Healthy Disrespect of the Police
by Allan Stevo: The
Disappearance of the Fat Libertarian
two cities – Chicago and Bratislava. It was hard for me not to notice
the iconic photos from both cities three weeks back. I know the
world wasn't exactly watching Bratislava, since, well, it's just
lil ole Bratislava, but I was surely watching it. Nor was the whole
world watching Chicago the way I was. Sure, it got some play in
the media, but it wasn't like the whole world was talking about
how important Chicago was just because many thousands of protesters
faced off against thousands of police officers. A relatively small
segment of society was watching.
I took note of how people in each city reacted differently to the
police and how seriously the police took themselves in both situations.
Chicago – people took the police seriously and the police
took themselves seriously.
Bratislava – no one took the police seriously and the police
didn't really take themselves that seriously.
You can make
all kinds of "Yes, but..." statements that mitigate this distinction
– such as "Yes, but the Slovaks didn't want to destroy property,"
or "Yes, but the Slovaks are peaceful people" or "Yes, but the the
black brigade made very bold threats." That doesn't change the fact
that this distinction is noticeable and valid.
increasingly coming to respect their increasingly authoritarian
government. The mere fact that I would bother to write in these
pages about the tyranny
of the TSA tells me that I, instead of laughing at them for
the buffoons they are, take seriously the threat of an increasingly
authoritarian state on my liberties.
the other hand are becoming increasingly free with their distance
from communism and increasingly disrespectful of governmental authority.
Disrespect of the most prominent symbol of government authority
could be seen three weeks ago in Bratislava – on Obchodna Street.
I can't imagine a scene like this fifty years ago in Slovakia, nor
even ten years ago in Slovakia. Slovakia is a rapidly changing society.
I worry that
the same can be said about my own homeland, about America. However,
in a different direction than Slovakia. In America, that healthy
disrespect for the police seems to be waning. Change in America
does not worry me at all. It's the direction of that change that
concerns me. Police and government should be disrespected. That's
part of being a free people – disrespecting those entities that
possess the power to make you less free. By maintaining that disrespect,
you largely deny anyone the power to make you less free.
in America took the police very seriously in Chicago during the
2012 NATO summit in May, revelers in Slovakia barely took the police
seriously at all. The capital city saw Slovak youth blocking the
path of trams and laying down on the hoods of police cars. I know
how tame that will sound to a Greek soccer fan or an American NATO
activist, but that's relatively wild for a Slovak. No matter how
stern-faced the police are in the video of that happening below,
I can promise they laughed inside. It would take a de-Slovakifying
(if such a medical procedure were to exist) for a Slovak police
officer to take himself 100% seriously. It's simply part of the
nature of any Slovak to laugh at the authority of the government.
so many Slovaks are scofflaws when no one is looking, why so many
Slovak go out of their way to avoid paying a little, some, or any
of their taxes, why so many Slovaks laugh at authority, and why
so few Slovaks turn out for elections (especially the foolish E.U.
parliamentary elections to which Slovakia, for the second election
in a row, which also means every E.U. parliamentary election Slovakia
has had, had the lowest turnout percentage of voters from any E.U.
country). That last point is something I am thrilled about, because
while all the world seems to take the European Union seriously,
some part of each Slovak realizes that the E.U. is just another
government run by fallible people waiting to fail. I don't say that
to be pessimistic, but rather to be realistic about the nature of
governments. All governments fail, which means that no government
need be worshiped as if it were an eternal entity. Slovaks tend
to understand that concept well.
years ago being a smartass to a police officer could earn you a
trip to the police station where you might "accidentally" fall down
the stairs badly. That's no longer the case. The police know it
and a lot of Slovaks know it. This video below tells me that some
segment of Slovak society has moved far beyond communism – even
if that segment is simply drunken 19 year old male hockey fans living
in Bratislava, it remains telling that a group of Slovaks in a joyous
mood behaved this way – not only in public, but in the presence
of and in blatant disrespect for a police officer.
The video makes
me smile because it is shows youth having fun. But more importantly
it shows a significant step post-communism. This is Slovakia, where
people have a healthy disrespect of the police, even in the face
of a police officer. But today, that disrespect has passed from
rolled eyes and comments made around the dinner table, into the
public sphere. I know that some level of disrespect of authority
is something I admire. I like seeing that experiment taking place
– a culture testing its boundaries.
On the left
side of the Atlantic, on the left side of Lake Michigan, another
group of people were busy testing a different boundary. They were
busy allowing an increasingly militarized urban police force to
use them for live training. Arguably the protesters were doing the
same with the police. What I disliked was how seriously each side
took themselves. To some extent the police rightly considered some
of the protesters a bunch of bozos. The protesters, wrongly, did
not seem to think the same of the police. A wise commenter on this
site some months ago encouraged this jovial view of a growing authoritarian
state when he called the TSA the Keystone Kop operation that it
is. Like any Keystone Kop operation it should be laughed at. Authority
is claimed. Respect is given.
Police claimed authority. The protesters entered into that game
with the police, thereby giving the police respect. As much as I
appreciate individuals who I know on both sides of the protest,
I am saddened by the misuse of respect.
I meant earlier by writing: "That's part of being a free people
– disrespecting those entities that possess the power to make you
less free. By maintaining that disrespect, you largely deny anyone
the power to make you less free." By giving respect, you legitimize
authority that a person claims for himself. You might change the
physical landscape around you a little bit with that gift of respect,
but you change the psychological landscape in which you live so
much more. In the mind, it would seem, a person can be free even
in an unfree society.
kept Hungarian poet Gyorgy Faludy free in mind as he wrote
poems in his own blood on toilet paper in prison. Perhaps it
kept Czech dissidents like Vaclav Havel free in mind. I believe
it is a large part of what makes Slovaks feel so free at times –
a history of what historians call oppression through which they
spent lots of time laughing at what historians call oppressors.
It's hard to oppress someone who laughs at you every time you turn
some of their own cultural orthodoxy, but they love to challenge
everyone else's cultural orthodoxy. That challenging of one's cultural
orthodoxy can be good training for someone from outside of Slovakia.
Love of a king, and by extension – love of a government, is not
part of that Slovak cultural orthodoxy. As a t-shirt sold at a Slovak
restaurant reads "1,100 years without a king makes the heart free."
It does make the heart free. You aren't accepting for yourself respect
for the claimed authority of a king, just because he calls himself
a member of your tribe. It's easy to trick a person into
feeling respect by convincing that person of ownership. An example
of that might go something like this "I am your king; I
am one of you, so it's okay to respect me," or " I am your
government; you can feel like you can change me any time you want,
so it's okay to respect me." There's a lot of fallacy wrapped up
in that claim of ownership, however. Who really owns a king? Who
really owns a government? Is it ever "we the people," whatever that
statement really means? How easily can a government be changed?
a President in 2008 on a platform of change then saw little change.
Americans elected a Congress on a platform of change in 2010 then
saw little change. Those highly touted elections might be little
more than pressure valves. Those elections are ways to feel some
ownership over government. If you can superficially change the appearance
of the government, you can feel like you've changed the government.
Refuse to cede respect and those pressure valves are much less necessary.
Laugh loud and good at "your" government and you will be automatically
a step freer than you were five minutes earlier, because you will
have changed the psychological terrain in which you perceive yourself.
good at their government each day. For the first time, I am seeing
Slovaks laugh loud at their government as well.
first appeared at 52
Weeks in Slovakia.
June 15, 2012
Stevo [send him mail]
a writer from Chicago.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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