I was quite tired yesterday when I read something interesting. Having read it, I jotted down an idea for blogging about it. That note says “loving the individual versus loving the system.” I then went to bed. Today, I’ve spent the last several hours trying to remember what I read and what my cryptic little note meant.
Quite obviously, of course, the note refers to the difference between true conservatives, who believe in individualism, and Leftists of every type who speak of the individual, but only as a prop to justify state power. The problem is that I’ve said this multiple times before at this blog. What was new and exciting to me was something that I read that more perfectly illustrated the difference between conservative and statist. I suspect that whatever that interesting trigger was, it’s gone forever, which is too bad.
However, having that thought in my mind did come in handy today when I got a call from a friend. Someone she knows got arrested on the charge of doing something very bad. He and his family don’t have much money, so they cannot afford a good lawyer. Instead, he will get a pro bono public defender pulled from a pool of available attorneys — which means it’s very hit and miss whether the attorney has the actual skills to represent him. The multiple charges against him carry automatic and lengthy prison terms — in other words, mitigating circumstances are not allowed. I don’t know whether this person did what the police say he did but I do know that, if he actually did do what was alleged, there are actually mitigating circumstances.
But here’s the deal: Because of the mandatory sentencing, his pro bono lawyer has already told him to plea bargain. A trial is just too risky, because the outcome is binary — you win or you go to jail forever — and the attorney isn’t good enough to raise a reasonable challenge to the state’s charges. That means that, even if this guy is innocent or there are extenuating circumstances, the risk of having his day in court is so great that the system is forcing him to spend the next decade or more in prison.
This is profoundly undemocratic. We are guaranteed under the constitution a right to a fair and speedy trial, but the system is designed so that people have no incentive to take advantage of that inherent right. The problem isn’t even as simple as rich defendants versus poor defendants. It’s the fact that prosecutors layer on as many charges as possible, regardless of their validity, simply to force a plea bargain. Rich people can hold out longer, but ultimately prosecutorial overreach is a “get into jail very not free” card.
My friend, who is heartbroken, was fulminating about the “police state.” I agree. I don’t blame individual police officers or even individual prosecutors (many of whom I count as my friends in the legal world). They are operating in a system that cedes them greater and greater power, and with power inevitably follows corruption. This is especially true when there are no checks on that power.
I see this increased power flowing not from the conservatives, who are normally considered law and order types, but from the statists, who are control freaks. An inevitable byproduct of a control-freak is increased enforcement. That is, control is meaningless unless you have the brute force to effectuate it.
Put another way, conservatives expect people to behave well. Rather than micro-managing that behavior, they would like our institutions to teach good behavior as a moral, not a police, imperative. Think about it this way: If you remove God from the equation, the Ten Commandments are still a perfect list of core moral behaviors that lead to societal cooperation:
Then God said all these words: “I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.
“You are to have no other gods before me.
You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, ADONAI your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.
“You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly.
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work -not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the for eigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.
“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you.
“Do not murder.
“Do not commit adultery.
“Do not steal.
“Do not give false evidence against your neighbor.
“Do not covet your neighbor’s house; do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
People who willingly abide by these rules are good citizens. Conservatives do not believe that they are perfect, but that they will err on the side of decency and morality. The problem, of course, is that without God as the ultimate, albeit abstract enforcer (which is the case with statists who will not cede any micromanagement even to God), you’re left with nothing put police power to carry out your increasingly petty and overreaching decrees.
Since there are no big rules, there can only be thousands and tens of thousands of petty little rules. And petty little rules need an awful lot of law enforcement. And a lot of law enforcement means a vast concentration of power centered on policing. It also means an overwhelmed prison system that incentivizes going to jail rather than presenting your case.
What was fascinating was that my friend, in the midst of her unhappiness, had an epiphany: Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of the leading lights of state power. It’s true. The minatory, bossy, arrogant Feinstein is certain that she knows everything better than you. She goes about armed or with guards, but she knows that you’re too stupid to be armed. Or if you are allowed to be armed, she knows which gun you should use and how many bullets it will take for you to defend yourself. She knows what you should be paid for your work, she knows how much of your income the government can spend better than you, and she knows that it’s up to her to control even the minutest details of your life.
My friend, though, hasn’t quite connected all the dots. After fingering DiFi as the living embodiment of Big Government, my friend said, in a bewildered voice, “I don’t understand how she could have come out of San Francisco.”
I’m not shy. I told my friend that SF is the perfect DiFi breeding ground. Take away San Francisco’s endless tolerance for public nudity and gay sex, and you reveal a City government with pure tyrannical instincts. The Board of Stupidvisors micromanages the city in every way possible and has since the Leftist takeover in the 1960s. Here are just a few examples, which appear in posts I’ve written over the years:
This definitely wasn’t the post I intended to write, but it will have to do.