Archive - Feb 2010

February 16th

Creeping Authoritarianism: Still Creeping

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Memo to the NYPD, Junior High School 190, and, unsurprisingly, Ann Althouse: YOU ARE DUMB.

Ah, deference to authority. Is there a more truly American virtue? Well, actually, yes, there is. IN fact, there are hundreds of more American values than deference to authority. In a nation founded by rebelling against authority, with a governing system based on the fundamental distrust of authority, the idea that people in power be given the benefit of the doubt simply by nature of them being in power is the last thing any self-respecting American should do.

Yet it's the first thing a whole lot of Americans -do- do, more and more of them every day. A lot of that blame can be laid at eight years of the Bush administration, for whom naked authoritarianism was both their primary policy and their first line of defense. But let's not kid ourselves. It started before that, with knee-jerk defense of police brutality, zero tolerance policies in school, and the like. It all stems from our collective fetishizing of "safety", to the extent that if anything bad ever happens anywhere, it's because someone failed to prevent it, and so that someone should be vested with more power so that no bad things can ever happen again.

This is how children get tasered, and random brown people get tortured, and random brown nations get invaded and bombed. How every movement gets caught on camera, how Pat Buchanan stays on my television, and how twelve year olds get handcuffed and dragged off by the police for doodling on their desks with a marker.

If you ask almost every single person directly involved in the arrest of Alexa Gonzalez - the police who handcuffed her, the Forest Hill school who called the police, the girl or her mother - they will all agree that writing "I love my friends Abby and Faith", "Lex was here. 2/1/10" and a smiley face on her desk in green erasable marker was not an offense that justified calling the police, handcuffing her, and putting her in custody.

But if you ask anyone who directly caused the arrest of Alexa Gonzalez, none of them will accept responsibiity for the fact that it happened anyway. The school was following its policy, the police were just doing their job. All we need is for some authoritarian apologist in the media to come along and proclaim that the disproportionate response wasn't disproportionate, and we'll be all set for things to get a little bit worse. And when you need an A.A., who better than A.A. herself, Ann Althouse? ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Why make a star out of a kid that defaced school property with graffiti? She's an especially cute girl, willing to pose with her wrists together in the handcuff position. I'm sure some readers appreciate the entertainment on that level. Do we know the whole story of why she was arrested and why handcuffs were deemed necessary?" - Althouse, on her blog.

Althouse demonstrates all the hallmarks of authoritarian apology in just one paragraph. Accuse the victim of seeking publicity. Exaggerate the offense. Doodling on a school desk isn't "graffiti". And automatically assume that there is some untold, unrevealed set of facts out there that will surely prove that the people in authority were not only justified, but acted with uncommon restraint. We saw the same shit when Henry Louis Gates got arrested for trespassing in his own house.

Althouse and her ilk will always assume the best possible motives of authority, until and unless that authority turns their attention to themselves, their families, or their friends. At that point, without the slightest self-awareness of their own hypocrisy, assume the worst possible motives of authority, and display every bit of shameful victimhood they blamed people for previously. See also: Rush Limbaugh, drug abuse.

We desperately need to dial all this shit back. If a junior high school student writes on their desk, hand them spray cleaner, a paper towel, and maybe a detention slip. Problem solved. My entire generation managed to learn just fine on desks that had everything from swear words to Van Halen logos carved into them with implements that would get today's students expelled and a few years in jail. The police get more and more militaristic and inflexible every year, and we use them to enforce school regulations more and more every year. We keep this up, and it's just going to keep getting uglier, until even Ann Althouse is a bit unhappy.