The Myth of Law and Order
I am amused whenever I hear someone say they are a proponent of "law and order" when it comes to the criminal justice system. My amusement stems from the fact that after 15 years in the law enforcement profession, I have come to realize that essentially it is nothing more than mythical rhetoric and the idea of “law and order” doesn’t actually exist.
When it comes to understanding the fallaciousness of law and order, I feel it is incumbent on me to first discuss where the concept is most frequently touted and that is in the arena of politics.
Law and order’s matrimony to partisanship begins with some politician or political party promoting themselves to be the bringers of order through rule of law.
Now, when it comes to influencing voter behavior, there are four primary emotions that if evoked, they are highly successful in shaping people’s behavior toward a specific and desired response. These emotions are anger, fear, anxiety, and pride. Virtually every tactic used in politics is rooted in trying to elicit one of these four emotions and in turn securing a person's loyalty by their vote.
Honestly, one doesn’t have to have a clue about governance or leadership to be successfully elected into a political position. Instead, they only need to be effective in inspiring these four primary emotions in the public. Once one is made angry, anxious, fearful or prideful, their ability to think logically or rationally is greatly reduced and often it is replaced by an illogical willingness to support something provided they believe it will reduce their anxiety, fear, anger, or inspire pride.
This tactic of social engineering in politics is conducted by all ends of the political spectrum and exactly why every right-wing politician is billed as the next Hitler and every left-wing candidate is declared to be the reincarnation of Stalin.
How voting influence affects the idea of law and order is very important because, in truth, politicizing of the concept has very little to do with any real reverence for justice or law. Instead, it is simply rooted in savvy and hawkish politics.
The political idea of law and order functions like so: A particular candidate paints a bleak, lawless, and fearful existence of society. The cause of this chaos is sold as being the fault of an opposing candidate’s political party or partisan policies. The goal is to inspire a populous to be angry, scared, and take pride in their existence by electing the “law and order” candidate.
If one was to pay attention to history they would immediately be wary of any politician that championed “law and order” politics. In modern history, the two biggest law and order proponents would be President Richard Nixon, who was impeached as a result of the Watergate Scandal; and President Ronald Reagan, who is largely hailed as a very successful president, however, it is unarguable that during his tenure, President Reagan had over 138 administration officials convicted of crimes. The largest number of any U.S. presidential administration to date.
By far the most concerning aspect of law and order politics is its inherent basis in instilling fear as the reason for rule of law. What often occurs when fear is induced is people find themselves easily able to alter their pre-existing views of ethics and morality. When we are in fear for our safety or the existence of something we hold dear, we become willing to encourage or support things that we would normally consider to be wrong or immoral.
For example, a host of scientific research has demonstrated that human beings are born with an innate sense of what constitutes good ethical behavior; such as the fact that the vast majority of us are born with the understanding that the taking of human life is intrinsically bad. However, at times of war, people's view of killing others not only becomes a good thing but it also becomes the ultimate measurement of success.
The results can be equally as dramatic when it comes to domestic law and order politics. Suddenly when we are at war with drugs, or crime, a society can quickly become comfortable living in an environment that can foster abuses of legal power and authority. When it comes to enforcement of the law to achieve order this can result in brutality, misconduct, racial disparities, mass incarceration or gross miscarriages of justice. Again turning to history we can see examples of these outcomes such as in London’s Brixton district in 1981, Los Angeles in 1992, or France in 2005.
Often times, law and order politics can superficially seem to be successful. Take for example New York City during the tenure of Rudy Giuliani as mayor. Indeed, from 1994 to 2001, Mayor Giuliani’s law and order approach statistically reduced crime in America’s most populated city.
However, the Giuliani era also brought on an increase in police brutality and was marred by high profile incidents such as the fatal shootings of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Avnet Louima. Additionally, there was the judicial ruling of unconstitutionality in the application of the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policy.
In fact, New York’s “stop and frisk” policy is a great example of the problems that can emerge from law and order politics.
What most people don’t realize is that during the 2016 presidential debates when then-candidate Trump denied that New York’s stop and frisk policy was deemed to be unconstitutional, he wasn’t technically wrong. The stop and frisk policy WASN’T ruled to be unconstitutional; instead, the courts determined that how the NYPD was engaging in “stop and frisk” was unlawful and found there to be a disproportionate number of minorities who were subjected to stop and frisks as opposed to Whites.
Essentially, the NYPD stop and frisk policy demonstrated how easy the protectors can become the oppressors when success is determined by the achievement of law and order.
These are only a few of many examples, however, it honestly is a mute point because as I said from the beginning of this article, the idea of order through law is a myth.
The first misconception in the idea of law and order is the belief that order is a dependent variable of law. The only caveat to order by the association of law would be in regards to those inborn natural laws of humanity I briefly touched on earlier. However, when it comes to organizational or governmental sanctioning, the relationship between order and laws is by no means intrinsically connected.
If all laws extended only as far as the natural law, then the Official Code of Georgia Annotated law book I use in my professional world would be a mere fraction of the 50,000+ pages it currently is.
In truth, the bulk of outlined government legislation, no matter what state, country, or governing body, is compiled of laws that are determined to be necessary for society to function successfully. The determining authority of what constitutes a successful society is always set by the government in power.
Indeed, the United States of America is better than many other sovereign nations when it comes to governance of the people for the people; however, the reality is that legislation is not nearly as enchantingly democratic as most may believe it to be. The U.S. is actually more like a democracy through forced choice options and a federation of statehoods under an umbrella of a single federalized power.
The United States is basically a democracy in the same way as giving a person the freedom to choose between chocolate or vanilla ice cream, however, mint chocolate chip or strawberry isn’t on the menu. Again, I’m not bashing the U.S., just simply pointing out the truth. Some people in the world don’t even get a choice. They’ll eat chocolate and like it or they can starve.
Following the same example; the idea of order by rule of law essentially assumes that all problems can be solved by vanilla or chocolate ice cream. The basis that law is necessary for social order to exists requires there to be the ability to solve all social problems through clearly defined regulation. Unfortunately, when it comes to the human existence, very few things are definite or firmly structured. In fact, when it comes to what makes human beings different from all other known life forms, it is that we possess the ability to be conceptually abstract and creative.
The second problem with the idea of law and order is that it the belief’s entire foundation is formed on the idea that laws are a static and an unchangeable constant. Essentially, society is orderly by following the law, because the law is the law.
In truth, throughout all of human's history laws have always been a constantly changing and evolving aspect of social life. Just consider for example that prior to 1863 in the Southern United States, it was lawful to own and enslave other human beings. Conversely, it was unlawful and punishable by death to seek or assist freedom for African slaves. Prior to 1804, the same could be said for the northern United States. In these times of American history, the law said that slavery was a “necessary evil.”
Indeed, the legal sanctioning of slavery did represent a form of social order, yet 155 years later I must ask, do you consider slavery to be a type of social order you would want to be a part of? Would you consider it to be a moral or ethical orderly society?
I would like to say that I believe 100% of people would say no, however, I’m a realist and will say that the overwhelming bulk of people would agree that slavery is reprehensible and categorically disorderly to the very fabric of humanity.
Yet... at one point and time, slavery was the law.
Slavery is an extreme example of legality’s fallibility, however, there are countless others. Presently, we are watching the slowing tides of change in the legal view of recreational marijuana use in America. If you happen to be one that considers marijuana to be the devil’s lettuce, when you enjoy the beer ads as you watch the Super Bowl, just remember that too was once considered to be a witch’s brew.
The last bit of irrationally in law and order stems from the idea that life can ever be truly orderly. I’m not saying that to suggests that we should concede that we must exist in a dystopian world of bedlam. Rather, each of our lives is nothing more than a chaotic collection of happenstances, unintended consequences, random cause and effects that somehow come together and form who we are and a connection to the world around us.
Now, I by no means am an expert, however, after spending my entire adult life enforcing laws and attempting to achieve order, I do feel like I have gained a little experience on the idea of law and order.
For me, I reflect on the times in which order didn’t always come from the application of the law. For example, when I pulled over a single mother with three kids, whose license was suspended as a result of the last traffic ticket she got and couldn’t pay.
Would I have achieved order by applying the law and taking her to jail?
Who would I be serving by taking her to jail? Who would I be protecting? The woman? The kids? Society? Shouldn’t laws be established on the precedent of empowering success in society? Who would I have been empowering by arresting the woman and towing her car away?
To me, applying the law in that instance would not have represented order for the greater good. Instead, I used the law in an effort to establish order and hopes of actually solving problems, instead of creating more.
I told the woman that under Georgia law I had two years that I could cite her for driving while suspended. I told her to apply for jobs and try to find a way to help improve her current situation. I gave her my office number and told her once a month call and just leave a voicemail letting me where she had applied or how her job search was going until she found work. When she was able to find work and was on the road to improving her and her children’s lives, she would be free from her any threat of being cited for the suspended license and the matter would be considered resolved by a warning. If she didn’t call or at least show she was trying to improve things, I told her I would issue a warrant for her crime.
It was less than two months later that the woman left a voicemail letting me know she had been hired as a dispatcher for a local trucking company.
Was I right in how I handled that situation? By the letter of the law, I was wrong and some might say I should have just taken her to jail for breaking the law. To me, using the law as a tool for good and not as a hammer for civil obedience, represents the right application of the law and honestly, I would handle that situation exactly the same way again. Ultimately, maybe I was wrong in how I handled the situation. However, being wrong in that instance is in itself another example of the impossibility of law and order.
Societal peace and order is a mere mythological fantasy if we believe it is dependent on one being absolutely correct in their every action. In reality, each and every one of us is right and wrong every single day; and perfection is an unrealistic goal for any of us.
The bottom line is successful and flourishing societies are not achieved by forced imposition rule and order. Instead, they are born through individuals willingness to meaningfully connect with each other in the midst of life’s chaos. Meaningful and legitimate social order comes from the belief that chaotic connections can sometimes create amazing things and life isn’t always about chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Sometimes through chaos, we might just discover rainbow sherbet.
We should never be manipulated by fear, anger, or pride into believing the world can be a better place solely by the following of defined rule of order. Instead, a better world begins with the belief of success by solutions and not by the necessity of law to have social order.
At the end of the day, we shouldn't desire to have laws that are designed to achieve order. Instead, we should seek to have laws that are designed to empower.