Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The police and other showmen

Plato seems to have been utterly impressed by at least one basic point made by earlier philosophers: that what we see is not what there is but merely what we get. After Plato, Aristotle gave this inkling the status of a trade mark, and the medievalists turned it into a distinctive brand of European philosophy. The art of detecting appearances, and the subtle techniques of discovering what lies underneath, became the special craft of the able, quick and sharp.

The Great Suspicion of the West thus became: Nothing Is What It Seems! Philosophers made of it a religion; and politicians a science. For the time being I will leave the philosophers and their religions. I will only take up here one single strand of the politician, and that is the policemen. That the police are politicians should not surprise you. They deal with the political state, to say the least; and they engage themselves thoroughly in the politics of social life. But, worthy as they may be, these are not what I understand by political here. The police are political in a bad sense, the ugly sense, the perverse sense, of the word.

Remember I had said (last time) that, in part, justice, and especially criminal justice, is about designating culprits? Well, that job is the speciality of the police. They do it while revelling in their gloomy craft of deception and appearances. They do it while priding themselves on what dexterous showmen they are capable of being. And indeed they are. The police choose―yes, choose, I say―their victims. They actually, really, ‘designate’ culpability on whoever they think may give the best effects to their results. Of course, a person makes him or herself susceptible to the ‘designation’ of the police; and then the rest is easy. The police choose him and not the other; he today and the other tomorrow; for the time being neither him nor the other; … so on and so forth.

What is this game? With it the police reinforce their own importance. They conserve the work ethic that makes them be. And finally, gives them leeway to be dirty without getting caught; to pit Tom against Dick, and Dick against Harry, while they themselves emerge as the heroes. It is a show that goes on and on under our own noses, but one we are unlikely to discover … unless we too are showmen.

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