[ExI] The Spirit of the Law?/was Re: Self-Driving Cars Must Make Ethical Decisions

Dan danust2012 at gmail.com
Fri Jul 31 21:21:20 UTC 2015

> On Friday, July 31, 2015 12:14 PM William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ​Some police have quotas and this is a very bad thing.  I was stopped in
> the middle of nowhere, not one car in sight, for running a stop sign.

> At maybe 1 mph, as I had shifted into 1st.  They don't seem to understand
> the spirit of the law, just the technical part.  If I do not endanger
> myself or others, then I am square with the spirit.

You're interpreting the spirit of the state's laws here as about keeping you from endangering yourself and others. Even that would be problematic -- as what counts as endangerment and how is this decided in a reasonable manner? But what if we were to take a less charitable interpretation: those particular laws, in fact many if not most government laws, are not there for some sort of public safety concern. What if they're there for revenue enhancement or something else?

To stick to this particular case, it would be quite simple to have a law that stated you can't go through a stop sign or red light or whatever when there are other people around -- others who might be harmed by this action. (Of course, I can hear the argument: people would get used to deciding on their own, and then they would do so in cases when they thought they could get away with it. But that's exactly the situation we have now: people do decide on their own when to break a particular law, and they often get away with it. They especially get away with it if there's no victim harmed and no agent of the state around to penalize them. To be sure, there are cases where stop signs and traffic lights have been removed and the result seems to have been more cautious driving. That shouldn't be counterintuitive -- any more than we don't see people crashing into each other with shopping carts all that often.)

> Some are just nitpickers who will stop people for the slightest thing -
> like compulsives.  Some like to show their power and superiority.  Few
> like to act like the service people they are, though most in my
> experience are polite and not gruff.

You might consider the kind of person the job attracts and what kind of mentality it creates or perpetuates via the perverse incentives involved. One of the very strong perverse incentives is that the police (and agents of the state, in general) are usually given a free pass or the thumb is on the balance for them in any conflict with civilians. Just think of what would happen to you if you shot a cop and offered that it was in self-defense, that they were threatening your life, etc. You might possibly get off with that -- if you have a great lawyer and get lucky with the right jury. But for a police officer shooting you and offering up the same defense, the likelihood is the grand jury will let them off, the prosecutor will likely be on their side, and the police union will stonewall any investigation. Add to this, anything you've even done wrong in your entire life will be dredged up to smear you -- making it seem like you were a ne'er do well that society is better off having dead.

> And many seem just scared.  It is not unusual at all to read about mental
> patients in Mississippi, with no weapons, being killed by cops because
> they won't 'behave'.  Mace, pepper spray, just throw a net over them.

> Gun happy here in the Deep South, I am afraid.

I don't think that explains it, though I do think there's elite paranoia -- where the ruling class is paranoid about the rest of society. (Jesse Walker goes over some of this in his recent book _The United States of Paranoia_. I recommend the book, though it's light on theory.) Police may be afraid, but they have far less reason to be so since they have the upper hand in almost any conflict. You simply don't see the same level of violence being visited upon them. And the overall level of violence in society has been on the decline -- even in the Deep South. This is a long term trend.

Again, I chalk this up to incentives. The police can simply get away with overusing/abusing violent methods or even escalating situations up to violent confrontations because the overall costs of their mistakes are lower for them. They're far less likely to be jailed or fined when they do so. That's not the same for civilians -- either in confrontation with each other or with the police or the state.


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