As America makes its incremental march towards militarizing the nation’s police force and centralizing control, we are seeing more and more physical altercations between police and non-violent protesters. This situation is fairly typical during times of war, economic depression and civil rights struggles, and right now we happen to be caught up in all three at the same time.
The clashes that have taken place between protesters and police thus far have sparked endless discussion on the Web and in the media about whether the actions of the police are ethical. Since this has been such a controversial topic, it is first necessary for us to establish a set of universal ethical guidelines, so we can justly determine what code of conduct would be appropriate for these situations.
Luckily for us, libertarian scholars have been developing such a system of ethics for quite some time now, so it won’t be very difficult to make sense of all this.
I am of course talking about “The Non-Aggression Principle”, which has also been known as “The Golden Rule” in previous generations.
The Common Law Institute describes the non-aggression principle as “do not initiate force or fraud”, or “if it harms none, do what you will”, or “treat others as you’d like to be treated”, or “live and let live”.
In more detail, “Do not initiate force or fraud against anyone else’s person or property.”
In other words, except for self-defense, don’t harm others, don’t harm or steal their property, don’t break your word, and don’t try to coerce anyone by threatening to do any of these things, and don’t delegate or encourage anyone to do any of these things.
Don’t hurt anyone, be honest and don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you — this sounds like an incredible ethical guideline to me! In reality, this is all common sense to most average people, and the good majority of the world’s population would prefer to live their lives according to these principles. These standards are also generally accepted by most religions and social groups. Some people will even argue that our society is already functioning according to these principles, and for the most part they would be right. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule that have thrown our world into chaos; that being authority figures who claim the privilege to initiate force without consequence or legitimate claim of defense.
By this standard we can say that “if you initiate the use of force and harm another person, or you violate their property you are acting immorally.” This rule applies to every human being regardless of what title they happen to have or costume they happen to be wearing. This is a moral standard that aims to protect the individual rights and personal property of every human being, regardless of class or social position.
This standard would be recognized as fair, and only customs that are seen as fair will actually be respected by society, which is why subjective and inconsistent standards are never fully respected and thus encourage chaos. These guidelines are universal (apply to each human being equally) so are therefore more honest than other moral codes in the past that have been subjective and centered on force, obedience or sacrifice. Subjective ethical standards are seen as optional by most people, so they fail to create any kind of social order, which is apparently what they are intended to do.
No one wants to be a victim of violence, theft or fraud; it is these fears that are responsible for the development of law and morality in philosophy to begin with. Unfortunately, neither law nor morality is currently achieving this goal, because their honest intention is not to protect people but to fleece and control them. Only a subjective law can be used by one to control another. A universal law, on the other hand, is a common understanding that encourages honest and peaceful interactions. When someone steps outside of these guidelines for any reason and initiates the use of force or fraud they can then be held accountable for their aggressions, even if they come from a position of authority.
The Non-Aggression Principle doesn’t only protect us from harm and fraud but also encourages honesty and integrity because it holds everyone to the same standard. People cannot be honest with one another in the face of a double standard because in order to accept that double standard in the first place they must already be lying to themselves. Morality has continued to be a messy, confusing and divisive topic because it has remained subjective and oppressive.
What does all this have to do with our discussion about police brutality? Everything! If people had a proper understanding of the Non-Aggression Principle, it would be blatantly obvious that the police are the ones in the wrong, since it is them, not the protesters, who are initiating the use of force.
The main arguments that we have seen in defense of police brutality is that, “the police are just doing their job”, or “since the protesters were participating in civil disobedience they should have expected whatever was thrown at them”. Both of these arguments are invalid because they are resting upon the assumption that police have a right to initiate the use of force on non-violent people. In other words, these viewpoints are not holding all parties involved to the same standard, and are thus perpetuating the misconception that disobedience is a justifiable reason to bring force upon a non-violent person.
To illustrate this fact, let’s take a look back at the late 1960s. Civil rights protesters where peacefully gathering in the streets to raise awareness about the injustice that they were suffering at the hands of the State. These protesters were met with what the police at the time considered to be “non-lethal force”, which included attack dogs, batons and fire hoses. At the time this use of force was praised in the media, while the activists who staged boycotts and sit-ins were labeled as extremists and criminals.
Fast forward over 40 years and we see history repeating itself. Sadly, the media and mainstream population is continuing to apologize for State-sponsored violence against Americans, despite the fact that most people now recognize the heroism of the protesters in the streets and the brutality of law enforcement during the uprisings of the 1960s.
This is largely due to the fact that our generation (and many before it) has been trained to completely ignore the causal factors of social problems. Many Americans are focusing on what is happening when these protesters meet with police, rather than the fact that people are in the streets for quite legitimate reasons.
J.G. Vibes – is an author, and artist – with an established record label. In addition to featuring a wide variety of activist information, his website – Good Vibes Promotions hosts electronic dance music events. You can keep up with him and his forthcoming book Alchemy Of the Modern Renaissance, at his Facebook page.