attacks — on others. Whatever degree of anger and resentment he has against the LAPD does not warrant the wounding or killing of members of this group or of any one else.
But for the sake of intelligent thinking, ask yourself this question: where might this man have gotten the idea that his campaign had any legitimacy? Others in the political hierarchy have long been playing out the premises upon which his actions have been undertaken? I have written, for some time, about how our politically-dominated culture is in decline; how the top-down, vertically-structured systems of centralized control are collapsing into horizontal networks of decentralized cooperation. The political establishment continues to forcibly resist such peaceful, liberating transformations, calling upon its appointed sock-puppet, President Bushobama, to use whatever tools of violence at the government's disposal to maintain the established power-structure.
To this end, Bushobama undertook wars against Iraq and Afghanistan — nations whose residents posed no threat to Americans — and extended such brutishness into acts of torture and other forms of degradation against prisoners; imprisoning people without trial; and killing men, women, and children for no other "offense" than the bad judgment of having been born outside the United States! If American presidents are allowed to declare wars against nations of their choosing, why should we be shocked when Mr. Dorner declares war against the LAPD?
It is worthy of attention that, in the same week the Dorner/LAPD matter arose, another Chris — the Navy's most effective sniper, Chris Kyle, credited with the killing of 160 Iraqis — was killed at a shooting range, allegedly by another Marine who suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The federal government recently acknowledged that an average of some twenty-two soldiers and veterans commit suicide every day, a statistic confirming that the human costs of military violence are paid not only by those residing in foreign lands, but by the emotional and spiritual destruction of American warriors.
And while Mr. Dorner was allegedly fulfilling the details of his manifesto, a New York Times editorial was calling into question the reasoning behind President Obama's claimed power to order the killing of American citizens. In what significant ways do the rationales of these two men differ? Doesn't each operate from the premise that there may be persons who need to be killed in order to further important policies; that each man's considered judgment satisfies the legal niceties of "due process?" If presidents can engage in horrific acts against the millions without negative repercussions, why should other persons not feel qualified to emulate such conduct?
Those who have no interest in plumbing the sordid depths to which our culture has descended will find it easy to pass off Dorner's comments as nothing more than the rants of a mentally disturbed man, or to follow the lead of weak-minded men and women who blame inanimate objects — guns — for the violence that dominates our politically-dominated world. Dorner's words do not justify his actions, but they may offer a symptom of what our thinking has made of society and of our relationships to one another. He may be a mirror that reflects the logical extension of our unexamined assumptions about the necessary conditions for social order. The closing comments in this man's manifesto provide more of an explanation of our well-organized destructiveness than what I have heard from others: "I am the walking exigent circumstance you created."
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.