|Over in the quote about the government having "no role" in money, we got sidetracked. |
http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/Quotes/1820.shtml#3Well, yes, in most places, anyone can intervene (if not legally, then lawfully) to stop any felony they perceive themselves in action. Similarly, anyone can toss a dollar in the Red Kettle at Christmas time without being an altruist and without being compelled by taxation to be charitable. Those are not the issues.
MEM: I tossed this poser out a couple of years ago and never got an appropriate reply.
Rights can only be violated by volitional actors, by other people.
The police can only act in retaliation to a violation of rights.
So, if the police see a pack of coyotes surrounding a child, are they morally obligated to act?
(As a corollary, if the police know from emergency systems that a tornado is approaching, and if they see picnickers on the public square, are they morally obligated to warn people of the danger?)
Steve Wolfer: That's not so difficult, Michael.
The police can only take those actions they are legally empowered to take - that is their official scope of duties. It is a legal, not moral constraint. But nothing stops them from taking actions as private citizens that they feel morally obligated to take. Anyone, policeman, garbage collector, housewife, etc., can choose to help a child being threatened by coyotes. It isn't an issue of rights or law enforcement.
The question about whether someone is morally obligated to take an action is a different question.
Is someone morally obligated to take grave risks to their life to help a stranger? No - sacrifice is not rationally justifiable.
Is someone acting rationally and morally to warn the people of the coming tornado when it is at no significant risk or cost to them? Yes.
We should value another human life - even a strangers. But how much is that value? Higher than 10 minutes of a persons's time where there is little to no risk of harm or cost? I'd say that is certainly so.
The question is specifically about the role of the police in a so-called "Objectivist society." What if the police do not act in these cases? Have they failed a legal mandate? Under the definitions we seem to accept, it appears not. I believe that those definitions are lacking. Allow me to suggest that we demand something more of the police in their professional roles as providers of justice. I offer this below from a criminal justice professor as being close to the mark. I know that we will object to the concept of "sacrifice" as stated there, but, let me suggest this means only "pay the highest price."
THE POLICE UNIFORM
It is sometimes said that police culture has been overstudied. However, there are probably many aspects of it that are overlooked. There may be many things to study. A "tradition" may go unquestioned. The object of study might be a "taboo" topic; or, it might simply be that some long-standing custom has always been taken for granted.
As an example or illustration, let's take the UNIFORM. Lots of social groups wear uniforms -- athletes, soldiers, students, teachers, musicians, cheerleaders, religious leaders, hospital staff, bellboys, and policemen, to name a few. During Hitler's reign in Nazi Germany, all civilian occupational groups were ordered to come up with, and wear, dress uniforms (as part of Hitler's plan to get rid of undesirables). What is the role of the uniform? What does it signify? Fussell (2003) [Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear By Paul Fussell -- MEM] has some answers, and he begins by distinguishing between costumes and uniforms. A costume is what you put on when you are play-acting or role-playing; and a uniform is what you put on when you are deadly serious and role-filling.
A real uniform brings honor to the person wearing it, and it marks that person as someone who performs important impersonal and demanding tasks for the powerful (the duke, the king, the president, or God). There is a quasi-religious aspect to uniforms, suggesting that the wearer is one who commonly engages in self-sacrifice and risk-taking.
Uniforms also have some kind of erotic, masculine appeal, since they usually highlight or try to emphasize big, strong shoulders (with epaulettes, shoulder boards, insignia, and braiding). Uniforms for females have less of a specific eroticism, but are nonetheless erotic to some. At one time in history (before 1300), it was the length of a man's hair which made him appear dutiful to his lord. Then, there was an era when wigs signified much the same thing. Our modern age is the uniform age, and neckties were invented (in the 1890s) to be worn with suits as a "democracizing" influence (every man can wear a tie, and any tie looks good on a man). With so-called "suits," the number of buttons on the sleeve and whether the shirt is buttoned-down (technically, buttoned-up the neck) has traditionally represented either seniority on the job or a sense of superiority to everyone else (lapel pins probably serve this purpose today).
There is another thing about uniforms which deserves mention, and that is uniforms were meant to stand straight up in, not to be worn sitting down. Fatigues or camouflage clothing were designed for that, or when carrying out punishment or demeaning tasks.
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[NOTE Apparently, I found this first in 2005 when Lt. Col. Mark Stevens wrote this while teaching at North Carolina Weslyan College; he now teaches at Cal State Fresno. -- MEM)
A police officer is not an ordinary citizen. A policewoman is never off-duty. They always are sworn to a specific court. (Sometimes, they are sworn to two or more, but, never less than one.) The policeman has more power than the state. Michigan is one of a dozen American states (and among 96 world nations) with no death penalty. Yet, on the street, the police officer legally and lawfully can take a life out of necessity.
So, the original problem stands. I agree with Steve, of course, but beyond that, it is the sworn obligation of the policewoman to risk her life to save the child surrounded by coyotes. Similarly, the officers who know of the tornado and do nothing are culpable for all the consequences suffered by those whom they chose not to save.
The premises that (a) the police can only act against volitional agents who (b) have violated the rights of other rational creatures are false. The purpose of the police is to protect people from harm.
(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 10/02, 7:57am)