Be Afraid of Criminals; Be Very Afraid of “Good Citizens”

Just idly listening with one ear to the TV on in the other room, I heard Rick Sanchez on CNN discussing the arrest of a college student—Robyn Foster—who reportedly became violent and disruptive in a class.  She was shouting at the instructor and other students, threw a water bottle at a critic, and refused to leave when requested to do so.  Cops showed up and carried her out (“You’re goint to have to carry my ass out”), managing to cuff her after a confused period of thrashing around in which they all fell to the ground several times and knocked over some desks.  She reportedly threatened legal action afterward because of alleged injuries

Viewer email responses ranged from “the cops went too far—they always do” (which moved Sanchez to say “They’re actually blaming the cops”), to “when someone with a gun tells you to do something, you drop everything and do it.”

Intrigued, I did a Web search to get more details.  From what I’ve seen—and leaving aside the issue that government cops were involved—any group of people associated for some voluntary effort like a class would be fully justified in forcibly expellinganyone engaged in such egregiously disruptive behavior.  And if the disruptor resisted being ejected, and those ejecting her used only a reasonable and proportionate amount of force, she probably wouldn’t have any grounds for complaint if she were injured in the process.

But what really struck me was the authoritarian nature of viewer responses at YouTube and other video sites.

There was the remark above on Sanchez’s program, about automatically doing whatever someone with a gun tells you.  That might be pretty good advice, in the same category of backing slowly away and not making any sudden moves when dealing with a rabid dog.  But in this case, I get the impression the commenter considered the mere fact of possessing a gun sufficient to put the rabid dog—er, cop—in the right.

Another viewer email to Sanchez complained of the culture of entitlement, and called for teaching the young whipper-snappers a lesson about who’s in charge in the schools (“the teachers are”).  Similarly, I read something in the local paper a few years ago about a nursing student who was denied her degree because she disobeyed the school administrator’s dress code for the graduation ceremony.  The administrator justified the decision by asking something like “What’s she gonna do when a doctor gives her orders?”

Hmmm.  Last I heard, higher education is a service offered on the market.  Seems kind of odd to me that, in what should be considered a contractual exchange between equals, one party is “in charge.”  It’s almost like they’re importing some sort of in loco parentis authority relationship into an exchange of services on the market.  You know, the same way some people want to import the authoritarian culture of master-servant relationships into the wage labor relationship—what’s supposedly another form of voluntary exchange between equals.  Come to think of it, it seems to be pretty much the same Archie Bunker types who think the person you purchase educational services from is your master, and that the person you sell your labor services to is your master.  The common denominator, apparently, is that the person sitting behind the desk calls the shots.

Another  comment on the classroom incident, at Mahalo:  “I’ve always been taught that you are to respect police and do whatever they tell you to do, regardless if you are in the wrong or not.”  And at YouTube:  “She MUST comply with an order from a police officer…no matter what! Her recourse is to sue for an unlawful arrest, not ignore them and fight with them when theyre forced to remove her stupid ass. Laws are for everyone to obey…even big nasty ghetto bitches with attitudes. Cops had no choice. “

Wow.  Just wow.

This is what comes of a society in which most people spend the first eighteen years of their lives being taught to do whatever is necessary to please an authority figure behind a desk, watching CNN war coverage and shows like COPS that teach them to roll over and show their bellies to any alpha male in uniform, and spend another forty years in which their livelihood is entirely at the mercy of some boss.  That’s one hell of a lot of mutually reinforcing conditioning, all to the effect that when someone in a putative position of authority says to do something, a Good Little Do Bee just does it without question.

That disruptive student was a dolt, plain and simple.  I’d really hate to have someone like her disrupting an event where people were trying to get something done.  But it’s the “good,” non-disruptive people out there who REALLY scare me.  I’m not afraid of the disruptors kicking my door in at 3AM, or turning me in to the Gestapo.  But I’m afraid the Good Germans in this society might do just that under the right set of conditions.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory