"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Oct 12, 2010

The Cop

In my experience, the cop does not conform to the uniform, so much as the uniform covers a range of types. The cop does not become a cop by virtue of the uniform. The cop preexists first as a type drawn to the power of the uniform, and the gun. Training completes the masking of the type, in so much as it encourages the conformity to power - but it does not erase the type. The uniform provides cover for the urges and needs of the person wearing it - cover as a sanction, but concealment also by sanctification.

So, some of those types which I have found across diverse communities:

1. Jagermeisters. People who, by temperament and the vagaries of conditioning, prefer to hunt others. They don the uniform because it gives them sanction to hunt, to pursue, to capture. The law does not matter as an end. It provides the means, the vehicle through which the drive to pursue, to solve, to master the puzzle of an opponent can, at least for the duration of the chase, find expression.

2. Goons. Armed staffers for the prevailing order, especially men who define themselves by who or what they serve. They obey because they cannot self-direct, not in those areas of experience which, in retrospect, reveal themselves as important. The example of this type must find a boss for whom he can act the instrument. He lacks the capacity for autonomy. Commonly enough, found following the other types and assuming their habits and traits while under direct influence.

3. Paladins, true believers and savior types who demand obedience of others in the pursuit of order, perfection, moral sanitation or some other cause which they must serve, the failure of which unbinds their own moral strait jackets, and their possession of an imposed self-control. Unlike a goon, a paladin can self direct. And while a goon will bend or break custom and law, in the service of his masters, the paladin will do so because nothing trumps the cause.

4. Sadists. Those who enjoy wronging others, but who know that they do wrong. Clever sadists will wear the glamor, if you will, of law enforcement, in order to maintain access to the power which gives them the means by which they fulfill their desires. A creature of desire, foremost. But, of a particularly durable sort, since the successful wearing of the uniform suggests an ability to delay satisfaction, as well as provide continuing service to the hierarchy, the better to keep access to victims.  As much a junkie as a smack addict, but with the sanction of the law and power.

5. Sociopaths. Actual ones, not the bogeymen of Diggles' nightmare future of Republican ascendancy. Distinct from sadists, in that they do not have the moral capacity to understand that they wrong others.

6. Timeservers. Clock watchers. Bureaucrats. Guys who couldn't get on the Fire Department's lists, or who moved from the armed services to police work because the transition between services itself has institutional support. Dangerous, in that this type will do what it takes to keep his position, and his ease or comfort, so long as the action itself cannot foreseeably threaten the same.

Again, in my experience, the embodiment of a type does not exclude the traits of another. And while I think it rare to find a clock watching sociopath, and downright unlikely to encounter a goon paladin, I've often encountered paladin sadists, or sociopath jagermeisters.

Understanding these types - not as absolutes, but as suggestions of enduring traits - perhaps might allow one to understand how police power functions, at the level of its impact, where the police interact with the population. It could also provide a lens through which those so inclined might see and develop the methods that best counter or negate police power, by allowing them to tailor their actions to the persons and types concealed by the uniform.


On a related note - thinking of cops as persons with certain common characteristics, modeled by type, opens up for me at least a way to differentiate the function of police power from the person enforcing it. Imagining a prospective future without law or governments, for a moment, I find it inconceivable that people will magically stop murdering, pilfering, raping and otherwise doing their worst to each other.

I cannot separate temperament and conduct. It seems premature, at best, to suggest that equity will erase offenses against persons. I see no evidence for any belief or set of beliefs which assumes that human cruelty operates only as a function of human inequity. Or that human cruelty does not manifest as human social structure. In other words, I think that human cruelty precedes human society. Inequity develops from cruelty. Cruel beliefs and harmful social arrangements may encourage the success of those types suited to the conditions of a violent or cruel society, but cruelty itself can exist without any complex or hierarchical social arrangements.

Assuming the validity of this assertion, provisionally, I can speculate on the retention of police functions even in a society without the sanction of law. If persons have an intrinsic capacity for cruelty, simply as persons, then people will harm each other, regardless of the justice, fairness or equity of social arrangements.* In this case, I accept as credible the organized or competitive provision of those services which purport to remedy harm done, to enact vengeance, to restore property and to incapacitate those inclined to harm others, however temporarily. Which means, I think, that the same types enumerated above will still have the outlet for their needs, urges and desires - drawn as predictably then to those roles which allow them to fulfill their desires, as now.

* - A society where ostracism or expulsion of the willfully violent or cruel might also encourage agonistic sport and contest as a means of mitigating or sublimating the human tendency to harm others.


Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Excellent, Jack.

Would be a good idea to do a compendium (or whatever) of behaviors that indicate which subgroup Mr Piggy in Question might belong to. I don't know myself how to categorize them other than by their direct behavior toward me when they're trying to arrest me.

I have more experience with Timeservers in traffic stops, and Jagermeisters & Goons in non-traffic situations. Most of my traffic stops have been innocuous -- the last 2 times, 1 was for not stopping long enough ("must hold for 5 seconds" said the copper) at a STOP sign at an empty intersection, and the other was for going 10 mph over the limit.

People whose alleged legal infractions carry higher jail time probably have seen more of the goon-paladin-sociopath variety.

It would be interesting to chronicle how the stereotypes play out when the "criminal" is white-collar and the crime a non-violent one (a white collar crime), and to see whether analogs exist in White Collar Cop jobs like Detective in a big urban PD, or FBI, or DoJ investigators.

Jack Crow said...

Thanks, Charles. This is really just a thumbnail. I don't know if I have the insight, intelligence or inclination to spell it out, further - at least yet.

Anonymous said...

CFO wonders whether analogs exist in White Collar Cop jobs like Detective in a big urban PD, or FBI, or DoJ investigators. Of course they do and among teachers, lawyers, heavy equipment operators, restaurant workers, and priests. Cops come from the bottom third of your high school class and further education didn't seem to be appealing. They were looking for a little more excitement than they could find at the local Wal-Mart and a little less work than they would find on a construction site. Its all about borrowing a little of somebody else's power and using it as if it were your own.

Interestingly, police unions are actually pretty strong in most cases but I suspect that is a result of the use of that borowed power for the ends sought by the lender. The same is true of teachers and laywers, etc., their power rising and falling in proportion to their cooperation.


Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Hell yeah, drip! I kinda lobbed that one in there for a smash out of the park, didn't I?

I was also thinking about the post I made a short while back where I talked about the different kinds of lawyers one sees in a big asbestos litigation lawsuit. Yeah of course the types exist outside uniformed coppers... they are human personality types, not job-description types. Uniformed coppers aren't the only people who carry the imprimatur of The Elite And Powerful. They're just among the few who get to use weapons without much punitive risk, for protection of The Elite And Powerful.

We lawyers protect TEAP too, as a class. Law school teaches us to revere The Legal System and not really question it or imagine reforming it to optimize its fairness, socially speaking. Indoctrination! Subservience!

augustus818 said...

Towards the end of 2007, I had the rather unfortunate experience of observing these specimen's in one of the eco-system's ( jail) they inhabit. Most seemed to be of the timeserver variety, decent enough chaps making a paycheck, doing the job, but won't go out of their way to help you.
On one end of the spectrum you had the paladin's that more than likely would do what they could to help. This one in particular helped me get a phone call to my family when I was at my darkest moment. I made sure I thanked her before I left.
Then on the other end you had the Sociopath's who'd beat you down for looking at 'em funny. I had heard around from the other inmates of one of their "exploits" from the year before. They beat a 16 year old to death.
So I know that whatever personality traits that drive some to do "good" or just look the other way when you break a rule, the institutional stressors demands that the paladins or clockwatchers never turn in or rat on the sadist's and sociopath's that commit truly heinous acts for fear of destroying the entire eco-system.

Anonymous said...

CFO, no argument from me. Archetypes or stereotypes or anarcho-types help us navigate this great big world. The thing about cops (and lawyers and teachers, too) is that they derive their authority from the people and we support these (mostly) bottom thirders all the time by never calling bullshit on them. We gave them the power and they'll keep it till we take it back.

Jack Crow said...


I put a fairly negative tone to my original, but you rightly point out that paladin type does have his moments. FWIW, I just think it makes them more dangerous - and not for nothing, they're the primary characterization found in the propaganda of the "cop show."

I'll take a timeserver over a true believer, any day.



Peter Ward said...

When people defend the supposed legitimate functions of the police, they are apparently very naive about what police actually do. Which is harass ethnic minorities and defend property rights and so on. Very little of their activity is directed to stopping the Violent Psychopath.* And since courts are predicated on getting convictions not punishing person who actually committed the crime the reality of false convictions means that even in cases where a bona fide crime has taken place it's still doubtful "justice" will properly "be served".

Obviously, in a rational world, we should try to restrain (though I don't think punish) people with antisocial habits who pose a serious danger to others. But the standard on which this restraint is based would have to be very high--lest the restraining mechanism do more harm than those deemed antisocial--and we'd have to accept as a consequence many "guilty" people let go free.

At present I think the greater evil is the police/justice system not the violent psychopaths. And that if it were merely abolished we'd be better off.

By the way, we simply don't know enough about human behavior to say if (many) people are fundamentally psychopathic or whether their actions are in some way a product of situational factors. Experiments in animal behavior show that even seemingly trivial and irrelevant environmental factors can affect behavior in a dramatic way (creating all sort of problems attempting "laboratory studies").

*E.g., study of the FBI showed that most of the organizations activities were some form of political policing--assassinating Civil Rights dissidents, infiltrating movements and so on.

Jack Crow said...

Agreed, Peter.