Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Unfair government and choice

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To continue the discussion of choice (see The illusion of choice and non-choice):

There are some interesting variations of restrictions on choice, often involving civil servants or police, including “having a choice” but being unaware of this choice, having a choice but being unaware of the stakes and consequences involved, being denied a choice that one rightfully should have, and seeing a so rapid and unexpected escalation that choice becomes irrelevant.

Consider e.g. citizen–police interactions in the U.S. (and likely many other countries too): We have non-criminals who travel with large amounts of money for a legitimate reason—and see that money confiscated through civil forfeiture, on the mere unproved suspicion that it would have some connection to something criminal. We have an innocent woman, Ashley Babbit, gunned down in cold blood for no even remotely justifiable reason, with not even a “Leave NOW or I’ll shoot!”—her murderer walked free. We have Republicans, Pro-Lifers, and the like being arrested in public, in their homes, and/or with an overkill of police force, when nothing more was called for than a notification of “Please surrender yourself voluntarily within three days.” (or whatever might be applicable in the individual case; and even assuming that the underlying suspicion was justified to begin with, which often seems dubious).

Even in more specifically criminal–police, troublemaker–police, whatnot–police interactions, there is often a risk of undue or premature escalation, e.g. in that shots are fired too soon, that something harmless is mistaken for a weapon (followed by deadly force* from the police), or that a criminal is not given the chance to surrender, drop his weapon, whatnot.** Here the question is often (for the purposes of this text!) not whether someone is doing something wrong, but whether a sufficient awareness of the potential consequences is present/can reasonably be assumed to be present—and whether the police has sufficiently considered all relevant circumstances that were known, should have been known, or should have been reasonably suspected. A particularly absurd and horrifying case is the shooting of Linden Cameron, a boy of 13 (cf. e.g. Wikipedia; also see below for more details). I seem to recall (but might be wrong; the principle remains instructive) a story of someone deaf being thrown to the ground for not obeying instructions delivered from behind. The possibility of deafness is certainly something that must be considered in such situations.*** Ditto, with reservations for the details, the risk that a hearing-someone looking the wrong way might not be aware that certain instructions were intended for him. Ditto the risk that someone does not speak English.

*As this term is often misunderstood, I stress that “deadly force” does not automatically imply a high risk of death. A strike with a nightstick that breaks an arm is also an example. (But, yes, with enough bad luck even breaking an arm can result in death.)

**What counts as e.g. “too soon” will depend on the individual case and I will not attempt to give a specific rule. Suffice it to say that there are situations where immediate deadly force is called for and situations where it is not. (Indeed, that things vary from case to case is likely a strong contributor to such issues. The choice between firing too early, potentially killing/injuring someone unnecessarily, and firing too late, risking one’s own or a hostage’s death/injury, e.g., can be quite tricky.)

***Note the Bayesian angle: few are deaf, but given the fact that someone does not react to sound, the probability increases drastically. Ditto the probability that someone is using in-ears with noise cancellation to listen to music, and similar. (Leaving aside whether such in-ears are a good idea when outside.)

To look at Linden Cameron in more detail, it appears that his mother called 911 to get help to bring him to a hospital—an act that no reasonable person would have seen as involving the risk of a shooting. (From the description on Wikipedia, it is not clear that she even expected the police, as opposed to, say, an EMT or a social-service employee.) Linden ends up running away from the police, which he (especially at age 13, regardless of autism) could hardly have expected to lead to worse consequences than a chase and, if caught, a tackle. Instead, he was shot at eleven times and grievously wounded—with no adequate warning.* This, notably, despite the police being at least approximately aware of his age and condition or, on the outside, should have been aware.** That the actual shooting seems to have been performed by a single officer does not make the injuries lesser, but it does point to the increased risk for the people—disaster only requires one single officer who misunderstands the situation, is too trigger happy, shows up high on something, whatnot.

*At least, going by the description, where a “Get on the ground!” is mentioned, but not, e.g., a “Halt or I’ll shoot!”. (It is conceivable that one of the shots were intended as a warning shot, but I doubt that someone fleeing would take a gun shot, with no verbal companion, as cause to stop running. The opposite seems more likely.)

**From Linden’s point of view, there are more circumstances of relevance claimed, e.g. a strong fear of the police; however, I try to keep this as fair as possible to the police. It is reasonable to demand that they knew or visually recognized that he was just a kid, but the same demand for his fear of the police would almost always be unreasonable.

Once in court, absurdities in many legal and justice systems can lead to utterly disproportionate punishments and other consequences. Consider the Ahmaud Arbery shooting ([1]): Let us say, strictly for the sake of argument, that the two McMichaels set out to deliberate murder Arbery. How does that justify the multiple life-sentences that befell William Bryan? How could he even remotely have predicted that outcome? There are no signs that he coordinated in a non-trivial manner with the McMichaels, it is unclear to what degree he knew them, he did not fire a weapon, he did not attack anyone, etc.* All he did was drive a car in a manner that was deemed felonious—and (a) he was likely not aware of even the risk that his driving would be deemed felonious, (b) from my layman’s point of view, it seems a comparatively harmless matter felony-wise,** even were it contextually unacceptable, which might be a matter for debate. Now, because another party killed someone, his felonies became “felony murders”—and his life was ruined. Felony murder is an abomination and must be abolished, at least for cases comparable to this one (also see [1]).

*Going by my last state of knowledge and with reservations for memory errors. I have not looked into the case since last year.

**Much unlike e.g. the Waukesha massacre. By analogy, giving someone a slap in the face is battery—and so is beating him until he is unconscious and needs a few weeks in a hospital to recuperate. The former might (under most circumstances) be unacceptable, but it is not even remotely on the level of the latter.

And, remember, that this is even making extreme assumptions, very likely to be wrong, about the McMichaels. There are no signs of any ill-intent in the two that I am aware of. They might or might not have acted ill-advisedly, maybe even illegally by engaging Arbery, but everything points to good intentions (in general; not necessarily vis-a-vis Arbery) of more-or-less peaceful neighborhood protection. Especially the younger and non-shooting McMichael could make a very strong case for just being an innocent (beyond minor felonies*) victim of circumstance, where he acted in good faith and with no awareness of potential consequences. The older is the only one of the three who shot anyone, and the only one who might be on the line for murder in a sane justice system. Even for him, however, there is the issue of self-defense and chances are both that he saw pulling the trigger as justified in the moment, and that a great many others would have done the same in the same position.

*And even these might be disputable, depending on who drove and did what prior to the shooting, which I do not remember.

In contrast, Arbery had, or should reasonably have had, an understanding of the potential consequences of his actions: Attack a man with a gun, and being shot is par for the course. (Note that this does not change because the attacker believes the attack to be justified, which might or might not have been the case here. Guns do not care about right and wrong.)

Looking at various governmental agencies, they are often allowed to just fine without warning and often out of proportion—where a private entity with a complaint usually must first point out a problem and ask for a remedy before taking further actions (and this further action ultimately involving a law suit and a court judgment before the equivalent of a fine can be relevant). More generally, at least in Germany, various civil servants and similar characters are often allowed to by-pass the court system entirely and merely dictate the equivalent of a court outcome on their own. The afflicted citizen still has the opportunity to go to court, but should not count on being successful, because the German government/civil-service system is drenched in a mentality of “the citizen is always wrong; the civil servant is always right”.

Consider the case of an absurd and unwarranted 1000 dollar fine:* An old owner of a building in NYC had failed to have a boiler inspected. The boiler was removed before the next owner, one Serafim, bought the building. There was no sign of the issue on a “title search”, because of delays in the city bureaucracy. Years later, Serafim is told to fork over a 1000 dollar as penalty for his predecessors negligence—and to have the long removed (!) boiler re-inspected. His requests for a hearing are denied. Allegedly, this is a deliberate standard practice in NYC.

*I had a better case in mind, relating to much, much larger fines for an overgrown lawn. (The owner went on a long vacation, the guy hired to take care of the lawn died, and tens of thousands of dollars in fines accumulated before the owner was even properly notified that something was amiss—with reservations for details.) Unfortunately, I only found the above in my browser history and my current search-engine, mojeek, is (yet another) useless POS. On the upside, the similarities with my own situation (cf. below) make the example the more satisfying.

The following quote catches much of the general issue with government abuse, overreach, undue bureaucracy, failure to consider the citizens point of view, etc.:

Serafim said, in a statement released through the IJ, “This lawsuit isn’t about me, it’s about the basic principle that nobody should be punished without a hearing or a chance for an appeal. The city punished me for someone else’s mistake and then denied me a chance to point that out,” Serafim said. “This system is simply wrong, and I want to help ensure that other people don’t have to go through this.”

To this I note a similar own set of experiences in Germany with the (technically pointless and redundant-due-to-yearly-servicing) exhaust check of gas heaters. A chimney sweep, the runner of a commercial business,* performs legally mandated (but, again, pointless) exhaust checks as part of a government make-work** scheme to keep the otherwise borderline unemployable employed. After various problems*** with these impossible persons, I decided to just dodge the issue by cancelling my gas contract. Despite my having no gas and despite no check being technically possible, he insisted on a check. When I turned him down, in light of his and his staffs repeated rudeness, incompetence, and belligerence, he went straight to the city and had a two(?)-hundred-something Euro fine ordered. The city refused any reasonable hearing or objection, including relating to the absence of gas, and certainly did not ask for my point of view in advance. The chimney sweep said to fine someone; ergo, we fine. To avoid future demands for these pointless checks and/or unjustifiable fines, I was ultimately forced to remove the entire gas heater. Utter insanity! (The above leaves out quite a few other complications that are equally insane.) A semi-sane system would have had the chimney sweep report the issue to the city, the city to contact me with a request for information and/or resolution, and the fact that I had no gas would have ended the matter—possibly, excepting a reprimand to the chimney sweep. Alternatively, the city would have given me a deadline to arrange matters after which a fine might have been applicable. A truly sane system would, of course, not have these nonsense checks to begin with.

*In other words, he has an immediate personal advantage from forcing his “services” onto those who do not need them. In contrast, an employee of NYC has no personal advantage, even though the city government might have.

**Germany is big on make-work. Note e.g. the decades of support for the coal-mining industry, at a rate of billions per year, where it would have been so much better to just let the market work, let the industry shrink to profitability, and let the surplus workers find new jobs, which most would have managed within months, instead of drawing on the tax payer’s money for years or decades. Even paying unemployment for a few years, to any who had trouble finding new work, would have been much cheaper. (And note how much better it would have been for the environment if coal had been ditched faster and nuclear power been kept.)

***A small subset of the problems has been discussed in the past, cf. e.g. [2], [3], [4].

Excursion on Chauvin et co. and Floyd:
This scenario shows the police being more on the receiving end than the criminal. From their behavior, it is highly likely that they did not expect Floyd to die and/or to die in a manner that brought culpability on them.* They certainly had no conception of the (objectively utterly out of proportion) consequences that would follow, or they would have acted very differently. (Remember that the whole scene was in front of a multitude of witnesses and that it was filmed.)

*I recall some commenter on the matter saying that Chauvin’s lack of emotion (or whatnot) during the knee-portion of events showed what cold-blooded psychopath he was, murdering a man and showing no emotion—and because he showed no emotion, he must be guilty. Much more likely is that he showed no strong emotions because he did not believe that he was doing anything harmful, out of proportion, and/or legally/ethically wrong. At that, I am still not convinced that the knee was the deciding factor in Floyd’s death.

Excursion on awareness of consequences:
Just as “mens rea” plays in when it comes to crime, it might make sense to formally make a reasonably expected knowledge of consequences a part of both evaluating criminal punishment (but not necessarily criminal culpability) and various fines and whatnot. Unless the government can show that someone knew or should* have known about certain legal consequences, these consequences may not follow. This would be a great obstacle to government abuse.

*Where some stricter definition must be found to avoid government abuse: it would be all too easy to say “it is in a promulgated law; ergo, he should have known”, “a story on this was in the papers five years ago; ergo, he should have known”, or similar. Some additional leeway might be needed for foreigners and laws that differ between countries, but care must be taken in the other direction, so that this leeway is not abused by criminals.

From another point of view, some analog of the medical “informed consent” might possibly be applied to governance, laws, and whatnot. Consent in the proper sense is, obviously, tricky, as few governments, unlike physicians, would be willing to allow a choice, but a principle might be possible that a consent-like whatnot cannot be presumed without sufficient proof of “informed”, and that e.g. laws are limited when this consent-like whatnot is not proved.

More generally, governments must actively inform to a much higher degree than today, where, for instance, an important change in laws or the COVID-restrictions typically only reaches those who read the papers/watch the news on the right day; and where the sheer mass of laws casts serious doubt as to the compatibility between “ignorantia juris non excusat” and both Rechtsstaatlichkeit and Rule of Law. (However, the main point of this excursion is not ignorance of what is criminal but of what the resulting punishment might be, and to some degree ignorance of what crime a criminal act might be considered by the law. Note, with an eye at the above, how hard it can be for a layman to tell what crime he is committing, even when he might be aware that he is committing some crime.)

Excursion on J6 and Brandon Fellows:
The J6 political persecutions contain many examples of problems in line with the above. Taking a break from writing, I encountered the story of Brandon Fellows. (Disclaimer: I have not watched the videos included with the linked-to text.) He did no-one any harm and he was given every reason to believe that he was acting in an acceptable manner, including being told by the police that he was in no danger of being arrested, “but has been detained without bond for 16 months on four misdemeanors and one felony ‘obstruction’ charge” in the aftermath. This is likely longer than a reasonable sentence, should he paradoxically and unjustly be found guilty, and the imprisonment conditions for J6 victims appear to be far worse than in a regular prison. At this stage, even a reversal of Biden’s hypocritical and deceitful “semi-Fascist” accusation falls well short of the mark—the current Biden regime is all-out Fascist and it must be treated as such. Remember: Fascist is as Fascist does.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 31, 2022 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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6 Responses

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  1. […] yet another few words on choice (see [1], [2], [3] for earlier […]

  2. […] I noted earlier this week, Germany is big on make-work. A partial reason for this might be a default approach that someone […]

  3. […] the case, instead, of William Bryan (cf. Wikipedia on the Murder* of Ahmaud Arbery, [1], and [2]). He killed no-one and many who have performed worse acts have gone entirely uncharged or seen a […]

  4. […] be, what type of escalation by the police is allowed under what circumstances, etc. Also note Unfair government and choice, where I discuss similar […]

  5. […] are thwarted by others. (Note my text series on choice, including on the illusion of choice, unfair government and choice, and overruled […]

  6. […] and perfidious reason for which the apparent reason is just a cover. Note e.g. some remarks* on German make-work using pseudo-justifications, and how claims around “law and order” can be used to undermine, […]

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