A case for getting away with things once in a while.

I believe that life is only worth living if we have a certain amount of personal freedom to weasel our way out of an indiscretion once in a while, break an ordinance or two, maybe even buy something we’re not supposed to buy. We need a world where we can continue to “hone our chops” of craftiness. Let me explain…

Right now, if we run a red light, there’s a good chance we’ll get away with it. There’s also the risk that we get caught, which might cost us some money in the way of a fine, or at the very least a slightly embarassing warning. Worst case, we hurt ourselves or others. If an officer does stop you, the end results depend on a lot dynamics. The officer’s values, maybe even his mood. How his day has gone so far might actually influence whether or not you get a fine! And then there’s your dynamic. How good is your bullshit? Maybe a little strategically displayed cleavage or bat of an eyelash influences the consequences. But what about the idea of having cameras at every intersection, removing the need for decision, manpower, intervention? At first glance this seems like a sound solution. One more hard won efficiency thanks to technology. More officers getting home in time for dinner, or putting their energies toward more important things.

And one might argue; won’t the world be a better place? What could the downside be to keeping “idiots in check”? What’s wrong with saving hard working officers the wasted time of listening to endless excuses and name dropping, or appearances in court to testify against a misinformed jerk who insists the light was yellow and that he’s being singled out for being (fill in the blank: gay, black, tall, ugly, etc.) And of course, the old standby: “If one life can be saved, it will be worth it!” (This may be the single most dangerous, misused battle cry ever to grace the media).

So here’s my take. And keep in mind, much of what I say about social and political issues is “gut level”. I do my best to have at least a little science and fact behind me, but so many have gone before me in creating good, logical, fact and science-based arguments, that I would only be adding mediocrity to the pile. So I always come from a place of gut level feeling, intuition. If something doesn’t “feel right” I’ll say it and do my best to explain it.

I think we are better people, and are more “alive” somehow when there exists for us the possibility of “getting away with something.” I don’t expect everyone to understand or agree with this, and in fact I expect a lot of head scratching and furrowed brow at some point. But if you’re patient, hear me out: Good bullshit, a little craftiness, the urge and effort to get out of sticky situations is an art form that has helped us survive and thrive for millennia. It’s ego based of course, but then again most things are. We compete with each other as to what we can get away with. Whether it’s writing something off on our taxes that puts our toes to the line, or how we got a pass by dropping a politicians name when we got stopped for speeding the other night. It might sound like I’m condoning bad behavior, but that’s not it. I just believe that we need the freedom to engage in a little bad behavior with the possibility of getting away with it. The space to be crafty, to weasel our way out of a sticky situation and to grab our balls and push our luck once in a while. This is life. Sometimes we get away with it, sometimes we don’t. But the potential is there, and that potential is what puts the spark in our eye.

There’s some solid disadvantages to removing this space: If we give the police all this extra time, they’re just going to move onto the next item on their list. A wise man once said something to me that probably sounds sexist, but makes a lot of sense: Be careful about solving your wife’s problems. Every time you do, she gets closer to YOUR name on that list! In a similar vein, I remember reading an article years ago, written by a man who was born and raised in the US but moved to Japan. He remarked that the biggest difference between the police in the US and those in Japan was that once police solved a problem in the US, they looked deeper. You might say, they went “looking for trouble”, whereas their Japanese counterparts simply took more time off, reduced staff, etc. We are big on “keeping busy” here in the U.S. and it’s a great value system to have in general, but profoundly dangerous when applied to military or police. (Think Eisenhower’s “Military Industrial Complex” speech).

On a side note, the same danger presents itself with the idea of a cashless society. There’s no way to bribe the cable guy, buy drugs or take part in any questionable but mostly harmless activity if every dollar can be traced. This just isn’t natural and I believe the consequences will be vast and unforeseen.

However, with any state of union, balance can only be achieved by both sides participating. In order for The State to ease up on their policing, we have to focus on being that “moral populace” that our forefathers warned us to be if we were going to have and keep our Republic. This quote by John Adams could possibly be the most relevant quote for this context: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Keeping in mind, Adams had much disdain for organized religion, and most historians agree that he was saying that people needed to be, on whole, “just and good” toward one another in order for us to have the constitution we’d just created. So a possible moral to this story is, “If we want to be able to get away with bad behavior once in a while, we have to behave well and be “good and just” the rest of the time.” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-3102)

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