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Just as bad - Input Junkie
May 4th, 2015
09:50 am

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Just as bad
I recently read a news story about a policeman who was forced out because he reported a beating by other police, and I was reminded of the common saying that if you don't stop other people's bad behavior, you're just as bad as the people doing it. This is sometimes backstopped by "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".[1] Lately, I've been hearing a lot of "There are no good police because none of them are stopping the bad police."

However, I don't think this is a reasonable standard. Martyrdom shouldn't be the minimum standard for virtue, and the fact that there aren't enough good police to stop the bad ones doesn't mean that individual decent treatment of the public is worthless. Maybe we need more categories than good police and bad police-- perhaps include pretty good police or semi-adequate police or somesuch.

Also, I don't get the impression that the "just as bad" formulation actually moves people to do heroic opposition-- I think they oppose at high risk to themselves because they're angry at what they've seen and/or because they want to be good people, which I think is not quite the same thing as not wanting to be bad people. From the link: "That night, Crystal called his parents and told them what happened. The two former cops didn’t mince words. “You know what you’re going to have to do,” his mother, Madeline, told him. “Once you lose your integrity,” said his father, Robert, “it’s gone.”

[1] Commonly attributed to Burke, but there's no solid evidence that he said it.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. They closely resemble remarks known to have been made by the Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrew (1 February 1867) : Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. The very extensively used remarks attributed to Burke might be based on a paraphrase of some of his ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in so succinct a manner in any of his writings. It has been suggested that they may have been adapted from these lines of Burke's in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770): "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." [2](see above)
This purported quote bears a resemblance to the narrated theme of Sergei Bondarchuk's Soviet film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's book "War and Peace", in which the narrator declares "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing", although since the original is in Russian various translations to English are possible. This purported quote also bears resemblance to a quote widely attributed to Plato, that said "The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." It also bears resemblance to what Albert Einstein wrote as part of his tribute to Pablo Casals: "The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it."
More research done on this matter is available at these two links: Burkequote & Burkequote2 — as the information at these links indicate, there are many variants of this statement, probably because there is no clearly definitive original by Burke. In addition, an exhaustive examination of this quote has been done at the following link: QuoteInvestigator.

[2]Perhaps the answer is that good police need to organize-- they have no way as individuals of effectively opposing the current pathological police culture.

Link thanks to Carol Kennedy.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1066884.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:ckd
Date:May 4th, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC)
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As Australian Chief of Army Lt. Gen. David Morrison put it, "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept."
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From:kalimac
Date:May 4th, 2015 04:46 pm (UTC)
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If goodness (as defined as "doing something when you see wrongness") risks martyrdom, even if that martyrdom is only the loss of your job, then we praise those who risk or endure that martyrdom.

But by that token, that those people are praiseworthy, we can't expect everyone to live up to those standards.

But at the same time, while we may wish them better, we can't condemn them in the way we condemn the actual perpetrators of the wrongness. It's not the same thing.
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From:nancylebov
Date:May 4th, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC)
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You've got my point very nicely.

However, "martyrdom" may not be taking it too far-- note that the police officer had been denied backup. It would just be too ironic/infuriating if he'd been killed and this was used as another reason for the police to be violent because the public is too dangerous.
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From:fengi
Date:May 4th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
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Except "doing something when you see wrongness" is a cop's job description and the basic standard of being given state power to kill people in the name of the law. It's holding authority to the basic standard to which they agreed when the were given authority. In a way they aren't just as bad as the perpetrators, they are worse.

Edited at 2015-05-04 06:26 pm (UTC)
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From:kalimac
Date:May 4th, 2015 06:37 pm (UTC)
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You raise a relevant point. I was thinking of people in general and not the specific responsibilities of the police. I suppose the same would apply to anyone in the class now often called "mandated reporters," e.g. a teacher who witnessed another teacher abusing students.

I still don't think they're worse than the perpetrators, though, not if their reluctance to report is a justified belief that the report will be buried and they themselves will suffer retribution. Who's worse is those who established that culture and enforced that retribution.
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From:fengi
Date:May 4th, 2015 06:16 pm (UTC)
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"Martyrdom shouldn't be the minimum standard for virtue..." This isn't about virtue, but the job.

Cops have great power, including yo kill people, in exchange for great responsibility, including dying, for the law and public good.

Cops are entrusted with judgement calls over people's lives (even a ticket can have a significant impact), which requires holding them to a higher standard.

Thus reporting bad cops, even at risk to one's income, is the job, the reason one has an income to risk.

Giving a pass to bad cops is taking public money to not do the job. Worse, it's forcing martyrdom on others - everyone impacted the bad cop - to protect one's income. It's pushing a civilian or comrade into the line of fire to save oneself.

Martyrdom is an unfair standard for people who don't have such power and aren't getting paid to accept the responsibility.

For cops, martyrdom is pretty much a job requirement.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:May 5th, 2015 02:06 am (UTC)
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Bravo for an extremely good point. I'm not sure where to look for the weak link in that system.

The only move that comes to mind is an activist thing. For example: the cop photographed strolling along spraying mace (was it?) on kneeling protestors -- were there other cops watching without objecting? If so, make a video of both, to go viral.

Iirc, that department was out a lot of money defending and compensating the sprayer. They might get tired of having to do this for half a dozen watchers each time.
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From:nancylebov
Date:May 5th, 2015 03:14 am (UTC)
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The public (including businesses) squeezing down on the politicians might be an important part of breaking the violent police culture.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:May 5th, 2015 03:34 am (UTC)
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Yes. However, things that might inconvenience the police etc, tend to die invisibly. I wonder ... is there a threat of personal vilification keeping some politicians away from certain effective measures? I saw a public relation man's claim of that. "Stay away from X or we'll make you the next Sarah Palin.'

Still that sort of thing does happen, apparently spontaneously; I don't see anyone paying PR for the ad hominem storm against Brad Torgesen.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:May 5th, 2015 03:37 am (UTC)
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Hm, technology rides over the hill to the rescue? At least it's a start.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/205889/new-aclu-cellphone-app-automatically-preserves-video-police-encounters

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