Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The fetish of breaking the law

It was December 2008, back when the American left was smiling itself to sleep every night that Barack Obama had been elected and would be able to fix most of America's problems in his first term, when environmental extremist Tim DeChristopher infiltrated an auction for oil-drilling land. He won 13 bids and drove up the prices on others. I remember reading an alternative weekly at the time that implied DeChristopher believed he would get a pardon from the new president.

Well, he got a felony conviction instead. Unfortunately, he only received a two year sentence and is now free, despite the untold amount of damages he inflicted.

Every left wing loon has praised DeChristopher for his so-called civil disobedience, which has come to mean a willingness to commit crimes because one thinks their personal value judgments makes them above the law and traditional moral values.

For what it's worth, President Obama can not be understood as a far-left extremist because people like Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein show how out there they can be. She saw fit to get arrested on purpose to draw attention to herself, hoping the public would assume she is being arrested merely for her political views and not trying to storm into a building where the president is located or aiding "human shields" who hold themselves hostage to block work crews. And that was just in the past month.

I'm written before how the American left likes to fantasize that they are in a good versus evil struggle like the civil rights movement was, and will justify engaging in civil disobedience not over racist laws but anything they disagree with, even if it involves violence against innocent people. They don't just see getting arrested as a means to an end, they revel in it. It reminds me of what Bryan Caplan said that the protagonist of Crime and Punishment was a Leninist because of, among other things, his:

Eager, poetic embrace of the implication that mass murder is conceivably morally justified; indeed, morally required.

The big problem with this rush to break any law that stands in the way is that sometimes these people have a warped view of reality and the greater evil they think they are fighting turns out not to exist, leaving them to commit crimes in a way that does not actually benefit the greater good. Steven Pinker hit upon this idea as well:

...there are ideologies, such as those of militant religions, nationalism, Nazism, and Communism, that justify vast outlays of violence by a Utopian cost-benefit analysis: if your belief system holds out the hope of a world that will be infinitely good forever, how much violence are you entitled to perpetrate in pursuit of this infinitely perfect world? 
 Well, as much as much as you want, and you're always ahead of the game. The benefits always outweigh the costs. Moreover, imagine that there are people who hear about your scheme for a perfect world and just don't get with the program. They might oppose you in bringing heaven to earth. How evil are they? They're the only things standing in the way of an infinitely good Earth. Well, you do the math.  

When people believe their political positions allow them to transcend the morals of following the law, no matter what level of severity that takes, they are committing a major act of hubris. They don't think the rules apply to them anymore because they know something everyone else doesn't. Sadly, there is nothing stopping fools from reaching these conclusions and acting on them.


  1. Two question occur to me. First, you said that DeChristopher inflicted an "untold amount" of damages, what damages were these exactly? It seems to me from the information provided both here and in the links that he merely disrupted an auction, and that the situation was resolved fairly quickly. It's fully possible I've missed something, but this doesn't seem like an "untold amount" of damage to me, more like a moderate inconvenience. Could you clarify?

    Second, you seem to indicate some sympathy towards those who engaged in civil disobedience during the civil rights movement, while disdaining those who have a "warped sense of reality" and engage in similar actions. Leaving aside those who are truly insane though, isn't the question of whether their view of reality is warped exactly the question at hand? For instance, if I considered US drone strikes throughout the world to be a grave moral evil, would it be acceptable to engage in civil disobedience to attempt to stop these programs? I suppose ultimately I'm asking: where do we draw the line in such a way that isn't simply "causes I agree with" on one side and "causes I don't" on another? If I've misread you, apologies!

  2. Very well. "Merely disrupted an auction" is like saying someone "merely burned down a house. Another one was built in it's place." From the HuffPo link in the first line, we can see plenty of people ended up paying more, and someone decided to stick with them because of uncertainty with President Obama's administration. He cost innocent people money.

    Second, I don't support civil disobedience - which involves wasting police resources to make a political point. I am simply saying that Bull Connor was clearly in the wrong, while that can not be said in any of the other cases. The civil rights movement performed plenty of legal marches and boycotts.

    I don't know why one would have to, say, trespass on federal land to protest drone strikes. It seems like a strange false dichotomy - either do nothing or try to get arrested. Why not protest in another way - a way that embraces procedural liberalism and the rule of law?

  3. I have to agree with TheWedge's first point about the untold damages. I would also add that the house burning analogy is pretty weak.

    I do, however, agree with the general idea that many protesters go out of their way to act as martyrs for their cause. The occupy movement, for example, was full of people who attached themselves to the cause just to fit their aesthetic; "upload that picture of me throwing confetti at the cop, so I can make it my profile pic" kind of stuff. These people don't appreciate the great protest movements of the past for their accomplishments, they appreciate the imagery. In other words, they want to get arrested to be cool.

    I don't mean to say that civil disobedience is necessarily a bad method of protest, or that there aren't many brave people who were arrested while fighting terribly injustices.

    1. The house burning analogy isn't far off though. Both involve the deliberate, malevolent, diversion of resources against the will of numerous parties.

      The insurance company that has to pay the damages, the homeowner that has to pay the deductible, the increased demand for resources diverted to a building that need not have been replaced- I could go on and on.

      He drives the prices up on the land, the resources pulled from the ground are now more expensive (continue that on and on by yourself).

      Now I have to choose between paying my insurance deductible to rebuild my burned home and buying fuel oil to heat it.

      This fiends actions did not occur in a vacuum gentleman, he reached into the wallets of thousands, and while he may not have touched a match to any homes, he surly had a hand in setting fire to the ambitions of many people, no matter how insignificant they may look from the lofty heights of his political indignity.

      If you still can't see the flames, you may want to check for rose colored glasses, they hide fire as well as blood.

  4. "If you still can't see the flames, you may want to check for rose colored glasses, they hide fire as well as blood."

    Nate, are you trying to out wax-poetic me on my own blog? Bravo.

  5. I have my moments.

    For some reason all I could picture was John Lennon the whole time.